It took far longer than ever before, but Connor McClennon made Winnipeg ICE history. McClennon was selected 178th overall in the 2020 NHL Draft by the Philadelphia Flyers, becoming the first ever player drafted from the Winnipeg ICE. However, the Draft wasn’t a total win for the organization, as Owen Pederson and Ben Zloty went unselected.
While Pederson and Zloty will likely re-enter the draft next year, McClennon will get set for the next step in his career.
OWEN PEDERSON, UNSELECTED
It’s never a good feeling getting passed over. Owen Pederson and Ben Zloty got passed over in front of the whole hockey world.
There’s no reason to think this is the end of their NHL ambitions – every draft, players who were passed over get taken, often far higher than they would have been the year before.
Head coach James Patrick said he had lots of calls on Owen Pederson, so the forward’s name is already spreading. After a breakout campaign that cemented him as a core piece to a WHL contender, he looked set to be a late-round value pick. However, teams expressed concern about his skating, enough to pass over the Stony Plain, Alberta local. It’s a concern Patrick believes is unfair.
“[His stride] isn’t pretty, but he gets there,” Patrick said. Pederson has been working with a skating coach during the extended WHL offseason.
Pederson’s also getting bigger. On eliteprospects.com, he’s listed at 6’ 3”, 192 pounds. According to Patrick, he’s now up to 210 pounds, building his body into the perfect power forward mold. Patrick said he’s excited to see Pederson playing with more physicality, adding it could be key to getting drafted.
“I want him to play like he’s [got] a 210-pound body,” Patrick said. “He’s got to be a beast down low.”
When looking for a comparable to Pederson, Cape Breton Eagle Yegor Sokolov (61stoverall to the Ottawa Senators) is a good starting point. The 20-year-old power forward also went unselected after his second major junior season but continued building his game to help him go in his second run.
BEN ZLOTY, UNSELECTED
Ben Zloty had a solid campaign as a 17-year-old rookie. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to get his name called by an NHL club.
He showed lots of offensive ability, recording 27 points in 54 games. Patrick said there’s lots of internal faith in his production, with some offering pretty high praise. “He’s going to be the best power play QB in the league” levels of praise.
It was concerns over Zloty’s consistency and defensive game, notably his positioning, that made NHL teams weary. The Calgary-born blueliner won’t make it to the next level if he doesn’t.
“For [Zloty] to be a guy who can play top-four minutes, he’s got to work on his two-way game,” Patrick said.
Patrick believes in both Pederson and Zloty and is excited to get working with them in a new WHL season.
“They both know what we expect of them,” said Patrick.
CONNOR McCLENNON, 6th ROUND, 178th OVERALL, PHILADELPHIA FLYERS
There was never a question of “if” Connor McClennon would be drafted this year, but rather of “where” he’d go. The Wainwright, Alberta local ended up going two rounds later than he was projected, in the late sixth round to the Philadelphia Flyers.
“He was a top pick in the Western Hockey League, he’s been one of the top players in that age group for years,” as told to NBC on a video interview October 7 by Flyers assistant general manager Brent Flahr in a video interview. “He is undersized, he’s going to have to get stronger, he’s putting on some weight over the summer, but he’s been a prolific goal scorer among his age group.”
McClennon’s size (5’ 8” 158 pounds) was likely the biggest factor causing him to drop. It was a drop that surprised James Patrick, and one that he believes wouldn’t have happened had McClennon not broken his collarbone mid-season.
“It certainly hurt him getting hurt when he did,” Patrick said.
After missing three months, Connor McClennon was set to return in early March. One day before he was supposed to step back into the WHL, the season got cancelled. Patrick believes it’s a missed chance for McClennon, citing how well Seth Jarvis (13th overall to the Carolina Hurricanes) did in the second half of the season this year to raise his draft pedigree.
Patrick wasn’t surprised to see which team bit on his star. Marc Greig – Flyers scout and father to 28thoverall pick Ridley Grieg (Ottawa Senators) – had an inside track on McClennon.
“[Grieg] knows Connor’s game, he’s known him since he was ten; he’s got more of a book on Alberta than anyone,” Patrick said. “They know what they’re getting.”
What they’re getting is one of the WHL’s best scorers, and that’s what Patrick plans to focus on when he gets back on the ice with McClennon.
“More than anything, I want him to bear down and focus on his scoring chances, to put pucks through the back of the net,” Patrick said. “He can be a 50-goal scorer in our league.”
In an unusual move, the Winnipeg ICE denied McClennon’s loan to Karlskrona of the Swedish third-tier league. Therefore, McClennon’s full post-draft year will be in the WHL, where his coach says he expects big things.
“He’s capable of being the best player in the WHL and that will determine his future.”
Connor McClennon and the rest of the Winnipeg ICE are set to return to the ice January 8, 2021.