After a turbulent and shortened hockey season, the most recent draft class for the Estevan Bruins is nonetheless starting to make progress in their careers. The 2005-born players in that class are now finding homes in Saskatchewan's U18 AAA ranks for next season.
For some players, like Estevan Bears forward Carson Birnie, this means returning to a team they spent last season with. For others, like defenseman Keelan Mansuy, it means moving up from the AA ranks to a new team in the AAA circuit.
"The AAA league in Saskatchewan is very similar to the SJHL," said Todd Ripplinger, a longtime scout for the Bruins. "It's big, strong guys and it's a fast-moving pace. I think for a kid that played midget AAA, it's a lot easier to make the jump to Junior A graduating out of midget AAA."
That's not to say the team views it as a negative if players don't jump to AAA right away following the bantam draft, however. If a player needs some extra development time in AA or with a prep team like Prairie Hockey Academy, the Bruins don't mind that at all.
"You have to be a very special player and developed physically to make that jump to AAA as a 15-year-old," said Ripplinger. "I don't frown on it one bit if a guy has to play a year of AA or U16. It's all about developing and getting your reps in and getting ice time. That's the biggest thing, you've got to play."
Three of the five players the Bruins drafted last year (Birnie, defenseman Matthew Ronn, and goaltender Alex Garrett) made the leap to the AAA circuit last season. Birnie, in particular, impressed Ripplinger when he saw him.
"I got to see him once when he was in Regina," he said. "Actually, he scored that game. At the time, when I saw him, I was worried about his size but he's so tenacious and he fit in really well playing AAA as a 15-year-old."
Development means different things for different players, however, and Mansuy, who did not play AAA last season, will be playing at that level this coming year. He signed on with the Regina Pats Canadians at the end of March.
"I don't think he'll have a problem at all because he's a good skater," Ripplinger said. "He's got good feet, he's quick, he moves the puck very well. He was close to making their team this year, but again, it was probably better for him not to play in the AAA league if they would've went on for the full year."