A former Wheat King has found his Kassel.
Brandon Wheat Kings graduate Jens Meilleur has signed his first contract to play professional hockey in Germany with the EC Kassel Huskies.
"I’m super excited," said Meilleur, who is currently training in Brandon after completing his overage season with the Wheat Kings in 2013-14. "It’s going to be a whole new experience and a completely different culture and I am looking forward to the opportunity and the experience."
The 21-year-old Meilleur holds dual citizenship through his German grandparents, which helped open the door for him to land a pro contract with the Deutchland Elite League Division 2 team as a non-import player.
A fixture on the Wheat Kings’ checking line and penalty killing units, the 6-foot-1, 197-pound right-winger secured his German passport a year ago to begin the process of playing overseas and chose to play pro rather than put his WHL scholarship money to use at a Canadian university or college.
"It took about a year to process and it wasn’t a huge deal to get my passport, so when I did get it ... having that in my back pocket was nice," Meilleur said. "I talked about it quite a bit with my family and we weighed the options (of going to school or turning pro), but when it came down to it, pursuing my dream and making my career in pro hockey is what I wanted to do, so hopefully I will be there for awhile."
Meilleur wrapped up his four-year Wheat King career in the spring, notching two goals in nine playoff games after scoring 11 goals and adding 15 assists in 67 regular-season games for the Wheat Kings, who were eliminated in the second round of the WHL playoffs by the eventual Memorial Cup champion Edmonton Oil Kings.
A native of Elie — population 550 — Meilleur is now preparing to go from a city of 50,000 in Brandon to Kassel, a city of 200,000 in the heart of Germany. While he speaks a little German, he knows he is in for a culture shock that will be eased somewhat by playing for a Canadian coach in Rico Rossi.
"The head coach and GM are Canadian, too, so there won’t be too much of a language barrier when it comes to being at the rink," said Meilleur, who is expecting to face a major adjustment going from junior hockey to the pro game.
"I think it will be a completely different jump, just going to a bigger ice surface and then playing against older, stronger, more mature players is definitely going to be a huge change."
Meilleur, whose flies overseas in a little over two weeks on Aug. 2, has been training at Frederickson Performance Centre to prepare for his first pro season. He feels he is as healthy as he has ever been after recovering from a second-degree sprain of the MCL ligament in his right knee that he suffered late last season.
"This is the best I have felt so far in my career in training and everything," said Meilleur, originally a 2008 seventh-round bantam draft pick who finished his WHL career with 32 goals and 72 points in 227 games.
"Jim (Frederickson) has really helped me get back to normal health as far as my injury is concerned, at the end of the season. So I feel really healthy and looking forward to making a good impression over there."