The only way to put a positive spin on a disappointing 2012-13 season for the Brandon Wheat Kings will be if the foundation they laid turns them into a contender once again in the coming years.
After missing the playoffs for the first time in 13 years with a 24-40-4-4 record — Brandon’s worst mark in 21 seasons — the Wheat Kings are counting on a quick bounceback next season as their young talent develops.
The club has 21 eligible returnees — three of whom must be gone by the overage deadline — plus got encouraging performances from a number of prospects who got their feet wet in the Western Hockey League this season.
Here is a look at the club’s eligible returnees for next season (this year’s size and statistics and next season’s age in parentheses) with comments from the Sun and Wheat Kings owner/general manager Kelly McCrimmon:
TIM McGAULEY (18)
(C, 6-0, 177 pounds)
(66gp, 17g, 28a, 45pts, 6pim)
The former first-round draft pick appeared to gain confidence as his rookie season went on, scoring 30 of his 45 points following the Christmas break.
KM: "He needs to get stronger, I think he needs to get another step of speed but his ability to make a play and generate offence I think was real good … He’s got to get better at defensive zone coverage, faceoffs, the things that a lot of young players have to improve at. But real good season for Tim and obviously a core player on our team."
JAYCE HAWRYLUK (17)
(C/RW, 5-10, 186 pounds)
(61gp, 18g, 25a, 43 pts, 46pim)
Hawryluk was the most dynamic 16-year-old the Wheat Kings have had since Brayden Schenn and his key to reaching his vast potential lies with his maturation.
KM: "He’s a player that we anticipated would be a contributor, even at 16. I think he proved to be that … I think there’s a lot of things that he needs to work on and yet a player that’s got a real high skill level, a very competitive player and should continue to develop into a top-end player."
CHAD ROBINSON (20)
(C, 5-11, 181 pounds)
(68gp, 12g, 13a, 25pts, 18pim)
Acquired from the Red Deer Rebels early in the season, the Minnedosa native plays a steady two-way game, but failed to match the 36 points he put up in 2011-12.
KM: "He was a good presence in our room in terms of leadership (and) he was important on our penalty kill … He was able, because of his age and experience, to draw the assignment against the other teams’ top players pretty regularly."
TAYLOR COOPER (18)
(LW, 6-0, 180 pounds)
(64gp, 9g, 16a, 25pts, 29pim)
The rookie produced sporadically and, with more opportunity next season, he’s a breakout candidate.
KM: "He’s a great skater who has a great shot, who should be able to generate offence for our team here as he gets older …Consistency, more grit, those are things he has to add to his game."
RICHARD NEJEZCHLEB (19)
(LW, 6-2, 212 pounds)
(35gp, 11g, 13a, 24pts, 34pim)
The big Czech was plagued with injuries, but flourished as he grew more comfortable here, recording 17 points in his last 20 games.
KM: "Great size, very strong, very powerful and a real high skill level. … He’ll be a real good player in the league next year."
JENS MEILLEUR (20)
(RW, 6-1, 190 pounds)
(64gp, 11g, 12a, 23pts, 12 pim)
Meilleur couldn’t follow through on his strong offensive start — 10 points in his first 10 games — but the winger will try to earn a spot as an overager based on his work ethic and leadership.
KM: "Never question his work ethic or his preparation or his commitment … Would like him to have scored a few more goals. I think that was really across the board with our older players."
JASON SWYRIPA (20)
(C/RW, 5-7, 165 pounds)
(62gp, 10g, 13a, 23pts, 45pim)
Swyripa has never scored much but played the best hockey of his career after shifting to centre down the stretch — with four goals and six points in his final seven games — and the overage candidate is a heart-and-soul player.
KM: "Probably, night-in, night-out was our most physical forward … Offensively, we’d like more out of him and certainly I think he would say the same. But I think that he has to be given full marks for how hard he plays and how much he cares."
JOHN QUENNEVILLE (17)
(C/LW, 6-0, 194 pounds)
(47gp, 8g, 11a, 19pts, 14pim)
Quenneville’s production tended to come in bunches and he battled some injuries but also showed a lot of upside as a rookie.
KM: "I think he’s got tremendous skill … He needs to work harder, he needs to be more physical, he needs to be in better condition and for me, John’s a player that has a lot of potential and should be a really good player as he continues to develop."
MAREK KALUS (20)
(LW/RW, 6-2, 185 pounds)
(38gp, 4g, 14a, 18pts, 10pim)
The Czech import is expected to play in Europe for his 20-year-old season.
JACK PALMER (18)
(LW, 6-2, 178 pounds)
(60gp, 3g, 9a, 12pts, 18pim)
Palmer didn’t produce much as a rookie despite receiving significant power-play time. He has the tools but will need to take significant steps.
KM: "He had stretches where he made good progress; he had stretches where more was expected … A very skilled player, which probably hasn’t come out in games as much as what we think it might in the future … Like a lot of guys, he needs to work harder, he needs to be more competitive, needs to have better mental toughness and I think he can add those things to his game as a second-year player."
GEORDIE MAGUIRE (18)
(LW, 6-0, 165 pounds)
(65gp, 4g, 5a, 9pts, 18pim)
A former Manitoba AAA Midget Hockey League scoring champion, Maguire needs to gain strength to transfer that success to the WHL.
KM: "Skating ability is elite … I think for Geordie, (areas that require improvement are) consistency, competitiveness, size and strength."
TYREL SEAMAN (19)
(C, 6-2, 217 pounds)
(24gp, 3g, 5a, 8pts, 17pim)
A big, strong two-way centre, the St. Louis Blues draft pick’s career is in jeopardy due to concussions that have curtailed his past two seasons.
KM: "He’s a good player, he’s a big, strong man, he’s a good person and he would make a difference for sure."
QUINTIN LISOWAY (18)
(C, 5-10, 180 pounds)
(38gp, 2g, 3a, 5pts, 9pim)
Lisoway became a full-time member of the Wheat Kings after the trade deadline, showing defensive moxie beyond his years.
KM: "A respected guy in the dressing room because of his work ethic and how hard he plays … He’s an important penalty-killer, good on faceoffs and real competitive … Physically, a strong person."
RYAN PULOCK (19)
(6-1, 211 pounds)
(61gp, 14g, 31a, 45pts, 22pim)
A likely first-round pick in this year’s NHL draft, injuries and the burden of trying to carry a struggling club seemed to weigh on Pulock at times, but the captain tied McGauley for the team scoring lead and the Wheat Kings were better when he was on the ice.
KM: "At times in the first half I felt he tried to do too much to the point where he played a different game than the one he’s best suited for. The second half I thought he settled in and played more the type of game that he should play … He’s committed, he’s dedicated, he’s prepared, he’s all the things that you want your captain to be, but I think that being a captain at 18 in our league is tough."
ERIC ROY (19)
(6-3, 190 pounds)
(72gp, 17g, 22a, 39pts, 37pim)
Another NHL draft candidate, Roy struggled in his own zone, but he showed how dangerous he could be with 10 goals since Jan. 25 — the most on the team in that span.
KM: "There was noticeable improvement in his play in the second half of the year … He has so much skill that at times he’ll be nonchalant (in) the way that he plays and I think that what Eric needs to do is be probably just a little harder on people below the hash marks in our end … There’s very few defencemen in the Western Hockey League that pass the puck better than Eric Roy does."
NICK WALTERS (19)
(6-2, 200 pounds)
(64gp, 1g, 18a, 19pts, 106pim)
Acquired at the WHL trade deadline, Walters is better defensively than his plus/ minus rating of -34 suggests.
KM: "He’s an excellent team guy, physical, good in his own end … I think he knows what he is, I think he knows what he isn’t and he’s going to be playing hard next year to get a contract from St. Louis and we think will be one of the better 19-year-old defencemen in the league."
RENE HUNTER (20)
(6-1, 205 pounds)
(55gp, 2g, 10a, 12pts, 20pim)
Hunter played his best hockey of a trying season down the stretch with a goal, two assists and a +2 rating in his final nine games. But with six defencemen eligible to return, Hunter will be in tough to play here as a 20-year-old.
KM: "He’s got good size, he can be physical at times, he’s able to play special teams situations … I think Rene’s a dependable player that adds to a team."
COLTON WALTZ (18)
(6-1, 194 pounds)
(62gp, 3g, 4a, 7pts, 48pim)
The rookie got more ice time as the year went on and showed a penchant for throwing the big hit.
KM: "He’s probably one of our most physical defencemen, he’s a great skater, he’s got all kinds of competitiveness, plays the game real hard … I project him to be a real good player on our team next year, easily a guy that’s ready to play a top-four role on our team and mature beyond his years, on and off the ice."
KORD PANKEWICZ (17)
(5-10, 197 pounds)
(49gp, 0g, 6a, 6pts, 23pim)
Pankewicz spent half of the season at forward before shifting to the blue-line. The Wheat Kings will likely keep the reins tight on the 11th overall pick once again to
start the 2013-14 campaign,
but significant progress is expected.
KM: "We didn’t think that he could come out of midget hockey having played forward the entire year as a 15-year-old and be ready to play defence in the Western league as a 16-year-old, so I think he got used to some of the different aspects of being in the league (before shifting to defence) … He has a lot of good offensive instincts and made some real good plays in the offensive zone. I think that he needs to work on being a good defensive defenceman first."
CORBIN BOES (20)
(6-3, 216 pounds)
(43gp, 3.76gaa, .897 pct)
Boes turned around a disappointing season with a 2.47 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage after January’s trade deadline and is a legitimate candidate to return next season as an overager.
<B>KM: "Had a real good finish to the year … His first half wasn’t anywhere near what
we expected or what he expected of himself because he finished his 18-year-old year so strong."
CURTIS HONEY (19)
(5-11, 172 pounds)
(33gp, 3.81gaa, .895 pct)
In his first full WHL season, Honey outperformed the more experienced Boes for much of the campaign before finishing with similar numbers.
KM: "I think he played well, handles the puck well, played against top teams … I think he was confident in any situation and obviously we feel Corbin is a starter in this league and I think Curtis has shown that he’s ready for that as well."