Two-hundred and seventeen players, representing a total of 14 different countries, were selected in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.
Edmonton Oil Kings winger Trey Fix-Wolansky, however, wasn’t among those names called.
Fix-Wolansky, an Edmonton, AB. native, had a strong draft year for his hometown WHL club in 2016-17, picking up 54 points in 70 games — good enough to finish second on the team in scoring despite still being a rookie in the league. And yet, it wasn’t enough for him to get selected.
Was it Fix-Wolansky’s height, at just 5-foot-8?
Was it his skating, which is good, but not as good as it could have been?
Was it the fact that he played on one of the worst teams in the Western Hockey League, one which was only able to muster 23 wins?
Regardless of reason, Fix-Wolansky is now focusing on the future instead of the past. He’s using the draft snub as a way to keep his flame lit as he tries to show NHL teams what he is capable of in his second year of eligibility.
“Obviously it’s hard not to hear that (your name getting called), but you use that as motivation,” he said. “If a team doesn’t see something that they like in you, then that’s just motivation to get better.
“That’s really what I’ve tried to do, improve day-in and day-out, and get better in the areas where I’m kind of lacking or struggling.”
Improve he has.
Using the same high-end offensive awareness, sublime puck skills and deceptively heavy shot that he showcased last season, Fix-Wolansky has upped his level of production with a team-leading 46 points in 39 games.
Oil Kings coach Steve Hamilton has seen that growth first hand.
“He’s more confident with the puck,” Hamilton said. “He has more experience, he has a better feel on the league. He’s had to rise to the challenge of going against the other team’s top pairings.”
While he didn’t get the call from an NHL team on draft day, he did get one later that summer from the Edmonton Oilers, inviting the young winger to the team’s rookie camp.
It was a valuable experience that Fix-Wolansky says helped him take that step forward from last season to this one.
“It was awesome, just seeing the guys that are aspiring to be pros and playing pro this year,” he said. “I think it was important to get out and see what it takes to really play at that level, and I use that as a goal of mine to hopefully make it there again this year, no matter what team it is.”
One area of weakness that Fix-Wolansky won’t be able to remedy, however, is his physical stature.
For some teams that alone could be a deal-breaker.
At the same time, though, more and more short players are making — and succeeding in — today’s NHL, a league that has largely eschewed obstruction and brute strength in favour of quickness and skill.
Hamilton believes that Fix-Wolansky displays many of the necessary requirements for a player of his size to succeed at hockey’s highest level.
“I think he certainly has a lot of the attributes that teams look for,” he said. “He’s a gifted offensive player, he has a good mind, he can skate.
“The game has evolved, it’s changed. Guys aren’t worried about size and height and things like that. They want highly-competitive guys that are able to be impactful when they’re on the ice, and certainly Trey embodies a lot of those qualities.”
For his part, Fix-Wolansky believes that the key to success for a guy like him lies within the notion of work ethic.
“You just have to work that much harder,” he said. “Obviously guys that are taller and bigger and stronger are going to have a little bit of an edge on you, but it comes down to work ethic. I think if you’re working hard on the ice, day-in and day-out, then that’s really all you could ask for.”
Of those aforementioned 217 players that were chosen in the 2017 NHL draft, 45 of them were returnees, players that had been passed over before.
Some had been passed over multiple times before being selected.
For Fix-Wolansky, he’s hoping the second time is the charm.