WHL Next Generation is a 23-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 August 31, get the inside scoop on the incoming rookie class of 2018-19.
Team: Kamloops Blazers
The Kamloops Blazers will look to return to the post season after failing to qualify for the first time in three years. They are hoping their first-round pick in the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft will help them reach this goal.
Josh Pillar will try to add some offence to a team that is losing overage players Joe Gatenby, Nick Chyzowski, and Brady Reagan who combined for 119 points last season.
Pillar is known for his offensive abilities, recording 54 points (18G-36A) in 25 games during his Bantam Draft year. He excelled again this season, scoring 21 goals and 29 assists for 50 points in the SMHL as a rookie. He added nine points (2G-7A) in nine games during the playoffs.
“I thought it was a really good year and I had a lot of fun meeting all the new guys and being in that environment,” said Pillar. “Everything about the team, from the coaches to my teammates allowed me to play to the best of my abilities.”
His 50 points in 44 games were impressive enough to see him awarded SMHL Rookie of the Year.
“My speed is definitely a factor that helps my game,” the Warman product said. “The way I look at the ice and see opportunities. I would say that helps me as a playmaker, which is what I consider myself.”
“But I definitely couldn’t do it without my teammates and coaches,” said Pillar on winning Rookie of the Year. “I don’t like the term ‘individual award’ as no award is ever an individual effort in team sports.”
While he succeeded at the personal and club level, the Saskatchewan native faced adversity in the WHL Cup, where his team only recorded one win and finished fourth in the tournament.
“It was still a lot of fun even though we didn’t compete very well. It was something I haven’t experienced before but you have to credit the other teams as they had loads of talent and were playing very well. In all I think it was still a great learning experience and it was fun to play in.”
As he competed for his home province of Saskatchewan, filled with miles of yellow and green fields, Pillar looks forward to experiencing a different part of Canada, with a much different land scape.
“I think it’s pretty cool that I get to go to British Columbia to play hockey,” said the 2002-born forward. “It’s definitely not like Saskatchewan. There are mountains and it’s just a beautiful place. I am looking forward to living there and playing hockey for such a great organization.”
Pillar got a taste of WHL hockey when he was called upon by Kamloops to play a game.
“I tried not to do anything to different before,” said Pillar. “I just thought of it as a normal game and just tried to go out there and have fun and be myself and play how I would usually play.”
“It was pretty cool getting to play in front of all those people. I have never played in front of a crowd that big before, so it was a little nerve racking. But wearing the jersey was really cool. I just remember seeing all my childhood favorites wear WHL jersey’s and to wear one is an honour.”
Pillar hopes to wear the Kamloops Blazers Blue for the entirety of next season and has been focusing his summer on reaching that goal.
“I am off-ice training five times a week with my trainer and just trying to skate as much as I can, work on my speed, my footing and my explosiveness but its also important to have fun when your training so I do a lot of shooting and just trying new things to keep it interesting.”
While spending a lot of time training for his season, the 5-foot-10, 160-pound forward has also been enjoying what might be his last permanent stint at home with his friends.
“I’ve enjoyed going out to my friends’ lake to hang out and go tubing behind the boat. We also like golfing so I’ve been doing some of that as well. Beyond that we just like to hang out before school and hockey starts up and everyone gets busy.”
The Blazers will hope that Pillar can become a regular next year, building off his previous successes and helping them make a playoff run.
Pillar and the Blazers will kickoff their pre-season Friday August 31st at 7:00 p.m. PDT when they host the Prince George Cougars at the Sandman Centre in Kamloops B.C.
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