WHL Feature: Blazers have Special Talent in Stankoven

Logan Stankoven was a dominant player during the WHL preseason — leading the league in goals (eight) and points (15) as a 16-year-old.

He tacked on a shootout tally to boot, helping his hometown Kamloops Blazers complete a perfect preseason with seven straight wins, including three against the Memorial Cup host Kelowna Rockets.

Logan Stankoven Kamloops Blazers
Logan Stankoven of the Kamloops Blazers celebrates after scoring against the Kelowna Rockets during WHL preseason action. (Allen Douglas/Kamloops Blazers)

That set the bar high for his rookie season, but there was already plenty of hype surrounding Stankoven — a projected first-round pick and potential top-five selection for the 2021 NHL draft.

“I don’t try to focus on that too much,” said Stankoven, the fifth overall pick in the 2018 bantam draft who would have went higher in hindsight after breaking Tyson Jost’s goal-scoring record in the B.C. Major Midget League last season — lighting the lamp 49 times over 38 games as part of a 101-point campaign. That was five more than Jost’s 44 goals, with Stankoven winning the league scoring race by a whopping 38 points.

He posted the third-highest point total in that league’s history behind NHLers Alex Kerfoot (108) and Matt Barzal (103) but ahead of Jordan Weal (100), Jost (88), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (87) and Sam Reinhart (78) among the notable names in the top 10.

Tyson Jost went on to be the 10th overall pick in the 2016 NHL draft for the Colorado Avalanche. (Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY)

With that type of success comes expectations and Stankoven certainly didn’t disappoint in the preseason.

“I just kind of take it day by day, and show up to the rink ready to work each day, and just go from there and hopefully things work out well in a few years,” he continued. “It would be awesome to be noticed and hopefully one day be playing in the big leagues.”

Resetting for Regular Season

Now, the real games begin and Stankoven is well aware that the level ramps up for the regular season. He got into a total of 14 games with the Blazers as an affiliated player last season — seven in the regular season, plus the tiebreaker win over Kelowna to reach the postseason where he suited up for all six games in a first-round loss to Victoria. He produced two points in that series, including his first WHL goal, after being limited to one assist over his regular-season appearances.

“It’s been good so far, but teams still don’t have their full lineups in, so you have to take that into recognition, but hopefully bring that momentum into the season,” Stankoven said following Saturday’s preseason finale — a 3-2 shootout victory in Kelowna thanks to Brodi Stuart’s winner in the ninth round and Stankoven’s equalizer in the second round.

Humble and mature beyond his years, don’t expect those exhibition stats to go to Stankoven’s head.

“I don’t think so,” said Blazers new head coach Shaun Clouston, who came to Kamloops after a 16-year run in Medicine Hat. “He’s a real focused kid. He’s got a real great demeanour. You never have to worry about him being prepared and never have to worry about his work ethic. Just a great teammate.”

That is a ringing endorsement as far as first impressions go, with Clouston suggesting Stankoven is as coachable as he is skilled. A special talent in the making.

He’s been outstanding. He’s obviously had tremendous success, but what I’m most impressed with is his work ethic. It’s not that he’s floating around scoring, he is working and he is earning everything that he’s got.

— Shaun Clouston on Logan Stankoven

Latest Goal Speaks to Strengths

That was evident on his eighth goal of the preseason, opening the scoring against Kelowna by winning a board battle, then working his way to the slot before sniping a shot top-shelf. And those efforts came against veterans, beating 19-year-old defenceman Devin Steffler to a loose puck, fending off a hit from him to keep the play alive, and firing a wrister over Roman Basran’s glove moments later.

Steffler bulked up by almost 15 pounds in the offseason but couldn’t knock Stankoven off the puck with a chance to clear the zone near the top of the circle. Stankoven absorbed the contact and cycled the puck back down low to generate the scoring sequence.

“He’s got some good lower-body strength and he’s a real smart player. He’s crafty,” Clouston said of the undersized Stankoven, who is listed at 5-foot-7 and 165 pounds but uses that low centre of gravity to his advantage. “Very strong on his skates, strong on the puck for his size. When he does have the puck, he plays with his head up, he plays with pace, and he uses his teammates real well.”

Logan Stankoven Kamloops Blazers
Logan Stankoven of the Kamloops Blazers reaches for the puck during WHL preseason action. (Allen Douglas/Kamloops Blazers)

Basran is the Rockets’ returning starter — entering his third season in the league at 18 — and Stankoven scored on him again in the shootout.

Both of Stankoven’s shots were wicked — quick releases and labelled. That shooting ability is certain to get the attention of NHL scouts over the next two seasons leading up to his draft.

“Absolutely, he rips it,” Clouston raved. “He can really rip it.”

Starting at Centre

His goal in regulation was the culmination of a stellar shift from start to finish, beginning with a clean faceoff win in the offensive zone as Stankoven swept the puck back to his blueliners.

The Blazers contemplated starting Stankoven on the wing — as Kelowna is doing with their 2018 first-rounder Trevor Wong — but he’s faring well as a centre thus far and will continue to play his natural position into the regular season.

That was a group decision, with general manager Matt Bardsley and assistant coach Darryl Sydor expressing confidence in Stankoven patrolling the middle of the ice in major junior despite his age and size.

“When I came here, there were lots of conversations. They both believed he could do it and so far, so good,” Clouston said of Stankoven handling that responsibility. “It’s a tough position, but he’s fast, he’s real elusive, he’s good down low, which is important at both ends. And he’s constantly putting pressure on the opponent when they have the puck.”

Flanked by Veterans

Clouston deserves credit for flanking Stankoven with a pair of veteran wingers in overager Zane Franklin and 19-year-old Orrin Centazzo. Those two already had terrific chemistry — both hailing from Marwayne, Alta., and having been teammates most of their lives — and Stankoven clicked with them immediately.

It’s a small line — Centazzo is 5-foot-8 and Franklin is 5-foot-9 — but they were unstoppable throughout the preseason in ranking 1-2-3 in points among league leaders. Franklin and Centazzo both scored five goals in five games, with Franklin racking up 12 points and Centazzo finishing with 10 points.

“I was pretty lucky to get the chance to play with those guys and we’ve worked well together so far,” Stankoven said. “The plays they make are unbelievable, and I just try to go to the net and chase pucks and just play my game, and hopefully chip in offensively as well.”

It’s fitting that Clouston’s top line in Kamloops is small and skilled since that was typically a trademark of his high-scoring Medicine Hat teams. He coached the likes of Tyler Ennis, Hunter Shinkaruk and Mason Shaw as forwards under 5-foot-10 with the Tigers. Clarke MacArthur, Linden Vey and Emerson Etem weren’t overly big in junior either. The list goes on.

“I really like the team here, I like the makeup,” Clouston said of the Blazers. “There’s definitely some skill, some guys that can fly, and I think there’s great depth. At all three positions, we’ve got some depth, so it’s a good-looking team for sure.”

Overcoming Size Concerns

As for his experience in getting smaller forwards to excel offensively at the WHL level and how he’ll be able to help Stankoven’s development, Clouston downplayed his impact.

“With guys like that, they’ve learned how to do it their whole life,” he said. “It’s not like all of a sudden it’s a big adjustment or a big change. A lot of those smaller players, they get to this level because they have had to figure out a way to avoid some heavy contact, to be quicker, to be more elusive, to play heads-up hockey.”

Logan Stankoven Kamloops Blazers
Logan Stankoven (Kamloops Blazers)

That is true of Stankoven, who has clearly taken another step from where he left off in the playoffs after striving to find another gear over the summer.

“I just like to work on my overall game,” he said of the offseason training. “There’s obviously a few things here and there that you like to work on. One of those things would be getting more explosive. Being a smaller guy, you have to be explosive and fast. That’s one of the big things.”

Providing Scouting Report

Stankoven also spends a lot of time on his shot and thus it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that the first name out of his mouth was Cole Caufield when asked about players that he likes watching. The others?

“Brayden Point, Jonathan Marchessault. Smaller guys to emulate my game after,” he said.

Stankoven is a shooter, but he’s no slouch as a playmaker. He had more assists than goals last season, finishing with 52 helpers — also tops in the midget league. He wants to keep improving in that area, highlighting it in providing a scouting report on himself.

“I try to work with the players that I play with. Moving the puck is a big thing,” Stankoven said. “The game has changed, it’s become so fast these days, so working with your linemates and creating chemistry with them is a big thing.”

Shifting Focus to Team Goals

If the preseason is any indication, Stankoven should be a frontrunner for the WHL’s rookie of the year award. But he is more driven by team success than individual accolades. Of course, those tend to go hand in hand.

“Last season, coming up for playoffs with them, that was a blast and I had lots of fun, but hopefully we can make it farther this year and build from what we did last year,” Stankoven said.

The Blazers are already firing on all cylinders this fall, outscoring the opposition 41-13 over their seven exhibition games that also included two victories against Victoria, a blowout of Prince George and a 5-1 road win over the defending B.C. Division and Western Conference champion Vancouver Giants.

“Overall, it’s been a real positive,” Clouston said of the perfect record and encouraging results. “The older guys have done a great job of setting the tone and keeping the bar real high. It started in training camp, through practices and games, just making sure that the rest of the group was ready to go.”

Stankoven played in six of those preseason contests and his linemates only dressed for five. So to combine for 18 goals and 37 points gives them quite the confidence boost — particularly Stankoven.

“It is,” he said. “It’s been nice, for sure, and hopefully we can take that (success) into the season.”