Tyler Brennan is a member of an exclusive club — one of only 18 goaltenders to be chosen in the first round of the WHL Draft over the past three decades.

Tyler Brennan is a member of an exclusive club — one of only 18 goaltenders to be chosen in the first round of the WHL Draft over the past three decades.

The next step in the 17-year-old Winnipegger's hockey career involves an even tougher group to crack: first-round goaltenders who have gone on to successful NHL careers.

Tri-City Americans alum Carey Price, class of 2002, is the lone qualifier in that category. Price, an NHL all-star, has 705 NHL games on his resume and is the only WHL first-round goalie with more than 63 games in the bigs.

Brennan, who plays for the Prince George Cougars, appears to have the tools to accomplish the task.

At 6-4, 190 pounds and still growing, he conforms to modern NHL standards for king-sized puckstoppers and he's combined that with an unusual athletic skill set that can make him look bigger than he is.

Prince George Cougars goalie Tyler Brennan of Winnipeg is one of only 18 goaltenders to be chosen in the first round of the WHL draft. (Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Prince George Cougars goalie Tyler Brennan of Winnipeg is one of only 18 goaltenders to be chosen in the first round of the WHL draft. (Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press files)

"When he's on his game it looks like you're not going to score on him," said Cougars GM and head coach Mark Lamb earlier this week. "He even had a few of those games last year. He just covers so much of the net. He's big and he's adding the puck-handling to his game now."

Brennan started his sophomore WHL season as the No. 2 behind Team Canada keeper Taylor Gauthier but after four sensational outings in the WHL's B.C. hub season, he's into the next phase. He turns 18 on Sept. 27, which means he must wait until 2022 to be eligible for the NHL Draft.

Since Monday, he's been quarantining in a Kamloops hotel before flying out Saturday to join Canada's squad at the upcoming U18 world championship in Frisco, Texas.

Hot prospects

Goaltenders selected in the first round since the inception of the WHL Draft in 1990 (with draft position and WHL, NHL games played):

2018: 21. Tyler Brennan, Prince George (20 WHL GP)

2017: 21. Garin Bjorkland, Medicine Hat (40 WHL GP)

2016: 10. Taylor Gauthier, Prince George (140 WHL GP); 20. Trent Miner, Vancouver (75 WHL GP)

2014: 9. Ian Scott, Prince Albert (175 WHL GP); 13. Jordan Hollett, Regina (115 WHL GP)

2013: 17. Stuart Skinner, Lethbridge (207 WHL GP, 1 NHL GP)

Goaltenders selected in the first round since the inception of the WHL Draft in 1990 (with draft position and WHL, NHL games played):

2018: 21. Tyler Brennan, Prince George (20 WHL GP)

2017: 21. Garin Bjorkland, Medicine Hat (40 WHL GP)

2016: 10. Taylor Gauthier, Prince George (140 WHL GP); 20. Trent Miner, Vancouver (75 WHL GP)

2014: 9. Ian Scott, Prince Albert (175 WHL GP); 13. Jordan Hollett, Regina (115 WHL GP)

2013: 17. Stuart Skinner, Lethbridge (207 WHL GP, 1 NHL GP)

2012: 22. Patrick Dea, Edmonton (170 WHL GP)

2011: 22. Jordan Papirny, Brandon (205 WHL GP)

2010: 13. Eric Comrie, Tri-City (168 WHL GP, 9 NHL GP)

2007: 21. Tyler Bunz, Medicine Hat (197 WHL GP, 1 NHL GP); 22. Kent Simpson, Everett (175 WHL GP, 1 NHL GP)

2006: 16. Nathan Lieuwen, Kootenay (178 WHL GP, 7 NHL GP)

2004: 14. Tyson Sexsmith, Vancouver (179 WHL GP, 1 NHL GP)

2002: 7. Carey Price, Tri-City (193 WHL GP, 705 NHL GP)

2000: 4. Josh Lepp, Kelowna (145 WHL GP)

1998: 3. Dan Blackburn, Edmonton (101 WHL GP, 63 NHL GP)

1990: 13. David Trofimenkoff, Lethbridge (126 WHL GP)

Brennan is one of three Manitobans named to the team, which also includes Moose Jaw Warriors defenceman Denton Mateychuk of Dominion City and Seattle Thunderbirds left-winger Conner Roulette of the Winnipeg. Winnipeg Ice blue-liner Carson Lambos was also named to the team but had to opt out due to an impending medical procedure.

Going to the U18 worlds has been an interruption, but the inconvenience is minor.

"I was mostly as focusing on the season and getting going with my team and trying to be the best I could with my team," said Brennan, who has a .933 save percentage, 2.16 goals-against average and one shutout with the Cougars this season. "And if this happened, I'd go from there."

The difficulty of projecting success for goaltenders has made evaluating bantam-aged prospects a nearly impossible task. But Lamb, who was hired by the club a few months after drafting Brennan, said he meets the eye test.

"I'm not really great at giving you all the specifics about goaltenders, but I can tell you that he can stop the puck," said Lamb, who played 11 seasons in the NHL. "His positioning and his demeanour, how calm he is in there and his patience — he's got all the characteristics to be to be special."

Tyler Brennan in 2018 before the WHL bantam draft. (David Lipnowski / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Tyler Brennan in 2018 before the WHL bantam draft. (David Lipnowski / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Along with Cougars goalie coach Taylor Dakers, Brennan has also been able to tap into the accumulated knowledge of veteran NHLer Mike Smith. Brennan and Smith, perhaps the finest puckhandler wearing goalie pads in the NHL, have the same agent — Kurt Oberhardt.

How special he actually becomes will have a telling impact on the youthful Cougars, who have 11 first- and second-round draft picks on their roster. Brennan admitted he had some concerns as he prepared to move to northern B.C. as a 16-year-old.

"I thought it was gonna be a little homesick when I first left, but then I moved into a really good billet house with really good family and two of my teammates, which made it really easy to kind feel like home," said Brennan.

Another of those talented young players finding a new home is defenceman Hudson Thornton, one of Brennan's former teammates at Winnipeg's Rink Hockey Academy.

"He's improved a lot in his movements from side to side and he always had a good glove and always had a good blocker," said Thornton, a newcomer to the hub after starting the season in the USHL. "I'd say just the way he approaches the game has changed a lot. He's doing successful things and obviously representing Team Canada's is something pretty special."

Brennan has a serious approach to his craft but there is a quirkier side.

"In a sense goalies are goalies and they have that kind of weirdness to them," said Thorton. "I think Tyler definitely has some of that, but at the same time he's a super professional. He takes a really good approach to the game and that's obviously why he's so successful.

"It's a good mix of a little bit of goofiness but he also knows when it's time to go to work and he does a good job of 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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