Jayce Hawryluk looking for better days ahead

Author: Perry Bergson, The Brandon Sun
Date: Aug 3, 2017

Jayce Hawryluk hopes that a lost season in his professional hockey debut will pay off in the long run.

The Florida Panthers prospect, a four-year member of the Brandon?Wheat Kings in the Western Hockey League, broke his right hand last September during a fight with Washington Capitals’ prospect Jakub Vrana as the teams participated in a four-team prospect tournament in Coral Springs, Fla.

"Obviously that’s not how I wanted to start my season," Hawryluk said on Tuesday prior to a Westman Summer Hockey League game at the Sportsplex. "It was just kind of a sickening feeling because I felt so good in training camp. I thought I was at the top of my game and I was playing so well. I just felt really strong and was probably in some of the best shape that I’ve been in.

"It’s hockey so things like that happen but that was a huge setback for me. I?just had to take it day-by-day and be patient with it, and not rush it and try and come back too soon and hurt it worse and be out longer."

Hawryluk didn’t make his Springfield Thunderbirds debut until Dec. 2, and then was put back on the shelf for 12 more American Hockey League games. In the end, he would play 47 games, notching nine goals and 17 assists and earning 47 penalty minutes.

"Not being there for the start of the season, you don’t get that confidence like you would if you started playing," Hawryluk said. "That definitely hurt me coming back. I wasn’t used to the pace so it took me a few games to get into it but I felt that after Christmas when I was playing more and the coach put me in more situations I felt more like myself. But I only had half a season so I never really felt like I reached the top of my game or never felt the best I could feel … All in all, it was a character-building season and I can take a lot of things I can learn."

Florida’s rookie camp begins on Sept. 14, with training camp starting a couple of weeks later.

Despite his inauspicious pro debut, Hawryluk has certainly made an impression on Panthers general manager Dale Tallon.

"We have high hopes for him," Tallon told Jameson Olive for a story on the team’s website last month. "He’s a kid who plays with a lot of passion, a lot of energy. He’s got not only speed and skills, but he’s got a lot of grit."

The comments didn’t go unnoticed, but Hawryluk added that since being drafted by the club drafted in 2014, Tallon has always been an upbeat presence.

"Dale has always been super positive," Hawryluk said. "He’s always had really good things to say about me since day one, since the day I met him and he drafted me the next day. He’s always been high on me and confident in my abilities. Obviously as a player that’s something that you want … it makes your life a little easier and gives you that extra boost of confidence in yourself."

Hawryluk certainly became a dominant player in the WHL after Brandon selected him in the second round of the 2011 bantam draft with the 32nd overall pick, exactly the spot he would go three years later to the Panthers in the 2014 National Hockey League draft.

The Roblin product played four seasons with the Wheat Kings, piling up 119 goals and 159 assists in 232 regular season games, and adding 61 more points in 45 playoff games.

Hawryluk joined the Wheat Kings as a 16-year-old alongside John Quenneville, and the two became close.

While Hawryluk didn’t have the chance to make his own NHL?debut, Quenneville’s opportunity to play with the New?Jersey Devils eased the sting.

"You dream of playing in the NHL?or getting that callup and I still think about that and that’s my number one goal," Hawryluk said. "But whenever you see a good friend or a teammate you used to play with get that call, it’s just as exciting. You know how much hard work they’ve put into it because you’ve put in that same work. It’s just so rewarding for them and their families and friends.

"I was probably a little more happy than if I got called up when John got called up. I know I was probably one of the first people he would call. We had been together through so much and just to see that happen was incredible."

Hawryluk did earn an unexpected honour last winter when he was named to the fan balloting for Brandon’s WHL Dream Team, placing him among the top 50 players in the franchise since the team joined the league 50 years ago.

The 21-year-old forward was blown away.

"That was an incredible honour," Hawryluk said. "When you look at the guys who were in that top 50, it speaks volumes. I don’t even know where to start there’s so many amazing players."

Now he’s trying to make his mark at the next level. With four months to train this summer, Hawryluk is trying to put himself in the best possible position to succeed after Florida chose to part ways with Jussi Jokinen, Jaromir Jagr, Shawn Thornton and Thomas Vanek, although they signed a handful of free agent forwards including Radam Vrbata.

"I’m honestly feeling maybe a little better than I did last year," Hawryluk said. "I’m around the same weight that I was but I feel like my cardio has gotten a little bit better. I’ve been working on that more, and my skating as well. I’ve been skating quite a bit, and that’s a big part of my game that I want to improve on and become not a faster skater but have more finesse and be more smooth so that I can use my stride to my advantage and be super fast all shift and not tire out."

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