Top pick key to future defence

Defenceman  Jesse Lees from Calgary was the Rockets’ first pick in the 2010 WHL bantam draft. - Doug Farrow/Contributor
Defenceman Jesse Lees from Calgary was the Rockets’ first pick in the 2010 WHL bantam draft.
— image credit: Doug Farrow/Contributor

The Kelowna Rockets have shown something of a knack for picking quality defencemen in the first round of the Western Hockey League’s bantam draft.

Look no further than Luke Schenn, Tyler Myers and Tyson Barrie as hard evidence.

As the club’s top choice in 2010, Calgary blue liner Jesse Lees would like nothing more than to uphold the trend.

“There are a lot of expectations being the team’s No. 1 pick, but it’s a situation I’m excited and happy to be in,” said Lees, the club’s ninth overall choice who played last season with the Calgary Northstar AAA bantams.

“It’s so motivating to see the great players, all the defencemen that have come through here and have gone on to have good careers. Maybe one day I can be one of those guys. I’m happy Kelowna’s the place I ended up going.”

As luck—or perhaps fate—would have it, Lees counts two other former Rocket defencemen among his favourite NHL players: Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith and Nashville Predators captain Shea Weber.

And while the team is hesitant to place such lofty expectations on the shoulders of a 14-year-old, the Rockets like a whole lot of what they see in the skilled 6-foot, 168 pound rearguard.

“From what we’ve seen so far (at rookie camp) I think he’s everything we thought he’d be and maybe a little bit more,” said Rockets player personnel director Lorne Frey.

“He’s got excellent skill, he skates very, very well, he’s mobile, he’s smart. He’s the full package for the most part. We couldn’t be more pleased in the way he’s performed, early in camp anyways.”

With a strict workout regime over the summer, Lees came to Rockets camp in what he described as “the best shape of his life.”

And while Lees doesn’t feel overwhelmed or pressured by the expectations, he does want to make sure his association with his new club gets off on the right foot.

“Right now I’m just taking it slowly, trying to take everything in, and learn what they’re all about here,” he said.

“I know the league, I’ve been a season-ticket holder of the Calgary Hitmen for years, and playing in the WHL is something I’ve always wanted to do. When the Rockets picked me, I couldn’t have gone to a much better place. I’m looking forward to being here.”

The Rockets will keep Lees on for at least a day or two of main camp next week before sending him back to Calgary as he makes the move up to the midget AAA level.

Later this season, the Rockets plan to get Lees into the maximum five games allowed for a 1995-born player.

Rocket Shots…Rockets rookie camp concludes Sunday at the Capital News Centre…The club’s main camp, with about 70 players split into four teams, will begin Tuesday with four on-ice sessions at CNC…The Rockets will meet the Vancouver Giants next weekend in a home-and-home exhibition set—Friday in Ladner, and Saturday, 7 p.m. at Prospera Place.

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