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.
Kjell Kjemhus (pronounced ‘Chell Shay-moose’) was more than excited when he got the call to join the Regina Pats for their 2016-17 playoff run.
The Grande Prairie, Alta. product had plenty of ice time during last year’s WHL Playoffs, suiting up for 13 games with the eventual Eastern Conference Champions.
“Obviously coming up from my first year of Midget and being a young guy and an underage it was a lot to take in and to realize how big of an opportunity it was,” said Kjemhus. “You’ve just kind of got to follow in the older guys’ footsteps and sit back and watch and learn a bit. Just do your job out there on the ice.”
Making the jump to the WHL from playing Midget hockey at Pursuit of Excellence Academy wasn’t an easy task for the 5-foot-9, 170-pound winger.
“The league is a man’s league, right? The pace from Midget and the strength is a lot different,” he said, adding that once he got used to the WHL style, he was able to settle into a groove.
“As you play a couple more games you get used to the speed and the strength and you’re a lot more capable and a lot more effective in the game.”
While Kjemhus didn’t light it up on the scoreboard during his extended playoff stint with the club, recording just one assist, he did gain some valuable experience that he plans to apply when training camp rolls around in September.
“I can be a lot more comfortable going into camp this year having closer relationships with the coaching staff and guys on the team. Not as many nerves I think will help me out a lot this year in camp and knowing what to expect going into pre-season,” Kjemhus said.
Prior to the playoff run with the Pats, Kjemhus played three regular season games with the club in late February and early March.
Drafted by Regina in the fourth round, 77th overall at the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft out of Pursuit of Excellence’s Bantam Prep program, Kjemhus split his time in Midget this season between POE’s Midget Prep in the CSSHL and 18U club in the North American Prospects Hockey League.
— Regina Pats (@WHLPats) 14 February 2017
In 14 games with POE Prep this season, the left-shooting self-described character player notched nine points (three goals, six assists.)
He added another three assists in 14 regular season games with the 18U club before tallying another three points (two goals, one assist) in four playoff games. He said the biggest advantage at POE was the ice availability and time he could put towards working on his game.
“Being on the ice every day and working out every day. They’re really committed to developing you as a player and a person and I think that’s helped me out tremendously over the past couple of years,” Kjemhus said of his time at POE.
But the area where Kjemhus truly excels isn’t one that shows up on the scoresheet.
Regina Pats Head Coach and GM John Paddock noted that the young forward’s intangibles were part of what lead to Kjemhus’ selection in the draft.
“We think we have a core player for down the road in the aspect of the little things (he does). He had some production in the Alberta Cup but his speed, his determination, that’s what he displayed (the most),” Paddock told Greg Harder of the Regina Leader-Post after Kjemhus made his WHL debut with the Pats.
The then-14-year-old served as the captain of Team Northwest at the 2016 Alberta Cup where he recorded five points (four goals, one assist) in five games.
“I consider myself kind of a two-way forward. I’m good in the defensive zone. I’m really good at taking on a role and being able to do the little things right. I like to lead by example on the ice,” Kjemhus said.
With the Pats set to host the MasterCard Memorial Cup next season, Kjemhus might be considered a long shot to earn a full-time roster spot. He believes his drive and work ethic will help him push for a spot despite the odds being stacked against him.
“Obviously they’re going to want an older team. They’re going to want to make a big run for it and have a team that has lots of character. All I can do is just bring my best to camp and give it all I got. In the end that’s all I can do,” Kjemhus said.
“I feel I can bring some character to the club and bring some hard work ethic and some leadership as a young player. That’s all you can do is give it all you got in camp and go from there.”
Kjemhus and the Pats open the 2017 WHL Pre-Season on Aug. 31 when they play host to the Saskatoon Blades at the Brandt Centre. Puck drop on that game is at 7 p.m. MDT.