KAMLOOPS — Josh Pillar is next in line to make an impact for the Blazers, whether that's next season, the year following, or even Wednesday night when the 15-year-old makes his Western Hockey League debut against Spokane.
"Well obviously I've been anxious and nervous," he said. "But I'm just excited to get the first one out of the way. Just enjoy it and have fun."
Pillar was the Blazers' first pick, 14th overall, in the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft. The team has high hopes for him as he starts his junior hockey journey.
"We saw him at training camp. He skates well, thinks the game well, he's quick, and that's what we're going to ask him to do," said head coach Don Hay. "I don't think we're going to ask him to be anything that he's not. It's a good challenge for him to step in in this game against a real good opponent."
Pillar said he's not going to try anything that doesn't suit his game.
"Just try to play who I am, not try to do things I'm not good at it. Just play my style because that's what has got me here," he said.
He has an abundance of speed and skill, and he showed that in his first practice on Tuesday. Back home in Saskatchewan, Pillar has scored 20 goals and added 25 assists in 39 games in the midget AAA league.
"Yeah I guess it's been pretty good," Pillar noted. "I made a lot of friendships with the guys on the team, which obviously helps. With that just comes points."
Joe Gatenby, like any player, has been in this situation, playing in your first WHL game. His was in Game 7 of the 2013 playoffs as the Rockets were making their comeback from 3-0 down to Seattle.
"We drove overnight and we had another injury. They threw me in there and I had no idea if I was going to play at all," Gatenby remembered. "I ended up not playing a shift, but I sat on the bench and I was ready to go. That was my first experience in Game 7, playoff game. They end up winning that in overtime, but I guess the game was just so close, they weren't comfortable putting a 15-year-old D-man out there."
Hay is going to play Pillar shift by shift to see how he does. Pillar is a natural centreman but may play on the wing against the Chiefs.
"It's easier to put him on the wing," said Hay. "I might put him at centre with a centreman with him and put the centreman on the wing. I want to make sure he's given the opportunity ot showcase himself and to step in and play well. But these points are also important, too. We don't want to put him in a situation he won't be able to handle, so as the game goes on we'll find out and make changes as we go."
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