Stelio Mattheos is already making himself at home in the Wheat City.
Chosen by Brandon with the first overall pick of this year’s Western Hockey League bantam draft, the 14-year-old Winnipegger got his first taste of life as a Wheat King on Friday at the club’s annual prospects camp at Westman Place. The first impression was a good one.
“Guys have made a point of introducing themselves to me and it really made me feel welcome,” Mattheos said following his first skate. “You can tell this team is like a family, and that’s how it should be.”
The Wheat Kings are happy to have the 6-foot-2, 177-pound centre as part of their family. Mattheos led the Winnipeg Monarchs to the provincial title, topping the Winnipeg AAA Bantam Hockey League in scoring with 53 goals and 103 points in only 32 games.
Earlier this month he became only the fourth Manitoban to be picked first overall in the bantam draft, joining Quinton Howden (Moose Jaw Warriors, 2007), Jonathan Toews (Tri-City Americans, 2003) and Goodlands native Chris Nielsen (Calgary Hitmen, 1995).
That he was available for the Wheat Kings, who had never held the first pick before, was the result of a shrewd move and a stroke of luck. Brandon earned the right to swap first-round picks with the Saskatoon Blades as part of the 2012 deal that sent Brenden Walker to the Memorial Cup hosts, then beat the odds to win this year’s draft lottery, moving them up two spots and guaranteeing their pick of the crop.
Mattheos is one of 27 prospects at the camp, for players born from 1997 through 1999. With size, speed and skill, Mattheos’ attributes were evident during a pair of practices on Friday. But after skating with prospects one and two years older — plus a handful of returning players from last year’s team who filled out the lineups — he said his eyes were opened by the talent around him.
“There’s a lot of really great players on the ice and I look up to them,” he said. “I definitely look up to the guys on the Wheat Kings and being on the ice with them shows you how much work you need to do to get to that next level.”
Mattheos’ time with his future teammates will be fleeting this time around. He’s still recovering from a shoulder injury suffered at the western Canadian bantam championship, so he practised twice on Friday and will avoid contact by sitting out this morning’s four-on-four scrimmage and tomorrow’s camp-ending intrasquad game.
He will take part in the off-ice activities, however, including an information seminar on the WHL to be held today for parents and players, although it doesn’t sound like Mattheos needs to be sold on the merits of the league.
“My family and I, we’ve done our homework on the WHL,” said Mattheos, who intends to play for the Manitoba AAA Midget Hockey League’s Winnipeg Wild this season as he won’t be old enough to play regularly in the WHL until the 2015-16 campaign. “We think it’s a great league for development and that’s where I want to play. I want to play for the Wheat Kings one day.”
The schedule for this weekend’s Brandon Wheat Kings prospects camp at Westman Place:
4-on-4 scrimmage, 8:30 a.m.
Goalie session, 10:15 a.m.
Intrasquad game, 9 a.m.