By Lanny Stewart
When it comes to the MJHL, it’s always special when players, past and present, attend NHL development camps – and recently, there’s been a plethora of players who have been invited to take part.
“The experience and opportunity those camps provide is amazing and it’s a great testament to the hard work, dedication and commitment the players have put in to earn that opportunity,” said Kevin Saurette, director of operations for the MJHL. “It also shows that playing in the MJHL is providing a quality and positive developmental environment that has allowed players to grow their games to help earn these exciting opportunities.”
Matthew Thiessen, who was one of the top goaltenders in the MJHL last season with the Steinbach Pistons, was among the list of 10 players who were invited to various NHL camps recently. Thiessen, an MJHL first team all-star who helped guide the Pistons to an MJHL championship this past season, ended up getting drafted in the seventh round, 192nd overall by the Vancouver Canucks in June’s NHL Draft. He took part in the Canucks development camp in early July.
During the camp, Thiessen and the rest of the players spent time getting to know each other in Whistler, B.C. before heading to Vancouver. The players enjoyed some fun camp activities such as zip-lining, cooking and Jenga coupled with on and off-ice sessions. The camp also included the popular Canucks Summer Showdown Top Prospects Game at Rogers Arena, which was open to fans.
“I enjoyed the camp a lot, it was really fun. I realized how good the players are at the next level, and just how well you have to take care of your body and improve on your skills and off-ice training every day,” he said.
Thiessen was also able to rub shoulders with some of the Canucks brass, such as head coach Travis Green.
“It was really cool at first to be meeting an NHL coach but after a while it was just business as usual and you just treat them like any other coach,” Thiessen added. “He (Green) was a very motivating coach and loves to work his guys hard, which I really appreciated.”
Thiessen says his mindset at the camp was rather simple: finding an area of his game to improve on each day.
“…And Vancouver has the people in place to help me improve so I can eventually make it to professional hockey,” said Thiessen, who committed to University of Maine on a hockey scholarship last November (he’s expected to join the Division 1 Black Bears for the start of the 2019-20 season).
He says the camp provided a lot of motivation for him moving forward.
“Just being there and getting a taste of the lifestyle, it gives me a goal to make it there one day. Just how much fun and how hard you work, the fans, rink and everything. It would be the best job in the world.”
Meanwhile, Justin Lee, last year’s rookie of the year in the MJHL who enjoyed a breakout campaign with the Virden Oil Capitals this past season, attended the Winnipeg Jets development camp late June.
Lee, who will be moving on to play for the USHL’s Lincoln Stars this upcoming season before eventually donning the sweater of the University of Denver Pioneers (he committed to the Division I program in February), took part in on and off-ice testing, practice sessions, battle drills, as well as a scrimmage, which happened on the final day of camp. Like Thiessen, Lee also had the opportunity to chat with some of the Jets higher-ups, including head coach Paul Maurice in a brief on-one-one on the ice.
“It was crazy. It’s such a cool experience to be able to talk to him (Maurice) and just be around that kind of atmosphere,” he said.
Thiessen and Lee are just a couple examples of the many MJHL players over the past few seasons who have gone on to NHL development camps and have showcased themselves very well, says Saurette.
“It shows that motivated players from the MJHL can earn these opportunities and that they can skate with and compete against some of the top players from around the world,” he concluded.
Here is a list of the other past and present MJHL players who attended NHL development camps this summer:
Matthew Thiessen G (2000)
Steinbach Pistons (2017/18)
Drafted by Vancouver Canucks in 2018 NHL Draft (7th Round #192 Overall)
Zach Whitecloud D (1996)
Virden Oil Capitals (2014-16)
Bemidji State University D1 (2016-18)
Signed with Vegas Golden Knights
Justin Lee D (2000)
Virden Oil Capitals (2017/18)
University of Denver D1 Commit
Winnipeg Jets Development Camp
Matthew Radomsky G (1999)
Steinbach Pistons (2016-Currently)
Winnipeg Jets Development Camp
Nick Henry F (1999)
Portage Terriers (2015/16)
Regina Pats WHL (2016-Currently)
Drafted by Colorado Avalanche in 2017 NHL Draft (4th Round #94 Overall)
Brady Keeper D (1996)
OCN Blizzard (2014-17)
University of Maine D1 (2017-Currently)
2017 Los Angeles Kings Development Camp
2018 multiple NHL Development Camp invites but unable to attend
Cole Smith F (1995)
Steinbach Pistons (2014-16)
University of North Dakota D1 (2016-Currently)
2017 and 2018 Tampa Bay Lightning Development Camp
Wyatt Kalynuk D (1997)
Virden Oil Capitals (2014/14)
University of Wisconsin D1 (2017-Currently)
Drafted by Philadelphia Flyers in 2017 NHL Draft (7th Round #196 Overall)
Tristan Mullin F (1996)
Dauphin Kings/Swan Valley Stampeders (2013-15)
Cornell University D1 (2017-Currently)
San Jose Sharks Development Camp
Joel Messner D (1994)
Selkirk Steelers (2011-14)
University of Nebraska-Omaha D1 (2014-2018)
Providence Bruins AHL (2018/19)
Boston Bruins Development Camp invite but unable to attend