A 45-minute drive separated Zak Smith from his hometown of Austin, Manitoba, to where he played as a 16-year-old in Neepawa with the Natives during the 2017-18 season.
After suiting up in 46 games with Neepawa in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League (MJHL), Zak earned an 11 game call up to the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League (WHL).
“The MJHL was a big part of my development because I needed a year where I could play against bigger, faster and stronger players to help me prepare for the WHL,” Zak said looking back on his time. “The Neepawa Natives gave me the opportunity to grow as a player on and off the ice.”
“As a 16-year-old, it was a tough league to play in but it proved to be a key step in my career that has helped me get to where I am today.”
Zak would make the jump to major junior on a full-time basis as a 17-year-old where he’s been with the Red Deer Rebels ever since. Smith is now a veteran of 140 WHL games and will hit the ice in his third full season this coming fall.
Like many other byproducts of the MJHL have talked about, Smith’s time in the league is something he looks back on as a key step in his development as a player and as a person.
“The MJHL is a skilled and fast-paced league that has produced a lot of great hockey players on and off the ice. Like I said before, they were a huge part of my development and helped me get to where I am today.”
“I had so much fun playing in the league and I have made many friends and memories from it. I will always remember my time playing for Neepawa in the MJHL. If you have the chance, I highly recommend playing in the league,” Smith concluded.
Going undrafted in last summers National Hockey League (NHL) Draft may have been disappointing for Smith, but that was soon washed away when he was called shortly after by the Vegas Golden Knights inviting him to their Development Camp.