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.
It’s not very often that a 15-year-old player has the chance to attend a MasterCard Memorial Cup tournament with a major junior hockey team, but Seattle Thunderbirds prospect Jake Lee had the opportunity to do just that.
The 6-foot-0, 186-pound defenseman was part of the WHL Champions’ roster when they made the trip out to Windsor to participate in the CHL’s most prestigious tournament and the experience was one he won’t soon forget.
“As a 15-year-old it’s something. Once-in-a-lifetime, especially for a young guy like me. I was very lucky to be a part of that,” Lee said.
While the Thunderbirds’ first round pick, 18th overall at the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft didn’t draw into the lineup for a game in the Memorial Cup tournament, he said just being there was unforgettable for a young hockey player.
“You can tell the attitude in the dressing room changed a lot more. The atmosphere was a lot more serious, they were all a lot more into the games,” he said. “It was good to see. I’m glad I got that experience under my belt.”
Lee joined the team for a four-game stint in February before being called back up to the squad for their long playoff push.
He even suited up for two games in the WHL Western Conference Championship against the Kelowna Rockets.
“It was definitely amazing. You play in front of big crowds — because a few of my games were during playoffs. It was a completely new feeling playing in front of such a big crowd and the games meaning so much more. You thought you were part of a bigger thing,” the Sherwood Park, Alta. product said.
The T-Birds select defenseman Jake Lee from Sherwood Park Bantam AAA Flyers with first round pick in Bantam Draft.
— WHL Champions (@SeattleTbirds) 5 May 2016
When he wasn’t on the ice with the T-Birds, Lee was hard at work with the Sherwood Park AAA Kings of the Alberta Midget Hockey League.
Lee provided a steady anchor on the Kings’ blueline while posting 12 points (three goals, nine assists) in 32 regular season games as the team made a run to the AMHL Division Finals.
“My year in Sherwood Park was really a development year. It really helped prep me for the WHL for next year and I have the coaches to thank for that,” Lee said. “They really did help me and they formed me to be the player that I am right now.”
Lee was also a key part of the Team Alberta squad that took home gold in dramatic fashion at this year’s U16 Western Canada Challenge Cup.
“Looking at Team Alberta we did have an extremely strong roster, but I don’t believe that’s why we won,” Lee said.
“All the boys on the team, we really came together as one, really fast and that’s important in those short competitions. You really have to gel together with your team to become a championship team at a tournament like that.”
Lee, who models his game on Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty and Ottawa Senators superstar Erik Karlsson, also participated in the Hockey Canada U17 Summer Development Camp late last month and has been working hard to improve his game over the off season.
“I’m in the gym five times a week right now about two to three hours a day and all I’ve been working on is getting my core strength, my leg strength up so I can build the speed of my game,” he said, adding that it’s going to take a lot of dedication to crack the Thunderbirds’ roster as a 16-year-old this year.
“Definitely multiple hours of dedication and giving myself to the game. Next year I’m completely prepared to do whatever it takes to become that next-level player for Seattle.”
First pre-season action for Lee and the Thunderbirds will be on Sept. 1 when they take on the Vancouver Giants in Everett. They’ll be back on home ice on Sept. 16 to play host to the Everett Silvertips at the ShoWare Centre in Kent. Puck drop on that game is at 7 p.m. PT.