Moose Jaw Warriors forward Brayden Yager has been waiting for this season for a long, long time.
Perhaps its a bit of a coincidence that his National Hockey League draft season coincides with one of the most promising Moose Jaw Warriors teams in recent history, but one thing is for certain -- ever since his arrival as an elite prospect, all roads have led to 2022-23 and what Yager can accomplish leading up to the June 28 weekend in Nashville.
“It’s obviously going to be a big year,” Yager said after practice on Wednesday afternoon. “I try not to think about it too much, but it’s going to be fun going through the whole draft process and stuff, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Yager first started attracting attention when as a 12-year-old he put up 35 goals and 59 points with the Martensville Marauders in the Sask AA U15 Hockey League. A season later, and there was no doubt scouts of all sorts would be keeping a close eye on the Saskatoon product for the foreseeable future -- 44 goals and 103 points in only 31 games will do that for a player.
Yager joined the Saskatoon Contacts of the Sask Male AAA Hockey League for his 14-year-old year and put up 18 goals and 42 points, leading the burgeoning scoring star to apply for exceptional player status so he could play in the WHL at 15. That request was denied, but it didn’t matter in the end. The pandemic quickly washed out the 2020-21 SMAAAHL campaign, and when the WHL put together the East Division Hub in January, Yager joined the Warriors full time.
He put up seven goals and 18 points in his first taste of junior hockey, and when things returned mostly to normal last season, it was breakout time -- 34 goals, 59 points in 63 games and Canadian Hockey League rookie of the year honours.
“I think growing up I was always one of the better players and there’s pressure that comes with that, but I’ve learned to deal with it,” Yager said of his continuous elite status. “I think I do a pretty good job dealing with pressure and kind of setting it aside and having fun.”
That’s not to say hasn’t noticed things ramping up. Media attention alone is one sure sign -- Yager has been interviewed by TSN already this season and is ranked fourth among all skaters by the sports channel’s director of scouting Craig Button -- as is what will be an inevitable plethora of NHL staff looking to chat with him in the coming months.
“I’ve talked to a couple already, and it’s been really good,” Yager said. “They’re such great hockey minds so it’s nice to be able to ask questions and learn about the game and what it takes to get to the next level.
“Obviously it’s been cool, and throughout the year I plan to be a sponge and learn as much as I can… I’m just going to enjoy it when there are people who want to talk to me and just take in the entire process.”
Now, on to the matter at hand.
Any success Yager has will undoubtedly translate into team success for the Warriors, and with a crew that could have as many as eight NHL draftees and prospects in their line-up with some luck, the sky’s the limit for their success.
“We have a really good feeling in the room right now, we’re super excited that we have a really good group here,” Yager said. “So we’re going to try and do something special this year and start off strong this weekend.”
The Warriors open the regular season on Friday night in Regina before hosting their home opener against the Pats on Saturday night at the Moose Jaw Events Centre. Two wins to open the campaign would most certainly set a positive tone -- especially given the fact the Warriors are missing a good chunk of their established elite players at NHL camp.
“Obviously both sides are missing quite a few guys, but we’re looking pretty good and feeling pretty good going into the weekend,” Yager said. “You want to start strong and keep building off of it, it’s going to be a big weekend and a fun one playing the Pats with the rivalry there. So hopefully it’ll be a good weekend and one we can start off strong.”
You can pick up tickets for the home opener at the Moose Jaw Events Centre box office or through Sasktix.ca. Puck drop is 7 p.m. on Saturday night.