Wheat Kings set for prospects camp
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The Brandon Wheat Kings will get their first look at their most recent draft class all together in one rink starting today as the Western Hockey League club hosts its annual prospects camp.
Wheat Kings head coach and general manager Marty Murray didn’t have as much of a chance to scout as he hoped after he took on the head coaching reins in December, so he’s eager to see the team’s future.
“We were talking this morning about ‘Who are you most excited to see?’ and we were just going player by player, whether it’s seeing somebody for the first time or seeing them for the first time since fall camp and the strides they’ve made,” Murray said.
“It’s an exciting time. We have to close to 30 kids coming in and it will be fun to have everybody under one roof and have a real good weekend.”
Twenty-nine players are expected, all of whom were born in 2006-08. The group, which includes four goalies, nine defencemen and 16 forwards, were either drafted or listed by the team, because no free-agent invitations are allowed at WHL prospects camps.
With no ice currently in Westoba Place, all the on-ice events take place at J&G Homes Arena.
On Friday, there are practices at 6 and 7 p.m. Saturday features skills sessions at 8:30 and 10, and after a few hours of off-ice activities, there is a game at 4 p.m.
The camp finishes on Sunday morning with a game at 9 o’clock.
The difference between prospects camp and any other camp lies in the intent. While fall camps are all about players trying to make the club, prospects camp is aimed at the club trying to make an impression on players.
“Main camp is more business because you’re picking a hockey team,” Murray said. “This weekend is more about relationship building and getting to know the players and families better, and for them to come in and kind of see what we have to offer with the facilities.
“Obviously camp isn’t going to be at Westoba but at the same time they can get a taste of Brandon and understand what our organization is all about.”
There is one blemish on the weekend that is entirely out of the team’s control. The Wheat Kings dressing room was given a lavish remodelling two years ago and is one of the highlights of the facility tour, but it’s currently off limits.
“There was a water break near our dressing room so it’s under construction right now,” Murray said. “That happened right at the draft so unfortunately we won’t have the ability to have locker-room tours because the dressing room is in a messy state. That’s unfortunate because that’s part of it, being able to show off the amenities.
“With water laying around and potential mould, you don’t want to expose anybody to that.”
Still, it’s the most normal camp since 2019.
After cancelling the 2020 and 2021 prospects camp due to the pandemic, the annual event returned last spring. The big difference between this year and last year is that two draft classes debuted at the 2022 camp after the 2021 draft was moved to December to give scouts a better chance to view players.
This year, just one draft class is entirely new to Brandon.
All of Brandon’s most recent picks are attending, although neither of the team’s American selections, forwards Reed Brown and Jimmy Egan, are able to make it.
The 2008-born players, who were selected two weeks ago and will be skating in their 15-year-old seasons next fall, are forwards Jaxon Jacobson (first round, fifth overall), Isaac Davies (4-72), Ryan Boyce (5-94), Knox Bendera (5-95), Maddox Gandha (7-142) and Julian Fedora (9-182); defencemen Giorgos Pantelas (1-19), Nigel Boehm (2-28), Jack Swaenepoel (7-138) and Cameron Allard (8-160); plus goalies Dylan McFadyen (6-121) and Greyson Moroz (list).
Unfortunately, Boehm will be in the stands because he sustained an injury during a skate on Wednesday.
The 2007-born players, who were drafted in May 2022 and are entering their 16-year-old seasons, are forwards Joby Baumuller (1-12), Easton Odut (2-34), Quinn Parker (5-100), Brady Turko (5-97), Dominic Grieco (7-144), Ethan Stewart (list), Ben Binder-Nord (list), Owen Corkish (list); defencemen Emerson Clark (3-56), Gradey Hope (4-78), Tao Flory (8-166) and Carson Craig (2-43, U.S.), plus goalie Ryder Green (8-158).
The smallest group is the 2006-born players, who were drafted in December 2021 and are entering their 17-year-old seasons next fall. They are forwards Carter Klippenstein (3-64) and Drew Williamson (7-152), defenceman Evan Lambert (5-108) and goalie Ethan Eskit (6-114).
None of the Wheat Kings veterans from that draft class, defenceman Charlie Elick and forwards Roger McQueen and Caleb Hadland, will be on hand.
Murray’s first up-close introduction to the Wheat Kings came at a similar camp a few months after he was acquired from the Spokane Chiefs on Jan. 21, 1991 as part of a package involving star netminder Trevor Kidd. Murray joined the team at 16 the next fall and over four seasons went on to become a franchise legend.
“I remember just after getting traded to the Wheat Kings attending spring camp,” Murray said. “That was my first taste of the Wheat Kings.”
And with that experience, he has a pretty good sense of what the players are feeling, especially if they’re making their first trip to Brandon.
“I think it’s a good opportunity for them to get that nervousness or star-struck feeling they might have coming to their first camp,” Murray said. “It might settle some nerves going into main camp. And we want to stress too, every time you step on the ice you’re getting evaluated but for us, this weekend is more about just getting to know each other a little better and having some fun.
“It’s not going to be crazy taxing. It’s a good opportunity for the kids to come out here and have some fun and get to know each other a little better.”
» Twitter: @PerryBergson