MARISSA BAECKER/ SHOOT THE BREEZE PHOTO Yale Academy product and Chilliwack native Wil Kushniryk is doing well and learning quick in his rookie season with the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets.

Nurturing rookie foward’s size into big asset

Rockets’ 6-foot-5 forward Wil Kushniryk has the potential to be a hindrance for opposing goaltenders

At 6-foot-5, 205 pounds Wil Kushniryk has ample physical stature to make an impact in the Western Hockey League.

Given time and experience, the Kelowna Rockets hope the 17-year-old rookie from Chilliwack will grow into a troublesome power forward for opposing defenders and netminders.

“We felt like Wil was a player who had a lot of potential, strictly based on the fact that he was a big guy who could skate relatively well,” said Rockets’ assistant coach Travis Crickard. “We’re not discounting his other abilities, he’s pretty cerebral and he asks good questions.

“But he’s a guy moving forward we’d like to see to use his size to his advantage, be physical, maybe in front of the net on the power play, forcing goalies to look over or around him, just using his size down low,” Crickard continued. “You should see him become some form of a power forward for us.”

The Rockets’ first real exposure to Kushniryk was at the team’s 2015 rookie camp.

As a walk-on, he impressed enough at the club’s ensuing main camp to be listed by the Rockets and has since steadily worked his way up the ladder.

“I came out to camp and wasn’t really expecting anything, I was just playing to get the experience,” said Kushniryk, who had two assists in his first eight games with Kelowna this season. “I scored a few goals and I guess they liked what they saw and signed me. They let me know if I kept working and improving I’d have a chance to make the team one day and now here I am. It’s a dream come true to be here.”

Kushniryk spent the previous two seasons honing his skills at Yale Academy in Abbotsford and was listed on the roster of the B.C. Major Midget Hockey League’s Fraser Valley Thunderbirds before he made the bigger step up to major junior this September.

And while the learning curve has been predictably steep, Kurshniryk is doing his best to absorb and enjoy every moment of the experience.

“Things happen fast (in the WHL), I’ve never played at this speed so I’m trying to learn and adjust to that the best I can. It’s a matter of getting the experience, gaining some confidence, and keep working hard for more ice time. The coaches have been great, helping me along and working on the things I need to get better.”

“Kelowna’s a great place to be for me, there’s no organization I’d rather be with.”

Kushniryk and the Rockets open a four-game homestand this weekend with a doubleheader against the Portland Winterhawks.

See kelownarockets.com for more info.

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