Windy City Bound: Mintos’ Nelson signs with WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricanes

Herald File Photo. Owen Nelson cracks a smile during SMAAAHL action at the Art Hauser Centre earlier this year.

It’s been a career season for Owen Nelson.

The 16-year-old Prince Albert product put pen to paper earlier this week signing a WHL Scholarship and Development Agreement with the Lethbridge Hurricanes.

In 39 games for the Mintos this season, Nelson has posted 26 goals and 20 assists. Both of those statistics shatter career highs for Nelson at the U18 AAA level after posting 15 total points in 44 games for Prince Albert last season, including playoff statistics.

Nelson credits his success to having another year of experience under his belt within the Saskatchewan Male AAA Hockey League (SMAAAHL), but also having good chemistry with his line mates Kale Margolis and Taite Donkin.

“I think I’m just a little bit bigger, stronger, faster than last year. A little bit more experience in the league, just knowing what it’s about and playing with great players too. Donks (Taite Donkin) and Kale (Margolis) have been great on my line this year and Tim (Leonard) has pushed me very well. He’s keeping me accountable”

Minto head coach Tim Leonard says Nelson’s strong offseason work ethic has led to his individual success and an opportunity with the Hurricanes.

“I think he did the right things in the off-season. He came back, he’s bigger and stronger. Obviously at 16, now he’s just playing with more confidence. The kid can score, that’s his forte, but he’s learning the 200 foot game. You can see now it got acknowledged and he’s going to get a chance to play in the Western Hockey League.”

Nelson grew up in Prince Albert and has played his entire hockey career in Hockeytown North for various teams under the Prince Albert Minor Hockey umbrella. With his family previously hosting Raider billets including Jakob Brook and Brett Leason, Nelson says he has always dreamt of becoming a player in the WHL.

“It’s great. It’s always been one dream of mine, growing up we billeted Raiders. To see it firsthand when I was little and it’s just kind of come full circle. It’s been something I’ve wanted to do ever since I was little, and it’s been the only thing that has really been on my radar ever since I was a little kid, so it’s awesome.”

Nelson was originally selected by the Regina Pats in the eighth round of the 2022 WHL Prospects Draft, 163rd overall. He never signed with the Pats and attended two training camps with the team and was released by the team earlier this year.

He was promptly listed by the Hurricanes and has been in contact with the team, including a week spent in Lethbridge following the Mintos appearance in the Circle K Classic back in December.

Having signed with the Hurricanes, the next challenge for Nelson will be to earn a regular roster spot in the Windy City during training camp in the fall.

Nelson says there are some adjustments he needs to make to his game to earn a spot in the WHL.

“I think my skating needs to improve a little bit and just bring it up to speed. You’re playing against men in that league and just building my legs, making them a little stronger because you’re playing against men that are probably 20 pounds heavier than you, couple inches taller than you. It’ll be a little bit of a difference, but I think I just need to get stronger and work on my skating. I think it should all work out.”

Leonard says that Nelson will have an opportunity at the next level if he continues improving on what he has done with the Mintos this season.

“He’s definitely going to have to get stronger. He’s going to have to battle, learn how to battle. He started taking pucks to the paint this year, which was good to see. He’s going to have to do it at that level. His skating, he’s got to get a little quicker yet. He’s going to work hard in the summer. He’s going to develop his legs, those are the money makers. He did it last year and came a long way.”

Nelson and the Mintos return to action on Thursday night when they welcome the Saskatoon Contacts to the Art Hauser Centre. Puck drops at 7 p.m.

Minto alumni currently playing in the WHL include Turner McMillen (Prince Albert), Gabe Klassen (Portland), Chase Bertholet (Spokane), Jayden Kraus (Victoria), Ashton Ferster (Kamloops), Ashton Tait (Kamloops) and Chase Pauls (Prince George).