BCHL Next Generation: Penticton Vees

All summer we’ll be going team-by-team to profile new players coming in for the 2020-21 season with recaps of offseason commits and acquisitions. We will also have interviews and scouting reports from the coaches.

Next up is the Penticton Vees.

Last season, the Penticton Vees were crowned Interior Division regular-season champions for the ninth year in a row. It was just one of a long run of successful seasons for the franchise that has won three Fred Page Cup championships and an RBC Cup national championship during that stretch.

Most teams in junior hockey will try build up to one or two dominant seasons and then have a down year or two due to the amount of changeover that happens in junior. That hasn’t been the case for the Vees and that’s something that the team’s president, head coach and general manager Fred Harbinson sees as one of the franchise’s biggest accomplishments during his time there.

“People ask me what we’re most proud of here and it’s probably consistency,” he said. “We treat our players with a lot of respect. We have the infrastructure here to really work on the development side. Our coaching staff, to me, we create a lot of traction. I’ve been here 13 years and we’ve had different turnover with assistants, but it’s never year after year. I have assistants that last quite a few years with me, so there’s a lot of continuity in our staff and how we build things.”

A common thing in Penticton over the last decade has been the recruitment of sons of former NHL players, especially high-profile ones. Last year alone, the Vees roster had Doug Weight’s son Danny, Scott Niedermayer’s son Jackson, Tony Amonte’s son Tristan, Mike Sillinger’s son Lukas and Stu Barnes’ son Jack. This year will be no different with Amonte coming back and the number of Niedermayers will double with the return of Jackson and the addition of his brother Joshua.

These players have performed well for the Vees and increased the awareness of the team based on name recognition, but, according to Harbinson, this wasn’t done intentionally, at least at first.

“We didn’t set out with the mindset that we should do that,” he said. “It just kind of started morphing into that. I’ve always said that the best recruiters are the players and families that play for you. The NHL fraternity is pretty tight, so when a Sillinger comes through, then Mike Sillinger, who played for 12 different teams in the NHL and played with a bunch of different guys, he mentions that his son had a great time playing in Penticton and developed and moved on to the next level. That word gets around.”

“Another positive is that the kids are in a household that’s been around the game since the time they were born. They kind of already understand what it means to be a professional and what it’s going to take to try to get to the next level.”

New recruits:

Ryan McGuire (2002, F)

  • Hometown: New Canaan, Conn.
  • Previous team: Belmont Hill School (USHS-Prep)
  • College commitment: Colgate University (2021-22)

McGuire led Belmont Hill in both goals, with 22, and points, with 38, in 30 games. He’s ranked 105th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting for the 2020 draft. He’s the son of former NHL and NCAA coach and current NBC analyst Pierre McGuire.

Harbinson’s scouting report:

“Ryan is a very steady two-way centreman. He’s a great character kid. In the short time that I’ve dealt with him, I’ve seen that he’s a very mature kid. You always want to try to build through the middle of the ice and I think our centreman are going to be a real asset to our team this year.”

Devlin O’Brien (2002, F)

  • Hometown: Toronto, Ont.
  • Previous team: St. Andrew’s College (CAHS)
  • College commitment: Merrimack College (2021-22)

O’Brien was a top performer for a St. Andrew’s team that produced plenty of offence. He tallied 85 points in 68 games for the team in 2019-20.

Harbinson’s scouting report:

“Devlin scored a lot of goals for a great program in St. Andrew’s College. They’ve had a lot of great players go through that program over the last few years and he’s going to be another one. He’s a good winger who can score goals and is very hard on the puck.”

Jacob Quillan (2002, F)

  • Hometown: Dartmouth, N.S.
  • Previous team: Salisbury School (USHS-Prep)
  • College commitment: Quinnipiac University (2021-22)

The 18-year-old played two seasons for Salisbury and put up a combined 70 points in 58 games over his two years there. He had his best output in 2019-20 when he finished second in team scoring with 37 points in 28 games.

Harbinson’s scouting report:

“Jacob is another centreman coming from prep school. He’s very quick and tenacious. He plays the game a little bit like Travis St. Denis who played here for me in 2012 and Jacob is going to Quinnipiac just like Travis did. We’re expecting big things out of him.”

Frank Djurasevic (2002, D)

  • Hometown: New Rochelle, N.Y.
  • Previous team: Trinity-Pawling School (USHS-Prep)

The 18-year-old played one season at Trinity-Pawling and led all blueliners in scoring on his team with 20 points in 21 games.

Harbinson’s scouting report:

“Frank is a dual citizen – American and Canadian. He’s a big, strong defenceman and a very good character kid. I think he’s a defenceman that’s going to really utilize his time in junior hockey to sort of refine his skill-set. We think that he can be a guy that can add size and strength to our back end.”

Stefano Bottini (2002, F)

  • Hometown: Lugano, Switzerland
  • Previous team: Lugano U20 (U20 Elit)

Bottini has spent his hockey career in Switzerland up until joining the Vees for the coming season. He has represented his country internationally several times and was invited to Switzerland’s camp for the upcoming World Junior Hockey Championships. The dual Swiss-Canadian citizen was Lugano’s second-leading scorer in 2019-20 with 40 points.

Harbinson’s scouting report:

“He played in a league that is very comparable to ours. As a 17-year-old last year, he put up some very good numbers. He’s a strong kid. He’s one of those guys that we never got a chance to watch in person, but watched a lot of video on him. We think he’s going to be a player that’s going to be a great addition to our team. He can do a little bit of everything. He’s got some good strength. He can play on both ends of the rink.”

Quinn Hutson (2002, F)

  • Hometown: Chicago, Ill.
  • Previous team: North Jersey Avalanche 18U (AYHL 18U)
  • College commitment: Boston University (2021-22)

Hutson was an offensive force for North Jersey last year, leading the team in scoring with 59 points in 32 games.

Harbinson’s scouting report:

“Quinn is a goal-scorer. He’s scored at every level he’s been at. He actually came out here last year and skated with us for a week. His dad also played for Bellingham in the BCHL back in the day. This kid here has a great shot and will have a good opportunity to score goals in our league.”

Jason Marsella (2002, D)

  • Hometown: Greenwhich, Conn.
  • Previous team: Avon Old Farms School (USHS-Prep)
  • College commitment: Yale University (2021-22)

The 17-year-old finished one point back of the team lead in defenceman scoring at Avon Old Farms with 16 in 23 games. Marsella also spent time with the North Jersey Avalanche last year.

Harbinson’s scouting report:

“He’s a very shifty defenceman. He’s a kid that skates well. He’s another one that came out for about a week last year and skated with us. He’s someone that we think will have the opportunity to be a power-play type defenceman down the road.”

Joshua Niedermayer (2004, D)

  • Hometown: Newport Beach, Calif.
  • Previous team: Okanagan Hockey Academy Red Prep (CSSHL)

The son of NHL Hall of Famer Scott Niedermayer and the brother of current Vees forward Jackson Niedermayer, Joshua played the last two years at Okanagan Academy. He totaled 20 points in 36 games last year and also dressed for three contests as an affiliate for the Vees.

Harbinson’s scouting report:

“He’s an ox. I’ve had a couple 16-year-olds that don’t look like 16-year-olds in my time here and he’s going to be one of those. He played a handful of affiliate games for us last year and got better every game. The actual physical strength of this kid at his age is off the charts. He has a very high ceiling.”

Acquired via trade:

Luc Wilson (2001, F)

  • Hometown: Duncan, B.C.
  • Previous team: Cowichan Valley Capitals
  • College commitment: Minnesota State University (2021-22)

Wilson had a breakout year last season with his hometown Capitals, leading the team in scoring with 53 points in 55 regular-season games. He also got an invite to play for Team West at the CJHL Prospects Game in January.

Harbinson’s scouting report:

“Luc is proven to be a guy that can produce in this league. He was one of the higher scorers in the league last year and we think he has a chance to score again with us. We’re going to give him every opportunity to play at the top of our lineup. He’s got a great shot. He’s a guy that’s learning to play with quicker pace and continuing to get better every year.”

Finlay Williams (2003, F)

  • Hometown: North Vancouver, B.C.
  • Previous team: Prince George Spruce Kings
  • College commitment: University of Michigan (2021-22)

Williams burst onto the scene in the BCHL during Prince George’s 2019 Fred Page Cup run when he scored a big goal for the team in the championship series as a 15-year-old. In his first full season in the league last year, he put up 31 points in 40 games.

Harbinson’s scouting report:

“Fin is another two-way centreman. He should be an NHL draft pick the following year. He’s one of the most mature players in our league, off the ice and on the ice. It says a lot that he wore a letter last year in Prince George as a 16-year-old. We met with him and his father last week after the deal was done and it was really impressive being around him. He’ll be a leader on our hockey club as well.”

Ben Wozney (2001, D)

  • Hometown: Richmond, B.C.
  • Previous team: Powell River Kings
  • College commitment: Bowling Green State University (2021-22)

Wozney took on an expanded role last season in Powell River which saw his offensive numbers surge. He finished the year with 26 points in 58 games, second most among Powell River defencemen.

Harbinson’s scouting report:

“Ben has a long stick and a long reach. He’s got a great wingspan for a defenceman and he has offensive talent as well. He did a great job on Powell River’s power play last year. We’re expecting big things from him playing on our top unit this year.”

Kaeden Freer-Lane (2001, G)

  • Hometown: Burnaby, B.C.
  • Previous team: Grande Prairie Storm (AJHL)

Freer-Lane saw a heavy workload the last two seasons with Grande Prairie with 74 games played over that stretch. His best year came in 2018-19 when he went 22-17-3 with two shutouts.

Harbinson’s scouting report:

“He gives us a lot of stability in net with Yaniv Perets back. Freer-Lane has already played two years of junior hockey. He’s a B.C. kid and grew up playing at the Burnaby Winter Club. To have that kind of tandem and experience in net, we’re very fortunate.”

Ryan Upson (2001, F)

  • Hometown: West Vancouver, B.C.
  • Previous team: West Kelowna Warriors

Upson had 12 points in 54 games last year in his rookie season in West Kelowna.

Harbinson’s scouting report:

“Ryan is a veteran player who played against us in our division last year. He is a very hard-working player and a kid that I think will be able to grow in our program.”

Photo credits: Dan Hickling/Hickling Images (McGuire, O’Brien, Quillan, Djurasevic, Hutson, Marsella), Garrett James Photography (Wilson, Williams, Wozney, Upson)