Bantam pick Onyebuchi spending week with Silvertips

EVERETT — One of the fascinating, yet maddening facts of the WHL bantam draft is that it is based almost entirely on potential.

Players are selected at age 14 or 15, but they are at least a year — and in many cases more than one — away from making a meaningful impact on the teams that select them.

Teams help expedite that developmental process for their young prospects by inviting them to training camp or to join the team for brief stretches during their 15-year-old seasons, and that is exactly what defenseman Montana Onyebuchi is experiencing this week in Everett.

“Every single time you can participate or witness what’s going on with the team — see a game live, practice in an environment like this, be in on some of the meetings — it speeds your development and is really helpful,” Silvertips head coach Kevin Constantine said. “Every one of those is going to make your ability to get into this league and be effective earlier than later. Every one is a growth experience.”

Onyebuchi was the Silvertips’ third-round bantam pick and the 63rd player taken overall in the 2015 bantam draft. The Manitoba native is spending this week practicing with the Tips for his first extended time with the organization since the end of training camp.

Onyebuchi is playing this season with the Eastman Selects of the Manitoba Midget AAA League. The Selects competed at the prestigious Mac’s Tournament last week in Calgary, and Onyebuchi met up with the Silvertips in Kamloops following the tournament to spend the week in Everett.

“The guys are great, the coaches are good. The practices are good and I’m having a good time,” Onyebuchi said. “The speed is a factor. It’s so much faster. There are bigger guys and the coaches expect more.”

At 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds Onyebuchi doesn’t look out of place in the slightest while skating with the Silvertips. Perhaps the only giveaway is the full cage enclosure attached to his helmet that guards his face.

The Silvertips remain enamored with Onyebuchi’s physical stature that complements his skill set.

“We saw a big body that skates pretty well and uses his size,” Constantine said. “We just don’t have a lot of that. We don’t have a lot of big-bodied players. I think you can play the game well with any size, but if you can do things skill-wise well, the bigger your body the better.”

Onyebuchi says he isn’t scared to use his size, and didn’t show any qualms about mixing it up along the boards with his older teammates during Tuesday’s ice session.

“I throw my body around a lot and that’s part of my game,” he said. “I’ve always been a bigger guy so I use that to my advantage.”

Onyebuchi has seven goals and nine assists in 28 games with Eastman prior to the Mac’s Tournament and he added a goal at the Calgary event. The Selects have a league record of 28-0-1-1 and their 58 points lead the league.

Fifteen-year-olds are eligible to play in up to five games with their WHL teams prior to their midget seasons ending.

There is precedent for the Silvertips playing 15-year-olds when the situation warrants it. Former Tip Janzten Leslie played in six games during the team’s Eastern Division swing as a 15-year-old last season and also appeared in six playoff games. Current Tips Noah Juulsen, Matt Fonteyne and Kevin Davis saw time on the ice as 15-year-olds three seasons ago.

However, due to Everett’s relatively healthy defensive corps, Constantine doesn’t expect Onyebuchi to play this weekend before he heads back to Manitoba. But Onyebuchi could potentially return later in the regular season or if the Tips make an extended playoff run.

“For only being 15 at this time I think what he does is pretty darn good,” Constantine said. “We have high hopes where he might end up with us over the course of time with us.”

For the latest Silvertips news follow Jesse Geleynse on Twitter @jessegeleynse.

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