With two multi-talented linemates and an extra five pounds of muscle on his frame, Red Deer Rebels winger Grayson Pawlenchuk is on pace for a 35-goal Western Hockey League season.
And while there is no way of predicting his final goal tally — Pawlenchuk has sniped seven goals and has collected 10 points in 14 games to date — anything in the neighbourhood of his current projection will be a big step up his 2014-15 season total.
The 18-year-old scored nine times and collected 26 points in 72 games last winter, somewhat of a letdown considering he notched seven goals and put up 19 points in his rookie season of 2013-14. Once projected as an NHL entry draft pick, Pawlenchuk was passed over in June, but he’ll get plenty of looks from NHL scouts this season if he continues to perform at his current level.
Skating alongside Ivan Nikolishin and centre Michael Spacek, the Rebels’ top two scorers, has been a boon for Pawlenchuk, who also helped himself with an off-season workout program that focused on adding brawn and power.
“I have two pretty great linemates who are both up there in the league for points. Things have been going pretty well and it helps that I’m playing with those two,” said the Ardrossan product. “But my summer on the ice helped me quite a bit, and my workouts were a lot harder this summer than ever before. I came into the season a little more prepared.”
Pawlenchuk added five pounds of muscle while training under the guidance of Kevin Douglas at Breakthrough Training in Sherwood Park.
“At the start of summer we worked on kind of losing a little weight by burning fat,” he said. “Then towards the middle and the end of summer it was about building muscle. We worked out with weights every day.
“Kevin is a great trainer. Two of the guys who trained in my group are Skyler McKenzie (Portland Winterhawks) and Brendan Guhle (Prince Albert Raiders). Both finished at the top during their team’s fitness testing.”
Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter credited Pawlenchuk’s impressive start to the forward’s off-season work.
“He’s playing on a skilled line, but he’s been a big part of that,” said the Rebels boss. “He’s a guy who goes to the net hard, plus he’s got some skill and he shoots the puck.
“He’s also such a dependable player. He plays in all three zones of the ice. He’s stronger this year, he had a great summer of working out and training, and put on some weight. He’s been really good for us.”
Obviously, the six-foot, 186-pound winger would take great pride in being selected in the 2016 NHL entry draft, but he’s not dwelling on the possibility.
“It would be great to be drafted, but I’m not too focused on it,” he said. “If I continue to play well it should happen and if our team is successful this season there’s a better chance of it happening.
“We’re doing well so far, we just have to keep it up.”
The Rebels will be gunning for their sixth consecutive victory tonight when they host the Spokane Chiefs. Red Deer, at 10-4, is tied for second place in the Eastern Conference.
“The mood with the team is pretty good, but we have to keep it tight,” said Pawlenchuk. “We can’t let off. If we get too high on ourselves we’ll start losing so we just have to keep on an even keel and keep playing the way we are.”