The Brandon Wheat Kings have announced the signings of four young prospects to standard Western Hockey League player agreements. Of the four signings, three hail from within the province.
Agreeing to deals were draft picks Eastyn Mannix (79th overall in 2020), Evan Groening (177th overall in 2020) and Hayden Chaloner (145th in 2020), as well as Carson Bjarnason who had been previously listed by the Wheat Kings.
Mannix, of Wainwright, AB., is a 2005-born defenceman who spent the past year with the U-16 program out of Northern Alberta. Only skating in three games last year he did manage to score 15 points in 30 games the season prior.
“Eastyn is a complete defenseman, he has grown exponentially since we last saw him play,” Wheat Kings’ general manager Doug Gasper said of the 6-foot-2 blueliner. “We think he is going to be a perfect fit in our group. Both him and Quinn Mantei give us a depth and options at that 2005 age group.”
The three Manitobans signed to standard player agreements are Groening (Niverville), Chaloner (Winnipeg) and Bjarnason (Carberry).
Groening, a 2005-born forward, was taken in the ninth round last year and suited up for three contests with the RINK Academy. In limited action he managed to find four assists, helping to propel his development and land the opportunity in Brandon.
“Evan is a young man who had a solid camp, we liked him more and more each day,” Gasper said of Groening. “He plays with a good pace, and a high compete level. His skill set should set him up to become a top six WHL’er someday.”
Chaloner, also a forward born in 2005, has played most recently within the Winnipeg AAA scene. Following a U-15 year that saw 45 goals and 77 points in 36 games with the Sharks, the small forward earned seven points in nine games as he transitioned to the Thrashers.
“Hayden is a highly competitive young man,” Gasper said in conversation on Chaloner. “He may not be the biggest guy, but he plays with a huge heart. He makes things happen every time he is on the ice and we are excited to have him.”
Bjarnason is a 2005-born netminder who grew up the nearest to the Wheat Kings of any of the recent signees. The 6-foot-3 backstop grew up with the AAA Southwest Cougars before transitioning to the RINK Academy. He played just twice last season, but managed a .914 save percentage and a 2.01 goals against average.
“Carson was a listed player, who has grown a ton since we last saw him in the net,” Gasper commented. “We were looking for someone to step up and embrace the goalie battle in camp and he did just that. Carson has all the potential to be a pro hockey player someday.”
Bjarnason turned aside all 22 shots he faced in his WHL debut Tuesday evening – a 3-1 loss to the Moose Jaw Warriors – in a game that saw fellow netminder Nick Jones allow three goals on 17 shots while Bjarnason was on the bench. Groening finished the game a -1, while Mannix and Chaloner finished even.