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BREAKING NEW GROUND

Whynot following in footsteps of Drake Batherson to help put 'The Valley' on the map

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / CalgaryFlames.com

Kentville, Nova Scotia, in the heart of the Annapolis Valley, is going OFF tonight. 

"It's a pretty small town, so there aren't a lot of NHL players from around here," said one of the newest Flames prospects, Cameron Whynot. "Drake Batherson is the only current one. 

"A lot of my friends, and people that I know around here, are pretty excited and I can't wait to see them and share the moment with them tonight."

Whynot - drafted by the Flames in the third round Saturday, 89th overall - has grown up on Canada's east coast. 

'The Valley' itself is an agricultural bread basket, with tasty fruit farms, microbreweries, and breathtaking vineyards that grow an array of red and white wines.  

The charming lifestyle creates all sorts of Polaroid moments for the legion of sightseers that visit each year. 

But for Whynot, this is home. 

And it's beginning to become one of the Canada's hockey hotbeds. 

"We're developing a lot of good, young talent," he said. "I know Drake is there now but I'm excited that I can be drafted from around here and show people that it's a good place to live and you can develop in a smaller community. 

"I'm incredibly proud of where I'm from. I can drive less than 20 minutes and I can see the ocean. There are a lot of harbours around here, too, and because it's a smaller community, everyone seems to know each other."

Because of that, the Batherson connection runs deep. 

The Ottawa Senators forward is not only a rising star on the biggest of all stages, but irrefutable proof that a path to the NHL can run through The Bluenoser Province. 

Both players represented the Valley Wild Cats of Nova Scotia Under-18 Minor Hockey system. In the 2018-19 season - four years after Batherson's last twirl - Whynot was named the league's top defenceman, averaging more than a point per game (13-27-40) in 35 outings. 

Now in the QMJHL, the points keep coming. 

The 6-foot-1, 180-lb. blueliner had a breakout season with the Halifax Mooseheads last year, notching 23 points (6G, 17A) in only 34 games. It was a big step up from the previous campaign, when he had nine points in nearly twice the number of matchups.  

That, in a season like no other. 

"I definitely took a big step this year on the offensive side," Whynot said, noting the challenges of playing in the Q's Atlantic 'bubble.' "It was obviously a little bit unusual. You don't know if you're going to play or not, and with all the COVID protocol that we had to follow, you never know how things were going to play out. 

"But I'm so thankful we were able to play a season at all. In a year like that, the fact that we got to play 40-plus games was awesome. It was definitely a challenging year being off and on, but I took it in a positive way and looked to the fact that I at least got to play hockey this year."

 

Video: "It was a pretty special day"

 

Naturally, a player's draft year comes with an immense amount of pressure. 

But considering the roles he was put in during his rookie campaign - top minutes, powerplay, last minute of games - he was well-equipped to handle the seas, without the weight of the moment crushing his confidence. 

"A lot changed from my 16-year-old year," he recalled. "I wasn't very confident back then - and I was put in situations that I wasn't necessarily comfortable with. 

"We were a rebuilding team and I was 16, being put on the powerplay. 

"But I thought it was really good for my development and my confidence (to go through that). Getting put in those situations, I got reps in those situations. So, coming into this year, I was a lot more comfortable in them and I felt I had a lot bigger role on the team, playing with Justin Barron - a first-round pick to Colorado. We worked well together and had a big role on the team. 

"It was a big change, big for my confidence, but my play on the ice reflected that."

Despite his hefty point totals, Whynot considers himself a dependable, two-way defender. 

He relishes the opportunity to play in all situations, and thrives when given the chance to transition the puck solo. 

He skates well, competes hard, and distributes the pill effortlessly in the offensive zone. 

As old saying goes: He makes those around him, better. 

"I like to compare myself to a guy like Alex Pietrangelo," Whynot said. "He's a guy I really look up to and I think I play a lot like him. He plays big minutes in all situations and I think I can have the same impact.

"Really, any defenceman that has good speed and can play big minutes at both ends of the ice, I think makes for a good comparison," he added when suggesting Calgary native Josh Morrissey also makes a good match. 

Those bigger names represent his long-term goals. 

For now, the party rages on in Kentville. 

It is, after all, a day to celebrate. 

"My family has been such a big part of my career," Whynot said. "They spent the money, they took the time off work to make sure I can travel and play the highest-level hockey I possibly could. They always got me the best equipment, the best development, the best possible opportunity. 

"They've been right there every step of the way for me. Without them, none of this would be possible."

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