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Yager excited for opportunity after signing with Warriors

First-round Bantam Draft pick looking forward to joining team for camp in the fall
Brayden Yager found himself in an interesting situation heading into the 2020 Western Hockey League Bantam Draft.

While other players were settling in for what could have been a long day of screen watching, the Saskatoon Contacts standout knew he wasn’t going to have to wait long at all.

And in the end, it was about 15 minutes.

Shortly after the Regina Pats selected Connor Bedard with the first overall pick and the Prince George Cougars followed with Yager’s teammate Riley Heidt, the Moose Jaw Warriors made Yager the third overall selection in the 2020 Bantam Draft.

“We talked to quite a few teams, and I think our family knew from the early part of the season that Moose Jaw was one of the front runners,” Yager said from his home in Dundurn. “They were ran so well by Al Millar and Jason Ripplinger and head coach Mark O’Leary and then the rest of the staff as well, it was definitely someplace I wanted to go.

“We talked a few times and I told them I was interested in playing there, and I think we hoped they would take me, but there was no guarantee.”

Basically, the way Yager’s draft was going to shake out boiled down to what the Cougars decided to do – either he was going second and the Warriors would land Heidt third, or vice versa.

But that didn’t make it any less cool when things played out.

“It’s exciting, you wait for this day for such a long time and then for it to finally happen is pretty unbelievable,” Yager said.

The Warriors themselves didn’t waste any time locking down their elite prospect, either – he signed the WHL standard player agreement the next day and just like that officially became the newest member of the Moose Jaw Warriors.

“We believe Brayden is an elite young player who combines a great skill set with speed and has a strong two-way complete game,” said Millar, the Warriors general manager, during a Zoom conference call on Friday morning. “For us, for him having that talent complimented with a complete game, and a real strong compete and a will and determination in his game to make a difference to win battles, that makes him a perfect fit for our hockey club.”

Warriors head coach Mark O’Leary also weighed in with praise for his future young standout.

“As a coach and our staff, we had a chance to watch Brayden a little bit this year, we certainly heard a lot about him leading up to the draft,” he said. “The two things that stand out for me are his passion and enthusiasm for the game, you can see that in the way he plays and how he talks about his game and his true compete level at both ends of the rink. That’s something we’re really excited to work with and it’s really exciting to see a family and a kid excited to be a Moose Jaw Warrior.”

The story of how Yager got to this point has been recounted many times – the 5-foot-10, 161-pound forward burst onto the scene while playing up in Bantam as a second year Pee Wee during the 2017-18 season, scoring 35 goals and 59 points in 31 games. His first year back in his own age class was a horror show for his Martensville Marauders opponents, as Yager would score 44 goals and 103 points in only 31 games.

That led to this past season, where the 14-year-old suited up for the Contacts in the Sask Midget AAA league. Despite playing against players three years older, Yager still managed to score 18 goals and put up 42 points in 44 games.

All that means people will be looking for big things from Yager when he finally hits the Warriors line-up, but he’s not worried about that kind of pressure just yet.

“I think the easiest way to deal with pressure is to try and be prepared, and I’m just going to try my best to have a good season in Midget and after that prepare for the WHL and hopefully make the team as a 16-year-old,” he said.

The 2021-22 season will also mark the first time he won’t have Heidt as a teammate since they were youngsters.

“It’ll be different,” Yager said with a laugh. “We’ve played together for quite some time and have been friends for a long time, so it’s going to be quite different when we actually are playing against each other.”

The plan going forward for the short term is simple: stay healthy, stay in shape and get ready to tear things up in the Sask U18 loop next season.

“I think with the pandemic going around, we’re just trying to make the best situation out of an unfortunate one and preparing for the season,” Yager said. “I’ve been shooting pucks in the back and getting as much exercise as I can to stay in shape and I’m looking forward to getting back on the ice.”

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