CHL Notebook: Blue Jackets prospect Sherwood adapts to Kitchener

Kole Sherwood of the Kitchener Rangers (Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

Kole Sherwood sees the upside in having more time in junior.

As a prospect whom the Columbus Blue Jackets signed as an undrafted free agent directly from a namesake under-18 team, Sherwood entered this season seemingly on track to become a full-time pro. However, sustaining a high-ankle sprain during the Traverse City prospects tournament last month set off a chain of events that ultimately led to Sherwood, a top-10 scorer in the OHL, joining the Kitchener Rangers last week.

“It’s a process and what path you take doesn’t matter,” Sherwood, whom the Rangers acquired from the Flint Firebirds in exchange for four OHL priority selection draft choices (including two second-round picks), said after debuting with Kitchener last weekend. “It’s better to be over-prepared than under-prepared and this will give me a lot of experience. I can teach the younger guys and they can teach me some stuff too and I’m looking forward to it.

“We’re deep and could make a good playoff run,” adds Sherwood, who broke out last season with 85 points across 60 games in Flint. “Honestly, I think we have potential here to go for the Memorial Cup. We have a deep team here, if not the deepest in the league. I know this weekend wasn’t our best (with losses against London and Oshawa), but we have all the right tools and just have to use them. It’s all about fine-tuning.”

The OHL has had a string of 20-year-old scorers — the San Jose Sharks’ Kevin Labanc being the most notable — work their way up to the NHL in recent years. Adding the speedy Sherwood gives Kitchener a threat who draws attention away from 100-point scorer Adam Mascherin (FLA). The two played on different lines last weekend as Rangers coach Jay McKee experimented with a new-look lineup.

Sherwood adds that he’s quickly hit it off with McKee, the second-year head coach who played more than 800 NHL games as a defenceman.

“He seems like someone I can flourish under,” Sherwood says. “Someone with that much NHL experience, you have to be all eyes and ears. He’s easy-going but you know he’s in charge — just someone you can just go up to and talk with.”

The Rangers (.577 point percentage, sixth-highest in the OHL Western Conference) are responsible for the league-leading Sarnia Sting’s only loss and also own a victory against the powerhouse Owen Sound Attack. Their first crack at the Attack with Sherwood aboard is on Friday.

“I had big hopes for the season and it was tough to sent back, but I don’t take anything for granted,” he says.

Downtime for Svechnikov

Top NHL draft prospect Andrei Svechnikov (hand) being out for six to eight weeks might give some prospect watchers flashbacks to the Injury Draft in 2012.

There was a cluster of calamities to seemingly every up-and-comer in 2011-12. Four of the first five selections in the 2012 NHL Draft — Nail Yakupov, Ryan Murray, Alex Galchenyuk and Morgan Rielly — combined to play a total of 108 regular-season games. The limited viewings might have played hell with the talent evaluation; hindsight being 20/20, the No. 1 pick likely should have been Rielly, whom the Toronto Maple Leafs took at No. 5 overall after a torn knee ligament truncated his season.

Point being, the injury should not affect the draft status of Svechnikov, who had 14 points (10G-4A) across 10 games for the Colts.

Pats show potential

The price of success when a team lands the MasterCard Memorial Cup host honours is often having to integrate an influx of newcomers. In light of that, the Regina Pats’ past week makes sense. Despite lacking the services of defenceman Josh Mahura (ANA), who was out with a knee injury, the Cup-host Pats had a statement win last Friday against the Victoria Royals, who lead the WHL with 5.2 goals per game. Twenty-four hours later, Regina lost to the Vancouver Giants, who came in with a sub-.500 point percentage.

That loss snapped a four-win streak for the Pats (7-5-1, .577 point percentage), who evidently will get toughened up by playing in what appears to be a loaded WHL East Division. There isn’t much one should read into the record, since Regina has 10 newcomers and 18-year-old Nick Henry (COL), an 81-point scorer last season, is still working toward his return from shoulder surgery. It’s also doubtful Regina will remain 20th in the 22-team WHL in penalty killing all season.

For point of comparison, in 2015-16 the Memorial Cup-host Red Deer Rebels were 9-4-0 after 13 games. The 2012-13 Saskatchewan Blades started 5-8-0, which portended being both the first team eliminated from the WHL playoffs and the Memorial Cup.

Hunt for new fans

It’s rare to hear an owner in any league — unless he is trying to get a taxpayer-built arena — acknowledge the traditional business model in sports will need to make a radical change. The CHL, like every other sports league, is fighting to maintain live game attendance, never mind increase it. Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group co-owner/president Jeff Hunt, whose Ottawa 67’s have had a massive drop in their season-ticket base, said last weekend that the industry needs to adjust expectations about how much revenue it should expect on top of what fans pay for tickets.

“You’ll pay an extra $10 for a ticket,” Hunt told Postmedia. “But $9.50 for a beer (bleeping) pisses you off … The tipping point on concessions has been exceeded.”

Ottawa averaged 6,500 fans as recently as 2011-12, which is double its average attendance early this season. Coincidentally, the Vancouver Giants, who were also an example of how a major junior team could find a niche in a NHL market, have also had a reversal of fortune commercially, with its relocation to suburban Langley, B.C.

Canadian NHL team prospect of the week

Drake Batherson, C, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (QMJHL)
They love the Drake on Cape Breton Island, and the fact that Seinfeld reference dates from 1993 when Batherson’s father Norm Batherson was signed by the Ottawa Senators should not make anyone feel old. Drake Batherson (No. 121 overall to Ottawa in 2017), who became a second-generation Senators signing when he inked an entry-level deal on Oct. 3, just had his finest week in the Q.

The 19-year-old centre scored seven goals and 10 points as the Eagles went 2-0-1 in three overtime games, twice rallying from large deficits. Batherson took over the league lead in points (24) and goals (15), and extended his point streak to 13 games.

Batherson, due in part to getting his growth spurt relatively late, did not join the Eagles full-time last season. Now that he’s six-foot-two and 188 pounds, he’s better able to use his playmaking ability. The Senators are seeing a good early return on two 2015 selections from the Maritimes Division, Thomas Chabot and Filip Chlapik. They might have a third down east with Batherson.

New name to know

Dawson Heathcote, RW, Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL)
Heathcote, a 17-year-old rookie, sniped a hat trick in just his seventh Western Hockey League game during the Tigers’ 11-1 win against the Kootenay Ice last Friday. The Nanaimo, B.C., native’s hat-trick goal was a beaut where he carried the puck into the high slot and found a slew of space to find an unguarded part of the net.

The five-foot-10, 172-pound Heathcote was the No. 150 overall selection two years ago in the WHL bantam draft. He made the most of playing with his hometown Nanaimo Buccaneers in the Vancouver Island league last season, earning the Junior B loop’s rookie of the year and most sportsmanlike player awards while also finishing as the team’s top scorer for coach Dan Lemmon.

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