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 August 31, get the inside scoop on the incoming rookie class of 2019-20.
Team: Lethbridge Hurricanes
Position: Left Wing
Weight: 171 pounds
Draft: LET (2018) Round: 1 (#8)
For Zack Stringer, his talent has always propelled him to the next level, beginning at a young age. While other 2003-born players would be entering their second year of pee-wee level hockey at the age of 12, Stringer was granted access to jump to bantam, playing with the Lethbridge Golden Hawks Bantam AAA team of the Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League (AMBHL). From then on, Stringer continued competing with and against players that were consistently two years older than him, simulating the eventual jump to the WHL where 16-year-olds are competing against 20-year-olds.
The advancement in leagues continued to develop Stringer’s talents, allowing him to show his compete level and see great success on the national level. At 14-years-old, the Lethbridge, Alta. native played with the Lethbridge Hurricanes Midget AAA team of the Alberta Midget Hockey League (AMHL), putting up 30 points (17G-13A) in 23 regular-season games and 16 points (11G-5A) in 10 playoff games. Stringer’s strong performance in the postseason contributed to his team’s AMHL Championship, a bronze-medal finish in the 2018 TELUS Cup Tournament and Top Forward of the tournament award.While Stringer continued to play at the midget level this year, he also continued with the next logical progression in his career, joining the WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricanes for eight regular-season and six post-season games. But, for the first time in Stringer’s hockey development, he didn’t find the jump as big as the year before.
“I’ve played against older guys my whole life and I think that has given me an advantage,” Stringer said. “I got comfortable in my second year of midget playing against older guys and when I went up for my games with the Hurricanes it was helpful to have that experience.
“Of course, I was nervous as everyone should be, but also confident in what I can do and bring to the team. It was a great game.”While it can be tough for players to move up and down between leagues in their 15-year-old year, Stringer felt that the Midget AAA Hurricanes and WHL Hurricanes mirrored each other this season in terms of the level of difficulty and degree of success.
“In my first year of midget, we were really lucky to win the league and make it to the Telus Cup, but this season we got eliminated earlier than expected, so that was tough,” Stringer said. “After we [Midget AAA Hurricanes] were eliminated, I got to go play with the Hurricanes in their playoffs against the Hitmen, but they got eliminated too. But, both were good experiences because I know what we need to do to make a better playoff push next time.”
With the Midget AAA Hurricanes eliminated in the Division Semi-Finals matchup in the AMHL and the WHL Hurricanes eliminated in the first round of 2019 WHL Playoffs, it’s almost uncanny the similarities that Stringer faced with both teams within the span of a month.
While these weren’t the results Stringer or either Hurricanes team was looking for, there were shining moments on the other end of the spectrum.
“I’ve been going to Hurricanes games since I was a kid because my parents had a box. I always dreamed of playing for Lethbridge so getting the chance to do that is pretty amazing,” Stringer commented when he was selected by the Hurricanes in the 2018 WHL Bantam Draft, eighth overall.
Other ties, including former friends of Stringer’s, also made his transition to the WHL a neat experience.
“I had a few buddies on the team from before I joined the Hurricanes so that was nice,” Stringer said. “I really connected with Logan Barlage and Noah Boyko – mostly the young guys, but there are also some great leaders there to guide me as well.”Perhaps the most important highlight of his 14 regular-season and playoff games with the Hurricanes was his first career WHL goal followed by a final total of seven points (2G-5A) at the end of the season.
“It was a great feeling to get that off my chest,” Stringer commented on his first goal. “It was in my hometown as well, so a lot of family and friends were in the stands, so it was good to get one in front of them.”
With Stringers’ steady-point flow in his first few WHL games and the training he’s put in over the spring and summer, he’s confident in his ability to make the Hurricanes’ roster at training camp.
“I stayed focused through different hockey camps this summer to get ready for the upcoming season and crack the roster,” said Stringer. “I just want to play my game and do what I can do. I’m not going to go out of my way to be somebody else, I just want to trust my capabilities.”