(Courtesy of Perry Bergson, The Brandon Sun)
Liam Watkins admits that life is a little strange for him right now.
The 75th overall pick in the 2019 Western Hockey League draft by the Brandon Wheat Kings said the way that everything closed down due to COVID-19 concerns ended has left him a little at loose ends.
“It’s a bit weird because I usually practise two times a week and we got that taken away from us,” Watkins said. “It’s been weird because I can’t keep going to that rink and improving. It depends when the rinks open up again. Hopefully they open soon and I can get back out on the ice and keep skating.”
Watkins, who hasn’t signed with Brandon yet, scored 13 goals and added nine assists and 16 penalty minutes in 32 games as a rookie with his hometown Okotoks Oilers in the Alberta Midget Hockey League.
“I was really happy with how things went,” Watkins said. “I was playing with great players. I didn’t get as many points as I wanted to but overall I had a really good season.”
Wheat Kings assistant general manager Doug Gasper said he enjoyed seeing Watkins play. He said the 15-year-old forward does everything how it needs to be done.
“Liam was a real fun guy to watch,” Gasper said. “He plays the game hard. He plays at a high pace, he competes hard, he battles for every puck. Surprisingly for a first-year guy, a lot of their offence runs through him. He’s a real big contributor for that team. He had a solid year with 22 points in 32 games. He’s another young man who plays the game the right way. He plays a 200-foot-game, he plays in all situations, on the PK, on the power play, and he was a real pleasure to watch this year.
“His development surprised me the most. He really made a big jump this year.”
Okotoks was swept in the playoffs by Brandon prospect Rylen Roersma and the Lethbridge Hurricanes. Still Watkins said the season was a big success.
“It was probably just getting relationships with my team and making the playoffs for the first time as an organization,” Watkins said. “That was pretty cool.”
On a personal note, Watkins said the chance to begin his season by skating at Brandon’s training camp was a good launching pad for him. The opportunity to play with older players in the midget league also accelerated his growth.
“I thought my speed really improved playing with older guys,” Watkins said. “I had to adapt to the faster game, and I also thought my shot improved a little bit for power but I still need to get that quick release off a bit quicker.”
Like most good players, he set goals for things to improve during the season. He’ll have plenty of time this summer for his to-do list, which includes working on his shot, his speed and his strength.
“I definitely want to gain a lot of strength and get a bit bigger on and off the ice,” Watkins said. “I think I need that strength to play at the next level.”