In his nearly three decades with the Kelowna Rockets’ organization, Lorne Frey has seen his share of high-end 16-year-old prospects come and go.
A scant few have come to the Western Hockey League club with as much potential and promise as defenceman Kaeden Korczak.
If the future unfolds as Frey believes it will, the club’s 2016 first-round draft pick from Yorkton, SK., will be a stabilizing force on the Rockets’ blueline for years to come.
“He’s been very good, everything we expected him to be,” said Frey, the Rockets’ director of player personnel and assistant GM. “We saw it last year, how good he was as a 15-year-old and he’s continued to improve. He’s very good in all areas of the game, and we were just very fortunate to get him in the draft.
“He’s likely going to be a cornerstone on our back end for hopefully the next three to four years.”
To be talked about with the same acclaim as some of the best rearguards ever to wear a Rockets’ uniform could easily be an overwhelming concept for a player whose WHL career has barely begun.
But Korczak is doing his best to take it all in stride.
“There are some expectations of me, I know they’re high but the coaches are doing a real good job of prepping us and getting the young guys ready for it,” said Korczak, the Rockets first choice, 11th overall in last year’s draft. “I know what I need to do, so if I just play my game and stick to that, I should be fine out here.”
Korczak got his feet wet in major junior hockey last season, playing in four regular season games with the Rockets and five more in the playoffs.
It was just the exposure the 6-foot-2, 175-pound defenceman needed to jump-start what the Rockets envision will be a long and prosperous career in the WHL.
“It was huge for me playing in playoffs and regular season last year, getting a good idea of what it takes to play against guys at this level,” said Korczak, who had 11 goals and 29 points last season with the Yorkton midget AAA Maulers. “I came back this year knowing the guys, it’s nice to see them again and be part of this.
“I’m super lucky to come here and I know the (Rockets) will do everything they can to push me to the next level as a player.”
And the Rockets are looking forward to watching Korczak’s progress every step of the way.
“He’ll be a top-six guy this year and play lots of minutes in all situations,” said Frey. “He’s an exceptional individual and an exceptional player, we’re fortunate to get him.
“He’s a great skater, he moves the puck well, he’s smart, he competes and has great offensive ability. He’s developed into something special.”
Korczak and his Rockets teammates will open their exhibition schedule Saturday night at home to the Victoria Royals. Face off at Prospera Place is 7 p.m.