Forwards John Quenneville and Jayce Hawryluk have gained accolades playing different styles, but there's no denying the chemistry exhibited as linemates in the turnaround of the Brandon Wheat Kings in 2013-14.
Each player no doubt bolstered his draft stock during the second half of the season and is a prime candidate to be selected in the early rounds of the 2014 NHL Draft at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on June 27-28.
"Prior to the home stretch, both players had missed time due to injury and it was impressive to NHL scouts how both of them elevated their game throughout the playoffs to lead their team," NHL Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr told NHL.com. "It bodes quite well for Brandon's future to have two high-character players that can lead them both on the ice and on the score sheet."
"Hawryluk was spunky and had a good work ethic; he's undersized [5-foot-10, 190 pounds], but plays big and with grit," Central Scouting's B.J. MacDonald said. "He has decent hands and good instincts, and definitely had a tremendous second half."
Hawryluk, who compares his feisty style to that of Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins or Brendan Gallagher of the Montreal Canadiens, had nine goals, 19 points and a plus-6 rating in the final 14 games of the regular season to finish with 24 goals, 64 points and a plus-16 rating in 59 games. He then had five goals and 12 points in eight Western Hockey League playoff games.
"He's a very dependable two-way player capable of putting up some numbers, being effective playing along high-skilled players and capable of rising to the occasion at key points," Marr said.
The NHL Scouting Combine was a big moment for Hawryluk, who was out to prove to NHL general managers and scouts that the events that transpired March 26 were behind him. After scoring three goals and adding an assist in a 5-4 victory against the Regina Pats in Game 3 of their best-of-7 Eastern Conference quarterfinal series, Hawryluk was hospitalized after collapsing in the locker room from dehydration.
Hawryluk came back the next game but wanted to show anyone who didn't believe him that he was 100 percent.
Not only did he survive all 11 fitness tests, but he did so in impressive fashion, finishing in the top 10 in a number of events. He completed 12 pull-ups, second to Windsor Spitfires forward Joshua Ho-Sang, who had 13. He did 14 repetitions on the 150-pound bench press, tied for ninth. He also showed how strong his legs were with a 111-inch standing long jump, the ninth farthest.
"It was tough after that [Regina] playoff game because Jayce had a great game and we were all excited for him," Quenneville said. "Then what happened scared all of us; it was devastating. We were so high for the game and then we were at an ultimate low, but we're happy everything turned out fine."
Quenneville had 25 goals and 58 points in 61 games this season, his second season in the WHL.
"I would compare Quenneville to a David Perron (Edmonton Oilers) or Jason Pominville (Minnesota Wild); an offensive-minded player with the speed, skills and finishing touch," Marr said. "As he continues to physically mature and gain more experience, he can be that consistent specialty player that helps on the power play."
Scouts like the fact Quenneville has good hands, a hard shot and tremendous motor.
"Quenneville can play center or wing, but I think he's a much more effective player on the wing," MacDonald said. "Injuries slowed him down through the season but he came back strong in the end and had a tremendous finish and exceptional playoff.
"He turned into a leader for his team and is more a natural talent than Hawryluk, who is more of a take-charge player."
Quenneville had nine goals, 21 points and a plus-13 rating in the final 22 regular-season games, then had five goals, 13 points and a plus-4 rating in nine playoff games.
"I made sure I was in good shape heading into the season and was physically ready to go and in a good state of mind," Quenneville said. "I just played hockey and had fun. My team was very good and we improved during the course of the season."
The top line of Quenneville centering right wing Hawryluk and top 2015 draft-eligible left wing Jesse Gabrielle accounted for 13 goals and 31 points in the WHL playoffs. The trio likely will remain intact to start the 2014-15 season.
"When Johnny came in as a rookie [in 2012-13], he didn't play as much as he would have expected. But this season he was one of the most important guys on our team," Hawryluk said. "He came to the ice, was a leader and worked hard. He came to camp probably in the best shape of any player on our team and that showed right from the start that he was in it to win it."
After finishing with the worst record in the Eastern Conference and missing the 2013 WHL playoffs, the Wheat Kings not only earned the seventh seed in the East this season but upset the second-seeded Pats in the opening round in four games.
"The win in the first round of the playoffs against Regina was my most memorable hockey moment so far," Quenneville said. "That meant a lot to our team since we didn't make the playoffs last year. We're going to be a really good team moving forward, and I think winning that first series as a member of the organization meant a lot for us, especially for me."