Blades ’99 core ready for next step
The Sedin Twins…Zetterberg…Vrbata…these are some the few stars who are still active in the National Hockey League after being drafted in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft. In the same year, Saskatoon Blades forwards Josh Paterson, Lukus Mackenzie and Logan Christensen along with defensemen Jake Kustra were born.
The four ’99ers were all drafted by the Blades in the same year at the 2014 WHL Bantam Draft, the first draft for new Owner/General Manager combo Mike and Colin Priestner. Paterson(#25 overall), Christensen(#30) and Kustra(#34) all went in the second round, while Mackenzie(#60) was picked in the third round. Their drafting would be a beacon of a new era and a new direction for the Saskatoon Blades who had just hosted the 2013 MasterCard Memorial Cup.
As rookies, the four were thrust into the WHL while still 16 years old in the 2015-16 season. Kustra and MacKenzie even made their WHL debuts with a few games each as 15 year olds in the 2014-15 season. Now 18 years old, the opportunity of forming the experienced core of the team and leading the Blades back to the playoffs is upon them. GM Priestner believes they’re up to the task, “For 18 year olds, they’ve played a lot of meaningful hockey games.”
Edmonton native Paterson finished with a WHL career high 37 points in his first full 72 game season in 2016-17. When asked about Paterson, Priestner was optimistic about his future with the team, “We think he’s going to be an awesome 5 year player. He made big strides last year and he has a chance to be on the first line this season.”
Likewise, last season saw Christensen post WHL career best numbers with 27 points in 72 games. Priestner describes Christensen as “One of the smartest players in the league. He plays hard and can play in any role. He’s a leader and a winner.” Christensen and Paterson will be looking for a natural increase in their point production in a bid to lead the charge of returning the ‘pac’ back to post season action.
The WHL careers of Kustra and MacKenzie have been a little bit more complicated. Unfortunately, both have spent extended stints on the sidelines due to injuries received in the call of duty. Neither have seen a full season of hockey in Blades’ colours but each have still chalked up over a full season’s worth of games across the three WHL seasons they’ve made appearances in.
There are 8 defensemen currently fighting for 7 spots on the Blades’ roster. For Kustra, he has recorded 12 points in 88 WHL games played, giving him an edge in the form of experience. This season, Kustra is getting the go ahead for more offensive zone starts while his slap shot has been developed during the off and pre season.
“He skates really, really well and he has good offensive upside. We’re really glad to see him healthy this year after the injury setbacks of the past. He brings it every shift, he’s a warrior,” Priestner said when asked about Kustra.
Meanwhile, MacKenzie has managed 20 points in 108 games. MacKenzie’s strength comes in his size. Only surpassed by defenders Evan Fiala and Libor Hájek, MacKenzie is the Blades’ biggest forward, standing at 6’2 and weighing 203 pounds. These attributes make him a powerful forechecker and an intimidating force in front of the net.
“Lukas has one of the more unique size and skill sets around. With his strength and talent he hasn’t even scratched the surface yet of what he can do in the WHL because of his injuries. It’s a big year for him,” Priestner said of MacKenzie.
As this group begins their third full season in the Western Hockey League, the expectations are starting to catch up to the responsibilities the players have been given. A clean bill of health in addition to a combined 462 games of WHL experience, prior to the start of the 2017-18 season, has fans in Saskatoon hoping these born and bred Blades’ will take the team to the next step.