Matty Saharchuk has had an eye on the Vernon Vipers ever since he moved down from Fort St. James to play hockey with the Pursuit of Excellence Academy in Kelowna in 2010.
It turns out the Vipers were also keeping tabs on Saharchuk over the past season, watching him enjoy a breakout year with the North Okanagan Junior B Knights.
Vernon head coach/GM Jason Williamson signed the 18-year-old forward this week for the coming BCHL season.
Williamson also plucked defenceman Kenny Citron, also a 1995-born player, from the Team Comcast Under 18 program that competes in the Atlantic Youth Hockey League.
Saharchuk was a beast for North Okanagan last season. Strong on the puck and always willing to drive to the net, the 6-foot-2, 185-pound forward recorded 32 goals and 28 assists in 50 games.
He added 6-9-15 in 13 playoff games in helping the Knights reach their first-ever KIJHL final. He also played two BCHL games as a call-up with the Salmon Arm SilverBacks.
Regarding his stellar season, Saharchuk said: “My coaches (Kris Mallette and Shawn Webb) really supported me and gave me the ice time I needed to get my confidence to that next level.
“I was just finishing my plays and doing all the little things right that helped me in my season.”
Williamson said Saharchuk’s skill set, combined with his eagerness to join the club, made it a straightforward decision to sign him.
“He reached out and wanted to be a Viper even before we got on to him. In that kind of situation, that’s when you get the best out of a player.
“By the end of the year he was probably North OK’s most dangerous player.”
Saharchuk said the Knights’ journey to the KIJHL final will help him prepare for next season as Vernon hosts the RBC Cup national championships in 2014.
“I had never been in playoffs before with a junior team,” said Saharchuk, who was listed by the WHL Everett Silvertips. “It really shows you what it takes to last that long and how you need to prepare yourself every day.”
Citron comes to the Viper den from Lawrenceville School, a prep academy near Princeton, N.J., where he played hockey and field lacrosse. Originally from Hartsdale N.Y. (near Manhattan), Citron was captain of Team Comcast that competed in the 2013 U.S. nationals. He collected 10 assists in 14 games (16-game season).
The 6-foot-1, 195-pounder is committed to the NCAA Colgate Raiders following his junior career.
“I just want to show up everyday ready to work hard and contribute that way,” said Citron. “I’m a pretty physical, puck-moving defenceman. I find a forward, make the play.”
Asked who he is taking in the Stanley Cup final, Citron replied: “I hate to say it, but I think I’m going to be rooting for Boston. I’m a Rangers fan, but they’re playing so well and they’re fun to watch. That’s what you need to win championships.”
Williamson travelled to Buffalo to scout the U18 U.S. nationals and was immediately impressed by Citron.
“From the first time I saw Kenny play I really liked his game. He’s got some bite to his game, and he’s a tremendous leader.”
With the recent influx of players coming in – Vernon has acquired six in the last month through commitments and trades – some of the returning players will be hard-pressed to keep their roster spots. The Vipers are already two over the six allowed 20-year-old players.
“I don’t want to put them all in a panic, but we still have too many bodies,” said Williamson. “We need some competition and we need guys battling for jobs. I think it’s a healthy environment.”
“These guys are competitors and they’re going to come ready to play.”
Viper main camp begins Monday, Aug. 19.