Central Alberta continues to produce quality WHL players

Central Alberta is a virtual hockey hotbed, an area of the country that produces quality players on a consistent basis. Many of the young athletes who perform to a high degree of success in minor hockey move on to play at the junior A level, but the WHL also features a proportionally large number of Central Alberta natives.

Central Alberta is a virtual hockey hotbed, an area of the country that produces quality players on a consistent basis.

Many of the young athletes who perform to a high degree of success in minor hockey move on to play at the junior A level, but the WHL also features a proportionally large number of Central Alberta natives.

Included on the ledger are three members of the Red Deer Rebels — homegrowns Scott Feser, Kolton Dixon and Jeff de Wit. The remainder of the list includes:

Tyler Steenbergen,

Swift Current Broncos

The 16-year-old Broncos rookie and Sylvan Lake native starred with the Red Deer midget AAA Optimist Chiefs last winter, collecting 31 points (14g,17a) in 32 regular-season games.

He also excelled in major bantam hockey with the Red Deer Rebels Black and White squads and was the Broncos’ first-round draft pick in 2013. The slight (five-foot-ten, 161 pounds) but highly-skilled centre has one goal in 12 games with Swift Current this season.

Logan Fisher,

Victoria Royals

The 19-year-old Red Deer product is in his third full season with the Royals. More of a defensive specialist than an offensive threat, Fisher is an alternate captain with the team this season and has scored once and collected four points in 11 games.

The six-foot-two, 194-pound centre put up 31 points (12-19) in his lone season (2011-12) with the midget AAA Optimist Chiefs, then earned full-time employment with the Royals.

Zane Jones,

Lethbridge Hurricanes

The Olds native is with his fifth WHL team, although he played just one game with the Chilliwack Bruins in 2010-11 prior to the franchise relocating to Victoria and becoming the Royals.

The former Red Deer White major bantam player and Leduc midget AAA performer suited up with the Royals, Calgary Hitmen and Everett Silvertips before joining the ‘Canes from the ‘Tips in a late September trade.

At six-foot-three and 210 pounds, the 20-year-old Jones plays a heavy game but he can also find the back of the net, as he proved during his 44-point (21-13) 2012-13 season with the Hitmen.

Jordan Steenbergen,

Kootenay Ice

Steenbergen, 18, has been in and out of the Ice lineup since joining the club last season. The six-foot, 192-pound rearguard played 49 regular-season contests last winter — collecting three assists and recording 59 penalty minutes — and is pointless with 18 PIMs in seven outings this fall.

The Sylvan Lake native was a hit with the major bantam Rebels Black and midget AAA Optimist Chiefs and was a third-round pick of the Ice in the 2011 bantam draft.

Andrew Nielsen,

Lethbridge Hurricanes

The large (six-three, 209 pounds) defenceman cracked the Hurricanes roster this fall as a 17-year-old.

Born and raised in Red Deer, Nielsen played at the AA and major bantam levels, and minor midget AAA and midget AAA levels in his hometown over the past five seasons.

He was a two-way force with the Optimist Chiefs last winter, scoring three goals and putting up 18 points, and has a single assist and eight penalty minutes in six games with the ‘Canes.

Dallas Valentine,

Moose Jaw Warriors

From the small town of Lousana, 45 km southeast of Red Deer, Valentine played one season of minor midget AAA hockey in Red Deer, then suited up with the midget AAA Leduc Oil Kings in 2012-13.

The six-foot-three, 195-pound blueliner had a tryout with the New York Rangers in September and was then returned to the Warriors for his second full WHL season. He chipped in with 14 points, including three goals, in 69 games with Moose Jaw last winter and has two assists in seven games this fall.

Mike Winther,

Kamloops Blazers

Winther was traded from the Prince Albert Raiders to the Calgary Hitmen last season and was then dealt to the Blazers three weeks ago.

With three goals and eight points in his first nine games with his new team, the overage centre is attempting to resurrect what was once a promising WHL career. The Trochu native was selected by the Dallas Stars in the second round of the 2012 NHL entry draft after scoring 32 goals with the Raiders. He fell off to 22 goals the following season and then appeared in only 31 games with the Raiders and Hitmen last winter — scoring seven goals and recording 26 points — due to injury.

Colton Bobyk,

Spokane Chiefs

The 18-year-old defenceman played tier 2 bantam in his hometown of Rimbey before taking his act to Red Deer for his major bantam and midget AAA seasons stretching from 2010 into the spring of last year.

The six-two, 190-pounder can play a physical game and is an excellent skater with a heavy shot. Bobyk was an AMHL all-star with the Optimist Chiefs in 2012-13, garnering 32 points (8-24) in 31 regular-season games and another 15 (4-11) in 10 post-season outings.

Sidelined another one to two weeks with a lower-body injury, Bobyk has yet to suit up with the Chiefs this season. He had 12 points (5-7) and 62 penalty minutes in his rookie year.

Layne Bensmiller,

Calgary Hitmen

The 17-year-old winger had a strong training camp with the Hitmen last year, then scored 11 goals and added 15 assists in 35 games with the midget AAA Optimist Chiefs and carried that momentum into this year’s WHL camp.

The five-foot-11, 168-pound Rocky Mountain House product appeared in four games with Calgary last season and was held pointless in the process. He has recorded two assists in four games to this point in the current campaign.

• Travis Verveda, Kamloops Blazers

The Lacombe native, 17, is one season removed from the Optimist Chiefs, with whom he was a strong presence on the blueline last winter.

The six-foot, 172-pound defenceman scored four times and collected 13 points in his lone season of midget AAA hockey, and has appeared in four games with Kamloops with no points to his credit.

Verveda, an effective puck mover, was signed by the Blazers after attending their 2013 camp.

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