The most exciting part of Jayce Hawryluk’s rookie season isn’t his point production, which ranks with the best 16-year-olds in the Western Hockey League.
It’s not the way the 5-foot-10 Roblin native throws around his 186 pounds, bordering at times on reckless abandon.
No, the biggest reason Brandon Wheat Kings fans are excited about the fantastic freshman is that Hawryluk may only be scratching the surface.
"You could tell that (Hawryluk) was prepared from the start of the season," head coach Dwayne Gylywoychuk said of the Wheat Kings’ second-round choice from the 2011 WHL Bantam Draft. "I think Jayce came in and he’s done a lot of things that we thought Jayce could do. … If you talk to Jayce, I think there’s some areas that he’d like to be better at, but I think he’s come in and established himself as a young guy. He’s scored some big goals for us, something that we need kinda to get from a committee, and he’s helped us out in that department for sure."
With six goals and nine assists in 26 games, Hawryluk ranks third among 16-year-olds in scoring behind Brayden Point of the Moose Jaw Warriors (30 games played, seven goals, 13 assists) and Rourke Chartier of the Kelowna Rockets (26 GP, 9 G, 7 A). There’s times he’s seemed like Brandon’s best forward — during one five-game stretch last month he scored four of the team’s thirteen goals and assisted on two others — and times he’s seemed like a 16-year-old rookie — he has only one assist in his last six contests and had a plus/minus of -8 in the first two of those games.
"I think as you can see my offensive side isn’t too bad," Hawryluk said. "I think it’s pretty good, but I think my defensive game needs to get a lot better. I need to work hard at both ends of the ice when I don’t have the puck and work just as hard as when I do have the puck. I think my game will be a lot better."
He’s already come a long way since making his WHL debut on Sept. 29. That game came after he missed the first two weeks of the regular season and all of the pre-season due to a concussion, and Hawryluk said it was instantly clear to him that this was a much different game than he saw last season as a Midget AAA star for the Parkland Rangers.
"As soon as I stepped out there (on the ice), it was just like, wow, this is a lot different than what I was used to," he said. "Everything was fast-paced, guys were a lot bigger. But as the season’s gone on, I just feel more comfortable."
With that comfort has come increased production as well as increased opportunity as Hawryluk now sees regular time on the power play and has moved from the wing into a spot in the middle, centring skilled imports Alessio Bertaggia and Richard Nejezchleb.
Those plum assignments have come with a condition, though: Hawryluk is expected to keep up his progress — in all areas of the rink.
"The point we’re trying to make with all our young players is with that opportunity comes responsibility, and I think he realizes that," Gylywoychuk said. "It’s an ongoing process, a learning process every day for those guys."