Even with the closest games still months away, the coming weekend will be a big one for the Brandon Wheat Kings.
The Wheat Kings are poised to have two players picked in the early rounds of the National Hockey League entry draft in Philadelphia, with a handful of Brandon players considered to be potential picks at some point during the seven-round affair.
Wheat Kings linemates John Quenneville and Jayce Hawryluk are considered to be surefire picks, with the two 18-year-olds expected to be snapped up in the first three rounds of the draft. Czech forward Richard Nejezchleb, entering his overage year, has a chance to be chosen after going to training camp with the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins last season. Goaltender Jordan Papirny, 18, Latvian winger Rihards Bukarts, 19, and centre Tim McGauley, 19, are all longshots who could at least merit some consideration.
Head coach and general manager Kelly McCrimmon said having Wheat Kings players chosen is a source of pride for the entire Western Hockey League organization.
"It’s, I think, exciting for a player, certainly, for them to experience that and hopefully realize one of their goals and objectives," said McCrimmon, who will also be in Philadelphia to watch the draft unfold.
"I think for the organization it’s a feather in the cap when you have players that are drafted. That’s, I’ve always felt, part of the mandate of operating a junior hockey team is to try to help players improve as much as you can. (Having players drafted is) one indicator that that’s taken place."
Quenneville is ranked 23rd among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting after posting 58 points in 61 games, projecting the Edmontonian as a second-round pick, although some sources, including Sportsnet, believe he could sneak into the bottom of the first round on Friday night.
Hawryluk, a Roblin native who paced the team with 64 points, is ranked 37th among North American skaters, generally being slotted in by prognosticators as a second-rounder who will be chosen when the draft resumes with Round 2 on Saturday.
Nejezchleb was undrafted last year, but is ranked 50th among North American skaters by Central Scouting after leading Brandon with 32 goals.
Papirny’s Central Scouting ranking of 24th among North American goalies does not suggest a likely draft pick, but his improvement during his rookie season and his excellent playoff performance (.914 save percentage) likely raised his stock in the eyes of NHL evaluators.
Bukarts is a small but skilled player (28 goals and 54 points) who is ranked 208th among North American skaters, while McGauley (60 points) is not ranked by Central Scouting, but the Wilcox, Sask., native has continued to develop as a two-way player since being passed over last season despite being ranked.
Whoever ends up being drafted this weekend will gain some valuable experience that McCrimmon believes will benefit the Wheat Kings as a whole.
"They bring those experiences back and add value to our team, so it’s a good sign when you’ve got players that are being selected that are going off to pro camp," he said.
"It doesn’t mean it’s the end for players that aren’t selected, but I think this year we are definitely going to have representation on draft day."
ONE-TIMERS: Calgary Hitmen D Travis Sanheim of Elkhorn is ranked 53rd among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting, but is expected to be chosen higher than that following a strong finish to the season and an excellent performance for Canada at the world under-18 hockey championship. Many mock drafts predict he will be a first-round pick … Former Wheat Kings LW Taylor Cooper of the Lethbridge Hurricanes is ranked 160th among North American skaters …Prince George Cougars G Ty Edmonds, who started his junior career with Virden of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, is ranked 18th among North American goalies.