An underrated part of Brayden Yager’s 2023-24 season is winning the Brad Hornung Trophy, awarded annually to the most sportsmanlike player of the Western Hockey League, for the second year in a row.

It’s a testament to the 19-year-old’s high character, which is a big reason the Penguins selected him in the first round of the 2023 NHL Draft. “Awesome kid, very driven off the ice, very respectful,” director of amateur scouting Nick Pryor said last summer. “Then when you kind of pair that with his on-ice game, it was someone we were really attracted to.”

Get to know more about the 19-year-old forward, born and raised in Saskatchewan before remaining there to play junior hockey for the Moose Jaw Warriors. You can also check out Yager’s Player Essentials here.

Both parents worked in federal corrections. “They do have some crazy stories, especially my dad being actually on the floor and in the prison. It’s crazy,” Brayden said of Cam, a corrections officer, and Maureen, Assistant Warden – Interventions, who both retired last year. That meant Brayden grew up in a relatively strict household, where “they made sure we were always doing chores and stuff, which is good. I think responsibility is good to learn when you're young,” he said. He also saw how hard they worked, watching his dad leave for the penitentiary at 7 PM, return home at 7 AM, drive Brayden to school, and then take him to hockey practice afterward. “Mom would do the same. She was more of a typical eight-to-four, but she would sometimes have to leave early to pick us up and drive us to a hockey game,” Brayden said. “Just their dedication and support and the sacrifices that hockey parents make are pretty special.” Read more about Brayden and his family’s journey in this feature.

Brayden wanted to be some sort of electrical engineer growing up. “I don’t know why,” he said with a laugh. “That didn’t last very long. Now, I feel like it’d be cool to own your own business, be your own boss.”

Speed is one of Brayden’s strengths, which may come from a brief stint in track and field as a kid. Before that, when he was really young, Brayden ran cross country. “You know, I'm actually undefeated in cross country. I think we did like, five races or something, and I won all of them. Not a big deal!” he joked. “For track, I think it was 60-meter, 100-meter, high jump, long jump… I think that was pretty much all I did. Usually, I wouldn't do anything crazy just because I feel like after I would sprint, my quads would get all mangled. So, I wouldn't do it before a hockey tournament.” Other than that, Brayden didn’t dabble in other sports too much.

Brayden’s mom and dad helped him develop the 200-foot game which is another one of his strengths – and a big reason he’s always loved Sidney Crosby. “You see kids who just want to sit at the red line and go and score 10 goals, but they always told me in the long run that it's going to help if you can play on both ends of the ice, and it’s something I take a lot of pride in,” he said. “So, the two main guys that I watched when I was young were Jonathan Toews, and obviously Sid.” Brayden is also a big fan of Crosby’s fellow Cole Harbour native. “There was a Memorial Cup that was hosted in Saskatoon, and that's when I saw (Nathan) MacKinnon play. He was obviously unreal, and went first overall in the draft that year.” Yager models shot after MacKinnon’s, having worked with shooting coach Tim Turk on angles and quick releases.

Like most hockey players, Brayden enjoys golfing and card games. He also likes to fish. The Yager family has a cabin in Waskesiu, about two hours from Saskatoon. After Brayden finishes training for the week, they’ll typically head up on a Friday and return on a Monday. “We’ll go there and there’s a golf course and a nice lake to fish and stuff, so it's super fun,” Brayden said. I never actually measure anything, but I've caught some nice walleye.” His dad is the one who cooks for them, with Brayden saying he’s got to learn how to cook for himself outside of eggs and French toast. He made some good progress at the end of the season: “I was on my own, and I didn't know what to do for supper. My billet dad had gotten a full cow butchered and put it in his freezer, so I took a steak and made it, and it was actually really good. And I didn't get food poisoning!”

Brayden grows facial hair like Tony Stark – and recently watched the Marvel movies with his teammates. Before the Warriors switched to ‘Muzzies for the Mem’ after earning their first Memorial Cup bid in franchise history, they started their playoff run with beards, or at least, attempts at beards. Brayden said there was good and bad with his, saying it reminded him of Robert Downey Jr.’s in the Iron Man movies. They were top of mind for him after starting the Marvel timeline Brayden found on his Disney+ account during Moose Jaw’s U.S. swing earlier in the year. Guys started joining Yager and teammates Jagger Firkus and Kalem Parker for watch parties, with the room getting packed for ones that featured the Avengers. “Sometimes, we couldn't sleep at night because our room was so hot after that,” Brayden laughed. “There were, like, 12 guys in a room, and it was terrible. It was nuts.”

He's got a couple of hockey nicknames. The most common one is ‘Yags,’ pronounced like the Pittsburgh legend’s nickname. “I had super long hair when I played hockey when I was younger, and if I would score a couple goals in a game, some of the hockey dads would be like, oh, you’re looking like Jaromir out there! Just because of the last name,” Brayden said. “I remember my brother played on a spring hockey team and he wore 68. They spelled his name like Jagr by accident, just because they thought it was the same thing. It was kind of funny. I think he kept the jersey, too.” Moose Jaw’s play-by-play announcer also mentions Jäger bombs whenever Brayden scores, so a couple of his teammates have started calling him ‘Bombs.’

Finally, good luck reading this paragraph without getting ‘Hall of Fame’ stuck in your head. Draft prospects get to pick the song that plays whenever their name is called, and after Brayden picked that song by the Script, he learned to play it on the piano despite never taking lessons. “I just had a keyboard in my house, and would watch a YouTube video and then learn the notes and then just keep doing until I remembered it,” he said. “It’s kind of cool.”