Future looks bright for young Langley-based Giants

There's a bit of coming and going from the Vancouver Giants locker room around the WHL trades happening this week and last.
— image credit: illustration

By Steve Ewen
Special to the Langley Advance

Taking a look at the Vancouver Giants’ future today, in a guest column Steve Ewen looks at the top five prospects, indicating the Langley-based team is stocking the pool with wealth of upcoming WHL talent at various positions.

Here are five prospects of note for the Western Hockey League squad that calls the Langley Events Centre home:

• Alex Kannok-Leipert, defenceman

If the Giants knew in training camp what they know now, you wonder if Kannok-Leipert wouldn’t be on their full-time roster. The 16-yearold blue-liner, with a right-handed shot, has played that much in his call-up stints from the midget triple-A Regina Pat Canadians, including getting extended looks quarterbacking the power play.

He doesn’t seem to panic with the puck on his stick.

That said, he’s undoubtedly adding to his confidence offensively playing in the Saskatchewan midget loop and he’s part of a group that looks to have championship aspirations, considering the Pat Canadians carried a 31-3-0-2 record into a Thursday home game against the Saskatoon Blazers.

They were leading the 12-team loop and had outscored their opponents by 107 goals before Thursday’s faceoff. The next-best differential was 77.

That Regina side also features forward Harrison Blaisdell, Vancouver’s second-round pick in last May’s WHL bantam draft, and defenceman Parker Hendren, the Giants’ seventh-rounder from that same selection process.

Kannok-Leipert was seventh in Pat Canadians scoring and first among Regina defenceman going into Thursday with nine goals and 22 assists in 36 games. Six of his markers came with the man advantage.

In eight games with Vancouver, he has one goal and two assists to go with a minus-6 rating.

“I think he’s improved a ton,” Vancouver director of player personnel Jason Ripplinger said.

“He started off slow, but I think he’s started off slow at every level. He’s played enough games with our team now that he doesn’t look at all like a callup when he plays.”

The Giants selected Kannok-Leipert in the fourth round of the 2015 WHL bantam draft.

Ripplinger admitted there was some concern in league circles that he might go the college route, but the Giants were banking on the fact that his family was longtime season ticket holders for the local WHL team, the Regina Pats.

At 5-foot-11 and 181 pounds, he could be susceptible defensively and he did have a minus-3 night recently against the Victoria Royals. Ripplinger believes “if all your guys are 5-10, 5-11, there’s a concern. You need to get guys who are bigger to surround them with. You need those safety net guys.”

• Bowen Byram, defenceman

A Cranbrook native who played his bantam hockey in Lethbridge, the 15-year-old Byram was the first defenceman selected in last May’s bantam draft, going third overall to Vancouver.

The Giants had the second pick initially, but ended up with an extra selection to move down a spot in a draft-day trade with the Saskatoon Blades.

The Blades grabbed centre Kirby Dach from Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., in the No. 2 spot. Vancouver received Saskatoon picks in the second, sixth and seventh rounds as well, while the Blades took over Vancouver choices in the third and seventh rounds.

Byram, a left-handed shot who is listed at 6-foot and 175 pounds, looked a little rattled early on in his LEC debut on Jan. 23 against the Prince George Cougars, but settled in and was manning the blue-line on the power play alongside Kannok-Leipert by game’s end.

The youngsters both saw multiple shifts in overtime, too, and were among Vancouver’s best players in the 2-1 shootout loss. Byram’s another guy whose puck-moving skills are advanced for his age.

“I like that when he makes a 15-year-old blunder, he doesn’t go into a shell,” added Giants general manager Glen Hanlon. “He doesn’t react like it’s the end of the world. He just goes out and plays.

“He’s going to make mistakes. He’s going to have the puck a lot. We want to encourage that.”

It shouldn’t be a surprise that Byram is well-schooled, considering that his dad Shawn Byram spent parts of four seasons in the WHL with Regina and the Prince Albert Raiders before 15 seasons in the pros, including eight in Europe. The left winger played five games at the NHL level along the way.

He was listed at 6-foot-3 and 212 pounds in his playing days, so there’s reason to believe his son is going to still grow.

As well, the younger Byram’s bantam coach in Lethbridge was Mike Dyck, the former Giants assistant coach who also took a turn as a head man at the WHL level with the Lethbridge Hurricanes.

Byram started the season with the Lethbridge midget team, but moved to Yale Academy partway through. At last count, he had four goals and 15 assists in 13 league games with them. He has no points in three games with the Giants so far.

• Tyler Ho, forward

The Giants landed Ho, 16, as part of the Jan. 10 deadline-day trade with the Cougars that sent winger Radovan Bondra north.

Ho, a North Vancouver native, is playing in the B.C. Major Midget League with the Valley West Hawks, who are also based out of the LEC. He’s ninth in league scoring; his 41 points in 32 games includes 16 goals.

“He can fly. He can create. He’s getting more confident,” said Hanlon. “We think he’s going to be an exciting player for our fans for years to come.”

Valley West coach Jessie Leung added: “Tyler is at his best when he goes in straight lines to the net and uses his speed and strength to get around opposition defencemen.”

The 6-foot, 185-pound right-handed shot, who was a third-round pick by the Cougars in the 2015 bantam draft, has no points in two games with Vancouver to date.

• Aidan Barfoot, winger

Barfoot, Vancouver’s sixth-round pick in last May’s bantam draft, has yet to sign with Vancouver, but the Giants remain hopeful. He’s a teammate of Ho’s this year with Valley West, where he has put up 21 points, including 11 goals, in 27 games played.

The 15-year-old seems to have the makings of big winger thanks to his 6-foot-2, 185-pound frame.

“To say we’re interested in him is an understatement,” explained Hanlon. “That would be a very good signing for us.”

Leung added: “At his best this season, Aidan is a 200-foot player that is hard to play against. He’s physical and has the ability to put pucks in the net.”

• Trent Miner, goaltender

The Giants dealt a second-and third-rounder to the Red Deer Rebels on draft day last May for the 20th overall choice and they used that on Miner, a 6-foot-1, 175-pound netminder who is playing this season in the Manitoba midget league with the Brandon Wheat Kings.

He’s 13-8-0-0 with a 2.85 goals against average and a .905 save percentage.

“When you’re speaking to him, he’s got this No. 1 mentality about him,” said Hanlon, who’s a Brandon-bred puck stopper himself, oddly enough. “There’s this air to him that says that he wants to put the team on his back and take them some place successful.”

Miner, who turns 16 on Sunday, is eligible for full-time WHL duty next season, which could make things crowded around the Giants’ crease, since everyone involved with the club also speaks highly of the current duo of Ryan Kubic, who turned 19 last month, and David Tendeck, 17.

Ripplinger also said the Giants wouldn’t shy away from picking a goalie early in this coming draft and “maybe even in the second round if there’s one there,” because “you can never have enough goaltending.”

– Steve Ewen wrote this column for The Province
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