High expectations for Ice rookie Centre Conor Geekie will get a lot of ice time in short WHL hub season

In any other year, a prized rookie like Conor Geekie would be getting a gentler introduction to the rigours of his first full season of major-junior hockey.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 09/03/2021 (575 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

In any other year, a prized rookie like Conor Geekie would be getting a gentler introduction to the rigours of his first full season of major-junior hockey.

But there is nothing ordinary about the upcoming campaign, nor is the 16-year-old centre from Strathclair a run-of-the-mill prospect. Expectations will be through the roof for the 6-4, 205-pounder, who was the Winnipeg Ice’s No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 WHL Draft.

Within the confines of the East Division hub in Regina, the Ice will play a 24-game schedule beginning Saturday against the Brandon Wheat Kings. Since most of the season has already been torpedoed by a pandemic shutdown, development time for younger players has become a bigger priority.

Ice head coach James Patrick plans to use Geekie extensively in all situations.

Perry Bergson / The Brandon Sun files Conor Geekie was the Winnipeg Ice's No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 WHL Draft.

“In a normal 68-game Western Hockey League schedule, Conor Geekie can come in and be a third-line centre or winger and get no power-play or penalty-killing time to start off and have to earn his ice time and earn his keep,” said Patrick recently.

“Maybe six weeks in, you throw a player like that a bone and then a week later maybe a little more and in the second half, maybe he’s on the second power play and last penalty-killing group and getting bumped up to the second line in games you get behind and you need goals.

“In a perfect world, that’s the way it was when Peyton Krebs was 16 and that’s what it was when my nephew (Nolan Patrick of the Brandon Wheat Kings) was a 16-year-old playing for Kelly McCrimmon.”

“The (MJHL) helped a ton, just being able to understand the game and understanding the way junior works.” – Conor Geekie

Krebs, Winnipeg’s current captain, was a 2019 first-round draft pick of the Vegas Golden Knights while Nolan Patrick was chosen second overall in 2017 by the Philadelphia Flyers. Geekie is thought to have similar pro potential.

Geekie’s also put in extra prep work, playing seven games with the Ice as an affiliate during his 15-year-old season and nine more games with the MJHL’s Virden Oil Capitals prior to the November shutdown. Those steps should ease the transition to the WHL.

“The (MJHL) helped a ton, just being able to understand the game and understanding the way junior works,” he said Tuesday from Regina. “I think that definitely made it a lot easier. And I think the guys, the way they took me in, just knowing them from last year, that just helps a 16-year-old immensely.”

Geekie scored once and registered four points and 20 penalty minutes for the Oil Caps. He said the modest numbers don’t tell the whole story.

SUPPLIED Ice head coach James Patrick plans to use Geekie extensively in all situations.

“I had pretty high expectations for myself,” said Geekie. “I like to be the top guy but I mean you can’t have everything, right? It was probably one of the best things that happened to me in a way, just the learning curve and understanding that you’re not always going to have success that easy. Honestly, I think as the season was coming to an end, I was starting to find my way in the league.”

For this season, the WHL has relaxed the restrictions on younger players. Each team is allowed to carry six players in their 16-year-old seasons or five 16-year-olds and one 15-year-old. Only four of those players can dress for any one game.

The Ice have chosen to carry 16-year-olds Geekie, goaltender Daniel Hauser, defenceman Owen Boucher and 15-year-old centre Zach Benson.

Missing from that group is right-winger Matt Savoie, chosen one spot before Geekie in the 2019 draft, who is currently playing for the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints. Savoie is eligible to rejoin the Ice after Dubuque’s season ends.

 


 

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / FREE PRESS FILES Gage Alexander has the physical attributes to become a prime goaltending prospect.

UPDATE FROM THE BLUE PAINT: Gage Alexander, who stands 6-7 and 205 pounds, has the physical attributes to become a prime goaltending prospect. Now the 18-year-old from Okotoks, Alta., is aiming to fulfil some of that promise after playing sparingly as a rookie.

To that end, he spent much of the pandemic layoff improving in the gym.

“I worked a lot on flexibility this off-season, just being more flexible and more athletic for my position — my hips, my groin and stuff — and that’s definitely helped me in the last couple days starting up here… I could definitely tell the difference,” said Alexander. “And then on ice, just being more calm and letting pucks come to me and not me going to them. It’ll be interesting to see what it’s like in a game.”

 

mike.sawatzky@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @sawa14

Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky
Reporter

Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.

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Updated on Tuesday, March 9, 2021 11:21 PM CST: Fixes typo.

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