NHL draft tracker: Keegan Kolesar, Seattle Thunderbirds

Kolesar's game has taken significant strides for his WHL club this season. (Brian Liesse/Thunderbirds)

 

Keegan Kolesar wasn’t exactly on the radar for the 2015 NHL draft heading into this year. He was coming off a rookie season where he notched eight points in 60 games while playing a depth role on the Seattle Thunderbirds’ fourth line. But even before the first game of the regular-season, it seemed the power-forward was poised for bigger and better things because he showed up to training camp in noticeably better shape and played with more confidence and intensity.

“I worked hard in the offseason by working out and improving my skating,” says Kolesar, who has 14 goals and 27 points in 42 games this year. “I worked on my skating in Regina and feel this year it has paid off. I also have a lot of good players around me in Seattle. And being in my second year, it gives you more confidence. Last year I was a rookie and was adjusting to the league, but this year I knew what to expect coming into the season.”

Kolesar’s elevated play has not only earned him power-play minutes, but also time the penalty kill. He’s become a player that Seattle head coach Steve Konowalchuk has counted on in all types of situations. This two-way role has quickly went from new territory for the Winnipeg native to a style of play that he prides himself on.

“I’ve mainly just been an offensive guy in midget and before that,” says Kolesar, whom NHL Central Scouting Service project as a B-list prospect. “But this year I’ve gotten the opportunity to play in all situations and pride myself on my play in my own end on the penalty kill. I’ve been working on developing into a player that can play in all situations and can be counted on to make an impact in all situations.”

With a 6-foot-2, 219-pound frame, it would appear that Kolesar has been working hard on gaining weight, but it’s actually just the opposite. Since he was born with a naturally bigger build, he has been working on toning his body in order to improve his speed and agility.

“I have a generally bigger build to begin with,” he says. “My biological father (K.D. Williams) was a linebacker in the NFL (and the CFL), so I inherited bigger genes. I actually tried to work on having a more leaner build in the summer because I wanted to be a faster player. I feel I accomplished that because I’ve noticed it in my skating.”

Kolesar, 17, isn’t the only highly regarded NHL draft prospect in Seattle. He plays alongside Matthew Barzal and Ryan Gropp, two high-end forward prospects, and blueliner Ethan Bear, a potential mid-round pick. This may have some downside for Kolesar as he could be overlooked at times; however, it also puts him in a situation where he doesn't have to go through the ups and downs of a draft year by himself.

“It’s good to have guys like them going through the same situation,” says Kolesar, whose stepfather, Charles Peterson, is a scout for the MLB’s St. Louis Cardinals. “We talk about it (the draft) every once in a while, but we don’t worry about it or focus on it. We stay focused on just playing our games.”

1. Do you have a favourite NHL player?

“(Philadelphia Flyers centre) Claude Giroux. I like him because he’s an unreal talent and is a great skater with a lot of speed.”

2. Do you have a favourite NHL team?

“I’d have to say the Flyers because I like how they play and Giroux is my favourite player. Being from Winnipeg, I’ve tried to cheer for the Jets, but they haven’t made the playoffs yet so it has been hard.”

3. Last year as a rookie, do you remember suiting up against an opponent, likely an NHL draft pick, where you thought it was pretty cool to be in that situation?

“I remember thinking it was cool to play against (Jets first-rounder) Josh Morrissey and (Edmonton Oilers prized pick) Leon Draisaitl when we played the Prince Albert Raiders. They are both very skilled players that went high in the draft.”

4. Do you have a favourite road arena that you like to play in?

“I like playing in Portland (at the Moda Center). I think it’s cool that the Portland Trail Blazers play there and they have a good crowd.”

5. If you weren’t entrenched in hockey, what other sport do you think you would pursue?

“Definitely football. I have the build for it and I’ve liked football my whole life.”

Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen

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