Carter Yakemchuk — Hitmen standout, Oilers fan and … Flames draft target?

As a draft-eligible, this on-the-rise righty racked up 30 goals for the Hitmen, setting a single-season franchise record for most buries by a blue-liner

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In this Calgary household, rooting allegiances could soon change.

The moment that Carter Yakemchuk’s name is called in Friday’s first round of the 2024 NHL Draft, that will presumably become the favourite team for his entire family.

But for at least a few more days, they’re all-in on copper and blue. And what a run it’s been.

“My family is from northern Alberta and my parents were huge Oilers fans, so I guess I just kind of followed along with them,” said Yakemchuk, a dynamic defenceman who has skated for the past three seasons with the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen and is now pulling for Connor McDavid & Co. to complete a historic comeback in Monday’s Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. “Oh yeah, I’ve been watching all the playoff games. I think you just see how hard it is to win. Those games, every shift is so tough and every check is finished and it’s just really hard to play out there.”

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While some in southern Alberta might be now questioning his judgement, this is a kid that Calgarians can — and should — be oh-so-proud of.

Yakemchuk, whose family moved south from Fort McMurray when he was six years old, is a graduate of the Springbank minor hockey system and later continued his climb with the NWCAA Flames.

As a draft-eligible, this on-the-rise righty racked up 30 goals for the Hitmen, setting a single-season franchise record for most buries by a blue-liner. He was also credited with 41 assists and 120 penalty minutes.

“I’d say I’m an offensive defenceman,” said Yakemchuk, who is listed at 6-foot-3 and 202 lb. and will turn 19 in late September. “I can run a power-play. I think I have a good first breakout pass from the D zone and have that ability to create offence.

“I think I play a pretty physical game, as well. I think that’s something the scouts like to see in my game, that I can bring that grit side but also have that offensive touch, as well.”

Indeed, the talent evaluators often leave the Saddledome with plenty of positive scribbles about Yakemchuk. With strong offensive instincts, stellar puck-handling skills and a pro-ready frame, he is considered a sure-fire first-rounder.

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Flames director of amateur scouting Tod Button told Postmedia this past week that their list of potential options at ninth-overall is about a dozen deep — he mentioned a mix of seven defencemen and five forwards — and there’s little doubt that Yakemchuk would be part of that conversation. The Hitmen standout is also frequently referenced by analysts and mock-drafters as a could-be fit for the Buffalo Sabres at No. 11 or Philadelphia Flyers at No. 12.

Proof of the widespread interest, Yakemchuk interviewed with 23 different teams at the combine. If he has a hunch on his likely landing spot, he’s not spilling.

“Obviously, you see all the lists and everything on social media,” Yakemchuk said. “But at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter until your name gets called at the draft. It’s flattering and everything, but you just never know what’s going to happen.

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“I’ve dreamed about playing in the NHL ever since I can remember so to be one step closer, it’s awesome,” he added. “I just want to go to a team that really wants to have me and is excited to have me in their organization. That’s the biggest thing for me.”

Calgary Hitmen vs Swift Current Broncos
Calgary Hitmen Carter Yakemchuk battles Swift Current Broncos Connor Gabriel in first period WHL action at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary on Sunday, December 17, 2023. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia

While Yakemchuk will likely be the first off the board, there could be several Calgary-area prospects called to the stage during Friday’s made-for-TV festivities at Sphere in Las Vegas.

Terik Parascak rocketed up the rankings thanks to his awesome introduction with the WHL’s Prince George Cougars. The Edge School alum led all Canadian Hockey League rookies with 43 goals, 62 helpers and 105 points this season.

With his bulldog-like style, Medicine Hat Tigers winger Andrew Basha has the makings of a future crowd-pleaser. If he happens to be selected by his hometown team, Basha would need to switch sweater numbers — he wears the now-retired No. 34 as a nod to his childhood fave, Miikka Kiprusoff.

The list of potential first-round picks from this area also includes a couple of blue-liners who were born overseas — Charlie Elick in Austria, where his dad was playing pro hockey at that time, and Harrison Brunicke in South Africa — before moving to Cowtown as tykes. Elick is a hard-hitting shutdown sort for the Brandon Wheat Kings, while Brunicke has been honing his two-way game with the Kamloops Blazers.

Some of those guys may slide into the second round, but they won’t be squirming long on Saturday morning.

“I think we have lots of talented players out of Calgary in this year’s draft,” said Yakemchuk, who teamed with Elick on the U15 AAA Flames and often skated on the same spring squad as Basha. “It’s pretty cool to grow up with some of those guys, to know them through my whole hockey career and now be going through the draft with them.”

Indeed, it’s something for Calgarians to smile about … even if the arch-rival Oilers are sipping from the Stanley Cup.

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