WHL Next Generation is a 22-part series highlighting a handful of the future stars of the Western Hockey League. From first-round bantam draft picks to later-blooming selections, get to know the names of players set to establish themselves as the newest crop of exciting talent to grace the WHL. From August 1 through August 31, get the inside scoop on the incoming rookie class of 2019-20.
Team: Portland Winterhawks
Weight: 150 pounds
Draft: POR (2018) Round: 1 (#19)
“No one is going to hand you what you want, you have to work for it,” Gabe Klassen said.
While it is a bit cliché, Klassen is absolutely correct when it comes to competing in the hockey world. Even though he was the Portland Winterhawks’ first-round selection in the 2018 WHL Bantam Draft, he understands that nothing will be given to him unless he works for it and earns it, including a spot on the Winterhawks’ roster for the 2019-20 WHL Regular Season.
To do that, Klassen believes resiliency is key.
“It’s a bigger, faster, stronger league,” Klassen commented on the WHL, “so it’s going take a lot of hard work and I need to bring that extra effort. You have to keep fighting through stuff, keep battling.”While it’s not a new lesson to the Prince Albert, Sask. native, it was one he faced head-on after returning from Portland’s training camp last year. When Klassen joined the Prince Albert Mintos team of the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League (SMHL), things were tough.
“I started off the season a little bit slow when I got home from camp,” Klassen said.
While his ‘slow start’ was really only the first handful of games in his season, it can feel like an eternity to players. However, it’s a reality that many players – even the greats – face, challenging players to shift, adapt or re-learn their approach to their game. As Klassen found, sometimes these challenges can turn into positive changes.
“I just kept working at little parts in my game, getting better and better to improve over time, which led to better success,” Klassen said. “That turned into me taking a bit of a leadership role on the team and on the ice.”While it isn’t unheard-of for a first-year player on a midget team to take a leadership role, it certainly isn’t as common. For Klassen, that leadership translated to 54 points (31G-23A) in 42 regular-season games, finishing as the leading player and goal-scorer on the team.
Klassen also attributes his success this season to his playing style.
“I’m a full 200-foot player,” Klassen said. “As a centerman I think I can be strong in the defensive zone with a good stick, playing the body well, but also see the ice really well in the offensive zone and use my scoring touch around the net.”Building upon his growth and development this season, Klassen is looking for an improved performance at this year’s Winterhawks camp.
“I expect another solid camp performance from myself,” Klassen said. “Obviously, it’s going to be tough but as long as I’m working hard and giving it all I’ve got, I think I will do well.”
With confidence and resiliency driving his efforts at camp, Klassen has one goal in mind.
“If I make the team, I want to be an everyday player, helping the team out in any way I can,” Klassen said.
With his leadership skills both on-and-off the ice, grit and determination, we are confident Klassen will earn whatever he works for in the hockey world and in life.