Under the current Western Hockey League roster guidelines, there are 66 positions available for 20-year-old players.
That’s a maximum of three per team. The impact of these overage players, considering expectations and responsibilities, is enormous.
Carsen Twarynski of the Kelowna Rockets is one of these impact players.
The Calgary-native is producing a breakout season offensively as the Rockets push for yet another B.C. Division title.
Twarynski arrived in Kelowna midway through last season and provided important forward depth during the second half of the season and the playoffs.
For a time early on this season, Twarynski looked destined to play in the American Hockey League.
DUBNetwork spoke with Twarynski at Prospera Place in early February to learn more about the young man, his background in hockey and his singular focus these days.
Minor Hockey In Calgary
Twarynski grew up playing minor hockey in Calgary’s Bow Valley Hockey Association, the same neck of the woods as Matthew Phillips of the Victoria Royals. Coincidentally, both Twarynski and Phillips were selected at the 2016 NHL Draft.
“We called him Bubba back then,” Twarynski said of Phillips. “I was on his team with Bow Valley. He’s always been a smaller, skilled guy. He works hard, does what he has to do and does it very well.
“I started off in Bow Valley then moved on to the Blackfoot Chiefs organization,” Twarynski said. “The move turned out best for us because Grant Point was one of the best coaches I’ve had to this day. I still work with him every summer and keep in touch with him during the season.”
The coach Twarynski speaks of is also the father of Brayden Point of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“Brayden is a little bit bigger,” Twarynski said, when asked to compare Point and Phillips, a pair of elite offensive players.
“It’s worked out well for Brayden; he’s persevered through everything. I work out with him every summer and skate with him. His work ethic shows that he deserves what he’s gotten.”
“I was fortunate to have a good childhood, to be on some good teams with some good players and to be coached by some great men.”
Undrafted Into The WHL
The evolution of the WHL Bantam Draft is quite a story. Back in the days before players were drafted, the competition between teams to sign players was tremendously fierce.
These days, in the Internet era and the world of social media access, players often watch the proceedings on draft day through their computer screens or handheld devices.
For Twarynski, the WHL Bantam Draft did not evolve as expected.
“When it first happens it’s not the best news when you’re young and at that age,” Twarynski said when asked about going undrafted. “I didn’t really understand it.”
“I had some people that helped me get through it and keep going. Now that I look back at it, it was the best thing that could have happened for me.”
Twarynski would eventually be listed by the Calgary Hitmen and would earn the opportunity to play junior hockey in his hometown.
“I got to play at home for the first two and half years there in Calgary. I played with some great guys. Coach Mark French was very good when I was young and he was a good mentor for me. It’s the perseverance that has led to what I’ve become today as a player and a person with not quitting.”
“Jake Bean went through the same thing as me. It helped to have guys like that to communicate and bond with.”
Hometown Hockey & The NHL Draft
“It was special for those two and a half years at the Saddledome where I had watched so many Hitmen and Flames games,” Twarynski said of playing in Calgary.
“The first half of the first season was nerve-wracking, but I was able to settle down and get used to it. We had a good team that year. It wasn’t hard to settle down in that aspect, but the part where I was a little star struck was that I was playing in Calgary and at the Saddledome.
“It was exciting for me and a good part of my career that developed me and led me to where I am today.”
Twarynski appeared in 67 games during the 2015-16 regular season, scoring 20 goals and added 25 assists with a plus-21 rating. The numbers and his performance attracted the attention of the Philadelphia Flyers.
At the 2016 National Hockey League Draft in Buffalo, the Flyers made Twarynski their third round selection, 82nd overall.
There are numerous WHL ties between Twarynski, the Flyers and that fateful draft day.
Philadelphia chose only one other WHL player in 2016; goaltender Carter Hart of the Everett Silvertips, 48th overall. Coincidentally, Twarynski and Hart find themselves on the two teams battling down the stretch for first place overall in the Western Conference this season.
At the 2014 NHL Draft, the Flyers had chosen a pair of players from the Calgary Hitmen; defenceman Travis Sanheim (1st round) and import forward Radel Fazleev (6th round).
“It was nice to have Travis and Radel there,” Twarynski said of the Philadelphia Flyers system. “I went to the draft with my family and right after I was picked I called Travis and got some insights on the development camp and rookie camps and main camp, just so I could have a feeling before I went in there and experienced it the first time.”
At the 2013 NHL Draft, the Flyers selected Tyrell Goulbourne from the Kelowna Rockets in the third round.
“After meeting Tyrell, he’s a great guy and it was good to have that connection there with a former Rocket,” Twarynski said. “I actually roomed with him this year after main camp when I was trying out for the (Lehigh Valley) Phantoms. We got along really well, it’s nice to be on the same side with him, rather than being on the other side.”
The specific 2016 pick Philadelphia used to choose Twarynski was acquired from the Los Angeles Kings in the trade that saw the Flyers move Luke Schenn and Vincent Lecavalier to the west coast. Schenn is a Kelowna Rockets alum, the junior team’s highest selected defenceman ever at fifth overall at the 2008 NHL Draft. He is on pace to play his 700th NHL game at some point this season.
After two-and-a-half seasons with the Hitmen, Twarynski had a feeling he might not finish his junior career in Calgary. With the Hitmen looking to re-tool, Twarynski was moved to the Kelowna Rockets after appearing in 36 games. He would play 28 regular season games for the Rockets along with 16 games in the post-season.
“For me, our team was in a slump during the second half,” Twarynski said of the Hitmen. “I had a pretty good feeling I would be going somewhere.
“The teams I assumed I’d go to, I didn’t think about Kelowna because I hadn’t heard any talk of that. It was a bit of a shock to go to Kelowna. I didn’t ask for a trade, but more so what was best for me was to be on a contending team.
“It was a good move. I was very happy and I think Kelowna has turned out the best, so I was very fortunate.”
The Playoff Run
The Rockets made it to the Western Conference final last season, eliminating Kamloops and Portland before bowing out in six games to the eventual WHL champions, the Seattle Thunderbirds.
“It was kind of a crappy way to end the season, we had a really good team,” Twarynski said. “Everyone in this organization still believes that we should have been facing Regina in the league final. We believed we were a better team than Seattle, and they came out on top. They had some big guns that helped them out.”
“It was also nice to take that experience into my second year of NHL camp after gaining confidence after that playoff run, but still a tough pill to swallow.”
A WHL 20-Year-Old
“It’s an important role,” Twarynski said. “It’s kind of the same thing as not getting drafted out of bantam – it’s not the news you want to hear at the start of the season. But when I got sent back I took it as motivation to do the best I could.
“Just being a leader and I’ve wanted to be a leader. I feel like I can be a guy the team will follow, the way I play on the ice. With that being said, I think there is respect off the ice based on how I play. I try to be verbal and remember how the 20’s were when I was young.
“I had goals this year to reach and I’ve reached them now. I have to continue to exceed those goals. It’s the best thing that could have happened for my development.”
“I was at (Flyers) camp and maybe thought I could’ve stayed over some guys, but that might not have helped my development. It’s worked out for me the best, I completely agree with it now. This season has been an offensive breakout season for me as a 20-year-old to help contribute here.”
Through 56 games, Twarynski has scored 35 goals and added 23 assists, which includes 12 power play goals, three shorthanded tallies, five game-winning goals and a plus-7 rating.
All In The Family
The WHL provides a scholarship program that has seen numerous players move on to successful post-secondary experiences as student athletes at Canadiann Universities. Twarynski acknowledges this, but his focus is a job in professional hockey.
“Obviously playing pro is my goal and I think I’m right there to accomplish that,” he said. “I think that’s first and foremost in my mind. The best way to accomplish that is to stay focused on that.”
“But CIS is a great opportunity for guys that do not get that chance. Not many people get their school paid for while playing a sport they love. And it can be a stepping stone to pro too. You can still make it from CIS, it just takes more time. I think everyone has their own path and I’m going to do my best to play pro hockey.”
Twarynski grinned when asked about his older brother, Brayden, who just completed a five-year stint on the defensive line with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies football team while studying engineering.
“He just graduated from U of S with his engineering degree,” Carsen smiled. “He played five years of football.”
“He’s been really good at school. And I don’t know if I would have been able to play five years of sports and juggle engineering at the same time. That’s something he can do. I’m close with him, so if I ever had to, I know he could help me through it.”
(DUBNetwork thanks U of S Huskies, CHL.ca and Kelowna Rockets for providing images and audio/video)