Column: WHL alumni dazzle on NHL opening night

127 WHL graduates on NHL rosters to start the season

With leaves almost fully turned to their fall colours, it can only mean one thing– hockey season is in full swing.

While the WHL season has been underway for almost two weeks, the big boys of the National Hockey League got the party started Wednesday night.

On the NHL’s opening night, there was plenty of WHL flavour in the mix as 127 WHL alumnus were on rosters across the league.

There was former Prince Albert Raider and Kelowna Rockets star Leon Draisaitl, who notched three points in a victory for the Edmonton Oilers in their home opener against the Vancouver Canucks. He played a whopping 27 minutes and was a horse for the Oilers in the victory. In that same game, the Canucks had five WHL alumni (Micheal Ferland, Brandon Sutter, Jake Virtanen, Alex Edler and Tyler Myers).

Former Portland Winterhawks forward Cody Glass also had a special night for the Vegas Golden Knights, scoring his first career NHL goal and became the first player drafted by the franchise to score in the NHL. In a 4-1 win over San Jose Sharks, the Knights had eight former WHLers. Mark Stone, who played four seasons for the Brandon Wheat Kings, had a goal and an assist. The Sharks have three former WHLers on the roster.

The Red Deer Rebels were well-represented on opening-night rosters, with seven WHL graduates making NHL rosters. The list included goalies Darcy Kuemper and James Riemer, as well as Sutter, Jake DeBrusk, Haydn Fleury, Martin Hanzal and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

All 31 NHL teams feature at least on former WHL player.

The Rockets sent the most WHL Alumni to the NHL this season with 14. Three other WHL teams are sending double-digit WHL graduates to the NHL ranks this season, including the Brandon Wheat Kings (12), Portland Winterhawks (11), and Moose Jaw Warriors (10).

What’s most interesting is the journey of many of these players. Some, like Glass, are just starting their careers, while others, like Nugent-Hopkins are well-established NHLers. Reimer was a great Rebel and has sown a decent NHL career over the past 11 seasons.

Carsen Twarynski, a Calgary product, will make his NHL debut in Prague for the Philadelphia Flyers this weekend. The team surprised him by bringing his parents to town for the game.

One notable former Rebel not on a roster to start the NHL campaign is defenceman Dion Phaneuf. After playing 67 games last season with the Los Angeles Kings, he is currently an unrestricted free agent.

All this is to say, if you have a chance to check out a WHL game this winter, there’s an excellent chance you will see a future NHLer on the ice.

Email sports tips to Byron Hackett

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