The WHL, sitting idle on a pandemic-forced pause, plans to start its regular season on Jan. 8. But after a seven-month layoff, many of its players are getting anxious for game action.
Now, despite commissioner Ron Robison’s recent assertion the league would not reconsider, the WHL is lifting a prohibition on roster players joining junior A clubs to play regular-season games.
The Prince Albert Raiders’ Evan Herman, an 18-year-old left-winger from The Pas, has been transferred temporarily to the MJHL’s OCN Blizzard and could suit up with his hometown team as early as Saturday in Dauphin against the Kings. Herman had been skating with the club since the start of training camp.
It has also been confirmed that 17-year-old Seattle Thunderbirds left-winger Connor Roulette could be debuting for Selkirk when the Steelers host the Steinbach Pistons Saturday.
Roulette, a Winnipegger considered a top prospect for the 2021 NHL draft, and Herman could be the first of many WHL players making the move to the junior A ranks in the coming days.
MJHL teams have a CHL/USHL reserve list that allows them to protect the rights of major-junior players over and above their standard 50-man protected lists.
OCN general manager/head coach Billy Keane said Friday he has the potential to add two more WHL players to his roster — overage Prince Albert left-winger Justin Nachbaur and 19-year-old Kelowna Rockets left-winger Mark Liwiski.
Other clubs could also be busy adding high-profile talent. In Virden, Oil Capitals GM/head coach Tyson Ramsey would only confirm the addition of defenceman Garrett Sambrook (Swift Current Broncos) but centre Ridly Greig (Brandon Wheat Kings) and blue-liners Daemon Hunt (Moose Jaw Warriors) and Jake Poole (Kelowna Rockets) are also believed to be under consideration.
Meanwhile, the Winnipeg Blues are expected to bring in right-winger Connor McClennon and defenceman Mike Ladyman, both of the WHL’s Winnipeg Ice.
In Winkler, forward Justin Svenson (Broncos) will join his younger brother, Mike, with the Flyers. Justin Svenson’s paperwork has been submitted to Hockey Manitoba and the team hopes to have him in the lineup Saturday.
The Neepawa Natives, Waywayseecappo Wolverines, Portage Terriers and Swan Valley Stampeders did not report any moves related to WHL players Friday.
The MJHL is the only junior A league in Canada to have started its regular season. The BCHL, AJHL and SJHL were slower to restart and are all in the midst of pre-season.
The Pistons have a lengthy list of potential WHL additions, including right-winger Seth Jarvis (Portland Winterhawks), defenceman Jonny Lambos (Brandon), centre Tristen Robins (Saskatoon Blades) and forward Ty Thorpe (Brandon).
"I’ve had one conversation with a list player and that’s Jonny Lambos," said Pistons GM/head coach Paul Dyck. "I think we’ll know more maybe by the end of the weekend but we’re going into this weekend with our lineup."
Jarvis, a recent first-round draft pick of the Carolina Hurricanes, has not signed an NHL contract and would be unlikely to move temporarily to the MJHL with a Canadian world junior team tryout expected next month.
"I know some of my friends across the league are going to try and do that but we haven’t heard much from our team compared to others," said Thorpe about the possibility of a move to the MJHL. "If the season were to be pushed back, I might try and pursue that further."
Dyck didn’t sound like he was ruling out any of his reserve list players, including Jarvis.
"I think our plan is to contact a number of our guys just to see... where their plans are at," said Dyck. "We have decisions to make as well. So the reality is that we don’t have room for five guys, right? We still have to be aware of our current roster; that’s our priority. And those are the guys that are going to be here beyond Christmas."
Under the provisions of the agreement, MJHL clubs would be required to return the players to their WHL teams by Dec. 20.
Until now, only affiliated WHL players such as forwards Conor Geekie (Ice) and Virden’s Braeden Lewis (Broncos) have received clearance.
Both Geekie, 16, and Lewis, 17, are suiting up for the MJHL’s Virden Oil Caps, while 16-year-old Ice forward Matt Savoie of St. Albert, Alta., recently joined the AJHL’s Sherwood Park Crusaders.
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.