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: Calgary Hitmen
Luke Prokop has found success over the last few seasons, winning his Bantam league, his Midget league, and receiving a Silver Medial in a tough overtime loss to Team BC at the WHL Cup. To add to this, the just-turned 16-year-old already has 14 games played in the WHL, all but securing a full-time spot with the Hitmen in the upcoming season.
“Obviously with those games played I feel more prepared for what the season is like,” stated Prokop. “But at the same time, it’s a 68-game season and I only played about a fifth of it. I only got a taste of what the full season is going to be like.”
While Prokop should be on the team full-time when the season commences, he has been working harder than ever this summer to prepare himself for training camp.
“I have been training with my strength and conditioning coach five times a week and have been on the ice a lot too. I also attended the U17 Hockey Canada Camp which was a lot of fun and a good experience. I have also been trying to prepare mentally as well as physically for the long season [in the WHL] and the long road trips.”
The Hitmen will hope that Prokop can bring a winning pedigree into the locker room. The Hitmen prospect is hoping he can as well and refers to the adversity that helped him grow and made his Midget Championship enjoyable.
“We got off to a rough start,” Prokop explained. “We got some players back from their WHL teams and our team started to find chemistry again. When I got back from playing with the Hitmen I thought I was a lot better too and we were able to take home the championship.”
The Edmonton, Alta. product has always played for teams with a lot of talent, but this last season was his favorite as he had a bigger challenge then he has faced.
“We had a pretty stacked team in [Pursuit of Excellence Bantam Prep],” said Prokop. “We didn’t lose much that year so to struggle of the start of this last season was a new experience. I think between the two seasons and the adversity and success that my team and I found has really helped me grow as a player and has pushed me towards becoming a player that I think I can become.”
As he looks to the player he hopes he can be, he has a certain name in mind for who he hopes to be compared to.
“I think I model my game after Shea Weber. He is a big, right hand shot defenceman with a heavy shot and can defend extremely well.”
Hitmen fans should be ecstatic seeing one of their prospects model his game after 2-time WHL Champion and one time Memorial Cup Champion Weber. Not only that, but Prokop has the size and the playoff production to help them get there. During last seasons playoffs, the 2002-born defenceman put up eight points (1G-7A) in five games.
“Something about [the playoffs] just makes me excel my game,” stated the defenceman. “I wasn’t happy with my point production during the regular season before I left for Calgary, when I came back something was different, and it started to increase. I wanted it more. And when playoffs came around my competitiveness increased, and I wanted to do anything to help my team win.”
The Hitmen prospect also attended the WHL Cup where he posted two assists and found success in capturing a silver medal.
“It started back in March with the tryouts for the Alberta Cup,” stated Prokop. “To finally get [to the WHL Cup] and to get to play with all those skilled players and my friends from across Alberta was a great experience and a memory I will never forget.”
Prokop’s favorite experience from this past season was the chance to get to play with the WHL club that drafted him seventh overall in the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft and notching his first WHL point.
“It was really cool,” explained Prokop. “We were playing against Edmonton and it was New Year’s Day, I had a lot of friends and family come to the game. I got the puck at the point and I passed it to [Andrei] Grishakov and he started dangling and passed it to [Mark] Kastelic who tapped it home. I didn’t know if I got the assist at first because I heard my name called in Calgary a couple times before which they then changed, and I didn’t end up getting the assist so when it was still there at the end of the game is when it really sunk in.”
While he enjoyed getting his first WHL point, Prokop can’t compare it to the feeling he got playing in his first WHL game.
“It was surreal. Seeing and remembering all the great players who have been in this league and who have gone on to the NHL and had successful careers there. It was truly amazing to put on one of the 22 team’s jersey’s and be part of the history is something I will never forget.”
With training camp around the corner and summer winding down, Prokop has been enjoying his summer, and had taken up a new hobby.
“Last summer I started playing ball hockey with a couple friends,” stated the Hitmen prospect. “We ended up going to nationals and there was a Team Canada meeting where I got selected to go to a tournament in the Czech Republic this year. So, about a month ago I was in the Czech Republic playing ball hockey and we won the championship there.”
With yet another championship to add to his collection, Prokop and the Hitmen will set out in search of a bigger and more difficult to win championship in a month’s time, when they kickoff their pre-season against the Kootenay ICE on Friday August 31st at 3:00 p.m. MDT at the Enmax Centrium in Red Deer Alta.
What is your favorite food?
If you could have any superpower what would it be?
The ability to fly so I could travel the world
Is there a song you could sing solely based of memory?
Supermarket Flowers by Ed Sheeran
Who was your favorite player to watch growing up?
Shea Weber, the guy has a bomb for a shot
What fad/trend do you wish would come back?
Fidget Spinners for the long bus rides