The long-awaited return of Brandon Wheat Kings rookie import Richard Nejezchleb appears to be getting close, and based on the numbers at the Western Hockey League club’s practice on Tuesday, it couldn’t come too soon.
A gruelling weekend road trip that took them to Cranbrook B.C., and back for three games in three nights appears to have taken its toll on the Wheat Kings’ lineup.
Only 16 players practised on Tuesday, while others were given the day off to recover from various ailments or simply to get some much-needed rest.
That’s why it was encouraging to see Nejezchleb, an 18-year-old Czech winger, taking part in unrestricted practice after missing the last 15 games with a shoulder injury.
"He’s clear to take the next step, take some contact, see how the shoulder reacts and then we’ll see how the week goes with him and make a decision for the weekend," said Wheat Kings head coach Dwayne Gylywoychuk, whose team will host the Prince Albert Raiders on Friday (7:30 p.m., Westman Place) before hitting the road to wrap up the home-and-home on Saturday night in P.A.
Nejezchleb had a goal and four assists in eight games prior to the injury and was initially listed as being out day-to-day before the absence dragged on and on. As long as his shoulder holds up, the challenge now is getting Nejezchleb back into game shape after an absence of more than a month.
"(The focus is on) getting in practice, getting his timing, getting his mind back to playing, back practising at a high tempo and just doing all the little things that you have to do in a game," Gylywoychuk said. "We’ll do the best we can to get him ready, but he’s going to have to play a few games to get back to where we want him to be."
Nejezchleb’s timetable was listed at one week on this week’s injury report. Joining him on the injury report after being hurt on the weekend are veteran Wheat King forwards Alessio Bertaggia and Jens Meilleur, who are both listed as being out one week with lower-body injuries.
MAKING THE CUT: Wheat King Jayce Hawryluk made the grade as Hockey Manitoba officially unveiled the roster on Tuesday for Team West, its combined entry with Saskatchewan for the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, scheduled for Dec. 29 to Jan. 4 in Victoriaville and Drummondville, Que. The Roblin native has been climbing the WHL’s rookie scoring race with six goals and 14 points in 20 games this season, including five goals and three assists in his last eight contests.
Also making the team were Wheat Kings prospect Ryley Lindgren, a forward, as well as defencemen Jordan Thomson of Wawanesa and Travis Sanheim of Elkhorn, and Virden Oil Capitals goalie Ty Edmonds.
Thomson has a goal, four assists and a plus/minus of +4 in 18 games with the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers. Lindgren is eighth in the Manitoba AAA Midget Hockey League in scoring, with 10 goals and 22 points in 16 games, while Sanheim has six goals and 13 points in 16 contests with the Midget AAA Yellowhead Chiefs. Meanwhile, Edmonds has a 4.65 goals-against average and an .894 save percentage for the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s Oil Capitals.
Wheat Kings assistant coach David Anning is an assistant for Team West on a staff led by head coach Don MacGillivray of the MJHL’s Winnipeg Blues.
RANK AND FILE: Wheat Kings blue-liners Ryan Pulock and Eric Roy have been ranked among the WHL’s top 10 forward and defence prospects for next year’s National Hockey League Entry Draft by NHL Central Scouting.
Pulock, the Wheat Kings’ captain, has been rated third among WHL skaters in the preliminary rankings, behind Seth Jones of the Portland Winterhawks and Hunter Shinkaruk of the Medicine Hat Tigers. Roy has been slotted in ninth.
Wheat Kings draft pick Brendan Harms, who has committed to play at Bemidji State University, was ranked 16th among United States Hockey League skaters.
AROUND THE WHL: The WHL is finally classifying Kelowna’s Myles Bell, a former defenceman, as a forward on its website. That officially moves Pulock into the lead for WHL rearguards with nine goals and 25 points in 24 games … Kootenay’s Mackenzie Skapski has been named the Canadian Hockey League goalie of the week after he posted a 3-0 record with a 1.00 goals-against average and a .964 save percentage. Two of those wins — including a shutout — came against Brandon … The Columbus Dispatch reports that an MRI showed Everett defenceman Ryan Murray — drafted second overall this year by the NHL’s Blue Jackets — has a torn labrum in his shoulder that could require season-ending surgery. However, the Dispatch reports that Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson is waiting to see if an examination this weekend confirms that diagnosis.