Jayce Hawryluk proved last season he’s very capable of scoring in the Western Hockey League.
The rookie from Roblin potted 18 goals and set up 25 others in 61 games, his 43 points second only among WHL 16-year-olds to Brayden Point (57 points) of the Moose Jaw Warriors.
For an encore, Hawryluk will try to prove that he’s become an even better — and more complete — player since then.
“I’m just focusing on building off last year,” said Hawryluk, who kicked off the regular season last night in Moose Jaw, Sask., and will face the Warriors again in the Wheat Kings’ home opener tonight at Westman Place.
“Coming in this year as a second-year player, I think it’s huge for me. Not only is it my (National Hockey League) draft year, I have to be a leader on the team, on and off the ice. I think I’ve got to show the rookies how to play in this league and hopefully they follow after what I do out there.”
As a second-round selection in the 2011 WHL bantam draft, Hawryluk did not come into last season with quite the profile as some of the top picks and a concussion suffered in training camp contributed to a somewhat slow start. But the explosive forward soon began to attract attention from observers around the league. He has been ranked as a potential pick in the first two rounds of next year’s NHL draft and was named to Canada’s under-18 team this summer, helping secure the country’s sixth straight gold medal in the Memorial of Ivan Hlinka tournament.
Hawryluk’s skill with the puck is formidable. What Wheat Kings head coach and general manager Kelly McCrimmon wants to see him develop is his play away from the puck.
“Jayce is a player that’s always been on the puck and loves to create offence and create scoring chances and those are things that make him a special player,” McCrimmon said. “What we’ll work to do is make him a more complete player, a guy that’s going to be able to play against top players from the other team, a guy that’s going to be a plus player (in plus/minus), a guy that’s going to take pride in all aspects of his game. Ultimately, he’s working to be a professional hockey player. He’s got to get better in lots of areas.”
Hawryluk took a step in that direction this summer, playing a checking role for the national U-18 team. He also showed his desire to improve by spending the off-season working out with captain Ryan Pulock and overager Jens Meilleur — two of the team’s notorious gym rats — and graded out as one of the Wheat Kings’ top players in training camp fitness testing.
“He’s got tremendous capacity to work, whether it’s on the ice at practice, in games (or) training,” McCrimmon said. “… I think he’s gained a lot of respect from his teammates based on the commitment that he’s making to be the best player he can be.”
That commitment stems from a competitive streak that has gotten under the skin of opponents — and even teammates at times — but also makes his ceiling so high.
“Growing up with three older brothers, I’ve always been up against older competition,” Hawryluk said. “I always wanted to be better than them and I always wanted to be better than everyone at what I do. It’s just the next level. Ryan Pulock obviously (was) drafted to the NHL in the first round; I want to be as good or better than him. I compete against them in the gym, on the ice, everywhere. It’s how you get better. You’ve got to compete.”
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 21, 2013