- It's a dream come true for Travis Ewanyk.
The Edmonton Oilers announced Friday that they have signed the 19-year-old prospect to a three-year entry-level contract.
"It's exciting," smiled Ewanyk, as he addressed the media at Rexall Place. "You try not to think about it (signing a contract), but it's tough. It definitely weighs on you because it's something you really want, so it's nice to have happen now.
"My family is real proud. I have a family of Oilers fans and grew up going to the games with my dad, so it's awesome.
"Growing up, the greatest thing ever was getting drafted by the Oil Kings to begin with, and then getting drafted to the Oilers and now signing with them, it's awesome. It's one more step."
The St. Albert product was drafted in the third round, 74th overall in 2011. He missed a large portion of the 2011-12 season with the WHL's Edmonton Oil Kings after undergoing shoulder surgery, but returned in time to help them win the WHL Championship and advance to the 2012 MasterCard Memorial Cup in Shawinigan, Quebec.
On the international stage, Ewanyk has represented Team Canada as part of Hockey Canada's Program of Excellence, at the 2010 World U-17 Hockey Challenge and 2011 U-18 World Championship with Team Pacific. This past November, he suited up for Team WHL at the 2012 Subway Super Series.
"I faced a little adversity with the surgery, but I don't feel any weaker because of it. I actually think I'm stronger than before; I don't think I missed that much. I came back stronger and it gave me a lot of time to work on my personal game, my skills and stuff. I feel great about my game now."
The 6-foot-2, 192-pound alternate captain registered eight goals and 23 points in 58 games this season and was a pivotal force physically and on special teams. He credits much of that success to Oil Kings Head Coach Derek Laxdal, as well as the experience he was given at Oilers Development Camp in 2011 and 2012.
"(The camps) have been huge," said Ewanyk. "They're great learning opportunities. It's unfortunate not to have gone to (training) camp because of the lockout this year, but I got to go to the whole thing in my first year and I'm looking forward to next year's."
Ewanyk is the fourth Oil King to sign an entry-level deal this season. Michael St. Croix (New York) Rangers, Keegan Lowe (Carolina Hurricanes) and Henrik Samuelsson (Phoenix Coyotes) are the others.
"It shows how we've grown as a team," said Ewanyk. "We all got drafted a couple years ago and now we're getting our contracts. It's cool to go through this together."
2012-13 was a record-breaking campaign for the Oil Kings. The club tallied 51 wins and 108 points, easily topping the League's Eastern Conference standings by beating out the second-place, Memorial Cup host Saskatoon Blades (94 points). In opening-round competition, which is slated to begin Friday at Rexall Place, the Oil Kings will go up against the Kootenay Ice.
There's still plenty of hockey to be played, but the Oil Kings are poised to repeat and potentially even improve on last year's result.
"It was a great ride last year," said Ewanyk, who recorded three goals and two assists in the Oil Kings' championship run. "This year we've got the experience, which has been a big factor for us this season. We know Kootenay's coming in and playing hard, so we're ready to go.
"We had a lot of guys going into last year who had never played a WHL playoff game. This year, if you look at the games played, it's grown.
"We now know what it takes to win."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick