One of the wild-cards in Thursday’s WHL Prospects Draft is Winnipegger Hayden Paupanekis.

One of the wild-cards in Thursday’s WHL Prospects Draft is Winnipegger Hayden Paupanekis.

The rangy centre has already developed a diverse skill set but his physical gifts hint at something bigger. At 6-3, 175 pounds, he may have the highest ceiling of any of the 2007-born prospect from Manitoba.

"He’s a monster," says Mitch Lockhart, head coach of Paupanekis’s Winnipeg U15 AAA Wild Red. "And I don’t think he’s filled out right now. But he’s over six feet, he’s lean and he’s strong and he’s been almost impossible to get off the puck."

Paupanekis, a 15-year-old centre, led his team in scoring with 45 goals and 76 points in 29 regular-season games, good for sixth place in league scoring.

He followed that up with nine points and four goals in four playoff games.

He was also called up to the Wild U17 AAA team and added two goals and five points in seven games.

<p>PERRY BERGSON / THE BRANDON SUN FILES</p><p>Cole Temple, a dynamic centre with the Brandon U15 AAA Wheat Kings, is likely to be the first Manitoban selected in Thursday’s draft.</p>

PERRY BERGSON / THE BRANDON SUN FILES

Cole Temple, a dynamic centre with the Brandon U15 AAA Wheat Kings, is likely to be the first Manitoban selected in Thursday’s draft.

More recently, he was the youngest player on the Manitoba squad that finished fifth at the National Aboriginal U18 Hockey Championships in Halifax.

While Cole Temple, a dynamic centre with the Brandon U15 AAA Wheat Kings is likely to the first Manitoban selected in Thursday’s draft (perhaps even as one of the top-six lottery pick), Paupanekis’s performance this season has put him into position to be an early round choice.

He could go late in the first round or slide to the second or third round.

"We’ve had attention from all 22 teams in the WHL," says Hayden’s father Mike Paupanekis. "We’ve gotten calls, questionnaires. We’ve had dinners, we’ve met with everybody. It’s just a matter of who gets him first, I guess. So with that being said we’ve also had some calls from NCAA."

Mike Paupanekis grew up on Norway House Cree Nation before relocating to Winnipeg where Hayden was born.

"He’s been bigger than everybody his whole hockey career," adds Mike Paupanekis, who is two inches shorter than his son but says there are some very tall men in his extended family.

"Even at the age of five and six he was he was already playing with the older boys — he was age advanced. A few years so he was he’s always had call-ups for the older team just because he’s so big and he’s highly skilled guy."

<p>JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Hayden Paupanekis, a Winnipeg Wild-Red forward, is eagerly awaiting the outcome of the draft and considers it the best route to a eventual pro career. He’s prepared to put the work in to reach his goal.</p>

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Hayden Paupanekis, a Winnipeg Wild-Red forward, is eagerly awaiting the outcome of the draft and considers it the best route to a eventual pro career. He’s prepared to put the work in to reach his goal.

Hayden, who played played his minor hockey in the Fort Garry Twins double A program before joining the Winnipeg AAA Monarchs, is getting accustomed to being the biggest guy around.

"It’s hard to bulk up for me because I’m just getting taller and taller every day," says Hayden, a Grade 9 student at Acadia Junior High. "But I feel like I’m pretty co-ordinated for a big guy."

Lockhart believes Hayden could thrive at centre or on either wing at the next level.

"He’s a goal scorer by nature," says Lockhart. "He’s got a talent that it’s hard to come by, which it makes defenders key in on him and that makes his passing abilities all that more important. He knows he’s being double-covered and can find that open guy with ease, which not many guys can do."

Paupanekis is eagerly awaiting the outcome of the draft and considers it the best route to a eventual pro career. He’s prepared to put the work in to reach his goal.

"I’m not the best skater in the league but I’m definitely one of the best skaters for my size," he says. "You always want to work on your skating and you’re working on your whole game every summer, trying to get better… My goal is to go to the Western League and then go on from there."

His father is pleased to see his son succeed.

"He doesn’t ever get panicked but when it comes to hockey, he takes it very seriously and he can get very intense at times," says Mike Paupanekis. "He’s into it. He’s invested 110 per cent when it’s game time."

mike.sawatzky@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @sawa14

Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky
Reporter

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