The Lethbridge Hurricanes will begin a new Western Hockey League season next week, and with jobs still available on what looks to be a young roster, a pair of undrafted players have turned some heads.
2001-born defenceman Rylan Thiessen and 2002-born forward Chase Wheatcroft both went undrafted in the WHL Bantam Draft, but were listed and signed by the Canes at the same time; now, they are both making themselves seen as they try to earn their first full-time junior hockey jobs.
“The whole goal for us is to have younger guys come in and really push our older guys,” said Hurricanes head coach Brent Kisio, “and we think that’s what we’ve achieved with camp and through exhibition.”
Brandon, Manitoba product Thiessen spent two months with the team last season — and got into three games in Hurricanes’ silks — before he was sent back to the Brandon Wheat Kings Midget AAA team.
The coaching staff has noticed an impressive jump in his game since his last stint in Lethbridge.
“Oh he’s been outstanding,” said Kisio. “He’s a guy that last year got a little bit of time with us. We thought he had some things to work on for his urgency and how he was playing.
“He went back to midget and did a real good job there and stepped up for his team, and you can obviously see he’s put the work in this summer and taken a lot of strides.”
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In two preseason games against the Red Deer Rebels over the weekend, Thiessen had two goals.
“I like to jump in the rush whenever I can,” said the 18-year-old, “just make a good first pass from my own end, and then obviously try to get on the point sheet as much as I can, help the team out in that aspect, but also be good in the D-zone.”
But Thiessen hasn’t been the only impressive young gun, as 17-year-old forward Wheatcroft has tallied a goal and two assists through two contests.
“I’m an offensive player, just try to get pucks in the net, and then I can also bring a physical presence as well,” said Wheatcroft.
While he hails from Calgary, he also has a family connection to the Hurricanes.
“My dad played here when he was 19 and 20 years old,” he laughed. “He was kind of the fighter of the team; he loved to fight and he was always in the penalty box.”
Wheatcroft tries to bring the physicality that his dad showed off for Hurricanes fans in the 1987-88 and 1988-89 seasons, and so far he has impressed the coaching staff.
“With Chase, I think one thing we’ve seen already is he can be an impact player for us,” said Kisio.
Wheatcroft and Thiessen may not have been on the team last year — when the Hurricanes were upset in round one of the WHL playoffs by the Calgary Hitmen — but they still understand that the team is out to improve.
“They had a really good team last year but obviously a sad ending,” said Thiessen, “but we also have a good team this year that can go far. Hopefully, make the playoffs to start, and then go far in that.”
The Hurricanes will begin their hunt for a fifth-straight playoff appearance as the WHL season begins next week. Lethbridge faces the Medicine Hat Tigers to open the year, Friday, September 20.
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