The 2020-21 season projects as a special one for the Portland Winterhawks, who in a normal year would be playing hockey now.
Instead, the first week of October provided a different kind of distraction for the Western Hockey League club, which saw three of its players selected during the 2020 NHL Draft.
Center Seth Jarvis became the 30th Winterhawks player to be drafted in the first round when the Carolina Hurricanes called his name with the 13th pick on Tuesday, Oct. 6.
On Wednesday, left wing Cross Hanas went to the Detroit Red Wings with the 55th selection and left wing Jaydon Dureau went to the Tampa Bay Lightning with the 147th selection.
All three of those players will be playing for Portland when the Western Hockey League season gets started. They are part of a talented roster that was built to compete for a league championship in the spring of 2021 — which only adds to the frustration for the club and its fans.
The Western Hockey League targets Dec. 4 as its opening day. But WHL commissioner Ron Robison has said multiple times that the league won't start until paying fans can attend games, given that ticket sales are the main source of revenue for the league.
As mid-October arrives, an early December start seems unlikely, at least for the five teams in the U.S. Division. According to Winterhawks VP/GM/coach Mike Johnston, remote meetings are planned next week with the governors of Oregon and Washington to discuss the upcoming season.
Seeing Jarvis go early in the draft, after a steady climb up pre-draft projections, provides the club and its fans something to celebrate as the COVID-19 waiting game continues.
"Seth moved up in the draft as the year went along. To see Carolina pick him was exciting," Johnston said. "Being a first-round draft pick is an amazing accomplishment."
Jarvis improved his draft position with a spectacular second half of last season, when the Winnipeg, Manitoba, native produced an astonishing 27 goals and 36 assists (63 points) over the final 26 games to lead Portland to the best record in the WHL.
Listed at 5-10 and 175 pounds, Jarvis is the second smallest player taken in the first round on Tuesday. But his big game impressed Carolina.
Hurricanes president and general manager Don Waddell said his scouts rated Jarvis among the top 10 players available.
"Seth's hockey sense is elite," Carolina Director of Player Personnel Darren Yorke told the club's website. "His ability to process the game and create space for himself is so imperative to make the transition from junior to the NHL easier. From a competitive standpoint, he works as hard away from the puck as he does with it. For a 'shorter' player, he's able to get to the net, defend the puck and put taller, bigger defensemen on his back. That comes down to his hockey sense."
Jarvis has been compared to Mitch Marner of Toronto and Brayden Point of Tampa Bay. During a remote session with Hurricanes' media, Jarvis said the comparisons to Point are, well, on point.
"I take a lot of parts of my game from his. He's a smaller body player that can really make an impact on a team and on a game," Jarvis said. "He's able to impact the game not only in the offensive zone, but the defensive zone. He doesn't let physicality deteriorate him."
Jarvis is entering his third season with the Winterhawks, and lived up to expectations by taking on a leading role as a 17-year-old last season. His 98 points (42 goals, 56 assists) in 58 games were a significant jump from the 16 goals and 23 assists Jarvis had as a 16-year-old rookie.
Jarvis told Carolina media that his big improvement was mental.
"I just played with a lot more confidence. I knew what I could do on the ice and I knew what I had to do to help the team be successful," he said. "Just playing with confidence really elevated my game. I wasn't afraid to go out there and make mistakes, and not afraid to try new things."
Hanas had 22 goals and 27 assists in 60 games in his second season with Portland, the 49 points 27 more than he produced in his rookie season. In a remote session with Detroit media, Hanas said he's been focusing on getting bigger and stronger while at home near Dallas, Texas. As a result, he's added 10 pounds to his 6-1 frame and now weighs 175 pounds.
"Just putting on more strength in legs and everywhere else has been my focus," he said.
Dureau was golfing with friends when he got word that the Lightning had selected him. The White City, Saskatchewan native was eligible, but went undrafted in 2019. He told Tampa media that attending the Florida Panthers rookie camp last fall helped him understand the improvement needed to prepare for professional hockey.
More of a playmaker than a scorer, Dureau had 19 goals and 70 assists in 61 games last season, 41 more assists than in his 17-year-old rookie year. Teaming with Jarvis helped, of course, but Dureau's growth was significant on its own, Johnston said.
"He took his game to another level," Johnston said. "I give him all the credit for working hard and developing as much as he did."
Dureau's experience of waiting a year to be drafted is a good example for several of his Portland teammates.
Forward Simon Knak from Switzerland and defenseman Jonas Brondberg of Denmark were both eligible to be drafted this year, for example. If NHL camps were happening this month, as would be a normal calendar, Knak and Brondberg would be among the Hawks invited to a rookie camp.
Johnston said because there were no playoffs last season, and because NHL scouts might not have seen enough of Knak, who played in 49 games in his first season with Portland and had nine goals and 25 assists as a 17-year-old. Johnston is confident Knak will be drafted in 2021.
• A total of 28 WHL players were selected in the NHL Draft. Jarvis was the first of seven taken in the first round and Hanas was the eighth WHL player taken. The Brandon Wheat Kings had four players selected and the Everett Silvertips joined Portland with three.
Other U.S. Division players were Everett's Gage Goncalves (second round, Tampa Bay), Kasper Puutio (fifth round, Florida), Ronan Seeley (seventh round, Carolina); Seattle's Tyrel Bauer (sixth round, Winnipeg), Matthew Rempe (sixth round, New York Rangers); Spokane's Jack Finley (second round, Tampa Bay), Bear Hughes (fifth round, Washington).
• The Winterhawks' ownership remains unsettled. Johnston said the receiver handling former owner Bill Gallacher's bankruptcy has looked at several offers but nobody has been able to close a deal. The receivership must accept an offer, first, then the WHL board of governors must approve any new owners.
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