Reece Newkirk is a name familiar around Portland, Oregon and Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. By the end of June, an NHL market will be well aware of the 17-year-old, second-year center for the Portland Winterhawks.
Newkirk is quickly rising up NHL draft lists for the 2019 Entry Draft in Vancouver.
Central Scouting did not have Reece ranked to start the 2018-2019 season. When the Players to Watch list was published on November 12th, the Moose Jaw native was ranked a “C” rated prospect.
“I’m happy with it,” Newkirk said. “It is a goal I’ve been striving for. Growing up as a kid, everyone dreams of playing in the NHL.”
Newkirk spent time in Wilcox, SK with the Notre Dame Hounds’ bantam program along with current linemate Jaydon Dureau prior to being selected in the third round of the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft.
“In bantam I played out in Notre Dame and had a good year there,” Newkirk said. “They have everything there, off-ice facilities to on-ice all the time. Great coaches and the school is good there too; a great place to be.”
The season after, his midget year, Newkirk stayed closer to home with the Moose Jaw Generals, where he totaled 17 goals and 23 assists in 44 games.
On May 5, 2016, the day of the bantam draft, he patiently waited to hear his name called.
The Winterhawks did not have a selection until the third round, which is when the wait was over for Reece.
Portland used the 53rd overall pick on the 5’11” 169 pound forward. Newkirk was not as familiar with Portland as they were with him. “I got drafted by Portland, and I hadn’t heard anything but good things about Portland. To be honest, I didn’t really know where it was at the time. I came out here and it has been great ever since.”
As of December 11th, Newkirk is fourth in the 2016 WHL bantam draft class with 24 career goals. The three players above him are all first round bantam selections.
Reece made the Winterhawks 2017-2018 team out of training camp. As a 16-year-old he played 58 games his rookie season. “When I was 16 I was here, and you just practice hard and try to stay in the lineup; you always want to be in the lineup.”
Now in his second season, Newkirk is focused on “Just growing in confidence and getting stronger and faster.”
His potential was recognized right away by head coach Mike Johnston, “He has had a good start to the season. We knew last year as a 16-year-old he had potential, but you never know where they are going to go at 17. I like the way he has taken off.”
Earlier in the year he was on a line with two NHL signed prospects, Vegas’ Cody Glass and San Jose’s Joachim Blichfeld.
Newkirk said, “Playing with Glass and Blichfeld, the two best players in the league, I just work as hard as I can, and they find me. I have to be ready.”
Ready he was.
Newkirk fit in right away with the Winterhawks’ top line as he scored on his first shift.
Portland’s assistant coach Don Hay said, “He has had a great start to the year playing with Cody [Glass] and [Joachim] Blichfeld; a real good fit there as a worker. [Reece] was able to find ways to get pucks to them and then he would go to the net. He got paid off by second chances and rebounds.”
His early season success playing with the top line surely got him noticed. However, over the course of Portland’s 30 games so far, Newkirk has proven he is just as productive away from Glass and Blichfeld.
As of Tuesday morning, Newkirk has 16 goals in 2018. An even split of eight assisted by Cody Glass and eight from anyone else.
Portland shifted Newkirk to a line with 2017 first round bantam pick Seth Jarvis and 2016 eighth round pick Jaydon Dureau. The line has been producing for the Winterhawks, giving them much needed depth behind their top line. A big reason is Newkirk’s ability to win puck battles.
Johnston feels, “He is a worker, goes to the net well, and creates opportunities. I think he is playing with lots of confidence right now.”
Hay has seen his fair share of talent over the years, the WHL’s all-time winningest coach. He describes Newkirk as “a type of player teams are looking for. A competitive guy, fiery guy, he has a lot of life in his game. He competes at both ends of the ice which is what makes him an interesting player.”
Newkirk knows there is room to continue to develop his game further in preparation for the draft, “Need to get a little bit stronger and faster. Working on my game habits and practice habits as well.”
Johnston agrees with his center’s assessment, “He needs to get quicker and stronger, those are two key areas for him. Every other part of his game has I think has really rounded out.”
Newkirk is relied upon in all situations: 5-on-5, second power play unit, and the penalty kill. When the team is down by a goal, Johnston will often elevate Newkirk back to the top line.
When a team drafts him this summer, Newkirk feels they will get a player who “is all about work ethic; my work ethic is everything. I’m a hard worker every shift.”
While Reece’s season continues to progress, and he catches more and more scouts’ eyes, Hay wants to ensure, “He just can’t lose touch with what makes him successful and that is his competitive nature.”
That competitive nature, and goal scoring ability, will surely make Reece Newkirk a household name in a NHL city in the near future.