First rounders get taste of WHL

The Prince George Citizen - - Sports - Ted CLARKE Cit­i­zen staff [email protected]­i­t­i­zen.ca

Keaton Dowha­niuk is get­ting to know the lay of the land.

As the third player picked in the 2019 WHL ban­tam draft he knows his hockey home will be in Prince Ge­orge play­ing for the Cougars, once he’s old enough to play in the league.

For now, this is his time to show the Cougars what they can ex­pect in fu­ture sea­sons from the 15-year-old from Sherwood Park, Alta., touted as the top de­fence­man avail­able in the 2019 ban­tam crop.

The six-foot, 155-pound Dowha­niuk played in the Young Guns game Fri­day and will be wear­ing a blue the rest of train­ing camp play­ing for Team Chara.

“It’s awe­some, the rink’s re­ally nice and lads are cool too,” he said. “I’ve talked to a few of them and they seem nice. It’s just one more step.”

Dur­ing the sea­son, un­der-agers are limited to just five games of ju­nior un­til their team is fin­ished its sea­son.

Dowha­niuk knows his time will come soon to play a reg­u­lar sea­son game with the Cougars and get his feet wet in the WHL.

“I want to be called up when­ever they need me and know that they’ll get a re­li­able d-man,” he said. “Hope­fully I’ll stay to the end of pre-sea­son.”

His 17-year-old brother Lo­gan plays in the league as a de­fence­man, about to be­gin his sec­ond sea­son with the Ed­mon­ton Oil Kings. Keaton is hop­ing their paths will cross next month in Daw­son Creek, where the Cougars and Oil Kings meet for ex­hi­bi­tion games Sept. 12 and 14.

“We work out to­gether and skate to­gether and it’s pretty com­pet­i­tive,” said Keaton. “We throw bets on the line all the time, it’s pretty fun. If I make pre­sea­son, we’ll play him in Daw­son Creek.”

In 25 games on the blue­line last sea­son in the Cana­dian Sport School Hockey League Dowha­niuk scored eight goals and had 27 as­sists for 35 points, with 34 min­utes on penal­ties.

“Keaton ob­vi­ously brings a com­plete skillset pack­age to the game, his skat­ing is ex­tremely strong, de­fen­sively he’s sound but he also ac­ti­vates into the play ef­fec­tively and gen­er­ates of­fence and he’s ca­pa­ble of quar­ter­back­ing the power play,” said Bob Sim­monds, the Cougars’ di­rec­tor of scout­ing.

“He’s a very feisty player and we like every­thing he brings to the game.”

One of Dowha­niuk team­mates last sea­son with the Ed­mon­ton Okana­gan Hockey Academy ban­tam prep team was cen­tre Koehn Ziem­mer, whose name was called by the Cougars right af­ter his, picked fourth over­all in the May draft. Dowha­niuk drew power-play duty with Ziem­mer, a cen­tre who lit it up with 37 goals and 39 as­sists for 76 points in just 29 games.

Ziem­mer won’t reach his 15th birth­day un­til Dec. 8, but al­ready has a ju­nior-sized body at five­foot-11 and 175 pounds. For the rest of camp he will be wear­ing black with Team Con­nolly.

“Ziem­mer is a big solid boy and a pow­er­ful skater with a very strong shot, it’s deadly ac­cu­rate,” said Sim­monds. “He’s a scorer, he knows where he needs to go to put the puck in the net and he’s cer­tainly phys­i­cally strong enough to get there.”

Play­ing on line with Alex Ochitwa and Blake East­man, Ziem­mer drew a cou­ple of as­sists for Team Hamhuis in the Young Guns game Fri­day, which ended in a 6-5 over­time loss to Dowha­niuk’s Team Brewer. “I thought I played pretty good in the first half but kind of slowed down in the sec­ond, tired out a lit­tle bit,” said Ziem­mer. We had two prac­tices the other day so it was my third time on the ice.

“The first cou­ple days I just want to get the nerves out and set the speed for the games.”

Ziem­mer went in to score twice Sunday af­ter­noon against Team Bourke.

Head­ing into the draft the Cats had their own fourth-over­all choice and also held Swift Cur­rent’s sec­ond-over­all pick as the re­sult of a trade they made two years ago which sent Josh An­der­son to the Bron­cos. At the draft ta­ble they traded Swift Cur­rent’s pick to the Winnipeg Ice for the third-over­all pick which they used to se­lect Dowha­niuk and also picked up the Ice’s third rounder in 2020.

Ziem­mer had al­ready gone home to May­erthorpe when the Cougars made their choices and Dowha­niuk was the first to text him the news. Ziem­mer fig­ures the Cougars were wise to latch on to him.

“He’s a re­ally good two-way de­fence­man, he can score goals but he’s re­ally good on the back end,” said Ziem­mer. “He’s a re­ally good team­mate, nice with all the guys and a big leader.”

Dowha­niuk is go­ing back to OHA to play for the midget prep team, while Ziem­mer, a na­tive of May­erthorpe, Alta., plans to play this sea­son for the triple-A midget squad in St. Al­bert.

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