Across the hockey world, in arenas big and small, scouts are looking high and low for players that will make their organizations better. Not only are the 30 National Hockey League clubs looking for the proverbial “next big thing,” the players such as Auston Matthews or Jacob Chychrun that will help catapult a team to the next level, but they’re also accumulating notes and information on dark-horse players to be found in the later rounds of the entry draft that could blossom into useful NHL bodies with some time (and some luck).
The Western Hockey League’s Calgary Hitmen has been producing good NHL prospects for years, with notable alumni including Martin Jones, Ryan Getzlaf, Andrew Ladd and Jake Virtanen, among others. The draft spotlight this season has largely shone on blueliner Jake Bean, projected by many scouting services to be a potential first round selection. But the Hitmen have a large crop of first-time draft eligible players on their roster, including forward Carsen Twarynski.
A Calgary native, Twarnyski had the good fortune to make his way up through the city’s minor hockey system, eventually joining the Hitmen as a 16-year-old at the beginning of the 2014-15 season. Now that the Hitmen are without last year’s veteran scorers like Jake Virtanen, Chase Lang, Adam Tambellini and Connor Rankin, the team’s offense has to come from the players that were rookies last season such as Bean, Twarynski, Layne Bensmiller, Jordy Stallard and Beck Malenstyn – all who are draft eligible.
“The young group that we had last year is confident with ourselves this year,” said Twarynski in late November. “It might’ve taken a bit of a slow start to get going, but we’re slowing getting into it right now, getting into our groove, and I think it’s a really good sign for our team that we’re [getting] those big goals right now.”
Hitmen head coach Mark French has seen some growth in Twarynski’s game since last season.
“I think he has a better understanding of what’s expected,” said French in late October. “I think he knows the league a little bit more. He’s grown. He’s bigger and stronger, which is great. He’s really dedicated himself in the off-season. But he’s one of those guys, we lost a lot offensive punch up front, he’s one of the guys that we’re expecting to fill that void.”
For his part, Twarynski has absorbed the lessons of his rookie WHL season well. This season, he’s emerged as arguably the Hitmen’s most consistent player. While he arguably lacks high-end offensive skill and isn’t likely to dazzle with stick-handling, he uses his speed and size well to get into the center lane of the ice and create havoc in front of the opposition’s net.
“I know how I need to play and I know how the coaches want me to play,” said Twarynski. “Last year I was more of a hard-nosed, working guy with less ability to get points. My goal this year is to come in and definitely contribute on the offensive side, but to also keep that game in my game, to be able to play hard, play physical and know that if you work hard, play the systems that coach Mark was talking about, that the points will come eventually no matter who you are.”
Carsen Twarynski – Plenty of Upside
When the NHL’s Central Scouting Service released their watch lists in September and November, Twarynski’s name was absent. However, don’t think that his play has gone unnoticed by scouts or the Hitmen coaching staff.
“I think when people watch him, he’s a guy that I think they’ll value some of the things he brings to the table,” said French. “If you just look at his stat line, maybe you don’t get a true appreciation for what he brings. He certainly can skate at the next level, and I think that’s the first thing a lot of people look for is ability to play with pace, and he can. I think there’s a lot of upside with him.”
So while Jake Bean is getting most of the attention during Hitmen games, don’t be shocked if Carsen Twarynski’s name gets called in the late stages of the 2016 NHL Draft. The longer the youthful Hitmen spend near the top of the WHL standings, the more likely it gets that Twarynski gets selected in Buffalo at the end of June.
Ryan Pike has covered the Calgary Flames and the NHL Draft extensively since 2010 as a Senior Writer for The Hockey Writers and Senior Contributing Editor of FlamesNation.ca. A member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, he lives in Calgary.