Know this much, Mitch Wheaton will take one for the team.
The Kelowna Rockets defenceman's first season in the Western Hockey League was halved by a shoulder injury, which likely diminished the draft stock for a 6-foot-4, 228-pound defenceman whose skating makes him bit of a project in any NHL organization's eyes. That said, the Sherwood Park, Alta., native seems to possess intangibles along with that can't-be-taught size, which he believes he showed by coming back to help out a decimated Rockets defence corps during the WHL playoffs.
"I went back and played before I had surgery," says Wheaton, who is NHL Central Scouting's 69th-ranked domestic skater. "The doctors knew that doing so might damage it a bit more but there wasn't anything I could do that couldn't be fixed. We had three regular D left in Kelowna due to injury trouble so I just thought, 'if I can't do too much more to it, why not?' I just took a few medications here and there and that helped me through it. It was needed for the team.
"I believe it showed my character," adds Wheaton, who spent his first junior season with the Spruce Grove Saints. "I didn't really get to show that while playing only half the year."
The left-shooting Wheaton partnered predominantly with Madison Bowey, a speedy defenceman who should go in either in the first or second round of the June 30 draft in Newark. The NHL teams certainly are intrigued by Wheaton's size and his willingness to use his large frame to inhibit attackers' freedom of movement down low and along the boards. Wheaton had one goal and eight points in those 39 games with Kelowna, so at this juncture he projects strictly as a stay-at-home type. He met with 17 teams during the recent NHL combine in Mississauga, Ont.
"They just kind of had to sit me down, see my off-ice personality, kind of piece together the on-ice and the off-ice," says Wheaton, who was excused from physical testing at the combine due to his recovery from surgery on his right shoulder. "They also had to piece together what I can do on the ice because they didn't see me a lot. My dedication, my hard work, my willingness to put in the effort, those are all things they've looked for."
1. How would you assess the progress you made in Kelowna despite the injury?
"It was a big year, a big step for me. I had to adjust to the speed and the pace of the WHL. The first couple weeks were just getting my feet wet. As the weeks and months progressed, I became comfortable and my confidence grew and I was able to make an impact on the team. It was unfortunate I went down with injury, but I was able to contribute in playoffs and that helped a lot."
2. Which NHL player(s) do you watch closely due to similarities in style of play, i.e., "he plays the kind of game I will need to in order to get there someday?"
"One is [Nashville Predators star] Shea Weber. He was in Kelowna as well so I try to emulate his style of play, almost. He's a big guy. Another one is [the Los Angeles Kings'] Robyn Regehr. He's not the greatest skater. I'm not the greatest skater. But I know he works very hard, doesn't get beat often, makes a great first pass, has good vision, which I think I have."
3. How did it come to be that you played a year of Junior A before joining the Rockets?
"I was a really late draft pick to Kelowna as a 10th-round pick, so I was kind of considered a late bloomer. As a result of that, I was always considering the school route. I ended up going to Spruce Grove because I knew I'd get ice time. After that I had a couple of interesting offers from a few schools and kind of weighed that with going to Kelowna, In the end, I just decided to Kelowna."
4. Outside of family, who has had the greatest influence on you in hockey?
"My midget coach, Sean Beissel. He was more than just a coach. He was a mentor. He's a very good family friend. I got to know him well during the only year I played in midget. I keep in contact with him all the time.
"In Kelowna I would say Myles Bell really put me under his wing. I'm a little bigger than him [six inches taller] so he couldn't really put me under his wing. But he was really there to show me the ropes, show me the way."
5. Favourite TV show or movie?
"Favourite movie, I'd have to say Warrior. Favourite TV show: Prison Break."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.