Pantelas ready for his next big move
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When you ask Giorgos Pantelas about his thoughts heading into the Western Hockey League draft, the response couldn’t be more unexpected.
The 15-year-old defenceman from Victoria, who the Brandon Wheat Kings grabbed with the 19th pick of Thursday’s draft, said he tried to put the annual talent hunt into a context that worked for him.
“I didn’t stress about it too much,” Pantelas said. “There are two different factors, stress and confidence. I feel like I was more confident than stressed because the draft doesn’t define your future. It’s what you do over the summer that does, in my opinion, your dedication and stuff.
“I found the draft was a unique moment because it was a little part of my future, but I’m most of my future. In the draft, hopefully, you go and get a great team, and lucky me, I did.”
The six-foot-two, 182-pound Pantelas was born in Montreal and lived there until he was 10 when his family moved across the country to Vancouver Island and settled in Victoria.
His father Aki played goal in Canada prior to a move to Greece when he was younger, and after returning to Canada and having a son, he introduced Giorgos to the ice around age four. The youngster started playing a year later.
Like most young players who end up as top draft picks in the WHL, there was a point when he started to elevate above many of the kids he skated with in minor hockey. That came early for Pantelas. In 2017-18, he was good enough to make a Quebec team that played in the prestigious Brick Invitational tournament in Calgary.
“Novice second year was when I really started dominating the ice and being able to move way faster than everyone,” Pantelas said. “I feel like my size really started kicking in and I started moving faster. Once I moved onto the Island for peewee first year, moving for hockey really gave me the feeling that this right here is going to be my future. I just kept going with the flow and hockey just carries you to places.
“Now it’s going to carry me to Manitoba.”
While a majority of players gravitate to their position fairly early, Pantelas did just the opposite. He switched every year, playing his minor season in each group as a defenceman and his major season as a forward.
He said it helps how he sees the game.
“To understand how the other ones are playing, you have to get into their position and feel it,” Pantelas said. “When I’m a D-man passing to the forwards on the wall, I feel like it helps a lot that I was once a forward waiting on the wall for the puck to know where to give them the puck so it benefits them the most.”
After spending the 2021-22 season at the Okanagan Hockey Academy in Penticton, B.C. — he split the season between the varsity and prep teams, putting up 25 points in 32 games — Pantelas made the move to the Rink Hockey Academy in Kelowna for the 2022-23 season.
Since his father has a successful painting business on Vancouver Island and couldn’t leave, Giorgos, his hockey-playing younger brother Michael and their mother Britney made the move each winter and headed home in the summer.
In 28 games this season with the U15 prep team coached by Jarome Iginla, Pantelas had seven goals, 31 assists and eight penalty minutes in 28 games. He also had four assists in five games at the John Reid Memorial Tournament in St. Albert, Alta., which is one of the top showcases for WHL prospects.
“Hockey is the perfect match,” Pantelas said of why enjoys the sport so much. “My second favourite sport is football. I like the physicality and team play part of it, but in hockey I like the fact that one player can change the game or just be someone standing on the ice. The compete level in hockey is crazy too, and the speed.
“Just feeling the wind against your head as you’re skating and trying to keep the puck or make a pass. I love that feeling.”
He hasn’t actually played organized football — although he still throws a ball around with his friends — instead participating in some soccer and a lot of baseball when he was younger.
Heading into the WHL draft, which was seen as having a thin group of blue-liners but some elite players at the top of the class, Pantelas was the eighth defenceman taken when Brandon nabbed him with the 19th overall pick.
Ironically, the Wheat Kings acquired the pick from the Saskatoon Blades on Jan. 10 in a deal for veteran forward Jake Chiasson, another British Columbia product.
Pantelas was on the ice when a coach told him the news on Thursday morning, and by the time he got to his phone, it was swamped with messages across a variety of platforms. Current Wheat Kings were among the people who reached out.
Brandon director of player personnel Chris Moulton said Pantelas is a special player in a lot of ways.
“Giorgos is just such a well-rounded kid,” Moulton said. “He understands the game, makes plays, is a big body, skates well, played some forward but we want him on defence. When he played forward, he learned different aspects of the game. He has great offensive instincts if he wants to jump.”
When Pantelas is asked about his game, he’s quick to jump to what he sees as his weaknesses. A big one is getting the puck on net.
“I have to work on shooting past screens because shooting past screens is really hard and very beneficial,” Pantelas said. “It can be terrible if you hit the screen. That’s one thing I definitely have to work on, and my physical strength, especially if I’m going to be playing in such a big league like the WHL.
“I’m already a big kid, but being stronger than the rest of the kids, that’s really beneficial so I’ll be working on that.
“And you can always work on skating, so I can guarantee I’ll be doing skating and skills, Those you can always improve on. You’re never perfect, and there’s always someone better than you.”
Like many top players, he’s more succinct detailing the positives, saying he sees the ice well and can find passing lanes.
At least he’ll be able to improve with the knowledge that the next step of his path has been decided. Pantelas, who is friends with former OHA teammate and signed Wheat Kings defensive prospect Gradey Hope, thinks it will help to have the draft behind him.
“It makes my life a lot easier,” Pantelas said. “I just have to prepare myself for Brandon. Now that I’ve made it, I have to get ready and get better.”
The Wheat Kings didn’t draft a lot of players from British Columbia at one time, because it was a long way from their home to Brandon and some of the players weren’t big fans of the chilly winters. Not only is Pantelas eager to get here, he also can’t wait to get a taste of what Mother Nature can bring.
“I’m very excited,” Pantelas said. “I’ve never been to Manitoba to stay. I think I drove across it when I moved here but I’ve never been there to stay. I personally love cold weather. I’m a big winter guy, so that will be amazing.
“I genuinely cannot wait, and I’m happy to be spending the summer over on the Island and the winter there because I love the winter and summer on the Island is also beautiful. I feel like I’m going to love winter in Manitoba, and the people too.”
ICINGS: The Portland Winterhawks made history on Thursday when they selected Morgan Stickney of Redondo Beach, Calif. She became the first-ever female American player drafted by a WHL club … The Edmonton Oil Kings acquired overage defenceman Marc Lajoie from the Tri-City Americans for a second-round pick in 2025 and a fifth-round pick in 2026 on Thursday, and overage forward Aiden Litke from Portland for a third-round pick in 2023 … On Friday, the Red Deer Rebels acquired 20-year-old defenceman Elias Carmichael from the Kelowna Rockets for a third-round pick in 2024.
» Twitter: @PerryBergson