The Kootenay Ice engineered a surprising mid-season turnaround - led offensively by a trio of 17-year-old's.
Floundering up until Christmas, Kootenay suddenly won seven straight games - and 12 of 13 - to leapfrog back into the playoff picture. The club has since come back to earth with a 7-5 record and currently hold down the eighth and final playoff spot with 60 points, one ahead of the Lethbridge Hurricanes.
At the heart of the revival has been top center Sam Reinhart who was a force through January, recording at least a point in each game as part of a 16-game consecutive-game points streak (14-11-25), tied for fourth-longest in the WHL this season.
The last of former NHLer Paul Reinhart's three WHL-bred sons, and a top prospect for the 2014 NHL Draft, Reinhart has helped draw attention to others looking to get drafted this summer - such as diminutive Jaedon Descheneau.
After scoring six goals in his first 35 games, Descheneau has caught fire alongside Reinhart with 12 goals in the past 22 games.
The Edmonton, Alberta native also posted a 12-game consecutive point-scoring streak (12-7-12-19) - while producing at well over a point-per-game clip since the Christmas break (25-12-23-35).
His emergence coincided with a four-game team-imposed suspension in December for 'conduct detrimental to the team' while at Mount Baker High School.
McKeen's correspondent Matt Bugg provides scouting reports on four 1995-born players including Czech import Jakub Prochazka and rumbling forward Jon Martin.
Jaedon Descheneau (RW-C, 2013), Kootenay
a natural centerman playing right wing on the top line alongside Sam Reinhart .. severely undersized at 5-foot-8 and 175 pounds - but comes with a caveat attached, namely that he would be much more desirable prospect if he were closer to six feet in height .. as it is, he has stepped up as one of the strongest offensive weapons for a beleaguered Kootenay squad - ranking among the top three on the club in goals, assists and points .. a gifted skater who motors through the neutral zone with ease .. can be a handful to mark as he can spin and contort away from coverage, taking the puck gracefully along with him .. boldly darts in and out of openings with confidence, taking advantage of gaps as soon as they appear thanks to a zippy shooting release .. excels at opening up ice for covered teammates as he zips up and through the offensive zone .. delivers passes that are hard and crisp, especially from the backhand .. the primary area of concern however is the ease with which he can be contained when passing lanes close up .. skates himself out of room when bottled or simply sticks to operating on the perimeter .. still, needs only one opportunity to find the scoresheet .. his extended scoring stretches, including a 12-game point streak, demonstrate his consistency and ability to contribute on any given night .. with A-plus skill combined with a bevy of B or B+ talents such as above-average agility, skating and puck-handling, he stands a better chance at cracking the barrier that exists for smaller players .. will otherwise fade at the next level as opponents become bigger, stronger and faster.
Jon Martin (LW-C, 2013), Kootenay
Former seventh-round pick in the WHL Bantam Draft is out-performing the majority of his peers simply by having earned a regular role on a CHL squad .. yet, as it stands, remains buried behind a mix of other 1995 and 1996-born forwards all competing for ice-time with the Ice .. a prototypical bottom-six forward .. competes well in all three zones, but shows extra jump on offensive-zone sorties .. strong skater packs a deceptively quick punch .. hurtles his 6-foot-1, 205-pound frame through the middle of the ice propelled by a powerful stride .. makes safe, simple decisions with the puck, preferring up-and-down plays as opposed to sustained cycling .. also a threat to cause extra chaos in the opposing end as he constantly seeks opportunities to make contact .. his hits can often occupy a border-line between clean and dangerous, as evidenced by a one-game suspension for charging earlier this year .. overt passion describes his game overall .. earned a multi-game suspension for participating in a line-brawl back in September .. if there's trouble on the ice, Martin is either in the middle of it or looking to get involved .. aside from his physical play, he will need to expand his tool kit in order to be a player at the next level .. the Winnipeg minor hockey product doesn't flash much in the way of high-grade skill or vision - yet does possess one attractive gift in a hard, booming snapshot that can handcuff goaltenders - especially off the rush .. in addition, could also better support the defensive side of the game .. shifts can be too short - will leave his man for a quick change when the opportunity presents itself .. tends to can get 'tunnel vision' in seeking the big hit - even when he's on his game.
Jakub Prochazka (LW, 2013), Kootenay
The HC Litvinov product is debuting in North America after nine goals and 25 points over parts of two seasons in the Czech U20 league .. already possesses a solid frame at 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds .. despite his meagre point totals, he plays a pro-friendly north-south game .. attacks the net and looks to generate goals off rebounds or re-directions .. possesses a long reach as well as excellent hand-eye - tools suited for the job .. reads developing plays well and will either wait or break to the net at the right time to corral passes .. a hard, no-telegraph snapshot can give goaltenders difficulty - when on target .. a technically-sound skater - though not explosive .. his footwork and edge control allow him to gain the advantage during battles along the wall for the puck .. however, outside of complementing the rush, he does not possess any specific top talent .. struggles making anything other than the safe play .. his acceleration will need to improve if he is to act as the trailer on attack sequences .. at times, appears lost in transition as play quickly changes direction .. lack of explosiveness also hinders him from making an impact physically, where he otherwise shows a penchant for wanting to become involved .. will line up an opposing player for a hit - only to arrive seconds too late .. given the culture change and limited ice-time, makes it difficult to project his future .. has the right mentality to be a first-line contributor like Kristian Pelss in the latter stages of his WHL career .. however, will need to make significant gains across the board .. unlikely to be drafted this June.
Matt Thomas (D, 2013), Kootenay
The unlisted AAA defender is one of the most interesting stories developing for the 2013 draft, having spent just one season in major midget before making the jump to the WHL as a walk-on with Kootenay .. extremely raw physically at 6-foot-3 and 185 lbs - and up from 160 pounds just the year before .. endured many ups and downs during a trial-by-fire rookie season that has seen him thrown into every situation .. notable for his confidence and poise in starting the rush .. strong, balanced forward skater .. displays heads-up awareness in making and receiving passes on the break-out .. in supporting the offense, effortlessly walks the line and will rotate between a safe, low slapshot and firm cross-point passes .. during changes in possession, first to jump back and transition into defense .. will need to refine his 1-on-1 technique .. too often makes the first move, rather than forcing the puck-carrier to make that choice .. this may be a result of less-than-ideal pivots and footwork .. left behind by smaller, faster forwards when challenged head-on .. at his best when allowed to dictate gap control, ending with a hard rub into the wall on his strong (right) side .. shows even better when defending the cycle .. effectively controls busy areas of the ice, clogging up lanes and intercepting sure passes .. with enhanced strength, should win even more battles down low than he does at present .. consistently involved and agitating players set up in the slot .. although a definite project, he appears poised to step into the role that overager Joey Leach will vacate next year - as the large, quiet presence at even strength and on the penalty kill.