Produced by the Western Hockey League in partnership with BC Tree Fruits, “Growing the Game’s Best Talent” is a multi-part 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 2019 NHL Draft Class. Together, the WHL and BC Tree Fruits are “Growing the Game’s Best Talent.”
When Kaedan Korczak first walked through the doors of Prospera Place as a 15-year-old, he didn’t need to be sold on the team’s ability to develop talent that could succeed at the NHL level.
Memories of dominant defencemen in the team’s past, including names like Weber, Keith, Gorges, Myers, Schenn, Hannan, and Foote just to name a few, remind patrons, players, and Rockets’ staff alike of their success at the major junior level from British Columbia’s Okanagan. The way Korczak’s WHL career has progressed to date, he’s eager to add his name to that list in due time.
“Ever since I [first] came here, I think my game has grown a lot, more than I expected,” Korczak said. “I’m very grateful for the opportunity too.”
Having turned 18-years-old in late January, Korczak has spent the last two full seasons with the Rockets. In the sense of his life, it’s part of a longer hockey timeline that has taken the stay-at-home defenceman to the highest possible levels all while remaining in Western Canada.
The Yorkton, Sask. product was selected by the Rockets with the 11th-overall pick in the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft. The second-highest player from his province to be selected in that year’s draft, Korczak fondly looks back on May 5, 2016 when the Rockets called out his name. Ranked 31st among all North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting for their midterm rankings, it’s a matter of when, not if he’ll hear his name called this summer in Vancouver, B.C.
“I’m sure this one will be even more exciting,” Korczak said. “I’ve competed against all these guys my age for a number of years now.”
Fueling his hockey career over the first 18 years of his life, Korczak has had no shortage of important role models in his development. That includes long-time NHL defenceman Adam Foote, a veteran of 1,154 NHL games who came aboard as head coach of the Rockets in October 2018. Since then, Kaedan has had a chance to gain valuable experience about his development and working on what it’ll take to reach the professional hockey ranks.
“There’s lots of advice to give these young guys,” Foote said. “We’re just trying to get him to recognize his value as a shutdown defencemen and a guy that can play some power play.”
Foote added that while the focus can so often be on amassing points in a player’s draft year, the challenge of being a top power-play defenceman in the NHL wasn’t quite the same as it was at the major junior level. The ability to play against a team’s top lines and utilize his 6-foot-3, 188-pound frame was what mattered.
“He has an ability to play with the quicker guys and not get beat,” Foote continued. “He enjoys playing physical. Sometimes young defenceman try to find the hardest play or always try to find the tape. You don’t always have to find the tape to make a great play moving forward.”
Though their season ended in a tough fashion in a tiebreaker game, Foote was already looking forward to the prospect of having Korczak patrolling the blue line in the 2019-20 WHL Regular Season.
“[He’ll] be a year more mature so we’re excited about it,” Foote said. “With Kaedan, we’re going to get him to pass the puck more. I think the draft messes with these guys.
“They push the offence where sometimes it looks like they made the wrong play. Just the draft being over with next year will help in that category.”
Hockey also runs deep in Kaedan’s family. His younger brother Ryder gained experience as a rookie forward with the Calgary Hitmen and was traded in the off-season to the Moose Jaw Warriors. While they’ve only had the chance to play together for a year due to their age gap, the pair did face each other for the first time in WHL action in December 2018. For the record, Ryder’s Hitmen took the 5-1 win with the younger Korczak scored the fifth goal of the game.
“He’s a sneaky little forward so he can put the puck in the back of the net more than me,” Kaedan said of his sibling.
The older Korczak has provided a solid offensive touch as well, producing 33 points (4G-29A) in 68 games this season. He’s at 49 points (7G-42A) for his 139-game WHL career, ahead of his younger brother for the time being.
Kaedan’s also heard Hockey Canada call his name previously as well. The most recent experience came at the 2019 IIHF Under-18 World Championship, another checkmark on a draft-eligible player’s resume before the draft.
They both hail from Yorkton, situated in the eastern part of Saskatchewan that has become quite a strong producer of hockey talent. In addition to the Korczak brothers, Florida Panthers forward and former Brandon Wheat King Jayce Hawryluk calls Yorkton home. Fellow draft-eligible players Brett Kemp of the Medicine Hat Tigers and Nolan Maier of the Saskatoon Blades call the region home as well as a long list of other talent to reach the WHL level and beyond.
Whether he’s at an international tournament like the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, which he won with Maier, the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, or in a regular season game with the Rockets, Korczak can play with the support of his hometown behind him.
“It’s meant a lot and it’s awesome to have a community that’s that tight,” Korczak said.