Trail Smoke Eater forward Kale Howarth earned an invite to the NHL Combine after making the final NHL Scouting draft list.

Trail Smoke Eater forward Kale Howarth earned an invite to the NHL Combine after making the final NHL Scouting draft list.

Trail Smoke Eater forward off to NHL Combine

Trail Smoke Eater forward Kale Howarth will participate in the NHL Draft Combine in June after making the top draft prospects list.

Trail Smoke Eater forward Kale Howarth continues his breakout season.

The Red Deer native is preparing for the NHL Combine after being the lone British Columbia Hockey League player to crack the 2017 NHL Draft prospects rankings.

Howarth, a six-foot-four, 201-pound forward, is ranked 128th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting following a breakout season with the Smoke Eaters. The Red Deer native also received an invite to the NHL Combine where the top draft prospects undergo a rigorous four days of interviews, medical screenings, and fitness tests by all NHL teams.

“I’m feeling pretty good about it,” said Howarth, who returned home at the end of the Smokies season. “I’m trying not to look at it (the ranking) too much but it certainly is cool. I’m not sure why I’m the only one on the list, I didn’t really focus on playing for scouts, I just worked on playing my game … but it’s truly an honour to be recognized and the only player in the BCHL to be on the draft list.”

This season, Howarth more than doubled his points totals from the year before, scoring 30 goals and 59 points in 51 games to finish in the top-20 of BCHL scoring. Smokies coach and GM Cam Keith says the 18-year-old left winger re-focused his game at the beginning of the season, committed to getting better, and redefined his future goals.

“I think he realized his full potential this year,” said Keith, who played 10 years of pro hockey, before starting a coaching career with the ECHL’s Cincinnati Cyclones from 2014-16. “He changed his mindset this year where he wanted to make something of it, career wise, and not just finish his Junior A as a 20-year-old and be done.”

Howarth used his size to full advantage this year, played hard below the dots, and drove to the net. A new coach, his natural ability, and playing with 20-year-old forwards Luke Santerno and Josh Laframboise certainly helped his game, as all three players were in the top-10 in scoring halfway through the season.

“I owe a lot of it to Cam Keith, the coach, he kind of took me under his wing this year and showed me how I can be successful,” said Howarth. “He told me, ‘I’ll give you all the pointers to become successful, all I need you to do is work hard for me.’”

Howarth was tops among BCHL players on the NHL Central Scouting midterm list, and was invited along with fellow Smoke Eater, Ross Armour, to the World Jr. A Challenge camp in December. A month later Howarth played in the CJHL Top Prospects game in Cornwall, Ont., which saw 40 of the best draft-eligible players compete in a West versus East tilt.

Howarth turned heads at the Prospects Game, scoring twice including the game winner in a 4-3 West victory in front of 1,700 fans and over 150 NHL, NCAA, CIS, and CHL scouts.

But with success came greater exposure, higher expectations, and more attention from the Smoke Eaters opponents that made Howarth, Santerno, and Laframboise targets every game.

“After the prospects game, I had a really good game, and I heard there was a lot of teams watching me, and that there would be more there every single night, so at times it would effect me,” said Howarth. “I got a little caught up in it, but other than that it was just injuries affected our team.”

The Smokies limped down the stretch riddled with injuries, including Howarth who was out of the lineup or playing at 50 per cent. But Trail still managed to finish third in the tough BCHL Interior Division, and take out Salmon Arm in the first round playoff in spite of a shorthanded lineup.

“It was tough but it was a great year for our team,” said Howarth. “And I think with that experience we’ll come back next year better than ever.”

Howarth and the Smokies battled through adversity and although the bumps and bruises caught up to them against the Vernon Vipers, the season was a success for the Smoke Eaters and for Howarth.

“He (Howarth) had some times where things didn’t really go his way, had some ups-and-downs, just like everyone else,” said Keith. “But as far as the year goes – that character that he had and the potential that he had, it was an amazing thing to see for our staff and also I think the City of Trail.”

Howarth committed to Northern Michigan University early last season, but will play one more year with the Smoke Eaters. At Keith’s advice, Howarth also kicked up his training and nutrition regime, and looks to get bigger and better this summer, in addition to preparing and studying for University.

In the past few months, Howarth has had several phone interviews with NHL teams regarding the draft. Although an Edmonton Oilers fan, the keenest interest came from the New York Rangers, Nashville Predators, and the NHL’s newest addition, the Las Vegas Knights, but for the likeable and humble Smoke Eater, Howarth feels fortunate for the opportunity.

“Anywhere will be really cool,” said Howarth. “It’s the NHL, you can’t really complain … getting drafted is just a huge honour.”

In all, 217 North American players were listed by NHL Central Scouting in their Final Rankings for the 2017 NHL Draft. Center Nolan Patrick of the Brandon Wheat Kings in the Western Hockey League is No. 1 in the final rankings, followed by Nico Hischier of the Halifax Mooseheads at number two, and Casey Mittelstadt, a Minnesota high-school player from Eden Prairie, ranked No. 3.

The 2017 NHL Draft Combine goes in Buffalo May 28 to June 2, and the NHL Draft will be held at United Center in Chicago on June 23-24.