Produced by the WHL in partnership with BC Tree Fruits, “Growing the Game’s Best Talent” is a multipart series highlighting the next generation of WHL stars set to embark on a journey pursuing NHL dreams. “Growing the Game’s Best Talent” can be seen monthly at WHL.ca, featuring a key member of the upcoming 2018 NHL Draft Class. Together, the WHL and BC Tree Fruits are “Growing the Game’s Best Talent.”
The path to stardom in the National Hockey League doesn’t just begin when a players name is called by one of 31 professional clubs in their draft each June. It’s a multi-year process that thousands of players commit themselves to just to maybe make it to that moment.
For Lethbridge Hurricanes defenceman Calen Addison, this process is nearing completion. From there, the real work begins for the Brandonite as he attempts to blaze his own trail in a crowded field.
Identified by NHL Central Scouting as one of 27 player listed on their preliminary rankings for the 2-18 NHL Draft, Addison’s stock has been rising ever since he was made the second-overall selection in the 2015 Western Hockey League Bantam Draft.
“I’m happy with how I’m playing, happy with the team and hopefully it just keeps going well,” said the 17-year-old defender, who turns 18 in April. “I just happy that last year I got so much opportunity.
“Moving on into this year with the NHL Draft coming up, I just want to play my game and I think everything will work out.”
Coming off a 76-point season with the Brandon Bantam AAA Wheat Kings in 2014-15 that saw him lead the league as a blue liner, Addison got his first taste of WHL action in February 2016 while he was still just 15. That experience helped him build into a productive 2016-17 campaign where he finished second among rookie defencemen in scoring with 33 points (9G-24A) in 63 games.
Through just 11 games this season, Addison already has 12 points to his credit (2G-10A), putting him well on pace to shatter his totals from last season.
“It all comes down to confidence really,” Addison said. “You notice that a lot of guys in this league that put up good numbers and just play their game and play with confidence and they don’t let anybody take that away from them.
“You need opportunity and that’s something that I get here and I’m very lucky for that.”
That opportunity was no small ask either, as the team’s leading defenceman from last season, Brennan Menell, was signed by the Minnesota Wild and has made the jump to the professional ranks. That has opened the door for Addison to enjoy a larger role, one head coach Brent Kisio was more than happy to insert him into.
“He’s obviously always been a very skilled player offensively,” Kisio said. “His offensive talents come naturally to him.
“One thing we’ve really seen change in the past little bit is he’s become much better in the defensive zone. He’s a guy that we rely on often.”
As quick as success has come to Addison, he knows things will only intensify from here as his every shot, pass and play will be under the microscope.
“You can’t say you’re not thinking about it,” Addison continued. “You know you are and you know people are watching all the time.
“I think you’ve just got to be careful off the ice and make the right decisions and then obviously on the ice, just play with confidence.”
His position of choice and place of birth have added more of a focus to Addison’s development. He was one of three defencemen picked in the first four selections during his WHL Bantam Draft year, going right after Ty Smith and two picks ahead of Jett Woo.
By virtue of their budding careers, all three represented Canada at the 2017 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, where Addison and Smith were paired together on the backend as Canada won their 21st title at the tournament.
“Playing with your best friends on the biggest stage in the world at this age is obviously a special feeling; we’re super thankful for that,” Addison continued, noting the chemistry he developed with Smith throughout the tournament and how the pair are now good friends.
All three of the blue liners are expected to have their names called this coming June in Dallas, Texas. Who calls their name and at what number is of no concern to Addison, who intends to give it his all for whatever team that does end up drafting him.
“It’s awesome to see all of us come together and have such success and I just want them to have as much success as I do this year,” Addison noted. “Whatever happens to them I’m happy for them; whatever happens to me I’m happy.”
Calen’s birthplace of Brandon, Man. is also unique for the talent that has come from that region’s minor hockey program, including players like Ty Lewis and Tanner Kaspick, who both now play for the hometown Wheat Kings with their first professional contracts already signed.
Addison knows he’s one of the next players from that region in the queue to making it to the NHL level, but still wants to make his own way. It’s that level of selflessness that has Kisio unable to place a pulse on Addison’s NHL ceiling, with it growing exponentially each day.
“For any guy in their draft year, it’s just important to play your game,” Kisio noted. “You can’t worry about what people are thinking of you.
“As long as you’re being a good teammate and working hard, good things will happen for you.”
Even with the losses from the offseason, Addison has his Lethbridge team right in the thick of things in the ever-competitive Central Division. But the work doesn’t let up or ever stop, a facet of the game of hockey he’s well aware of. That’s why he’s bringing his best, night-in and night-out to every game he suits up in, knowing the door to a dreamt of NHL career is getting closer each day.
“I think that’s the key to playing your best is just thinking you can do it and going out there and showing people you can.”