Yakemchuk, Wetsch 'super pumped' to join fellow NHL draft-eligibles at prospects game

Hitmen phenoms ready to show their skills at CHL’s annual scouting gala

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Carter Yakemchuk is embracing his time to shine in the spotlight.

The same goes for Calgary Hitmen teammate Carson Wetsch.

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“I’m coming,” said winger Wetsch of the 2024 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game. “I’m coming up to the big leagues, and I’m excited to do it.

“I definitely want to rise to the occasion and get to show everyone what I’m about.”

What he and defenceman Yakemchuk are about he’s hoping the country will find out when they step onto the ice Wednesday for the gala game showcasing the continent’s best draft-eligible talents at Avenir Centre in Moncton, N.B. (5 p.m., TSN).

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The Hitmen and their fans already know their ability, as do the many NHL scouts who’ve passed through Scotiabank Saddledome to witness the potential of both Wetsch and Yakemchuk.

But the annual star-studded affair allows for everybody across Canada to meet the Hitmen cornerstones — both named to Team White for the star-studded affair — and for those same scouts to grade them against other high-end 17- and 18-year-old hockey phenoms valued to be high choices in the 2024 NHL Draft in June.

“There’s a lot of eyes on it,” said Wetsch, 17. “I mean … it’s streamed on TSN — you don’t really get to (play on TSN) that much. There’s top guys there, so it’s going to be a hard game. It’s going to be exciting.”

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“Yeah … I’m excited,” agreed the 18-year-old Yakemchuk. “I think it’s going to be a really cool opportunity for myself and Wetschy. So we’re both super pumped to go. Obviously, you know the scouts are there. But it’s just like any other game — it’s in the back of your mind, but you don’t really think about it.”

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Both Hitmen stars are well thought of among those who can make or break hockey careers.

Especially the two-way Yakemchuk, who is highly ranked — at No. 6 among North American skaters — in the NHL Central Scouting’s mid-term rankings.

Yakemchuk is being listed as the third defenceman among North American skaters, with NCAA standouts Artyom Levshunov, of the Michigan State Spartans, and Zeev Buium, of the Denver Pioneers, ranked second and fourth respectively. Seventh-ranked skater and fourth-ranked defenceman Sam Dickenson, of the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights, has been named captain of Team Red for the Top Prospects Game.

So it’s shaping up to be quite the blue-line-heavy draft class.

“When I was 16, I obviously didn’t have the biggest role on the team,” said Yakemchuk, who’s appeared in 164 games with the Hitmen. “I was just trying to get in the lineup every night. And now, being my third year, I feel like I can help the team win every night and be an option that they can go to.”

He’s certainly that — and more.

Calgary Hitmen Teddy Bear Toss 2023
Calgary Hitmen defenceman Carter Yakemchuk battles Prince Albert Raiders forward Cole Peardon in first period action during the 28th annual ENMAX Teddy Bear Toss at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary on Sunday, December 3, 2023. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia

Midway through this season, Yakemchuk has a whopping 18 goals, which is tops among defencemen in the Western Hockey League. With 22, only Zayne Parekh of the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit has more goals among Canadian Hockey League rearguards. And Yakemchuk’s 42 points slot him among the WHL’s top point-getters from the blue-line.

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He’s just one or two games from surpassing the career-best 47 points set last season.

At 6-foot-3, 190-lb., Yakemchuk also has size to complement the accountability he owns in his own end.

So there are plenty of reasons why the Calgary native is drawing eyes — and a spot at the Top Prospects Game — in his draft year.

“My family’s super proud, and my parents are going to be there, so they’re super pumped about that,” Yakemchuk said. “But I’m just trying to treat it like any other game. It will be really, really fun, great experience for myself.”

Even better is that he’s got a teammate along for the ride — and in the same room together.

“Yeah, definitely,” agreed Wetsch. “Carter got named to my team, and so it’s good to have a familiar face around there. He’s a good guy to talk to.”

Calgary Hitmen vs Edmonton Oil Kings
Calgary Hitmen forward Carson Wetsch was photographed during WHL action against the Edmonton Oil Kings at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary on Sunday, January 7, 2024. Gavin Young/Postmedia

But it’s walking the walk that has Wetsch amped for this affair.

The 17-year-old native of North Vancouver, B.C., is ranked 44th among North American skaters on the NHL Central Scouting list.

The 6-foot-1, 187-lb. winger already surpassed his career totals put up in his first full year last season.

In 41 games, Wetsch has 14 goals — a few of the highlight variety — and 32 points and has been touted as the forward to watch in the future in Calgary.

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“I guess I just went from a hard-working guy to a guy that can do it all,” Wetsch said. “I’m put in all situations all over the ice, and I step up every time I’m needed.”

Stepping up in Moncton?

He’s certainly eager to hit the ice with others in those rankings Wednesday to pump up his stock.

“I love it,” said Wetsch, of playing in front of scouts. “It’s perfect and helps me play better.

“I was really excited when I got named,” continued Wetsch. “And emotion-wise, I just want to get there and have fun. You know, I’m playing against other top guys in the CHL, so there’s a lot to learn and a lot to learn about myself.”

“It’s exciting,” added Yakemchuk. “There’s gonna be a lot of great talent on the ice, and I think it’s just gonna be a lot of fun to be able to go out there and play hockey with them. Everyone is there for a reason — they’re all great players. So it should be a lot of fun out there. I want to show that I can play with the best players in the country in my age group.”

LOOSE PUCKS

The Hitmen (17-18-5-1) got a goal from Maxim Muranov 29 seconds into overtime Sunday afternoon to push past the visiting Prince Albert Raiders (19-22-0-3) 5-4 at the Dome. Ben Kindel, Ethan Moore, David Adaszynski and Keets Fawcett all scored in regulation in the victory … The decision pushes the Hitmen to within one point of the Raiders, who own the eighth and final playoff spot in the WHL’s Eastern Conference … Game 6 of this seven-game home stand for the Hitmen goes Friday against the incoming Brandon Wheat Kings (22-15-4-1) at the Dome (7 p.m.).

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X: @ToddSaelhofPM

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