First rounders get taste of WHL
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.