By JAMES TUBB on December 23, 2023.
Medicine Hat Tigers fans have been rewarded with a crop of young talent that has more than shown up so far this season.
The Tigers have seven rookie skaters and two rookie net minders on the roster, with four of those players coming out of the 2021 draft class that followed Medicine Hat’s 11-win season.
Head coach Willie Desjardins says after Christmas is when young players find their step the most and he is excited about what he sees coming from his youngest group.
“(Gavin) McKenna’s an exceptional player but Hayden Harsanyi and Kadon McCann up front have been great,” Desjardins said. “Both guys have really improved, McCann’s way faster now and Harsanyi is starting to play. His and Oasis (Wiesblatt)’s line has been as good as we’ve had lately with Harsanyi being one of the keys. He’s tenacious on the (penalty kill), he works hard all the time.
“You look at the back end and Matt Paranych, he’s third on plus minuses on our team, that’s an unbelievable stat, unbelievable. Matty does a lot of good things.”
Paranych was the only member of that 2007-born rookie group who didn’t make his WHL debut last season. Looking at his first 28 games and five assists this season, he’s enjoyed it and says he’s ready for more.
“It’s definitely a grind but it’s fun, you gotta love the grind,” the young defenceman said. “The coaches have been great to us young guys. It is hard, you really have to take care of your body and be like professionals.”
Paranych is still searching for that first goal, often seen on the ice with his stick raised to the rafters looking for a pass at the point. As much as he’s looking forward to that take-home puck for the family mantle, Paranych says he’s only looking to build on his first half and keep getting stronger.
“I’m looking to maintain strength and speed and not get rundown and sick because that’s what can kill you, if the team gets sick and run down,” Paranych said. “Teams that are healthy just roll over you so you have to stay on top of your nutrition and your workouts and your mobility.”
Paranych’s four missed games have only been because of healthy scratches, with the Tigers carrying seven defenceman for a majority of the season before adding 16-year-old Jack Kachkowski as a surprise December signing. Paranych has had to split duties with Nate Corbet, as the 17-year-old is also looking to make an impact in his rookie season. Corbet has played games at forward while mostly on the blue line, doing whatever he can to get in the lineup.
“I feel like I’ve been developing many assets of my game, just getting a lot stronger and quicker,” Corbet said. “I can really feel that and it just breeds confidence and that’s a really good feeling. Not playing as much so I’m just trying to make the most of when I do play and just try to be steady-Eddie defenceman, when I’m in. Just keep building trust with the coaching staff and through my gameplay and through my work, I feel like I’ve been developing quite a bit, which is really exciting for the future.”
Finding a bigger role and more playing time is something McCann is also working toward after playing the first half in a fourth-line role. He’s tallied six goals and 12 points in his first 32 games, including a two-goal performance in a 7-2 win over the Lethbridge Hurricanes on Dec. 16.
McCann is grateful to be in the WHL full time and has enjoyed his role of getting pucks deep, playing hard on the forecheck and says he can’t complain about much when the team is winning like they are. He is looking to find that next step and start working toward more minutes and more responsibility as games get tougher.
“Obviously it’s hard because we have such a good group but I just want the coaches to believe in me,” McCann said. “I want to play a better defensive game, that’s huge for me so just watching more video and getting ready for the second half is huge. Just try to make that step and make a bigger role in this team.”