Scouts love the way Travis Sanheim reads plays on the ice.
Turns out the Elkhorn native can read a draft pretty well, too.
Sanheim perked up when Philadelphia Flyers general manager Ron Hextall stepped onto the stage at Philly’s Wells Fargo Center to make the 17th selection of the NHL draft on Friday night and the defenceman’s hunch was right on the money.
“I saw Philly picking and I had a feeling that there was a chance,” Sanheim said from Philadelphia. “I talked to them (on Thursday) and I knew there was a chance that they could select me at 17, so I was hoping that. And as the fans started to cheer as Ron went up to make the call, I started shaking and I was just hoping to hear my name get called, and as he said ‘Calgary Hitmen, Travis Sanheim’ it was an incredible moment for me and it was one that I’ll never forget.”
Sanheim was one of nine Western Hockey League players to be chosen in the first round, with Brandon Wheat Kings centre John Quenneville capping the night’s festivities by being chosen 30th overall by the New Jersey Devils.
Another Wheat King is expected to go off the board early today as Roblin’s Jayce Hawryluk, Quenneville’s linemate, is projected by many experts as a second-round pick.
Sanheim’s selection was the pinnacle of a meteoric rise up the draft rankings for the 6-foot-3, 181-pound defenceman. A star player for the Yellowhead Midget AAA Chiefs only a year ago, he was unranked by NHL Central Scouting at the beginning of last season before winning NHL executives over with his rookie campaign with the Hitmen.
Sanheim had five goals and 24 assists in 67 WHL games and was fifth among all first-year players with a plus/minus of +25. He further raised his stock with a stellar performance at the world under-18 championship in Finland, helping Canada win bronze by tying for the team lead in scoring with six assists in seven games.
It all led to him sharing the stage Friday with two former Flyers greats from Manitoba, Brandon native and former Wheat Kings star Hextall, and team vice-president Bobby Clarke of Flin Flon. Meeting face-to-face with those Flyers greats was nothing next to greeting a massive horde of media for the unassuming 18-year-old.
“I was actually scared, because it was like ‘Yeah, you’ve got to go sit there’ and there was all these media guys surrounding me,” chuckled Sanheim, who was joined in Philadelphia by his parents Kent and Shelley and his twin brother Taylor. “I’ve never done that before, so it was crazy, but I thought I handled it pretty well.”
Sanheim had his hands full on Friday night, handling interview requests, posing for pictures, signing autographs and taking enthusiastic messages of congratulations from back home. He still had some time though to look around the Wells Fargo Center and dream of the cheers there again one day.
“It was incredible, something that you dream of,” he said. “Especially when you make it (to the NHL), to have that fan support and be in a city that loves hockey, it’s a great atmosphere and I’m looking forward to it.”
While Sanheim was expected by many to be a first-round candidate, Quenneville was ranked by a number of sources as a second-rounder but impressed the Devils enough with his all-around game to sneak into the first round. A teammate of Sanheim’s and Hawryluk’s on the national under-18 team, Quenneville scored 25 goals and had 58 points in 61 games with the Wheat Kings last season.
Hawryluk, a right-winger, is ranked 37th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting, while fellow Wheat King winger Richard Nejezchleb, ranked 50th, is also a good bet to be picked in the final six rounds today. Two more Brandon teammates, winger Rihards Bukarts and goalie Jordan Papirny, are low-ranked players who are longshots to be chosen today.
ONE-TIMERS: Quenneville is the second Wheat King in as many years to be chosen in the first round, following D Ryan Pulock, who went 15th overall to the New York Islanders in 2013 … Sanheim was the second Hitmen player taken, after LW Jake Virtanen went sixth to the Vancouver Canucks … The Medicine Hat Tigers bought some insurance in case overage G Marek Langhamer turns professional next season, acquiring G Jared Rathjen, 20, from the Vancouver Giants for a conditional fifth-round pick in next year’s WHL bantam draft. Rathjen went 13-8-4-1 with a 2.98 goals-against average and a save percentage of .898 with the Giants last season … The Saskatoon Blades have filled their assistant coaching opening by hiring Dean Brockman, who was named the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s coach of the year four times while he was with the Humboldt Broncos.