Klassen taking advantage of opportunities with Winterhawks

Photo Courtesy of Matthew Wolfe/Portland Winterhawks Portland Winterhawks forward Gabe Klassen and Gage Goncalves of the Everett Silvertips prepare for a faceoff during a game at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum this past season.

Prince Albert product a potential late round pick in next weekend’s NHL Draft

The shortened 2020-21 season was an interesting one for the Portland Winterhawks.

While they were the only team in the U.S. Division that wasn’t affected by COVID-19 rescheduling and able to play all 24 games, the team was without blueliner Clay Hanus and forwards Cross Hanas, Jack O’Brien and James Stefan for most of the campaign as they were loaned out to the USHL’s Lincoln Stars before the WHL resumed play.

Their absences allowed some of the team’s younger talent to take on a bigger role in the lineup, with one of those players being forward Gabe Klassen of Prince Albert.

“I thought it was a good year for our team and a lot of us young guys had an opportunity to play a lot of minutes,” Klassen said.

“Everett gave us a bit of grief during the season, but other than that, I thought we did a good job against the other teams and we ended up in second place in the standings (with a 13-8-3-0 record).”

Klassen, who celebrated his 18th birthday on June 30, recorded 11 points in 19 games to finish in a tie for eighth in team scoring with fellow forward Tyson Kozak.

“I missed a few games due to an injury but I thought played pretty well and I felt like I was getting better and better as the season went on,” said Klassen, who had 15 points in 30 games during the 2019-20 campaign after he was called up from the Prince Albert Mintos in November.  

“Having not played a game in a year and getting right back into it was pretty tough, but I started to produce more towards the end of the season.”

Klassen’s sophomore campaign was highlighted by his best game thus far in a Winterhawks uniform on May 8 as he scored three goals and recorded an assist in a 5-1 home win over the Spokane Chiefs.

“We were mixing up the lines quite a bit at the end of the year when we got the guys back from the USHL,” Klassen said.

“I was lucky enough to play with (New York Islanders prospect) Reece Newkirk in that game and he helped me out on those three goals. It was a great game for all of us.”

Unlike the teams in the East Division, who stayed in a hub centre located in Regina, Klassen and his Winterhawks were able to travel to Washington to face their U.S. Division foes.

“We didn’t do too many overnighters but we were able to get on the bus for some day trips before playing our games,” Klassen said.

“I think the biggest difference was getting used to the fact that there were no fans in the building. You really notice that when you go from playing in front of 300 to 400 people with the Mintos to playing in front of 6,000 fans in Portland.”

Since returning to his home province, Klassen has been busy training in Prince Albert and has recently spent time in Saskatoon with a training group.

“It was a nice feeling to get back on the ice again a few weeks ago,” Klassen said.

“My approach is pretty similar to what it has been over the last couple of years. Since I’m a little undersized, having good speed and quickness is a huge thing that I need to have as a strength in my game, so I’m making that my main focus once again this summer.”

While his off-season training is his main focus, Klassen will also be keeping an eye on next weekend’s NHL Draft.

The forward has been ranked 212th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting and has also been projected as a fifth round pick by McKeen’s Hockey and FC Hockey.

“It would be a dream come true to be picked and I would be pretty excited if that happens,” Klassen said. “If it doesn’t happen though, I’ll use that as motivation to come back even stronger going into next season.”

Klassen is one of five Winterhawks that are ranked by NHL Central Scouting going into this year’s NHL Draft, which will be held virtually on July 23 and 24.

O’Brien is expected to be picked in the third or fourth round on Saturday, while blueliner Ryan McCleary could be a late round selection, along with forwards Simon Knak and Kozak.

In addition to Klassen, other local players that could be selected next weekend are Medicine Hat Tigers forward Ashton Ferster and blueliners Marek Schneider of the Saskatoon Blades, Chase Friedt-Mohr of the Spokane Chiefs and Alex Moar of the Swift Current Broncos.