“It’s a pretty surreal feeling, obviously. It’s somewhere that I wanted to play one day, but the journey has just begun.”
Being drafted into the WHL is a huge honour for any player, but going second overall is something else.
Connor McClennon has been scouted as a top prospect for years, but actually hearing the Kootenay Ice call his name with their first pick in the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft was an unbelievable moment.
“Growing up in a small town, I never thought of big dreams like this, but it’s a pretty cool feeling,” McClennon said over the phone on Thursday night from Philadelphia, where he’s playing in a hockey tournament. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it [though] without all the people that helped me.”
The 5’7” forward from Wainwright, Alberta (Population: 6,270) spent the 2016-17 season playing at the Pursuit of Excellence Hockey Academy in Kelowna, BC and believes that the guidance he received there was instrumental in his high draft position.
“Everyone at Pursuit of Excellence [has helped a lot]… [POE Bantam Prep Head Coach] Ed Zawatsky, Todd Lorenz, Adam Huxley,” McClennon said. “[Also] my family… my dad has always been there by my side. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without them.”
The POE academy produced a good chunk of the 2017 draft’s talent with 12 players from their Bantam team being selected, including six of the top 13 players.
“Our coaches helped us out a lot and all the guys worked their butts off all year,” McClennon said of his team’s dominance at the draft. “It was pretty cool to see that everyone had good success at the draft.”
Although McClennon admits that he doesn’t know too much about the city of Cranbrook or the Kootenay Ice organization yet, he’s excited to be a part of the team’s bright future.
“I got a chance to talk with the new owner [Matt Cockell] at the Alberta Cup and obviously Kootenay is in a little bit of a rebuild right now,” he said. “Hopefully it will be pretty cool to be a part of it one day.”
After his selection, the Ice’s head of scouting, Garnet Kazuik, said that McClennon was “a very exciting player [who] loves to play the game [and] loves to score” — an accurate assessment according to the kid himself.
“I like to score some goals [and] I’m a pretty passionate guy out on the ice,” McClennon said. “I try to bring it every game and I’m a competitive guy.”
But while Kazuik did not want to give any comparables, saying that he “wants Connor McClennon to be Connor McClennon”, Connor McClennon has a player that he tries to emulate.
“I try to model my game after [Tampa Bay Lightning center] Steven Stamkos,” he said. “He’s a goal scorer and a good leader and competes night in and night out.”
In 30 regular season games with the POE Bantam Prep team of the CSSBHL, McClennon had a league-leading 99 points — 45 goals and 54 assists — and was named the league’s MVP.
He will join last year’s first overall selection, Peyton Krebs, as part of a very talented pool of young, dynamic offensive Kootenay Ice prospects.
As a 15-year-old, McClennon will only be eligible to play in a maximum of 5 games in the WHL next season but, in order to prepare for the possibility of coming to Kootenay’s training camp before the start of the season, he will be sharpening his skills in his hometown.
“I’ll be doing Power Edge Pro in the summer and our trainer, Adam Huxley has a gym in Wainwright, so I’ll be spending most of my time there.”
In addition to McClennon, the Ice took nine other players in the 2017 Bantam Draft, a group that should form part of the nucleus of the franchise moving forward.