The Brandon Wheat Kings were expected to be a powerhouse in the WHL this season. The team arguably has no weaknesses, boasting a bevy of NHL-drafted prospects as well as several others who will soon be selected by NHL clubs (Nolan Patrick, Kale Clague, Stelio Mattheos).
The Wheat Kings struggled to meet expectations for much of the 2015-16 season, but February was a different story – almost every player had the best month of their respective seasons, and leading the charge was Florida Panthers prospect Jayce Hawryluk, who is the HF NHL Prospect of the Month for February of 2016.
The Wheat Kings went 8-3-2 during the month and Hawryluk recorded an absurd 33 points (seven goals and 26 assists) in 13 games. The noted playmaker kicked off the month with two assists in a statement 6-2 win over the Moose Jaw Warriors and proceeded to find the scoresheet at least twice in each of the next seven games, including a hat trick in his next game against the Prince George Cougars. He had a five-point game and a six-point game in the month and was held pointless just twice. He also had two power play and two game-winning goals during the month. Not surprisingly, he was also logged a +19 rating.
Hawryluk is now seventh in league scoring with 85 points despite playing just 50 games, which is at least 11 fewer games than every player ahead of him. The second round pick of the Panthers in 2014 has played alongside highly-touted 2017 NHL Draft-eligible Nolan Patrick, who is now fourth in league scoring. Hawryluk’s strong performance this season has not gone unnoticed, as he just signed an entry-level contract with the Panthers.
Kyle Connor, LW, University of Michigan (Big Ten)
It seems ridiculous to think that the potential Hobey Baker Award winner for the best player in college hockey was left off of the USA’s World Junior team, but that could be the case with Michigan’s Kyle Connor. The winger was awarded HF’s NHL Prospect of the Month in December after he took his game to another level following the World Junior snub, and he hasn’t looked back. Connor recorded 12 points in seven February games and currently has a four-point lead in the NCAA scoring race. He had a point in all seven games and finished the month on a strong note, scoring six goals in his last four games, including back-to-back two-goal efforts against Ferris State and the University of Minnesota. It will ultimately be his decision, but there is a strong possibility that Connor, a Winnipeg Jets prospect, could be a one-and-done collegiate player, much like Dylan Larkin was last season.
Jakub Vrana, C, Hershey Bears (AHL)
While Mikko Rantanen and William Nylander have garnered most of the attention reserved for high-end teenage Europeans playing in the AHL, Jakub Vrana emerged as a productive player in his own right in the month of February. The Czech, who turned 20 on Feb. 28th, was named AHL Player of the Week for the week ending Feb. 7th with an incredible three-in-three performance, where he scored three goals and added four assists on consecutive nights. In his next game, Vrana scored twice and added an assist. He went through a four-game pointless streak but then ended the month with a three-game point streak. In total, Vrana recorded 15 points in 11 games, was a +7 and averaged three shots per game. The Washington Capitals top pick in the 2014 NHL Draft missed three months this season due to a wrist injury.
Joe Hicketts, D, Victoria Royals (WHL)
Currently eighth in scoring among WHL defensemen, Detroit Red Wings prospect Joe Hicketts had his best month of the season in February – both offensively and defensively. The short-of-stature defender scored five goals and added 10 assists in 14 games and improved his overall plus/minus to +29 with a +13 rating for the month. Hicketts was most impressive in Victoria’s final two games of the month; he scored twice in a 6-2 win against the Memorial Cup host Red Deer Rebels on Feb. 27th, and in an afternoon game on Feb. 29th scored once and added an assist against the surging Edmonton Oil Kings. An undrafted free agent signing, Hicketts was an incredible find by the Red Wings organization who will turn pro next season.
Spencer Watson, LW, Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
A seventh round pick in 2014 by the Los Angeles Kings, Spencer Watson has had a breakout season offensively for the Kingston Frontenacs and has particularly meshed well with Michael Dal Colle (NYI), who was acquired midseason from the Oshawa Generals. Since the trade, both players have produced at prolific rates, with Dal Colle registering 22 goals and 22 assists in 22 games. Watson, meanwhile, has 41 points during that time and in February scored 11 goals and added 14 assists in 11 games. Five of his goals were scored on the power play and three ended up being game winners. The diminutive winger began the month with a five-point effort against Oshawa and went on a 10-game point streak before being kept off the scoresheet on Feb. 29th against the Ottawa 67’s. Watson has been so good for the Frontenacs that his 78 points leads all players on his team not named Dal Colle by a 31-point margin.
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