Mark Taraschuk hopes an extra year in midget learning how to lead will make him a better rookie in the Western Hockey League this season.
The 17-year-old is trying to earn a spot on the Brandon Wheat Kings blue-line this season after winning a second straight Manitoba AAA Midget Hockey League championship with the Winnipeg Wild in the spring.
A sixth-round pick in the 2012 WHL bantam draft, Taraschuk made it through to the Wheat Kings’ main camp last season, but with Brandon loaded with veterans on the back end he returned home to Winnipeg for another year of seasoning. This year, the Wheat Kings will need to replace captain Ryan Pulock — moving on to the pro ranks in the New York Islanders’ system — and the graduated Rene Hunter, while Eric Roy’s status is also up in the air as the 20-year-old tries to earn a contract with the Calgary Flames.
Taraschuk believes his time to play in the WHL is now.
"I came to camp pretty ready and I’m here to make the team and not go home," the 6-foot-0, 192-pounder said after picking up a goal and an assist in Thursday morning’s rookie scrimmage. "I felt the last couple of years it was a building block and now this camp I’m fully ready to take the challenge and play with all the vets and have a successful year here."
Taraschuk made good use of his second season of midget hockey. Named the Wild team captain, he jumped from 14 points as a rookie to 38 last season, notching nine goals and 29 assists in 43 games. He was a second-team all-star as the Wild posted a 37-5-0-2 regular-season mark, second only to the Brandon Midget AAA Wheat Kings, and went on to claim their third straight league title.
"I think confidence was a huge factor, just having a good season last year and winning it all brings your confidence up a little bit," Taraschuk said.
"Every year you learn something new and you build on the previous year," Taraschuk said. "You learn from your mistakes and you just keep on going forward and wanting to get better every day."
Taraschuk will have to keep getting better as he gets deeper into training camp. One of the older players in rookie camp, he’ll become one of the kids again as the veterans join the fray for the beginning of main camp today. Taraschuk believes if he sticks to his game plan he’ll be up for the challenge.
"You’ve gotta make the simple plays," he said. "You can’t be hanging on to the puck too much. You’ve got to keep your feet moving too. Those guys are quick and they’ve been training all summer, too, and you’ve just got to elevate your game so you know you can play with them."
ONE-TIMERS: American D Michael Mylchreest, 19, has joined the Wheat Kings for main camp. He played from 2011-13 with the Prince George Cougars ... Former Wheat Kings G Corbin Boes, 21, stopped in to watch camp on Thursday while the Saskatonian was in Brandon for a visit. Boes, who attended Calgary Flames development camp this summer, is preparing to join the Dalhousie University Tigers after completing his junior career last season with the WHL finalist Portland Winterhawks …Two WHL teams signed first-round picks from this year’s bantam draft on Thursday. D Jantzen Leslie (15th overall) signed with the Everett Silvertips while the Victoria Royals signed D Scott Walford (18th overall).