After contemplating several scholarship offers from American universities, Mitchell Wheaton settled on Canada’s major junior game as the best option for his hockey future.
The 6-foot-5, 225-pound blue liner this week committed to the Kelowna Rockets for the new Western Hockey League season.
Wheaton, a native of Sherwood Park, Alta., joined the Rockets for practise on Wednesday and will be available for the club’s final two exhibition games this weekend.
By deciding to play in the Canadian Hockey League, Wheaton waives any future eligibility for the NCAA.
Still, it’s a choice the 17-year-old rearguard had no second thoughts about making.
Among his many reasons for choosing Kelowna is the Rockets’ penchant for producing some of the games’ top young defencemen.
“I had some interest from a few schools but my family and I discussed it and we thought the best thing for me was going to play in Kelowna,” said Wheaton. “It was the organization they have and the history they have of past young defencemen. They have amazing coaches and I just think that’s my best chance of playing professional hockey one day.”
Wheaton attended Kelowna’s main training earlier this month, then returned to the Spruce Grove Saints of the AJHL before making a final decision.
“We’re thrilled that he has chosen Kelowna as the place he wants to play,” said Rockets president and GM Bruce Hamilton. “He was excellent in training camp and we’re looking forward to having him join us.”
Wheaton, the Rockets’ 10th round pick, 207th overall in the 2010 bantam draft, is yet another promising defensive prospect that assistant coach Dan Lambert is excited have a chance to watch grow and develop.
“Mitchell’s a big kid that can play very physical, and he’s a big guy that thinks the game very well,” said Lambert. “He makes a good first pass and anticipates the game as well as anyone. We certainly see him as a guy who will fit right in.”
Wheaton’s return gives the Rockets 10 defenceman on the roster, including injured 20-year-old veteran Mitchell Chapman.
The Rockets will visit the Spokane Chiefs Thursday, then will return home to host Tri-City on Saturday to close out the exhibition season.
Kelowna’s regular season opener is Friday, Sept. 21 in Kamloops.