Six Manitoba Junior Hockey League (MJHL) alumni were named to National Hockey League (NHL) rosters on Wednesday as the NHL opened their 2021 regular season schedule.
Zach Whitecloud (D) – Vegas Golden Knights
MJHL: Virden Oil Capitals 2014-16
MJHL Accolades: MJHL Second All-Star Team
NCAA D1: Bemidji State Beavers
Hailing from Sioux Valley Dakota Nation, Whitecloud enters his first full NHL season after logging significant minutes for the Golden Knights during the 2020 postseason. Zach earned a scholarship to Bemidji State while playing in the MJHL, where he would go on to play two seasons as a Beaver before signing his first professional contract with the Vegas Golden Knights. Whitecloud was named to the Golden Knights opening night roster for the 2021 season.
Cole Smith (F) – Nashville Predators
MJHL: Steinbach Pistons 2014-16
MJHL Accolades: MJHL Finalist
NCAA D1: University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks 2016-20
A native of Brainerd, Minnesota, Smith spent two seasons playing north of the border in the MJHL with the Steinbach Pistons where his play earned him a scholarship to the University of North Dakota. Following four years with the Fighting Hawks at the NCAA D1 level, Smith signed his first professional contract with the Nashville Predators in the summer of 2020. Smith was named to their opening night lineup, making his NHL debut on Thursday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Brady Keeper (D) – Florida Panthers
MJHL: OCN Blizzard 2014-17
MJHL Accolades: 2x MJHL First All-Star Team, MJHL Top Defenseman, MJHL MVP
NCAA D1: Maine Black Bears 2017-19
A three-year member of the OCN Blizzard, Brady Keeper accepted a scholarship to play for the University of Maine Black Bears where he would go on to star for two seasons. Keeper’s play garnered major NHL interest and after just two seasons as a Black Bear, he signed his first professional contract with the Florida Panthers where he finds himself today. The Pimicikamak Cree Nation member will start the 2021 season on the Florida Panthers Taxi Squad.
Wyatt Kalynuk (D) – Chicago Blackhawks
MJHL: Virden Oil Capitals 2013-14
MJHL Accolades: MJHL All-Rookie Team, Canada Western U17
USHL: Lincoln/Bloomington 2014-17
NCAA D1: Wisconsin Badgers 2017-20
Playing in one season for his hometown Virden Oil Capitals, Kalynuk excelled as 16-year-old on the blueline and the hockey world took notice. The Manitoban would make the jump to the USHL where he would spend the next three seasons before he earned a scholarship to play for the Wisconsin Badgers. After three seasons at the collegiate level, Kalynuk chose to forego his senior season and sign his first professional contract with the Chicago Blackhawks. Kalynuk was named to the Blackhawks Taxi Squad.
Travis Zajac (F) – New Jersey Devils
MJHL: St. James Canadians 2001-02
NCAA D1: University of North Dakota 2004-06
A long-time member of the New Jersey Devils, Travis Zajac spent his first year of Junior hockey in the MJHL with the now defunct St. James Canadians. Following a trade to the BCHL, Zajac would suit up for two seasons at the University of North Dakota before embarking on a 15-year professional career in the NHL with the Devils.
Travis Hamonic (D) – Vancouver Canucks
MJHL: Winnipeg Saints 2006-07
WHL: Moose Jaw Warriors/Brandon Wheat Kings 2007-10
Hamonic received his first taste of junior hockey in the MJHL with the Winnipeg Saints (Virden Oil Capitals). After 32 games of Junior A, Hamonic would go on to play nearly 200 games in the WHL between Moose Jaw and Brandon. Hamonic suited up with Canada’s National Team at the World Junior Hockey Championships in 2010 before embarking on an 11-year professional career between the New York Islanders, Calgary Flames and now, Vancouver Canucks.