Jacob Stukel is among the top players on the Calgary Hitmen (photo: Calgary Hitmen)

5 WHL Players to Watch

By Steven Sandor

The WHL has long been a proving ground for the hockey stars of the future and a trip to your local WHL arena is a great way to affordably enjoy high-quality on-ice action. AMA members save 25% on single tickets to home games for all five of Alberta’s WHL teams. Look for these standout players to put on a show at your next game.

Stukel leads the Hitmen in scoring, and is the team’s player to watch now that World Juniors gold-medal-winning defenceman Jake Bean has been dealt to the Tri-City Americans.

Stukel is from the Vancouver area, and began his WHL career with the Vancouver Giants. His progress was derailed by a severe knee injury. But the left-winger found his game following a trade to the Hitmen. He earned 56 points in 57 games for Calgary in 2015-16. Soon after, the Vancouver Canucks selected him in the sixth round of the 2016 NHL draft.

The Canucks see Stukel as a possible two-way player, so he’s been working to make himself a more responsible winger.

“We have a lot of leaders up front,” Stukel said prior the Bean trade. “I think our coach said we have the youngest (defense corps) in the CHL. We’ve got to help them back there.”

The Oil Kings are now in full rebuild mode after winning the Memorial Cup in 2014. Only four players on the current roster were born before 1999. This is a young team that is taking its lumps as it works toward becoming a contender once again.

Leading Edmonton’s youth movement is Trey Fix-Wolansky, who last season as a WHL rookie was second in team scoring. He potted the first Oil Kings goal at the new Rogers Place, and was named the squad’s rookie of the year.

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He continues to improve (and impress) this season. As of early January, he led the Oil Kings in scoring, averaging more than a point per game.

“Even last year, though I was kind of a younger guy, I tried to lead by example,” Fix-Wolansky said at the start of the season. “There’s still some guys who are younger than me, so it’s important to help bring them in.”

The Hurricanes made a massive trade-deadline deal with the Swift Current Broncos that saw seven players change teams and Lethbridge receive three draft picks.

The Hurricanes parted with goaltended Stuart Skinner, an Edmonton Oilers draft pick and Lethbridge’s all-time saves leader, but in return they secured 16-year-old phenom Logan Barlage.

Last year, playing in the top tier of minor hockey in Saskatchewan, Barlage netted 76 points in 44 games. “To be able to get Barlage in the trade was the key to this move,” said Hurricanes’ general manager Peter Anholt. “He’s a big, young guy who has a lot of potential.”

Barlage scored a shootout goal in his first game in a Lethbridge jersey.

David Quenneville stands just 5 feet 8 inches tall. But in averaging more than a point per game in the current WHL season, the Edmonton-born rearguard is validating the faith placed in him by the New York Islanders, who took Quenneville in the seventh round of the 2016 NHL draft.

If you recognize David’s surname, the answer is yes, his second cousin is Joel Quenneville, who has coached the Chicago Blackhawks to three Stanley Cups. His older brothers, Peter and John, are also NHL draftees, with Columbus and New Jersey respectively.

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Earlier this season, David Quenneville was selected to play for Team WHL, which faced the Russian junior side in the CIBC Canada-Russia Series.

In 40 games with the Tigers this season, he’s notched 17 goals—a lofty total that can be traced to the fact that he’s unafraid to let pucks fly from the point.

Brandon Hagel likes to prove people wrong—especially hockey scouts. No WHL team took the left-winger from Morinville, Alberta in the Bantam draft. Instead, Hagel moved on to play elite midget hockey; his performance at that level was so impressive that he could no longer be ignored. He joined the Rebels early in the in the 2015-16 season and did so well that the Buffalo Sabres used their sixth-round pick on the kid. Last year, Hagel produced an eye-popping six-point effort in a win over the Victoria Royals.

Just as he proved the WHL scouts wrong, Hagel now wants to prove that, one day, he’ll belong in the NHL. His progress, however, has been stunted by an upper-body injury suffered in December. He had 23 points in 27 games before getting hurt, and is expected back on the ice before the end of January.

Want to share the ice with some of your favourite WHL players? Check out upcoming team skate days happening near you. AMA members (and their families) get private dressing room access, an exclusive meet-and-greet with a WHL player or coach, plus free popcorn and hot chocolate. And be sure to stick around for the signed jersey giveaway at every event!

• Medicine Hat: February 18, 2018
• Red Deer: February 24, 2018

AMA members save 25% on single tickets for the Calgary Hitmen, Edmonton Oil Kings, Red Deer Rebels, Lethbridge Hurricanes and Medicine Hat Tigers. Buy them at each team’s box office and online.