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The Next Junior A Star | Hlinka Gretzky Cup Preview

The 2022 Hlinka Gretzky gets starts this Sunday in Red Deer, Alberta and while most of Team Canada’s talent reigns from the Canadian Hockey League, one player chose a different hockey path and is thriving. 

Matthew Wood, 17, plays for the Victoria Grizzlies in the British Columbia Hockey League and was a highly touted prospect heading into the Western Hockey League draft with most having him as a top ten pick. However, once Wood let his intentions of the NCAA known, he slipped to the Regina Pats in the second round. That same year, Regina drafted Connor Bedard with the first overall pick, Wood’s former roommate. That wasn’t enough to convince Wood to join the Saskatchewan-based junior team. Especially since he is committed to the University of Connecticut, once a player signs a CHL contract, their NCAA eligibility disappears. If Wood played even a pre-season game for Regina, he would lose his scholarship to Connecticut. 

He looks to have made the correct decision dominating as a rookie with the Grizzlies. In 46 games, Wood played at almost a goal per game pace scoring 45, with the next closest player getting 40 in 54 games. Additionally, he led the league with 85 points — the most by a 16-year-old since Kent Johnson in 2019, when he scored 101 points in 51 games. 

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NHL fans have become more accustomed to the other junior leagues in Canada, in thanks to Cale Makar. When Makar was drafted, people could not value him because he played for the Brooks Bandits in the AJHL, a team few had heard of before. Since Colorado took that chance in 2017, six players from the BCHL and the AJHL have been selected in the first round:

  • 2018: Jacob Bernard-Docker – Okotoks Oilers (Ottawa Senators)
  • 2019: Alex Newhook – Victoria Grizzlies (Colorado Avalanche) 
  • 2020: Dylan Holloway – Okotoks Oilers (Edmonton Oilers)
  • 2021: Kent Johnson – Trail Smoke Eaters (Columbus Blue Jackets)
  • 2021: Corson Ceulemans – Brooks Bandits (Columbus Blue Jackets)
  • 2022: Reid Schaefer – Spruce Grove Saints (Edmonton Oilers)

Wood is looking to become the next Junior A star to emerge in the NHL. The numbers he put up last season caught the attention of many, and now he is a lottery projected prospect. Standing at 6’3″, NHL teams will be drooling over Wood if he can put together another season as he did. 

The BCHL has had many players advance to the NHL, many of which were taken in the draft’s first round. The highest was Kyle Turris in 2007 when he went 3rd overall to the Phoenix Coyotes. Others have been Tyson Jost (10th overall, 2016, Colorado Avalanche), Riley Nash (21st overall, 2007, Edmonton Oilers) and Travis Zajac (20th overall, 2004, New Jersey Devils). While all are great in their own regard, few come close to Wood statistically after his sensational rookie season. Turris finished his 16-year-old season with the Burnaby Express scoring 72 points (36 goals, 36 assists) in 57 games. Alex Newhook is another that came close to hitting Wood’s 1.85 points-per-game with a 1.46 (45 games, 22 goals & 66 points). 

BCHL NHL 1st Round Picks 16-Year Old Stats

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Kyle Turris 3rd overall (2007) Phoenix Coyotes (Burnaby)

57 GP 32 G 72 PTS

Kent Johnson 5th overall (2021) Columbus Blue Jackets (Trail) 57 GP 20 G 46 PTS
Tyson Jost 10th overall (2016) Colorado Avalanche (Penticton) 46 GP 23 G 45 PTS
Alex Newhook 16th overall (2018) Colorado Avalanche (Victoria) 45 GP 22 G 66 PTS
Travis Zajac 20th overall (2004) New Jersey Devils (Salmon Arm) 59 GP 16 G 52 PTS
Kris Chucko 24th overall (2004) Calgary Flames (Salmon Arm) 59 GP 14 G 33 PTS
Jeff Tambellini 27th overall (2003) LA Kings (Chilliwack)

54 GP 21 G 51 PTS

*Beau Bennett & Riley Nash weren’t in the BCHL as 16-year-olds

Wood gets to showcase his talents on the world stage with Team Canada at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup in Red Deer. He wore the Maple Leaf once before at the U18 World Championship when he scored twice as an underage before Canada was eliminated. Wood, and Canada, will be hoping for a better outcome in Red Deer as they look to regain the Gold Medal for the first time since 2019. 

The Victoria forward scored twice in their warm-up games against the Team Canada World Junior summer camp roster, so he looks primed and ready to go. Wood isn’t the only top talent on show at this event, the 2005 draft class is special, and the talent level is high. Even without Connor Bedard, Canadian’s team is loaded with high-end prospects like Calum Ritchie (Oshawa Generals), Zach Benson (Winnipeg Ice) and Brayden Yager (Moose Jaw Warriors). Canada’s tournament gets underway on Sunday versus Switzerland.