One of the bigger stories in the WHL this year can be found in Regina, thanks to one of the club’s smaller players. His name is Jordan, but he’s not the Jordan that immediately comes to mind.
From the outset of the 2008-09 season, 16-year-old rookie Jordan Weal has been an offensive catalyst for the Regina Pats. He began by scoring seven points in his first three games, and then was the first player of the season to be named WHL Player of the Week.
Weal has led the Pats in scoring off and on all year as he and the other Jordan — Jordan Eberle — hover at a point-per-game pace. Now with 52 points in 48 games, Weal ranks second in the league in scoring among first-year players. The North Vancouver native admits he couldn’t have expected more from his rookie season.
“I’ve been able to play with some really good players,” Weal said recently. “I never expected [the points] to come [like this], I just came to training camp to play hard and it’s just worked out really well.”
This isn’t the first year that Weal has shown his offensive prowess. Last season he recorded 100 points in 40 games playing in the BC Midget AAA league, following an outstanding 14-year-old season at Notre Dame in Saskatchewan.
“I kind of have a knack around the net for being in the right spot at the right time,” Weal admitted. “I’ve had success offensively in the past and I try to work on it and play my best.”
But it’s an awfully big jump to go from a star in Midget AAA to an impact player in the WHL.
“Playing against guys that are 50 pounds heavier is a real difference from midget,” he said. “They’re a lot faster and bigger so you really have to be smarter [and position yourself well] around the net.
Despite the fact that he listed at a generous 5’9 and 160 lbs, Weal has found a way to be successful in a league with players seemingly twice his size. The size of his older male family members give him hope for at least a couple more inches of growth. But Weal doesn’t let his present size get him down.
“I’ve had to adapt at each level but now [the opposition] is just a lot bigger and a lot faster,” he nodded. “It’s pretty tough to keep going but I just have to keep on improving. I just try to keep my feet moving because if I’m standing still I’ll be a standing target that will be easy for them to hit me so I just keep moving.”
That’s one of the lessons that Pats’ coach Dale Derkatch has been emphasizing with Weal all year. Derkatch was a prolific offensive player in the WHL and actually has a smaller frame than Weal, so he makes for a perfect mentor for the rookie.
“You talk about a lot of different things but the main thing is to keep your feet moving,” Derkatch told Hockey’s Future. “As a young guy and a smaller player, you don’t want to take long shifts because if you get caught out there too long, and that’s when the big guys will take advantage of you. Keep it short and quick, and you’ll get your chances.”
Derkatch was at Notre Dame at the same time Weal played on one of the other school teams. Derkatch, who took part in recruiting Weal to the school, believes that, “you have a feeling of trust when you know someone and what they’ve been through as a person.”
Weal agrees that the two have a bond.
“He saw me play, so he knows what I can bring to the table, and I found that really helped me out coming into training camp with knowing what I [have to offer],” he said. In talking about his experiences at Notre Dame, Weal said that he learned an incredible amount at the school.
“My parents actually grew up in small town Saskatchewan so they knew what that was like. Going there was a really good experience. I really learned how to grow up and become more of a man at Notre Dame.”
After his Midget season in BC, Weal has returned to Saskatchewan.
Weal admitted, “I had all the winter coats still from back then, I haven’t grown too much so they still fit. It’s really different. In BC, Vancouver especially, there is never snow and it’s always above zero [Celsius], and in Regina it’s almost never above zero in the winter and can get down to minus-40.”
Over the Christmas season Weal left the Pats to play in the World U17 Hockey Challenge, held in Port Alberni, BC. During the six games Team Pacific played, Weal managed to accumulate six points, including five assists.
It wasn’t his first taste of international play, but it was his biggest stage to this point.
“I played back in the pee wee days in those international tournaments but that was nothing like the U17,” Weal said. “Hopefully I can get invited [to the U18] and make the team, that would be great.”
Weal was asked whether he sees himself as more of a playmaker or a goal scorer.
“I try to be a bit of both but this year I’ve been more of a playmaker,” he said. “Playing with [Eberle], he’s a really good goal scorer so I just try and set him up.”
Derkatch, however, says that “we’d like him to score more goals, and I think he would too. He is a very good goal scorer as well, but we’re talking about playing in a league where guys are 3 and 4 years older than [Weal], and it’s tougher for him to get to the net. I think over time, as he gets older and stronger, [Weal will] score more. It’s just a case of players are able to keep him to the outside. There are big defensemen in this league, so it’s tough for him to get to the net, but he’ll score.”
“I think he’s got all of the qualities of a good player,” Derkatch added. “He’s a good skater, has really good hockey sense and skill, and the big part is that he has good character. He works very hard, not only on the ice, but off of it. Having said that, he’s also a good person to go with it, so all of that together makes him a special player.”
Asked whether he envisions Weal in a leadership role somewhere down the line, Derkatch insisted that, “in many ways he leads right now. In practice, he’s a hard worker and wants to be the best guy on the ice, so he’s on a good path there.
Although his linemates rotated a lot earlier this season, these days Weal usually finds himself playing between the high-scoring Edmonton Oiler’s first-round pick Jordan Eberle and the newly acquired Matt Robertson. Eberle is another smallish forward, who serves as a role model for Weal.
“I definitely look to see how he’s had his success, because we’re kind of the same player and we’re both not very big guys,” Weal said. “I try to figure out ways to improve my game [by watching the] ways that he deals with things on and off the ice.”
Colton Teubert, another 2008 NHL Entry Draft first-round selection, says of his teammate Weal, “the kid’s fast. The thing about him is that he likes to compete in practice; he wants me to play him hard, so I two-hand him and cross check him — that’s what he likes — and for me it’s good, because I have to try and catch him all the time.
“His focus and dedication come out as a 16-year-old, and I’m looking forward to seeing him prosper in the rest of his career.” Teubert added. “I think he’s a playmaker and a goal scorer; he’s scored some big goals for us in the shootout, and on the power play he’s pretty dynamic.”
Weal isn’t draft eligible until 2010, but he’s already considered to have first-round talent. The young center has tried to stay focused and not to look too far ahead.
“I try not to do that much, I try to stay down to Earth, just take every game for what it is, and play my best.”
Weal’s best may just lead him straight to the NHL.
Beyond Tomorrow Prospect Radar
Top Russian prospect, Kirill Kabanov (2010), scored two goals as Plyuschev’s Team Russia 91 beat the Russia 92’s by the score of 7-4 in an exhibition game last week. The only 1992-born player on the 91 team, Kabanov will play with Plyuschev in the February International tournaments, including this week’s U18 Five Nations Tournament in Sweden (featuring Russia, Sweden, USA, Czech Republic, and Finland).
At 6’3 and 202 pounds, forward Curtis Hamilton (2010) has emerged as a legitimate WHL power forward. In his second full season with the Saskatoon Blades, Hamilton has collected 15 goals and 37 assists in 40 games, along with a plus-26 ranking. The native of Kelowna, British Columbia is an aggressive, forechecking winger who already has NHL scouts taking careful notes in preparation for next summer’s NHL Entry Draft.
Alex Guptill (2010) of the OJHL Brampton Capitals has been on a tear since the 6’2, 165-pound rookie forward joined the team last Fall. In 47 games, the Newmarket, Ontario native has posted 60 points (28 goals, 32 assists), including 17 points in nine January Junior “A”games.
Minnesota’s top prospect for the 2010 NHL Entry Draft is Duluth East defenseman Derek Forbort. Selected by the Omaha Lancers in the 2008 Futures Draft, Forbort is 6’4, 190. Thus far this season, Forbort has posted 12 points (3 goals, 9 assists) in 17 games. He has given his verbal commitment to attend the University of North Dakota in either the Fall of 2010 or 2011.
Dalton McGrath (2010), who was selected by the OHL Barrie Colts in the sixth round of the 2008 Priority Draft, has been playing exceptionally well for the Couchiching Terriers of the OJHL. McGrath has appeared in 20 games for the Terriers, posting three shutouts, a 1.75 GAA, and a .934 save percentage. Recently named to the OJHL’s All-Star Roster and thereafter named Goaltender of the Game, the 6’1”, 185 McGrath is a player to watch in next year’s draft.
Another Ontario goaltender, Wyatt Galley (2010), is also a player to watch. A member of the CJHL’s Nepean Raiders, Galley, who is the son of former NHL defenseman Garry Galley, has appeared in 20 games this season. Thus far he has 17 wins, three of which were shutouts, a 2.19 GAA and a .912 save percentage.
Ben Thomson (2011), a forward on St. Andrews College Junior Varsity squad, is 6’3”, 185 and already on the scouts’ radar for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Verbally committed to Cornell University for the fall of 2011, the Orangeville, Ontario native has 23 points (12 goals, 11 assists) in 15 games for St. Andrew’s this season.
Ben Duffy (2010), a center for the QMJHL PEI Rocket, is making a splash in his rookie major junior season. Taken fifth overall in last summer’s entry draft, Duffy has recorded 31 points (15 goals, 16 assists) in 47 games, and is the top non-import rookie in the Q.
Guy Flaming, Leslie Treff, Alessandro Seren Rosso, Glen Erickson, and DJ Powers contributed to this article.