Connor Fleming was drafted by the Prince Albert Raiders in the Western Hockey League’s 2016 bantam draft.
He was too young to join the team last season but this time around, he will get his first genuine shot to make the big club.
The 16-year-old started on his way to playing in the WHL this season on Wednesday with the rookie camp, which features the draft classes from last year and this year battling it out to impress the coaching staff and moving ahead to the main camp.
“This is my first real chance to make the team,” said Fleming on Wednesday. “Last year was all about seeing what it takes.”
Because Fleming was too young, he spent last season playing with the Yale Hockey Academy Elite 15’s in Abbotsford, B.C., part of the Canadian Sport School Hockey League. He put up six goals and six assists in 29 games but it was good prep for Fleming coming into this season.
“It was lots of fun to play there last season,” he said. “The calibre was much higher than I had ever played and I think it’s going to help me in camp this season.”
The only thing Fleming got to do last year involving the WHL was play in the Raiders’ rookie camp but he admitted it didn’t go as well as he would have hoped.
“I feel prepared this time, more than I was last year,” he said. “I feel a lot better and I’m hoping it goes a lot better than last year.”
Fitness testing was the first order of business for Fleming on Wednesday with the first scrimmage happening later that evening. If all went well enough, he will find out today whether he makes the move to the main camp, which begins this afternoon. The first pre-season game for the Raiders is Monday against the Saskatoon Blades.
“I’m hoping to show the coaches that they made a good choice when they drafted me,” said Fleming. “I want to show them a physical style and show that I have a good nose for the puck.”
A physical style is something Brad Anstey knows Fleming will bring to the table.
Anstey was Fleming’s last coach in Yellowknife, having worked with him during the 2016 Arctic Winter Games, and said he expected Fleming to bring plenty of tenacity.
“He plays with an edge about him,” he said. “He’ll go into the corners and mix it up, he’s not afraid about getting into a battle for the puck and he’ll make you fight for it. He fits the bill of a WHL-type player, which is someone who likes to bang around and do whatever it takes to contribute.”
The hope for Fleming is an invite to main camp and he’s staying positive about that. If he doesn’t make it to main camp, he is planning on taking another route.
“I might try the junior A loop and see if I can catch on with a team,” he said. “I’m thinking about going to college and junior A is a good way to get there but we’ll see what happens because you never say never.”