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Players from Island teams skate into NHL prospects camps

Blue-liner Eli Barnett had three goals and 10 assists in 53 games for the Grizzlies last season. BCHL

Cleve Dheensaw

Hockey hopefuls are this week looking to turn initial impressions into lasting impressions.

More than 150 current or former Western Hockey League players, including three from the Victoria Royals and ­goaltender Dylan Garand of Langford and forward Parker Bell of Campbell River, are in NHL prospects camps this week. As are 72 current or former B.C. Hockey League players, including just-drafted San Jose Sharks prospect Eli Barnett of the ­Victoria Grizzlies.

Barnett was plucked in the seventh round last Friday by the Sharks. It’s been a whirlwind few days for the six-foot-six blue-liner as he quickly packed in the Maritimes for the sudden trip to the Sharks camp in California: “I was in disbelief [about being drafted]. This has been a childhood dream of mine.”

But he realizes the process is just beginning.

“I’ve got to put in a lot of work,” said the 18-year-old, who is committed after the Grizzlies to the University of Vermont Catamounts in NCAA Div. 1 for 2023-24.

It’s an evolutionary thing through the stages of a career.

“I will need to be a leader in the room next season for ­Victoria,” said Barnett, about his new status, when he returns to The Q Centre.

Other BCHL players earning NHL camp invites include graduating goaltenders Cooper Black out of the Nanaimo Clippers, with the Calgary Flames, and Hobie Hedquist out of the Alberni Valley Bulldogs, with the Minnesota Wild. Former Grizzlies forwards Alex Campbell and Riley Hughes are in the respective Nashville Predators and New York Rangers prospects camps. Former Clippers Maxwell Crozier and David Silye are in in the Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals camps, respectively.

Former Royals forwards Brayden Tracey and Tarun Fizer are skating in the Anaheim Ducks and Colorado Avalanche camps, respectively, and current Royals forward Brayden Schuurman in the Edmonton Oilers camp. Schuurman’s freefall drop out of the draft, after being rated the 58th North American skater in the mid-term rankings, had an upside. Instead of only one NHL team that has his rights, his agent had 32 to approach. It didn’t take long. The Oilers, seeing potential in the winger selected to the Canadian team for the 2022 world U-18 championship in Germany this spring, texted Schuurman’s agent five minutes after the draft ended and extended to the Abbotsford product an immediate free-agent invite.

Current Royals defenceman and captain Gannon Laroque, signed by San Jose, would have been in Sharks camp this week but is nursing an injury. Garand is a signed goaltender with the Rangers. Former hometown Campbell River Storm VIJHL player Bell, a six-foot-four forward who plays a pro-style game with the Tri-City Americans of the WHL, was drafted in the fifth round last week by the Flames. Bell is headed back to junior with Tri-City in the fall. Garand has graduated from the Kamloops Blazers, although he has one final bit of business remaining in junior, when he will handle the crease duties for Canada in the delayed 2022 world championship next month in Edmonton. But this week is all about the Ranger prospects camp.

“I know it could be two or three years in the AHL, after which I would hope to make the full-time jump to the NHL,” said Garand, a graduate of the Juan de Fuca Minor Hockey Association.

Thirty NHL teams are hosting prospects camps. The New York Islanders and Winnipeg Jets are the only two clubs not.