Winterhawks blue-liner ‘a rare talent’

Sanford’s Sotheran making his mark early in WHL career

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Sanford’s Carter Sotheran began the season as a relative unknown, but the towering 17-year-old defenceman is aiming to change all that.

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Sanford’s Carter Sotheran began the season as a relative unknown, but the towering 17-year-old defenceman is aiming to change all that.

He was a standout in his first two starts with the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks, a showing that seems certain to generate even closer scrutiny from NHL scouts.

The raw tools, however, have been there for some time.

CHRIS MAST / PORTLAND WINTERHAWKS

Portland Winterhawks defenceman Carter Sotheran had three assists in his second WHL game.

He’s big — a 6-4, 200-pounder and still growing — with a good motor, aggressive tendencies and plenty of scoring touch to go with his right-handed shot, a much-sought-after attribute.

In 41 games last season, Sotheran led the Pembina Valley U18 AAA Hawks in scoring with 20 goals and 54 points and was voted the league’s top defenceman.

In his WHL debut against the Kamloops Blazers Sept. 23, Sotheran quickly found his footing with two shots on net and a plus-1 rating in 18 minutes of ice time during a 3-0 win over the host Kamloops Blazers. He followed that up a night later with a three-assist performance in 20 minutes of ice time during a 5-4 overtime road win against the Kelowna Rockets.

“The first game was an eye-opener,” said Sotheran Wednesday by phone from Portland. “It’s just way faster than I’m used to back home and everyone plays more physical. Everyone’s big out there. You’ve got to move your feet quick and make plays.”

With veteran blue-liners Ryan McLeary (Pittsburgh Penguins) and Marek Alscher (Florida Panthers) away at NHL training camps, Sotheran was thrust into playing top four minutes and he passed those early tests with high grades.

“We try to build our team around players that have good vision and good instincts that way — that’s what we look for — and then hopefully the other things start to come,” said Winterhawks GM and head coach Mike Johnston. “Certainly, he’s going to need to work on the defensive side of the puck but he’s really smart player, so I think it should come fairly easily.”

Make no mistake, Sotheran felt the pressure of breaking into major-junior hockey.

“I think there was a few times where I think my nerves got the best of me,” admitted Sotheran, who is represented by agent Kevin Magnuson of KO Sports. “We went over the film the next day and kind of corrected it, but I think after the first game I kind of settled down and knew I had to play my game and just see where things go.”

Johnston credits Portland’s Manitoba scout Brad Davis for making a solid call on prioritizing Sotheran.

The Winterhawks took the slightly awkward blue-liner in the fifth round of the 2020 WHL Prospects Draft after he had grown five inches between his 13- and 14-year-old seasons.

“It’s a little bit early to say that but my gut feel is he has chance to be a really good player,” said Johnston. “Because it’s hard to find big guys that are that smart, that poised and with really good hands.”

Under normal circumstances, the Winterhawks might have kept Sotheran on the roster in 2021-22 but thought better of it after the heavily reduced pandemic season.

“We sent all our 16-year-olds home last year to play because they didn’t play the year before and he went back and lit it up scoring wise,” said Johnston. “He just did what he did and was a great offensive defenceman, and then over the summer I thought he really took to heart that he had to train and put on some strength to play effectively in our league.”

He was a dominant performer in Pembina Valley for head coach Matt Victor, who had Sotheran and fellow defenceman Tyler Moroz, now of the MJHL’s Winnipeg Freeze, average more than 30 minutes of ice time per game.

“He just has that natural talent for his big frame,” said Victor. “He skates like he’s 5-8. His agility, his footwork, he’s just that kind of perfect defenceman that way. Offensively, he reminds me of a (Victor) Hedman from Tampa Bay.”

Victor said Sotheran drove Pembina Valley’s offence whenever he was on the ice.

“I joke about it, but I said he must have washed a lot of dishes growing up because he has smooth, smooth hands,” said Victor. “For a defenceman, he’s a rare talent.”

Last summer, Sotheran hired Carman-based personal trainer Coel Doty to fine tune his fitness. The move already seems to be paying off.

“I love playing big minutes and always like hearing my name called to go back on the ice,” said Sotheran. “Obviously we had Alscher and McCleary away and so that time will decrease with them being back.”

Against Kelowna, Sotheran drew primary assists on two of star forward Gabe Klassen’s four goals.

“I’ve been really focusing on my positioning and where I’m in the defensive zone and trying to get quick plays and obviously I didn’t really try to create much offence last game but when you’re working with players like Gabe Klassen and now it’ll be James Stefan, guys like that. I mean, you give them the puck and they do wonders with it.”

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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