The WHL holds an immense amount of young talent, skill, and determination, and much of that can be found on the Moose Jaw Warriors roster. The rookies of the 2021-22 season did not disappoint, recording memorable numbers and showcasing immense talent on the ice. Here’s an in-depth look at each rookie’s performance this past season.

FORWARDS

Brayden Yager (2005)

Brayden Yager’s name is one of the most talked about in the WHL this year. Winning both WHL and CHL Rookie of the Year, Yager has made quite the impression during his rookie season and is bound to be one of the most talented and entertaining players on the Moose Jaw roster in the coming years.

He played with the Saskatoon Contacts U18 AAA before joining the Warriors, posting a total of 53 points in 40 games played with the team. Bringing this momentum with him over to the Warriors, he scored his first WHL goal on March 16, 2021, after coming in to help the Warriors in the second half of the 2020-2021 season. His first hat-trick came on the very first game of his first full regular season.

He continued on to score 59 points (34G-25A) in 63 games played and ended the season with such an incredible performance that WHL (and CHL) fans across the league were dazzled. Yager holds so much potential and skill, and many are excited to see what he can do in the upcoming years.

Thomas Tien (2004)

Described as “a player with lots of speed, skill, and character” by Warriors General Manager Jason Ripplinger, Thomas Tien brings a lot to the team. His class on and off the ice has been complimented by many, and he displays a lot of potential for the upcoming years.

The season before last, he was nominated for the Elite 15 Most Valuable Player Award after posting 77 points in 34 games with St. George’s (CSSHL) Elite 15’s. In the skater statistics that year, he was the top scorer; the 77 points remain his highest in his career and are an excellent example of his skill on the ice.

Tien was selected 236th overall by the Warriors in 2019 and made his WHL debut on October 8, 2021, and his first goal came on November 14, 2021.

Although his numbers weren’t the highest this season, many Warriors staff and fans are very confident in Tien’s skill and potential. Ripplinger continued to praise him, saying, “He is a determined and competitive player that we want to build our team and culture around.” Previous General Manager Alan Millar also commented on Tien: “Thomas is a very hardworking, competitive player who combines a good skill set with a strong will and determination in his game and in his development.” 

Born June 25, 2004, Tien is eligible to be called in the upcoming 2022 NHL Draft. Many who follow the WHL, including myself, hope an NHL team will see Tien’s immense skill and potential and call his name. 

Nathan Pilling (2004)

Nathan Pilling was one of the most anticipated players to join the Warriors, and rightly so. He came off an incredible career before entering the WHL and continued to showcase a strong character and work ethic in his transition to junior hockey. 

In the Alberta Minor Midget Hockey League, Pilling played for the Northwest Calgary Athletic Association (NWCAA) Bruins U16 AAA. With 49 points in 37 games, he led the league in both goals (24) and assists (25) and continued to improve his form and style. 

His career with the Warriors started with a bang, scoring two goals in the preseason. He netted his first regular-season goal on December 17, 2021, and continued to notch a total of five goals and nine assists before the 2022 WHL playoffs in April.

Born June 22, 2004, Pilling is draft-eligible this year. Although he may not be ranked, many will be listening for his name.

Tate Shofer (2004)

Eighteen-year-old Tate Shofer didn’t disappoint in his WHL debut, making a physical presence felt and showcasing an impressive skillset. Listed by the Warriors in November of 2020, he signed with the team in September 2021. 

From Regina, Saskatchewan, he played for the Regina Pat Canadians in the Saskatchewan U18 AAA Hockey League and had 6 points in seven games. In the 2018-2019 season, he had a remarkable 36 points in 31 games with the Regina Pat Blues of the SAAHL U15 level, and in 2019-2020, he played with the CSSHL’s Prairie Hockey Academy U16 Prep team, posting 28 points in 34 games played.

Schofer put in a lot of hard work during his rookie season. “You can tell he’s going to be an agitator,” Ripplinger commented during the preseason, and he was just that. He joined right after the Warriors’ 2021 training camp concluded and scored his first goal on January 1, 2022, the perfect way to start the new year.

Schofer is eligible for the upcoming NHL draft.

Martin Ryšavý (2003)

Martin Ryšavý came to the Warriors after an impressive start to his career in the Czech Republic. With a 2.4 goal-a-game average, he was the best player for the 2019-20 Czech U17 Extraliga and ranked 12th among players with the highest total points. Before playing for the Warriors, he represented his country on the international level five different times, from 2018 to 2020, recording 30 points in 45 total games played. 

Ryšavý was drafted sixth overall by the Warriors in the 2020 CHL Import Draft, and, the summer before his rookie season, he was drafted 197th overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2021 NHL draft. In the EliteProspects 2021 NHL Draft Guide, he was described as “physical, hard to knock off of the puck, and plays a responsible two-way game that every coach can appreciate.” He posted 26 points in 45 games for the Warriors, displaying excellent hand-eye coordination and consistent strength that helped lead the team to the 2022 WHL Playoffs.

He scored his first two WHL goals on October 15, 2021, both in the same game. 

Due to an unfortunate injury, Ryšavý missed all the games in February but returned on March 11. Two games later, on March 15, he scored once and aided with two assists in a 7-1 win over the Brandon Wheat Kings. 

Ryšavý is a talented forward, and thankfully for the Warriors, he’ll be sticking around. Eyes will be on him in his second WHL season, and he’ll no doubt continue to impress.

Róbert Bačo (2003)

The second import player, drafted 50th overall in the 2021 import draft, had an impressive first year with the Moose Jaw Warriors. Nineteen-year-old Róbert Bačo had 28 points in 63 games played, and the most penalty minutes out of all the rookies with 98. 

Before his rookie season, Bačo played in the Czech Republic with Karlovy Vary U20. He played in six international games with Slovakia, registering four points (two goals and two assists). 

At 210 pounds and 6’3, Bačo is one of the bigger guys on the team, and he knows how to use his size effectively. He’s strong, an enforcer, and is known for his fights.

He scored his first WHL goal on October 1, 2021, and recorded his first hat trick on January 14, 2022. 

Bačo did well during his rookie season, already establishing a solid place for himself on the team. Born in 2003, he’s in his second year of NHL draft eligibility, and while he may not be ranked, I, for one, will be listening for his name! 

DEFENSEMEN

Marek Howell (2006)

At sixteen, Marek Howell was the youngest on the team during the 2021-22 season. He was the Warriors’ first pick in the 2021 Bantam Draft, 16th overall, and wasn’t signed with the team until December 22, 2021. He notched an assist in his first WHL game on January 1, 2022, and his first goal on February 5. He was only called up for a few games this season, but is expected to make a strong impact in the coming seasons for the Warriors.

Before playing in the WHL, he played for the Calgary Royals U15 AAA, and during the 2021-22 season, he played with the Calgary Royals U18 AAA as well as the Warriors, recording 14 points in 33 games played. 

Although Howell has yet to play a full season with the Warriors, his name is one that will be seen and heard a lot in the upcoming years. 

Cosmo Wilson (2005)

Cosmo Wilson was only introduced to the Warriors roster in April, just in time for the WHL playoffs. Although he has yet to score a goal in the WHL, Warriors staff have commented that his performance was above expectations. “He really understands the game,” Warriors head coach Mark O’Leary said. “He certainly has the coaches excited about his potential.”

During the 2021-2022 season, Wilson was an alternate captain for the Okanagan Rockets U18 AAA and played for the Vernon Vipers of the BCHL. 

Matthew Gallant (2004)

It’s always exciting to see an offensive defenceman, especially in a rookie season. Matthew Gallant has already established himself as a defenceman with an eye for the goal, scoring his first WHL goal in his third game with the Warriors on October 8, 2021. 

Hockey runs in his family, and his father, Kevin Gallant, was the play-by-play announcer for the Regina Pats from 1980 to 1988. Ironically, Matthew Gallant’s first goal was against the Regina Pats. 

Before joining the Warriors roster, he played for the Delta Hockey Academy and West Van Academy Prep, both part of the CSSHL U18. At 5’10 and 163 pounds, he’s an impressive defender but is known for a strong shot and his ability to find the back of the net. 

Gallant is eligible for the upcoming 2022 NHL draft. Even though he may not be ranked this year, it’s quite possible his name will be called.

GOALIES

Jackson Unger (2005)

The only goaltender on the roster of rookies, Jackson Unger, made a name for himself in his first season. He was Carl Tetachuk’s back-up for the 2021-2022 season and made a few starts that year. 

His first WHL career start was on November 19, 2021, and he made 22 saves out of 25 shots. He earned his first shutout on only his third WHL game, December 3, 2021, making an incredible 30 saves against the Red Deer Rebels. He had his first WHL playoffs start on May 10, 2022, and had an astounding performance, saving 38 out of 40 shots.

Before playing in the WHL, he played for Edge School U18 prep of the CSSHL U18 and the Calgary Bisons U15 AAA of the AMBHL. In 2019, he had two shutouts, a 2.47 GAA, and a .927 save percentage with the Bisons. When the 2021-22 WHL season came to a close, Unger finished with a 3.60 GAA and a .891 SV% in 18 games played.

The Moose Jaw Warriors are lucky to have so many incredible players on their roster. All the rookies hold an amazing amount of potential and will undoubtedly continue to impress throughout the next few years.

By Gabriel Neumann

WHL enthusiast and goalie aficionado, Gabriel covers the Moose Jaw Warriors, Prince George Cougars, and Kamloops Blazers for Area 51 Sports Network. Hockey and writing are what keep him going. Twitter: @gneumnn

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