Prior to the Pandemic
It took a little bit for everything to gel under new head coach Dave Lowry, but the Wheat Kings started clicking in the second half and became one of the top clubs in the Eastern Conference, thanks in large part to the play of overage netminder Jiri Patera.
A lot of things changed though in Brandon during the extended off-season. Longtime owner Kelly McCrimmon sold the franchise to the J&G Group of Companies and local businessman Jared Jacobson, while Lowry left after one season to join the Winnipeg Jets coaching staff.
In his place behind the bench was Don MacGillivray, who had been an assistant coach with the Wheat Kings since 2016 and also served as the head coach for the Prince Albert Raiders in the late 1990’s.
Despite the departures of some key players from the 2019-20 lineup, the Wheat Kings didn’t miss a beat in the Regina hub as they posted an 18-4-2-0 mark to win the East Division for the first time since 2016, when they won their most recent Ed Chynoweth Cup.
In addition to posting a .792 point percentage that tied the 2014-15 squad that reached the WHL final for the third best in franchise history, the Wheat Kings increased their goals per game average from 3.60 to 4.33, which is their highest mark since a 4.43 average in their 2016 title-winning campaign.
They also lowered their goals against per game from an impressive 2.74 to a dazzling 2.54, which broke the previous record of 2.59 set in the 2002-03 season, where they reached the Eastern Conference final but lost to the Red Deer Rebels.
During the season, the Wheat Kings had another big staff change as general manager Darren Ritchie accepted an amateur scouting position with the Toronto Maple Leafs. His replacement is Doug Gasper, who had spent the last two years as the Wheat Kings assistant general manager and previously held the director of scouting role with the Moose Jaw Warriors.
- Lynden McCallum (21-6-27 in 22 games)
- Reid Perepeluk (4-1-5 in 21 games)
- Marcus Sekundiak (2-2-4 in 23 games)
- Ben McCartney (13-24-37 in 24 games – Arizona Coyotes prospect)
- Riley Ginnell (4-5-9 in 24 games)
- Ridly Greig (10-22-32 in 21 games – Ottawa Senators prospect)
- Nolan Ritchie (10-17-27 in 24 games)
- Ty Thorpe (3-3-6 in 21 games)
- Jake Chiasson (9-11-20 in 23 games)
- Jaxon Dube (0-0-0 in two games)
- Brett Hyland (4-6-10 in 23 games)
- Dylan James (Unsigned 2nd round pick in 2019 – 2-1-3 in seven games for the Okotoks Oilers – 20-23-43 in 51 games for Okotoks in 2019-20 – Committed to the North Dakota Fighting Hawks)
- Jesiah Bennett (3rd round pick in 2019 – 0-1-1 in two games for the Winnipeg Under-18 Wild – 10-9-19 in 31 games for the Rink Hockey Academy Under-18 Prep team in 2019-20)
- Nate Danielson (3-12-15 in 24 games)
- Rylen Roersma (1-1-2 in 17 games)
- Liam Watkins (Unsigned 4th round pick in 2019 – 3-7-10 in 17 games for the Spruce Grove Saints – 13-9-22 in 32 games for the Okotoks Under-18 Oilers in 2019-20 – Committed to Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks)
- Tyson Zimmer (3-1-4 in 16 games)
- Trae Johnson (2nd round pick in 2020 – 0-2-2 in five games for the Prince Albert Under-18 Mintos – 36-31-67 in 31 games for the Martensville Under-15 Marauders in 2019-20)
- Teydon Trembecky (3rd round pick in 2020 – 3-3-6 in six games for the Northern Alberta Xtreme Under-18 Prep team – 22-22-44 in 30 games for the Xtreme Under-15 Prep Team in 2019-20)
Had this been a normal WHL campaign, the Wheat Kings offence might have been truly scary. Luke Burzan and Cole Reinhardt could have returned for their overage seasons and 2001-born import Marcus Kallionkieli would have been back for his second go-around in Brandon, but all three guys ended up plying their trades in the AHL.
Even with those players not returning, the Wheat Kings forward core was still a force to be reckoned with. Ben McCartney led the team in scoring and earned a pro contract with the Arizona Coyotes, Ridly Greig showed why the Ottawa Senators picked him in the first round last fall and Lynden McCallum closed out his WHL career with a league-leading 21-goal performance.
While the veterans led the way, it’s the youngsters that should have Brandon fans excited for the future. After only playing in 24 games last year due to a broken femur, Nolan Ritchie more than doubled his point total in his sophomore campaign. Fellow second-year player Jake Chiasson worked his way into the NHL Draft discussion and 2019 first round pick Nate Danielson got better as his rookie season went on.
- Jonny Lambos (0-2-2 in 21 games)
- Chad Nychuk (2-16-18 in 23 games)
- Neithan Salame (3-7-10 in 23 games)
- Braden Schneider (5-22-27 in 22 games – New York Rangers prospect)
- Rylan Thiessen (1-6-7 in 17 games)
- Owen Gallatin (Unsigned 2nd round pick in 2017 – 5-16-21 in 46 games for the Fargo Force – Committed to the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs)
- Vincent Iorio (5-7-12 in 22 games)
- Anthony Kehrer (Unsigned 2nd round pick in 2017 – 0-7-7 in 31 games for the Wisconsin Badgers)
- Mason Ward (Acquired from the Red Deer Rebels – 2-5-7 in 22 games)
- Yaroslav Busygin (Signed 2020 Import Draft Pick – 2-9-11 in 35 games for Russkie Vityazi Chekhov)
- Logen Hammett (1-3-4 in 14 games)
- Jacob Hoffrogge (0-0-0 in five games)
- Kaiden Ellertson (Unsigned 5th round pick in 2019 – 2-3-5 in five games for the Red Deer Under-18 Chiefs – 3-8-11 in 30 games for the Chiefs in 2019-20 – Will play for the Blackfalds Bulldogs next year – Committed to the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks)
- Owen Harris (3rd round pick in 2019 – 0-1-1 in eight games for the Swan Valley Stampeders – 4-13-17 in 41 games for Southwest Under-18 Cougars in 2019-20)
- Zach Turner (2nd round pick in 2019 – 4-5-9 in eight games for the Southwest Under-18 Cougars – 12-17-29 in 48 games for the Cougars in 2019-20)
- Quinn Mantei (1st round pick in 2020 – 0-1-1 in six games for the Moose Jaw Under-18 Warriors – 22-30-52 in 30 games for the Weyburn Under-15 Wings in 2019-20)
To say Braden Schneider had a great year would be a massive understatement. The Prince Albert product was a dominant force on a nightly basis and was more than deserving of being named the top blueliner in the WHL. Given his showing in a limited role for Canada’s gold medal squad at the World Championships, it might be a short stay in the AHL before Schneider is ready for the NHL.
With overager Dom Schmiemann being the only player to leave from last year’s Wheat Kings defence, the blueline was a major position of experience and strength for the club. Chad Nychuk and Neithan Salame both had strong campaigns, while third-year defender Vincent Iorio might end up being picked in the first two rounds in July.
- Ethan Kruger (13-2-1 with a 2.30 GAA, a .915 save percentage and zero shutouts)
- Connor Ungar (5-2-1 with a 2.75 GAA, a .908 save percentage and zero shutouts – Traded to the Red Deer Rebels)
- Nicholas Jones (5th round pick in 2019 – 4-0-0 with a 1.50 GAA, a .945 save percentage and one shutout for the Calgary Under-18 Buffaloes – 8-11-2 with a 3.16 GAA, a .918 save percentage and two shutouts for the Calgary Under-16 Rangers in 2019-20)
With Patera heading to the AHL, all eyes were on Ethan Kruger to see if he could take over the starting job in the shortened season. He certainly answered all of those questions with an excellent campaign and might be a sleeper candidate for the best overager in the WHL next year.
Connor Ungar played well in his eight appearances, but he’s off to Red Deer where he’ll more than likely serve as the starter for the Rebels. His departure should give the backup job to 16-year-old Nicholas Jones of Calgary, though 2020 fifth round pick Carter Capton could also be in the mix for the position at training camp.
Even with McCartney more than likely starting his pro career and Schneider all but assured a spot in the New York Rangers system, the Wheat Kings should be the favourites to win the East Division title next year.
While the defence is losing their captain, all of their key players can come back, in addition to the debuts of 2020 import draft pick Yaroslav Busygin and last year’s first round selection Quinn Mantei. Kruger should continue his strong play in between the pipes and the offence will see the likes of Ritchie, Chiasson, Hyland and Danielson move into bigger roles.
The scariest news for the rest of the Eastern Conference is the fact that the Wheat Kings are about to add even more weapons to their roster. Thanks to dealing away Kale Clague and Tanner Kaspick at the 2018 trade deadline to the Moose Jaw Warriors and the Victoria Royals respectively, Brandon now has the third and fourth overall pick in December’s WHL Prospect Draft.
They also have their own selection (22nd overall) in the opening round, but it wouldn’t be a total surprise if that pick gets dealt if the Wheat Kings decide to go big-game hunting in order to solidify themselves as a title threat.
In addition to their first round trifecta, the Wheat Kings also own their own picks in the second, third, fourth and fifth rounds this year, plus their own selections in the first five rounds of the 2022 draft, in addition to Regina’s fifth that they picked up in October 2019 for Zach Wytnick.
With so many assets at their disposal, the Wheat Kings might be in a position to contend for several years, which is bad news for their rivals.