Jayce Hawryluk is a prospect who has become rather well known to Panther fans on LBC. He finished 18th on the LBC Summer series, "Top-25 under 25." He also had a solid rookie camp for the Cats this past September. So it was no surprise that this forward came out of the gate strong in Canadian Juniors this fall.
After being returned to the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League by the Panthers, the 19-year old has established himself as the team's leader in points, beating out teammate and New Jersey 1st round draft pick John Quenneville. The 5'10", 197 lbs. forward presently sits 16th in the WHL in points, with 33 in just 26 games. He has scored 17 goals to go along with 16 assists, and Hockey Canada has taken note- sending an invite for Hawryluk to join them for World Junior Team tryouts in Ontario (that started on December 10th). For the feisty Manitoba native, this is hardly new.
Hawryluk jumped into the collective conscience last season, with 65 points in 54 games for Brandon. He scored 30 goals last season, and is on pace to do the same (or add more) this season. He has done this despite being smaller than the typical NHL prospect, in a league known for its big, nasty defensemen (Alex Petrovic is a WHL alumni). Drafted 32nd overall in the 2014 NHL draft, Jayce was a Dale Tallon target, and Dale had assured him that Florida was going to pick him in the 2nd round if he was still available. That was indeed the case when the Panthers called his name. While he can play center or right wing, Hawryluk was seen by Tallon as a winger when he was drafted:
"We're trying to balance our depth chart,'' Tallon said. "We've done that at goal and defense, now we needed to add wings to the mix. That was our goal today and we added a variety of different types of players in physicality and size, players that are hard to play against.''
He has played 200 games for Brandon, and scored 89 goals, for a .44 goal-per-game pace, that has improved every year he has played in the WHL (despite playing fewer games due to injury). Despite a recent upper body injury, Jayce got the Team Canada invite from fellow WHL-er, coach Dave Lowry (Team Canada's World Junior Team head coach). He has not been able to fully participate in evaluations yet:
Only Jayce Hawryluk sat out so "he could be ready to compete for a spot," according to Lowry. The Brandon Wheat Kings winger has missed the last three games with an upper-body injury.
Team Canada coach Lowry has made no mystery about what he is looking for this season on Team Canada:
"We like to play fast, we like to play aggressive and we like to play a skilled game."
The young Panthers' prospect appears to fit that bill perfectly. Hockey's Future describes his game this way:
Hawryluk is an offensively skilled forward used in all situations. He shoots the puck well and is a gritty forward that will drive to the net aggressively. He is reliable defensively. Hawryluk is shorter than most elite forward prospects but has a thick build and is strong on the puck.
They have also referred to him as "A capable two-way forward who can chip in offensively." His Wheat Kings Coach and GM Kelly McCrimmon described why he drafted Jayce this way: "He was tenacious and wanted the puck," McCrimmon said. "What defined him back then was his work ethic and competitiveness." If this sounds like something the Panthers already possess in spades, you are correct. Quinton Howden, Connor Brickley, Logan Shaw, and Garrett Wilson all fit that bill, and Kyle Rau is similar with perhaps more offensive upside than those others. Hawryluk will have to stand out to crack a Panthers team loaded with bigger bodies playing a similar role. Whether he can do that is the question.
This season has not been without hiccups. Hockey's Future pointed out a recent downturn in both Brandon, and Hawryluk's play recently:
The Brandon Wheat Kings haven't been as dominant as most expected this season, but 19-year-old Jayce Hawryluk has been every bit as advertised. He leads Brandon in scoring with 33 points in 26 games and his 17 goals are good for the team lead.
As the team struggled through November, however, Hawryluk's production dipped; he had just six points in nine games until scoring two goals and an assist in the month's tenth and final game. October was a different story; in back-to-back games against Regina and Vancouver, the Manitoba native recorded a combined 10 points (five goals and five assists). Surprisingly, he was not named CHL Player of the Week, as that distinction went to Dennis Yan (TBL) of the QMJHL's Shawinigan Cataractes.
Against the Russians in the CHL Super Series, Hawryluk struggled in the WHL's 7-3 win, going pointless while recording a minus-2 rating. The next night, however, he was one of the team's best players and scored the game-winning goal late in the third period.
His up and down October and November are cause for some concern Yet, Team Canada's staff seems upbeat and excited by Hawryluk, and making that team would go a long way towards establishing him as a standout prospect. As Corey Pronman, of ESPN told Shane in September:
For him, I think making the U20 team would be a notable accomplishment. He's a real candidate as of now, but he's no lock, especially if guys like Dylan Strome and Mitch Marner get sent back. It may not be fair, but given how strong Brandon likely will be this year, anything less than one of the top scorers in the WHL would be below expectations.
The next several days will determine whether he achieves that level of success. But if Jayce can return to health, and the level he was playing at in October, he will be one of the Panthers' top prospects to watch in Portland next season, especially with the large number of graduations to the NHL the Cats have seen this season, which has left the Pirates stripped of much of their top young talent. Hopefully his injury will not hold him back and he will be able to show the world he belongs on a team with Canada's top U-20 players.