Schneider excited for draft day

Daily Herald File Photo Brandon Wheat Kings blueliner Braden Schneider prepares to make a pass during a game against the Prince Albert Raiders last season.

Prince Albert product and Wheat Kings blueliner projected to be a first round pick on Tuesday

With the 2020 National Hockey League Draft only a couple of days away, the excitement is starting to build for Prince Albert’s Braden Schneider.

The 19-year-old blueliner for the Brandon Wheat Kings is ranked ninth among North American Skaters by NHL Central Scouting and is projected to be picked anywhere from 13th to 29th overall by various scouting services and draft rankings.

“It almost doesn’t seem real and I don’t know if it will really set in for me until the draft itself gets underway on Tuesday,” Schneider said.

“I can’t wait for it to begin. I’m going to have all my family here in Prince Albert and we’re planning to have a nice little set up here at home for the day.”

According to Elite Prospects, Schneider would be the first Prince Albert product to be picked in the NHL Draft since the Calgary Flames took Adam Cracknell in the ninth round in 2004.

He would also be the first local player to be a first round pick since Denis Pederson was selected 13th overall by the New Jersey Devils in 1993 and the first Prince Albert Mintos alumni to drafted since Connor Ingram was a third round pick by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2016.

Ryan Pilon (a fifth round pick by the New York Islanders in 2015) and Ryan Parent (18th overall by the Nashville Predators in 2005) were both born in Prince Albert but called Duck Lake and Sioux Lookout, Ont. home when they were selected.

“Everyone loves hockey in Prince Albert and if someone they know or someone that’s from here is playing or doing well elsewhere, they always have your back,” Schneider said.

“It’s always special to play at the Art Hauser Centre and to be back home for the draft itself is something I’ll always remember.”

Like everyone else in the junior hockey world, Schneider has been keeping himself busy since the WHL campaign came to an end in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’ve had a little more time to do conditioning work and more skill specific stuff that I haven’t been able to do in a normal off-season,” Schneider said.

“I feel like I’m in a lot better shape and I was able to do a lot of work on being more mobile on my feet and being able to change position. I was able to check off all the boxes that I had for my off-season training and I know what I have to do to keep working on those things when the new season begins.”

While he was able to take part in the CHL Top Prospects Game in Hamilton, Ont. in January, Schneider did not take part in the traditional NHL Draft Combine and will not have the experience of being picked at an arena due to the pandemic.

Although the process has been different than usual, he has been able to use a lot of advice that he’s been given of what to expect during his draft year from current Wheat Kings teammate Luka Burzan, along with alumni Jiri Patera and Stelio Mattheos.

“They all told me to just enjoy the experience and take everything in,” Schneider said. “This (the draft) is something that only happens once in your career, but it’s just the first step into the next part of your journey.

“It’s obviously been a little different this year with the Zoom meetings, but it’s really been awesome to talk with the teams and have the chance to meet a lot of cool people. That part of the process is something that I’ve really enjoyed.”

Schneider, who is a late 2001-birthday and missed the cutoff for the 2019 NHL Draft by five days, is coming off the best individual season of his WHL career.

He had 42 points in 60 games to finish fifth in scoring for the Wheat Kings in his third campaign for the club, in addition to leading the team in defensive scoring and being named to WHL’s Eastern Conference first all-star team.

“I think the biggest improvement with my game was just from being more confident with the puck on my stick and being a guy who could be relied on to either make that good first pass, skate the puck out or take a shot on net,” Schneider said.

“I think that extra confidence not only benefited me, but it was also huge for my teammates, because I wasn’t throwing pucks away. I was a little bit more patient and would find lanes to get passes and shots through.”

After a slow start to the 2019-20 season as they got used to new head coach Dave Lowry, the Wheat Kings were a tough side to contend with during the season half as they had a 35-22-4-2 record and were one point back of the Winnipeg Ice for second place in the East Division when the campaign ended.

“We really blended well together and knew what we had to do to win, with a lot of that coming from what Dave was telling us during practices and in games,” Schneider said. “We were playing the way that we knew that we needed to do with the playoffs coming up.”

Although Schneider is focused on the 2020-21 WHL regular season, which is expected to begin in Dec., he’s also expected to be in the mix for Canada’s World Junior team.

He was among the final cuts from last year’s gold medal winning side and also took part in this summer’s virtual training camp.

“Although the final outcome wasn’t what I wanted, it was a great opportunity to play with some of the best guys in my age group at last year’s camp and it (being cut) lit a fire under my belly for the rest of the season,” Schneider said.

“I know what exactly what I need to do to make the team and to hopefully the chance to replicate what they did on home soil (in Edmonton) would be pretty special. It’s always an amazing feeling to play for Canada and that’s one of my goals for this coming season.”

Schneider is one of three members of the Wheat Kings roster that could be selected next week.

Forward Ridly Greig is expected to be picked anywhere from late in the first round to the middle of the second round, while forward Ben McCartney is back in the draft pool for a second straight year and could be a late round selection.

“Ridly’s not the biggest guy but he plays with a ton of heart,” Schneider said. “He works hard, plays hard and physical and he’s got the skill to goes with it to make him a really good two-way player.

“Ben’s a guy who’s gritty, tough and loves going to the corners and battling for the puck. He’s also got the skill and hands to finish the play off in front of the net, which makes him a tough guy to stop in the offensive zone.”