The Western Hockey League has a tentative plan of beginning the 2020-2021 season on Friday, October 2. The biggest word is “tentative” as with everything going on in the world right now, there is no certain way to say whether next season can start on that date or if it’ll be delayed even longer.
The off-season for Darren Ritchie certainly hasn’t been a normal one compared to previous years, but the general manager of the Brandon Wheat Kings is adapting to a new normal as he looks to form the best possible roster ahead of the new season.
First off, before we get to that, we’ll share some exciting alumni news. Jiri Patera, who is coming off an all-star season, has signed his first professional contract. He played in 41 games this past season, one that offered up five shutouts and a franchise-best 2.55 goals-against average to go along with a .921 save percentage.
Patera is also the first European-born goalie to play for the Wheat Kings, and he ended his time in the Wheat City with some individual hardware. The graduating goaltender was named the WHL’s Eastern Conference Goaltender of the Year and was also named the team’s most valuable player.
Now, Patera could be on the way to the “Sin City”. He’s signed a three-year entry-level deal with the Vegas Golden Knights, the franchise that drafted him in 2017. Jiri has said in the past that his goal was to sign a contract with Vegas and he can now check that off the list.
Although Patera was unavailable for comment, Ritchie shared his thoughts on the all-star goaltender inking his first professional contract.
“We’re really proud of Jiri. He had a tremendous two years with us,” said Ritchie. “He loved Brandon. He spent last summer here and he continued to train. We’re always really proud of any player who advances to the next level and that’s the case for Jiri.”
There’s a clear difference between junior hockey and playing professionally. Just because Jiri had an outstanding junior career doesn’t exactly mean that will be the case professionally. However, if you’ve ever chatted with Jiri, you would know how hard he works and clearly how talented he is. Signing a contract is the first step to him making his NHL debut and Ritchie has all the confidence in the world in Patera as he embarks on his new journey, wherever it may take him.
“He’s a dedicated player and he’s extremely competitive,” said Patera. “His competitiveness makes everyone better. He also wants to get better every day. I think he should have good success at the pro level.”
Jiri was originally drafted by Brandon in the CHL Import Draft. He was taken 104th overall back in 2018 in what really turned out to be a steal of a selection based on all of what Jiri did during his tenure with Brandon. Starting with Jiri, Brandon is hoping its 2020 Import selection can do the same things, just offensively.
CHL Import Draft
With the 39th overall selection in the CHL Import Draft, Brandon nabbed Russian defenceman Yaroslav Busygin. Born in 2003, the 17-year-old is 6-foot-2 and weighs in at 170. He played with three different teams this past season, one of which was Vityaz Podolsk in Russia’s U17 league, a team that he captained. He collected 21 points (4G) in 24 games.
Playing with Russkie Vityazi Chekhov in Russia’s top junior hockey league, Busygin added four goals and one assist in 25 games. Busygin also played with Vityaz Podolsk’s U18 team where he had 11 points.
“He has good size and we think he’s going to continue getting better,” said Ritchie. “He has a really good first pass and that’s really important these days. The more we watched him, the more we liked him.”
Brandon also had the opportunity to select 99th overall; however, they passed.
Team Canada invitations
In other news, it’s been an exciting summer for three Wheat Kings prospects, one of which is from Russell. Tyson Zimmer is one of three members of the club that has been invited to Hockey Canada’s virtual national under-17 development camp which is set for July 19-25.
Zimmer, who grew up watching Brandon play, was taken sixth overall by the team in the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft.
“He’s a really good player and he has a great shot. He just needs one chance to score a goal,” said Ritchie. “He knows how to get open and he’s extremely competitive.”
As noted above, two other Wheat Kings received nods as Nate Danielson and Rylen Roersma will also attend the virtual camp. Danielson previously represented Canada at the Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne, Switzerland.
“It’s a great honour for the three boys. Those boys have worked really hard and they’ve proved that they’re top-end players in their age group,” ended Ritchie. “They’ve put the work in and they’re getting rewarded for it so it’s great to see.”