The NHL’s Phase 4 Stanley Cup qualifying games kick-off on August 1st. 24 teams begin the quest for the cup in the new qualifying series format. Of these 24 teams, six teams are carrying Calgary Hitmen alumni on their rosters. Three from the Eastern Conference and three in the Western Conference. Which of these former Hitmen players set to battle for the Stanley Cup will have the best chance to bring it home?
Jake Virtanen – Forward, Vancouver Canucks:
New Westminster British Columbia’s Jake Virtanen spent parts of four seasons with the Calgary Hitmen before making the jump to the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks. The Hitmen selected Virtanen with their first overall selection in the 2011 Bantam Draft. Virtanen appeared in 192 regular-season games from 2011 to 2015. He scored 85 goals and 76 assists for 157 points. He also suited up for the Hitmen in 40 playoff games, scoring eight goals and added 15 assists for 23 points.
Virtanen’s best season for the Hitmen was in 2013-14 when he scored 45 goals. He was a point-per-game player with 71 points in 71 games. At the 2014 NHL Draft, the Vancouver Canucks selected Jake Virtanen with their sixth overall selection. He was the first British Columbian player selected in the first round by the Canucks since Cam Neely in 1983. Virtanen signed his entry-level contract with the Canucks on July 25th, 2014.
Virtanen didn’t crack the Vancouver Canucks as a full-time player until 2017-18. He spent time split between the Canucks and the AHL’s Utica Comets from 2015-2017. Since his jump to the NHL full-time, he has posted a point increase in every season. In 2017-18 he recorded 20 points in 75 games, he went up to 25 points in 70 games in 2018-19 and this past season, he set a career-high with 18 goals and 36 points in 69 games.
The Vancouver Canucks open the Stanley Cup qualifying games on August 2nd against the Minnesota Wild. Although Virtanen is listed on the Canucks roster for the playoffs, it remains to be seen if he will be on the ice in Game 1 against the Wild. Virtanen was a scratch in the Canucks only exhibition game in favour of Brandon Wheat King and Saskatoon Blades alumni, Michael Ferland. Ferland has been cleared to return to play after sustaining some unfortunate injuries in his first season as a Canuck.
Micheal Stone – Defenceman, Calgary Flames:
Michael Stone is entering his fourth season as a member of the Calgary Flames. The 30-year old has been in the NHL for 9 seasons, spending five years with the Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes prior to joining the Flames. Michael is the older brother of Vegas Golden Knights forward Mark Stone. The two brothers hail from Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Before entering the National Hockey League in 2011-2012, Stone was a member of the Calgary Hitmen for four seasons. The 6-foot-3 defender was drafted by the Hitmen 73rd overall in the fourth round of the 2005 WHL Bantam Draft. Stone played for the Hitmen from 2006 to 2010. He suited up for 264 regular-season games, recording 52 goals and 129 assists for 181 points. Stone also played in 72 playoff games for the Hitmen where he recorded 43 points. He helped the Hitmen to the WHL final in 2009 where they eventually would lose to Kelowna in 6 games. The following season, Stone was named team captain and would lead the team to a WHL championship and a spot in the 2010 Memorial Cup. The Hitmen, unfortunately, would fall in overtime to the host, Brandon Wheat Kings in the semi-finals.
Stone and the Calgary Flames will take on his hometown Winnipeg Jets in the open qualifying round. The best of five series kicks off on August 1st in Edmonton. The Flames have Stone slated as their six/seventh defenceman and he will most likely be in the lineup throughout the series.
Victor Rask – Forward, Minnesota Wild:
Victor Rask, a 27-year-old, Swedish centerman, has been an NHL regular since the 2014-15 season. Rask was drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes in 2011 and played with the organization until 2018-19 when he was traded to the Minnesota Wild. Prior to his NHL career, Rask played for the Calgary Hitmen for two seasons. The Hitmen drafted Rask third overall in the 2011 CHL Import Draft. He joined the club in Calgary in 2011-12. He appeared in 64 games and was nearly a point a game player that year. Rask scored an impressive 33 goals and 30 assists for 63 points in 64 games.
In 2012 Rask represented his home country of Sweden at the World Junior Hockey Championships. The tournament was held at the Saddledome in Calgary where Rask and the Hitmen called home. He would help the Swedes capture a gold medal and win the tournament. The following season Rask started in the AHL for the Hurricanes affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers. He appeared in 10 games recording five points and ultimately would be sent back to Calgary for one more season. Victor Rask played in 37 games in his final Hitmen season, posting 41 points.
Rask joined the Hurricanes full-time in 2014-15. After recording a career-high 48 points in the 2015–16 NHL season, Rask signed a six-year, $24 million contract with the Hurricanes. Prior to the 2018-19 season, he sustained an unfortunate offseason injury and missed the first month of the season. Before the trade deadline in 2019, Rask was traded by the Hurricanes to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for Portland Winterhawks alumni, Nino Niederreiter.
Victor Rask is not currently listed on the Wild’s opening night roster for Game 1 against the Canucks on August 2nd. He will need to wait for an injury opening or change to the lineup to draw in for the playoffs.
Chris Driedger – Goalie, Florida Panthers:
Chris Driedger of Winnipeg Manitoba has one of the longest roads to a spot on an NHL roster for any player in the league, let alone the Hitmen alumni. Driedger was selected by the Ottawa Senators in the third round (76th overall) of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft before landing in Florida as the Panthers backup in 2019-20.
Driedger started his WHL career in 2010 for the Tri-City Americans. He was traded to the Hitmen in the offseason prior to the 2011-12 season. He played for three seasons in Calgary, starting in 148 regular-season games and posting 88 wins with the Hitmen. Driedger also played in 26 playoff games. In his first season with the Hitmen, Driedger’s outstanding play was recognized and he was invited to play in the 2012 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game. In 2014, Driedger was the last member of the Hitmen to touch the puck before it was put into the empty net of the Kootenay Ice. He became the first Hitmen goalie in franchise history to be credited with scoring a goal.
In 2014-15, Driedger made the jump to the pro ranks. In an attempt to become a full-time goalie with the Senators, Driedger would have to split his time between the Elmira Jackals of the ECHL and the Binghamton Senators of the AHL. He played his first NHL game in 2014-15 for Ottawa but he only appeared in one game that year. From 2014 to 2017, Driedger split his time between Ottawa and Binghamton. In 2018, he became a free agent and signed a minor league deal with the Springfield Falcons, the primary affiliate to the Florida Panthers. Driedger played for the Wichita Thunder, Brampton Beast, and Manchester Monarchs in the ECHL before starting the 2019-20 season in the AHL with Springfield. He made 16 appearances with Springfield before he was signed to a two-way NHL contract with the Florida Panthers.
On November 30, 2019, Driedger made his first career start against the Predators, he recorded a 27 save, 3–0 shutout win. Driedger appeared in 12 games for the Panthers last season where he posted a great backup goalie record of 7-2-1 record. He is still slotted behind Sergei Bobrovsky as the Panthers backup for the playoffs. The Panthers take on the Islanders on August 1st and Driedger will only see game action if Bobrovsky is unable to perform as the Panthers top goalie or an injury occurs.
Beck Malenstyn – Forward, Washington Capitals:
Beck Malenstyn played five seasons in the Western Hockey League from 2013 to 2018. The native of White Rock, B.C. played for the Hitmen for all five seasons but was traded to the Swift Current Broncos at the start of his final season in 2017. The trade is considered one of the biggest blockbuster deals in WHL history. The Hitmen traded Beck Malenstyn and Matteo Gennaro, along with a fifth-round pick in the 2018 WHL Bantam Draft, to the Broncos in exchange for forwards Connor Chaulk, Riley Stotts and Jacob Prokop, defenseman Dom Schmiemann, goaltender Ethan Hein and a second-round pick in the 2018 WHL Bantam Draft.
Beck Malenstyn appeared in 200 regular-season games for the Hitmen. He recorded 48 goals and 51 assists for 99 points. He also played in 20 playoff games, recording five points. In 2016 the Washington Capitals selected Malenstyn in the fifth round, 145th overall. Beck made the jump to the pro ranks in 2018-19 with Washingtons affiliate the Hershey Bears. He suited up in 74 games and recorded 16 points. The following season in 2019-20, Malenstyn played in 46 games in the AHL for the Bears and was called up by the Capitals later in the year. He suited up in three regular-season games for the Caps before the season was cut short.
The Capitals earned themselves a spot in the first round of the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs. Don’t expect to see Beck Malenstyn as a regular for the Capitals in the playoffs. Malenstyn is listed on the team’s roster but is consider a depth “Black Ace”.
Travis Sanheim – Defenceman, Philadelphia Flyers:
Travis Sanheim from small-town Elkhorn, Manitoba, is a current top defender for the Philadelphia Flyers. The 6-foot-4 defencemen played for the Calgary Hitmen for three seasons before joining the Flyers organization. Sanheim was selected by the Hitmen in the ninth round, 177th overall, of the 2011 WHL Bantam Draft. He was a part of the Hitmen organization from 2013 to 2016. He dressed in 186 regular-season games recording 35 goals and 127 assists for 162 points. Sanheim also appeared in 28 playoff games and posted 19 points.
Travis Sanheim was selected by the Flyers in the first round, 17th overall, of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. He attended the Flyers training camp and played in one preseason game before being returning to the Hitmen for the 2014–15 season. On September 25, 2014, the Flyers announced they signed him to a three-year, entry-level contract. Sanheim made his professional debut in 2016-17 with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, the Flyers AHL affiliate. He played a full season for the Phantoms in 16-17 and then played another quarter season for the Phantoms in 17-18 before receiving the call up by the Flyers. Sanheim played in 49 NHL games that year and recorded 10 points. In his first full NHL season in 2018-19, Sanheim played in all 82 games and recorded solid numbers with nine goals and 26 assists for 35 points.
In June of 2019, Sanheim signed a new two-year, $6.5 million contract. He was on pace for another great season with 25 points in 69 games played. He was only one goal away from matching his goal total of nine from the previous year. The Flyers are already onto the first round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs and will be waiting to find out who they will play coming out of the qualifying rounds. Expect to see a lot of Travis Sanheim for the Flyers in the playoffs. He is slotted in the defence core’s top four and is on the second PP unit.