A WHEAT KINGS RECAP AND LOOK AHEAD TO 2018-19
(Courtesy of Perry Bergson, The Brandon Sun) — Brandon Wheat Kings team that went two rounds into the Western Hockey League playoffs will return as many as 19 players next season.
With the loss of its three 1997-born overagers — forward Evan Weinger, defenceman and team captain James Shearer and Eastern Conference second-team all-star goalie Logan Thompson — and one of the four potential 1998-born returnees who will be overagers next season, Brandon will be well stocked with veterans.
Here’s a player-by-player look at next season’s potential veterans, broken down by age group. The Sun compiled a quick capsule on each player, and then asked Wheat Kings general manager Grant Armstrong for his thoughts on each player’s performance last season and what will be expected of them next season. Armstrong’s answers are edited for length.
For clarity’s sake, 1998-born players will be in their 20-year-old seasons next year, 1999-born players will be in their 19-year-old seasons, 2000-born players will be in their 18-year-old seasons and 2001-born players will be in their 17-year-old seasons.
Ty Lewis, LW
Left (shot), 5-11, 188 lbs, Brandon
70gp, 44g, 56a, 100p, +16, 60pim.
SUN: The local product with the wicked shot led the team in scoring on a line with Connor Gutenberg and Evan Weinger. Lewis, a free agent who signed a pro deal with the Colorado Avalanche, may turn pro or be returned for his overage season.
ARMSTRONG: Had a terrific point-producing season … Was very valuable to us on the offensive ledger … Consistent in his production … Moving forward, he would like to play at a higher level and obviously we support that. If we’re lucky enough to have him come back, we would be ecstatic because we feel that his offensive upside is still untapped … Would be a welcome addition to our young squad.
Linden McCorrister, LW
L, 6-0, 185, Peguis
59gp, 20g, 23a, 43p, 0, 21pim.
SUN: A defensive rock up front, the hard-working and physical Peguis product played the best hockey of his three-year WHL career at the end of the regular season and into the playoffs. He saw power-play duty for the first time.
ARMSTRONG: A terrific young man who had a great finish to his season … Played with renewed confidence and vigour … Was a driving force for our late season push into the playoffs … Look forward to him coming back as a 20-year-old and taking his leadership qualities and a role that will be expanded.
Gunnar Wegleitner, RW
R, 6-1, 190, Vancouver
57gp, 10g, 9a, 19p, +9, 19pim.
SUN: Wegleitner enjoyed a six-game scoring streak early in the season, then cooled considerably and was a healthy scratch some nights. Despite his speed and outstanding shot, he’ll need to make a strong early impression to return for his overage season.
ARMSTRONG: It’s important that he has a good off-season … Had some early success and then had trouble staying in the lineup … With a good start and some renewed confidence in his off-season training, he can come in and push himself to play in our league.
Schael Higson, D
L, 6-0, 219, Grand Prairie, Alta.
71gp, 5g, 23a, 28p, +11, 96pim.
SUN: Higson played on Brandon’s first pairing with rookie D-man Braden Schneider, and the Albertan thrived in his mentorship role. He did a better job of getting his shot through, and showed more discipline.
ARMSTRONG: His playoff performance was outstanding … Really became the warrior. His will to win and desire to be a win-at-all-costs kind of guy was something our group really, really worshipped … Coming into next year, he should take another step in his game … Matured as a player this year and is going to have a big summer in which he’ll continue to get stronger … His strength will certainly provide a lot of room for our younger guys.
Baron Thompson, RW
R, 6-5, 252, Lakeville, Minn.
60gp, 13g, 13a, 26p, -5, 37pim.
SUN: A pair of suspensions set the big Minnesotan back despite his career numbers. With deceptively soft hands, the crowd favourite needs to work on his foot speed and find ways to play physically without drawing penalties.
ARMSTRONG: Had a pretty good season, but the one thing we would like to see more from him is consistency … When he plays a big, strong heavy game he creates room … Offensive numbers continue to get better and I expect that he will lead the charge next year and push hard to get into our top group.
Stelio Mattheos, C
R, 6-1, 200, Winnipeg
68gp, 43g, 47a, 90p, +7, 81pim.
SUN: The 2014 top bantam pick saw his game hit new heights despite playing with an upper-body injury much of the season. He has terrific offensive instincts and a great shot, but needs to improve at the faceoff dot.
ARMSTRONG: Had a good offensive year … We expect more in terms of his commitment to playing in all zones of the ice … Will be challenged. For him to grow into a pro player, he needs to expand his horizons and be more committed to all aspects of the game … At times through the year he started to gravitate in that direction … With a good off-season and his pro camp experience, he’ll come back and be a complete player.
Connor Gutenberg, C
R, 5-9, 160, Brandon
72gp, 18g, 35a, 53p, +4, 23pim.
SUN: Gutenberg’s production has steadily improved. The smaller forward has a seemingly unending capacity to work hard, and is a very good penalty killer. He will have to step up even more as a 19-year-old, and also improve on draws.
ARMSTRONG: Comes to work every day and works hard … An honest player … Needs a big off-season to continue his development …Has potential to take the game to the next level with continued development in terms of power that he needs to play against bigger and stronger players … Will take another step next year and be roughed into a bigger leadership role. That’s part of his game we welcome.
Zach Wytinck, D
L, 6-0, 155, Glenboro
68gp, 4g, 19a, 23p, -7, 41pim.
SUN: Wytinck’s first full season in the league showed his very good offensive ability but he also struggled at times with bigger forwards. One of Manitoba’s top young golfers will have to get stronger in the off-season.
ARMSTRONG: Needs to continue his development …An offensive-minded defenceman who needs to get bigger and stronger and be able to retrieve pucks and get them up ice quicker …When it comes to the power play, he needs to be a threat from the point … Must be harder to play against … A big summer for Zach will go a long way … Has a high IQ.
Daniel Bukac, D
R, 6-5, 207, Most, Czech Republic
39gp, 0g, 8a, 8p, +4, 40pim.
SUN: It was a lost season for the Boston Bruins draft pick, who came into camp with an injured knee and didn’t play until December. After gaining 30 pounds, his feet will have to catch up to his growth spurt.
ARMSTRONG: Injury set him back. He was late to the process … I thought he struggled early and as the season progressed he got a little bit better … Needs a big summer of development … Needs to continue to work on his skills and needs to develop better puck management and puck movement skills … His summer will be defined by how hard he works … Experience at Boston Bruins camp will be a great thing for him …Has to get healthy and get his confidence back.
Chase Hartje, D
L, 5-11, 185, Bemidji, Minn.
58gp, 3g, 22a, 25p, +10, 18pim.
SUN: The Minnesota product came to Brandon with Luka Burzan in the Kale Clague trade. He showed an ability to get the puck up ice quickly and some offensive flair, but will have to be a more stout defender in his own end.
ARMSTRONG: From Jan. 10, he continued to develop … Got exposed to more things than he did earlier in his Western Hockey League career … Has tremendous offensive upside … Needs to work on defending … Has to get stronger … Has to be able to push offensive players to the outside, be harder to play against, win more battles and move the puck as quickly as possible.
Dylan Myskiw, G
L, 6-1, 175, Winnipeg
22gp, 1,180mp, 3.41gaa, .887save pct.
SUN: When the second-year player finally received a chance after Thompson was injured, he ran with it, playing well down the stretch and in the playoffs. Consistency will be his challenge as a starter.
ARMSTRONG: A solid finish …Got his opportunity and took advantage of it … Played very well and gained the confidence of the team in front of him … Look for him to continue to play with calm and poise … Did a great job … Really looking forward to him pushing to the next level with our hockey club.
Luka Burzan, C
L, 6-1, 180, Surrey, B.C.
72gp, 15g, 25a, 40p, +6, 20pim.
SUN: The hard-working B.C. product, who was the sixth overall pick by Moose Jaw in 2015, was an energetic and consistent performer after arriving at the trade deadline. Burzan, who like all the 2000-born players is National Hockey League draft eligible, will be counted on for more offence next season.
ARMSTRONG: Tremendous outside speed …Will provide us with some length to the rink in terms of being able to carry the puck into the zone … Has to work on his net approach in terms of shooting off the rush …Has tremendous ability to find the net … Needs to be more aggressive in the offensive zone and when he comes back into our zone, be a guy who can be reliable, get into lanes and get us on offence as quickly as possible … It will be another continuation of his development to make him into a legit top-six forward and a top-end offensive player in our league.
Cole Reinhardt, LW
L, 6-0, 200, Calgary
68gp, 19g, 15a, 34p, -1, 40pim.
SUN: The Albertan showed a nice scoring touch in his second season, despite weathering a 16-game goalless drought in the new year. The hard worker will have to get faster, because he will be looked on for more next season.
ARMSTRONG: Very similar to Burzan, he needs to utilize his abilities … At times his confidence level would vary … Needs to come back with a renewed push to be a complete player who can play up and down the lineup and be counted on in any given situation … Has offensive ability that I feel is untapped … Can garner strength from his ability to play in our zone and use his legs to escape pressure and move the puck into situations offensively that will allow him to be a more of a net-front presence.
Caiden Daley, C
R, 6-0, 170, Winnipeg
69gp, 7g, 12a, 19p, +7, 11pim.
SUN: Daley’s game continues to grow, but he’s also benefited from many opportunities, particularly on special teams. He simply needs to get stronger, show more urgency each shift and improve on his faceoff draws.
ARMSTRONG: Needs to continue to work on all aspects of his game … Had to get stronger and has to get more polish in all areas. Bigger, stronger, faster … Started off the year on the injury list …His off-season has to be focused 100 per cent on doing the right kind of training to be an every-day player and a guy that can be reliable in all situations … Hopefully with renewed confidence he will come back as a more complete player in terms of all zones.
Rylan Bettens, RW
R, 6-1, 185, Winnipeg
49gp, 7g, 7a, 14p, -5, 8pim.
SUN: Bettens seemed to come on as the season went along after losing a month to a mid-season injury, becoming more physically engaged and winning more puck battles along the boards. He also needs to bulk up, and will be expected to contribute more offensively.
ARMSTRONG: Knows his role and works hard at it … Understands that to have success you have to work hard … Competes in all areas of the game … A good summer of working on his skill, his puck management and his ability to escape traffic areas, get pucks to the net, funnel to the net and be hard … Needs to develop more power in his game. That will go a long ways toward his success next year …Can play up and down the lineup and be counted on as we move forward to be a specialty-type player who can do a good job of killing penalties and get some power-play time as required.
Marcus Sekundiak, LW
L, 5-11, 167, Oak Bluff
61gp, 4g, 5a, 9p, -2, 16pim.
SUN: The rookie was in and out of the lineup all season, but certainly saved his best for last, sniping five times in the playoffs. His physical game also came along nicely. Expect more offensively next season from a player who reads the game very well.
ARMSTRONG: Had a great post-season …I thought he was incredibly good in the playoffs utilizing his speed and compete value … Was hard to play against … As he moves forward, I see him moving up the lineup … Has to work on his finishing touch … A very good playmaker and has a very good understanding of where he has to be on the ice … As he grows and matures and gets stronger, I feel that he will rise up in the lineup and be a guy that you can count on in any situation.
Ty Ettinger, D
L, 6-1, 178, Ardrossan, Alta.
45gp, 2g, 5a, 7p, +10, 47pim.
SUN: The rookie blue-liner earned a spot in the pre-season with his fine play. He added a stouter element on Brandon’s smaller defensive corps, and despite losing games as a healthy scratch, should take a bigger role next season.
ARMSTRONG: Big strong guy who really has to work on his foot speed … Really committed to doing things the right way …Will come back bigger and stronger … A great teammate and a guy who as he gets more time will elevate his leadership qualities and be a guy you can count on in those high pressure situations to make really good decisions and help keep our zone clean … Defensive minded but his skillset is one that is held in high regard … A guy who will only get better.
Ben McCartney, LW
L, 5-11, 175, Macdonald
51gp, 2g, 10a, 12p, 0, 32pim.
SUN: The pesky fourth-liner was one of Brandon’s best players in the post-season as he created energy every shift with his work ethic and physical engagement. He showed offensive flashes: Expect plenty of growth in his game to come.
ARMSTRONG: Great post-season … Works hard and has a lots of energy. Our team fed off his energy every night … Has the ability to be very, very difficult to play against …His grit factor is very high for a young guy … Will continue to work on his skillset … Will eventually become a guy who will get his fair share of points in our league …As we saw in the playoffs, a guy who can score the big goal when needed …He needs to be hard to play against and stay disciplined. With that in mind, we feel that he adds a lot of value to our group … Will be difficult for the opposition not to get off their game when Ben is on the ice.
Jonny Hooker, C
L, 5-11, 180, Winnipeg
40gp, 3g, 5a, 8p, 0, 8pim.
SUN: The rookie forward was a healthy scratch many nights, and suffered a late-season upper-body injury that kept him out of the playoffs. He reads the game well, works hard and has a very good shot. More will be expected next season.
ARMSTRONG: Tremendous skill … We have to keep focusing on developing his off-the-rush shot technique …Skating has improved …Not shy, works hard in all zones … Committed to doing things the right way …As he grows and matures, he will certainly become a very good top-six player in our league and a guy who will get his fair share of points.
Braden Schneider, D
R, 6-1, 197, Prince Albert, Sask.
66gp, 1g, 21a, 22p, +10, 16pim.
SUN: Brandon couldn’t have hoped for much more from the rookie defenceman, who played first pairing minutes all season. He’s strong, smart, makes good decisions with the puck and improved as the season progressed. A star in the making.
ARMSTRONG: A guy who played huge minutes against the top players throughout the league … Did everything asked of him … Has potential to take the game to whatever level he desires … Works very, very hard off ice and is a student of the game … Expect him to take another step in his leadership and his ability … Hard to play against but also we have not seen some of his offensive abilities yet, which I believe will come with a real good off-season of skill development.