As the WHL playoffs get set to open up in Edmonton on Friday night, fans in Oil Country will get a chance to see Oilers’ prospect Drew Czerwonka
first hand. With the top-ranked Oil Kings set to host the Kootenay Ice in the first-round, Drew will have the opportunity to showcase his skills on the home-ice of the team that drafted the gritty winger.
The 19-year-old forward was the Oilers sixth-round pick (166th overall) in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Now in his fourth full WHL season, all with the Kootenay Ice, the native of Glenavon, Saskatchewan has done a lot with his time in the Western Hockey League.
Czerwonka, Kootenay’s captain, is returning from a knee injury that caused him to miss the last month of the season, a stretch in which the Ice lost its final five regular season games. Heading into what may be his final junior hockey playoffs, and having to go up against the league’s top team, Drew will most certainly bring everything he’s learnt over the past four years to Rexall Place.
|Czerwonka and the Ice hope the experience from winning the WHL championship last year can help in this year's playoffs. |
“With the injuries I’ve had this year, this is a great opportunity for me to play my best hockey and show what I’ve got, right here in Edmonton,” explained Czerwonka.
Coming up against a high-powered Oil Kings lineup, Czerwonka leads a group that is stock full of returnees from the team that won it all last year en route to a Memorial Cup appearance. It is this type of experience that has developed Drew into the on-ice leader he is today, and something he hopes will play a role in this year’s playoff run.
“What a great experience last season’s run was. I learned so much as an underdog team going up against that level of competition, it really helped me as an overall hockey player.”
Facing an offensive juggernaut such as the Oil Kings will require the Ice’s captain to do his share of contributing offensively, something he has become more accustomed to over the last couple years.
Drew definitely started out his WHL career filling more of a grinding role for Kootenay. Czerwonka has since spent the past two seasons emerging into a more offensive minded, two-way forward. With 32 points (14G, 18A) in 40 games this season, Drew has shown an ability to grow and adapt, something that will surely help him in his quest to one day suit up for the Oilers.
“The longer I’ve been here, the more confidence I’ve gained; I’m willing to try more things offensively now.”
Although happy to take on the increased offensive responsibility, Drew has not forgotten the type of hockey that got him to where he is today.
|The physical winger has battled back from a couple injuries, limiting him to 40 games this season. |
“I still see myself as a gritty power forward type; a guy who plays physical and creates room for his linemates.”
Modeling his game after NHL players such and Travis Moen and Edmonton’s own Ryan Jones
, Drew remains very aware of the type of game he will need to play as he transitions to the pro level.
“It’s important for me to bring energy and a hard-working approach every time I come to the rink.”
As a kid growing up in a small ‘hockey-mad’ town in Saskatchewan, Czerwonka has not forgotten what it means just to be able to lace up the skates. Having battled back from a number of injuries, including one to his shoulder sustained at Oilers training camp this season, Drew has realized the importance of valuing the journey as much as the results.
“My time in Kootenay has been excellent, it is a first-class organization that prides itself on success, I couldn’t have asked for a better development.”
Drew grew up very aware of the hockey culture in Edmonton and of the great Oilers’ teams of the 80’s. He was thrilled at the draft when he heard his named called by a ‘hockey’ city like Edmonton.
“It was such a great feeling; I wasn’t sure if I would even be drafted, but to have an organization like the Oilers, with their history and great young team step up and draft me, it was amazing.”
With the real possibility of turning pro next year, be it at the AHL or ECHL level, there is no doubt that Czerwonka will work for every opportunity he gets. If his continued development and success at the junior level has taught us anything about Drew Czerwonka
, it’s that he has the type of hard-nosed determination that would certainly endear him to Edmonton’s hard-working fanbase.
Author: Travis Knee | edmontonoilers.com