WHL Next Generation is a 22-part series highlighting a handful of the future stars of the Western Hockey League. From first-round bantam draft picks to later-blooming selections, get to know the names of players set to establish themselves as the newest crop of exciting talent to grace the WHL. From August 1 through September 11, get the inside scoop on the incoming crew of 16-year-olds.
Ethan Browne knows he’s still got some work ahead of him if he wants to crack the Everett Silvertips’ roster this season.
When the 5-foot-10, 180-pound forward drew into the Tips’ lineup for a game against the Tri-City Americans as a 15-year-old this past January, the first thing he noticed was how much bigger and quicker the players in the league are compared to his midget team.
“It was tough. Those guys are big. It was definitely tougher than midget,” recalled Browne.
In addition to his one-game regular season appearance with the Silvertips in January, Browne also appeared in two pre-season games and while he didn’t record a point while with the big club, he said he gained a valuable insight into the league’s style of play.
“An amazing experience. Playing a couple of games with the Silvertips was amazing. I got to learn their forecheck, their defensive game, everything. It’s pretty cool.”
Browne noted that the experience gave him an idea of where and how he could contribute to the Tips’ offense on a regular basis, potentially as early as this season.
“The forechecks in the WHL are way more passive than they are in Midget and you have a lot more time to break out of your zone, so I could use that to my advantage because I’ve got a ton of skill and I can do a lot of stuff,” he said.
The Sherwood Park, Alta. product raised some eyebrows in his WHL Bantam Draft-eligible season, posting 77 points (39 goals, 38 assists) in 36 games with the Bantam AAA Sherwood Park Flyers.
He went on to post 23 more points (10 goals, 13 assists) in 10 playoff games that season.
The performance was enough to earn him the Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League (AMBHL) Top Forward and Most Sportsmanlike Player awards and catch the eye of the Silvertips, who used their first-round pick in 2016 to take the young gun 14th overall at the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft.
Since then, the speedy forward has continued to impress with his production.
This past season, Browne played a key role with the Alberta Midget Hockey League’s Sherwood Park Kings as it went on a run to the Division championship.
Browne’s 29 points (nine goals, 20 assists) in 27 games placed him fifth in Kings’ regular season scoring.
“It was a good season. It was tough to play against those older guys but I’ve got to get used to it if I’m going to move up to the WHL,” the 16-year-old centre said.
Last year, the then-15-year-old helped Team Alberta win its fifth Western Canada U16 Challenge Cup, opening the scoring in the dramatic final matchup between Team B.C. and Team Alberta.
“That was crazy. Just the stuff the equipment managers and coaches did for me, just helped me,” Browne said. “It was such an amazing time there, winning it with all the guys. Meeting new guys was really cool.”
He also notched 10 points (six goals, four assists) in five games to help Team Northeast to a silver medal finish at the 2016 Alberta Cup tournament and earn a tournament All-Star selection.
Last week, Browne had the opportunity to don the maple leaf crest as he suited up for Team Red at the 2017 Hockey Canada U17 Development Camp tournament in Calgary.
In three games, Browne posted a goal and an assist.
— World U17 Challenge (@HC_WU17) July 28, 2017
“It’s such an honour to try and make Team Canada for under-17 and it’s going to be cool to meet a lot more new guys. It’s just going to be a ton of fun,” he said before the tournament.
Browne noted that he considers himself a creative playmaker – someone who can find space and move the puck around the ice to create opportunities for himself and his teammates.
“I can translate that to the power play or any odd-man rush. I like to move the puck a lot,” he said.
Now, the young forward’s attention shifts towards preparing for Silvertips training camp at the end of the month.
“I’m working out a ton. I just got back from Vancouver, my agency camp. I’ve been doing a lot of agility runs in the morning just by myself just to get my cardio up,” he said, adding that he worked a lot on improving the defensive side of his game this past season.
The end goal, he said, is to crack the Silvertips’ roster as a 16-year-old.
“I’ve got to play good defense, know their structure, play a little bit of my game and move the puck. Work hard.”
Browne and the Silvertips open the 2017 WHL Pre-season slate Friday, September 1 (7 p.m. PT) when they host the Tri-City Americans at Xfinity Arena.