Pillar taking advantage of extended off-season

Daily Herald File Photo Former Prince Albert Mintos forward Josh Pillar led the Kamloops Blazers in scoring during the 2020-21 season.

Former Minto forward a potential mid-to-late round pick next week

It’s been several summers since Kamloops Blazers forward and former Prince Albert Minto Josh Pillar has had a long break away from the rink.

However, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, that’s the situation that the 18-year-old from Warman has found himself in since the Western Hockey League ceased all on-ice activities back in March.

“It’s definitely been kind of weird, especially since the season ended a lot earlier than it normally would,” Pillar said.

“I’ve been able to keep busy though with my off-season workouts, my job and by being able to see friends and family. Right now I’m just trying to stay active before we all head back to Kamloops and get back into the swing of things.”

As he prepares for his third season in the league, Pillar has spent the summer working on some different parts of his game.

“We don’t get to chance to do as much agility or quickness drills during a normal off-season break, so it’s been good to be able to work on some of the things that I usually wouldn’t be able to,” Pillar said. “Things have been altered a little bit with the time that we’ve had off, but it’s been good so far.”

Pillar, who was the 14th overall pick by the Blazers in the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft, doubled his point total from his rookie campaign as he had 44 points in 63 contests to finish seventh in team scoring.

“I definitely had a lot more confidence out on the ice, which I think was the biggest factor in my improved play this past year,” Pillar said.

“I also got a bit bigger as I probably gained 10 to 15 pounds last summer. I was able to hold my ground a lot more and I wasn’t worried about getting run over or anything like that.”

When the campaign came to a halt, the Blazers were enjoying their best season in nearly a decade as they had a 41-18-3-1 record and had already clinched the B.C. Division title.

“I think the thing that stood out for me was just how everyone got along with one another,” Pillar said “Obviously, we did have a very skilled team, but the way that we acted around one another was almost like a family, which I think is what allowed us to become one of the best teams in the league.

“We’re going to be losing some guys (such as overagers Zane Franklin, Ryan Hughes and Max Martin) but we’re still going to have a really strong team this year. We’re all pretty excited to be heading back to Kamloops and I think you’ll see some different guys fill those holes that are left by the guys that are moving on.”

Before the WHL resumes play in early December, Pillar could find himself as a prospect for a National Hockey League club.

He’s ranked 120th among North American Skaters by NHL Central Scouting and could be selected during the second day of this year’s NHL Draft, which is being held virtually on Oct. 6 and 7.

“I’ve definitely been thinking about it,” Pillar said. “You see the rankings but you try not to take them at face value. I’m just hoping for the best and there’s not you can do about it now until the draft happens.

“The whole process of talking to teams has felt pretty similar to when I was going through my bantam draft teams. I was a lot more nervous the first couple of times I talked to NHL teams, but it’s great to have the chance to talk with them and find out what they see in your game.”

Pillar is one of three Blazers who could hear their names called next week.

Forward Connor Zary, who is from Saskatoon, is expected to be a first round selection and netminder Dylan Garand could be a mid-to-late round choice.

“I live with Connor and I can’t say enough good things about him,” Pillar said. “He’s a skilled guy and a great leader in the dressing room. I think he’s someone that can make an impact in the NHL right away.

“Dylan’s one of the best goalies I’ve ever played with. He’s such a hard guy to beat in practice, which is annoying, but he’s a great guy off the ice and one of the smartest people I’ve ever been around.”

In addition to Pillar, current Brandon Wheat Kings blueliner and fellow Mintos alumni Braden Schneider is expected to be picked in the first round next Tuesday.

Another former Minto that is eligible for this year’s draft is Logan Barlage.

The 19-year-old forward from Humboldt, who was passed over last year, posted a career high 58 points in 61 games last season with the Lethbridge Hurricanes.