It’s easy to get lost in the mix on a team in London that is stacked with some exceptional young talent, but that hasn’t bothered centre Brett Welychka, who just comes to the rink night in and night out ready to do whatever it takes in order to help the Knights succeed.
The 5-foot-10, 186-pound pivot was a solid foot soldier on the OHL’s top team this season, scoring nine goals and 18 points in 46 games, while adding 18 penalty minutes and finishing with a plus-7 rating. The rookie forward has also posted a goal and an assist in four playoff games thus far, and has given his hometown Knights the luxury of having a player who can step in and play in any situation.
Last season, Welychka spent the better part of the year playing Jr. B in the GOJHL with both the London Nationals and St. Marys Lincolns, racking up 17 goals and 40 points in 43 games. He is like a bulldog and can beat opponents all over the ice, as he loves getting engaged physically, has a high compete level, is strong in his own zone, but also has a nice offensive touch as well.
Welychka has great wheels, can dish the puck exceptionally well, has a decent shot, nice hands, and very good hockey smarts. the 18-year-old may not be on this years NHL Draft radar, but he has all the ability to be an impact player at the Major Junior level and beyond as he continues to develop his game. When it comes to his potential, he has only just scratched the surface.
I had the chance to catch up with my fellow home grown London, Ontario native, for a quick Q and A.
Who has been your biggest help and influence in developing your game?
Brett: My parents have been my biggest help for me off the ice. From the first time I laced the skates up, till now playing in the OHL, they have been my biggest supporters and have helped me through both the good and bad times. Also, Lindsay Hofford helped me from a young age teaching me the right way to play hockey, teaching me in development camps in the summer & offering advice to help me get better and succeed.
You spent most of last year in the GOJHL, and put up good numbers, how did your experience in Jr. B help you better prepare for life in Major Junior with the Knights?
Brett: My experience from Junior B helped me alot. Going into last year’s season I knew it would be my development year. I tried to put up good numbers, but also play my two-way game, and a steady game all around so that it would prepare me for the following year (this year). It was nice to play for a Jr. B club and be a top notch guy while I practiced with the Knights and played a handful of games as a 16-year-old with them. Playing with older, faster and tougher guys was a stepping stone for my development and my main goal last year was to get stronger, smarter, faster and improve.
You are a very crafty forward, and have those slippery Datsyuk-like hands, what do you see being your best attrbutes as a hockey player?
Brett: My best attributes as a hockey player are my two-way play, speed and grit, will to win, and vision and hockey smarts. I like to use these attributes each and every game. I may not be the biggest player out there but these attributes get teams wins and players recognized.
What was your ‘welcome moment’ to the OHL?
Brett: My ‘welcome moment’ in the OHL was definitely in my first game in the OHL, when I registered a goal to put the Knights up 2-0 against the Peterborough Petes. Scoring your first goal in any league or game is always huge, but to score for my hometown team, in front of 9,000 fans, with my family and friends there, it was pretty special. I felt so welcomed by my teammates and fans. Very big moment in my hockey career, and I will always remember that goal and night.
Is there and NHLer you mold your game after?
Brett: If there was one player in the NHL I mold my game after, it would be Matt Read. I feel that I have the same hockey attributes as him, and from his past history as a player and individual, it seems to me he hasn’t been given everything easy and had to work for every minute of ice he gets in Philly and with his past teams, which I totally understand and respect. Read is a defensive forward who has the offensive ability to still put up good numbers, and plays with a physical edge. He can switch his role as he needs to, which is exactly what I can do for my team.
You’ve scored a ton of goals over your young career at every level, is there one that stands out as your biggest?
Brett: I’d have to go with my first OHL goal again. When I got the call to play with the London Knights I was only 16. That night I could barely shut my eyes because I was so excited. My plan for the game was to keep everything simple, get pucks deep, expect limited ice and finish every body check possible. Everything went well that game, and with all my family and friends watching and supporting me it couldn’t have ended any better. I put it in the back of the net on a 2 on 1 pass from my line mate. Priceless moment.
What is the highlight of your career thus far?
Brett: The highlight of my career would have to be simply getting drafted by the London Knights. May 7th, 2010 was one of the most exciting days of my career. Getting drafted is one thing, but going to the team that you grew up watching and cheering for in your hometown is even better. For my family and I it was such a big honour being chosen to play for my hometown OHL team. Although it shouldn’t matter at the end of the day where you play hockey in the future, it was an extra cherry on top getting drafted to the London Knights.
London is loaded with young talent, and you guys have had a great season, what has it been like to be a part of that group even though it may mean your not getting the ice every single night?
Brett: Throughout the year there has been many ups and downs. Playing with older and more experienced players has single-handedly helped to develop me. Being one of the guys that may be scratched some of nights is always tough, but with my focus and attitude it is easier to get over, and easy to prepare for the next game. Playing the shutdown style most of the year was great. Going up against the other teams top guys was tough, but I got to play my game (be physical, smart defensively & chip in points). There is a lot of talent on our team so things may not always go in my favour, but I try not to focus on the negative and I work harder each and everyday to be the best the following game. I know this will make me a stronger player.
Because this is your NHL Draft year, have you felt any added pressure to perform?
Brett: Truthfully, I haven’t felt much pressure at all due to the NHL draft. There are the times before every game where I do get nervous because I know I need to perform every single shift in order to play the next game. Hockey is my job, and I know I am always being watched and judged. With my NHL draft year this year, I haven’t been on the draft list yet which makes it pretty easy not to be stressed. I have always flown under the radar, and I’m ok with that. It allows me to play my game the way I can because I can play it with that “nothing to loose” give everything you got style, which is fun for me.
I know it’s an honor in itself to be drafted, but if you could pick the NHL team that selected you, who would you choose?
Brett: It would obviously be an honour to get drafted anywhere, but if I had to pick I would have to choose the Chicago Blackhawks because they have been my favourite team since I was just a little guy. My dad is a huge Hawks fan and I was groomed to cheer for them from a young age. Now I just cheer for them because of the great atmosphere in the town and in that arena. The history is deep being an original 6 team – we have sticks, jerseys, books and pictures of Bobby Hull, Stan Makita etc. They are a well coached team and a great organization. There are lots of players on the current team I love to watch as well (Kane, Teows, Bolland, Seabrook). I would love to be drafted by any team, but Chicago would definitely take it.
In your opinion, who is the toughest defenseman to beat 1-on-1 in the entire OHL?
Brett: Olli Maatta in my opinion is the toughest defenceman to beat in the OHL. I’ve first handily seen him take the puck away from players including myself in practice and games like it’s nothing. Great defenceman and a great guy to have on your team. Very good stick.
If you could describe yourself to NHL scouts in one word, what would it be?
Brett: If I could describe myself to NHL scouts in one word, I would say “Motivated.” I’m the type of player that will go through a wall for the coach and teammates. That is my personality off the ice too, I like to compete at everything I do. I like to win, and I’ll do a lot to get the job done. Therefore to stay motivated I have to use the ‘work hard’ motto too.
What do you enjoy doing in your downtime from the game?
Brett: During my downtime, I enjoy hanging out with my teammates away from the rink and hanging out with my the guys from my school. Seeing movies with buddies, gaming Ps3 or Xbox with the boys and watching hockey, golf, baseball. In the summer, I love golfing and going to the cottage in Parry Sound, fishing and boating and hanging out with my family. I like to keep busy and I make sure I’m always doing things away from hockey because there is other things in life too. School and maintaining good grades is a must for me as an education will be important down the road.
Any hidden talents?
Brett: My hidden talent is probably golf. I won a few tourneys when I was younger, but had to give up the competition because of my hockey schedule. I like to play a little more on the passionate side then playing for fun, but a nice round of golf with the guys is just as fun. I enjoy baseball and have a strong arm. Generally, most hockey players are pretty well-rounded athletes with a competitive streak. I think it’s safe to say I fit into this mold.