When Brandon McMillan left Kelowna in mid-December, he knew he would play at least three games on the Rockets’ eastern swing. The six-game road trip took the team across the prairie provinces in typically frigid winter temperatures.
For his part, McMillan had to cut the trip short to attend the national junior team’s selection camp in Regina. The native of Delta, British Columbia was confident heading in that he could crack the Team Canada roster, an eventuality that would keep him out of the Rockets’ lineup until almost mid-January.
And while the Rockets have struggled during his absence due to a rash of injuries, McMillan finds himself a couple of sleeps away from a shot at a WJC gold medal. The speedy winger, drafted in the third round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft by the Anaheim Ducks, collected a pair of assists in Team Canada’s 6-1 semi-final win over Switzerland.
McMillan has skated for most of the tournament with a pair of fellow WHL players in high scoring forwards Brayden Schenn and Jordan Eberle. The trio has combined for 12 goals and 15 assists. The line has been used as a power play unit on occasion, while McMillan’s skating ability has made him a valuable penalty killer as well.
McMillan is one of five Anaheim Ducks prospects playing at the WJC. The group includes goaltender Igor Bobkov of Russia and three defensemen; Sami Vatanan of Finland, and Kyle Palmieri and Jake Gardiner of Team USA.
He is enjoying the experience in Saskatchewan, his first WJC. McMillan has long been on the Hockey Canada radar, collecting a gold medal at the 2008 World U18 Championship. Also in 2008, at the Home Hardware Top Prospects Game in Edmonton, McMillan won the fastest skater challenge in the skills competition. His skating is his strength, making the 5-11, 190-pounder one of the most versatile players on the Team Canada roster. Midway through last season with Kelowna, McMillan was moved from his forward position to the blueline, where his puck moving skills became an integral part of the team’s run to a WHL Championship and subsequent second place finish to the Windsor Spitfires at the Memorial Cup.
Over the years, the Kelowna Rockets have regularly seen their top players earn opportunities to represent their respective countries at the WJC. In many cases, it has been customary for the organization to allow these players some additional rest upon completion of the international competition. However, this season, the Rockets have been decimated by major injuries to key players, to the point they have had to use up to three 15-year-olds. The situation may mean little or no rest for McMillan, as the Rockets clearly need his skill, maturity and leadership as soon as possible.