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With a long history of high quality defencemen, Kelowna Rockets 2010 draft pick Mitchell Wheaton has decided he wants to get in line and join the next crop of blueliners the Rockets are producing.
After a year with the Spruce Grove Saints in the Alberta Junior Hockey League, and with a few American universities courting his services, the 6-foot-5 Wheaton decided Kelowna and the Western Hockey League were the best fit for him. He's committed to the Rockets and will arrive back in Kelowna in time to practice on Wednesday.
The 17-year-old defenceman was drafted in the same bantam draft as current Rockets' blueliners Madison Bowey and Jesse Lees and talked about the history of the Rockets blueline with the likes of Shea Weber and Josh Gorges as one of the reasons for his decision.
"I had some interest from a few schools and my family and I discussed it and we thought the best thing for me was going to play in Kelowna," said Wheaton, from his home in Sherwood Park, Alberta. "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."
Rockets president and general manager Bruce Hamilton said Wheaton was impressive at training camp this year and welcomed him into the fold.
"We're thrilled that he has chosen Kelowna as the place he wants to play," said Hamilton. "He was excellent in training camp and we're looking forward to having him join us."
The 6-foot-5 225 pound D-man played 45 games with Spruce Grove as a 16-year-old rookie, scoring seven goals and adding seven helpers while picking up 62 penalty minutes. During the season, he found more and more minutes as the year wore on and his team played all the way to the AJHL division final.
"I started the year out not playing much but then we had some injuries and I stepped in and ended up getting some good minutes and I thought I ended the year really strong," he said, noting that he plays a physical style. "I'm a stay at home defencemen who makes a good, smart first pass and I'm physical and rough in my own zone and don't give guys a free pass."
Wheaton attended the Rockets main training camp this year before returning to Spruce Grove to play in a couple exhibition games as well as one in the regular season. However he said he made the decision to come to Kelowna with his future in mind.
"Coming to camp I got to see the town again and see how everything was run," he said. "I felt really comfortable. It was just something I couldn't say no to. It was a tough couple weeks but at the end of the day I knew this would be the best decision for me. The Rockets have a history of passing guys onto the NHL. The history of their defence really caught my eye."
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