Just one weekend of the WHL season had passed when the Medicine Hat Tigers had a big present drop into their laps.
High-end defenseman Tommy Vannelli decided college life wasn’t for him, and the Tigers were the big beneficiaries.
Vannelli, an 18-year-old from Minnetonka, Minn., is a top prospect. The highly-regarded puck mover was selected in the second round of this year’s NHL draft by the St. Louis Blues, and he had already begun his freshman year at the University of Minnesota.
But less than three weeks before the college hockey season began, Vannelli left the Gophers.
“After a few weeks of trying to balance academics and athletics, Tommy made the decision this morning that college hockey was not the best route for him at this time,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said in a statement released Sept. 17.
Vannelli’s WHL rights were held by Medicine Hat, and after exploring his options Vannelli decided to join the Tigers last week.
“I didn’t like where I was at,” Vannelli told the Medicine Hat News. “It was nothing personal. I just didn’t like the situation I was in.
“I looked into Medicine Hat,” Vannelli added. “They have a great coaching staff and a great team. It was just the perfect opportunity for me.”
Medicine Hat was already regarded as one of the contenders in the Eastern Conference. Now the Tigers have added a potentially elite offensive defenseman to the mix.
“We feel fortunate, Medicine Hat general manager and head coach Shaun Clouston told the Medicine Hat News. “I think everybody involved knows there is going to be some work.
“It doesn’t just happen,” Clouston added. “This player has a lot of tools and is a very skilled player. Now it is up to us to work together to develop that.”
Around the WHL
Vancouver received a boost when 20-year-old defenseman Dalton Thrower, who was a legitimate candidate to earn a professional contract and play in the minors this season, was returned to the team by the NHL’s Montreal Canadians. … Three WHL players signed NHL entry-level contracts. Medicine Hat overage forward Jacob Doty earned a free-agent contract with the St. Louis Blues and is expected to play in the minors this season. Two first-round picks from this year’s NHL draft who signed, Brandon defenseman Ryan Pulock (New York Islanders) and Seattle defenseman Shea Theodore (Anaheim), are expected back in the WHL this season. … There were a handful of minor deals. Kootenay acquired 18-year-old and former Everett Silvertips forward Ryan Chynoweth from Tri-City in exchange for a fifth-round pick in either the 2014 or 2015 bantam draft, reuniting Ice general manager Jeff Chynoweth with his son. Red Deer acquired 18-year-old defenseman Kolton Dixon from Victoria for a conditional bantam draft pick. Victoria turned around and traded for 17-year-old defenseman Jake Kolhauser from Vancouver for a conditional draft pick. Saskatoon picked up 18-year-old forward Austin Calladine from Calgary for a conditional eighth rounder in 2015. … Portland Winterhawks 17-year-old forward Keegan Iverson had a goal and an assist and was named the Player of the Game as Team Mark Johnson beat Team Joe Mullen 5-2 at the All-American Top Prospects Game in Pittsburgh. … Spokane’s Mitch Holmberg was named the WHL Player of the Week. The 20-year-old forward had five goals and five assists as the Chiefs went 3-0.
Points — Mitch Holmberg (Spokane) 14; goals — Holmberg 8; assists — Mike Aviani (Spokane), Sam Reinhart (Kootenay), Eric Roy (Brandon) 7; penalty minutes — Tye Hand (Regina) 25; wins — Cole Cheveldave (Prince Albert) 4; goals against average — four tied at 1.00; save percentage — Wyatt Hoflin (Kootenay) .970.