Among the signs that the Flint Firebirds are an up-and-coming team in the Ontario Hockey League is that two of its players were selected at the recent National Hockey League draft.
Defenseman Vladislav Kolyachonok and forward Ethan Keppen both became property of NHL teams at the 2019 proceedings.
Kolyachonok was taken in the second round, 52nd overall, by the Florida Panthers while Keppen went in the fourth round, 122nd overall, to the Vancouver Canucks.
“It’s pretty hard to find words … I’m extremely excited to be a part of a team who wants me and now I know that Florida believes in me,” said the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Kolyachonok, who hails from Minsk, Belarus.
The big defender was acquired by Flint from the London Knights in the early going of the 2018-2019 season and he credited the trade for his development.
“Being in Flint has been a really good experience. I was traded from London to Flint and I play a lot of minutes in Flint now. I think it’s one of the best experiences in my life,” relayed Kolyachonok, who finished second among all OHL rookies in scoring this past season with 4 goals, 26 assists, 30 points.
As for the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Keppen, he tallied 30 goals, 29 assists, 59 points for Flint in 2018-2019. He reflected on being drafted by Vancouver and talked about the future in Flint.
“It’s such an honour to be drafted … getting my name called by Vancouver is an incredible feeling that I will never forget in my life,” Keppen began.
“As for Flint, we have a lot of unfinished business … we have a lot of plans coming up for this next season, we’re going to be a playoff team so I can’t wait,” the Whitby, Ontario product exclaimed.
“Everyone in the Flint organization — (coach) Eric Wellwood, (general manager) Barclay Branch — they’ve been incredible to me and have given me every opportunity there is in Flint, so a lot of credit to everyone on the staff top-to-bottom,” Keppen added.
This marks the second straight year that two players from Flint have been selected by NHL teams.
A year ago, forward Ty Dellandrea went in the first round to the Dallas Stars while defenseman Dennis Busby was selected by the Arizona Coyotes in the fifth.
Dellandrea, Busby, Kolyachonok and Keppen are all expected to play major, leading roles for Flint in 2019-2020 as the Firebirds look to move up the Western Conference standings after missing the playoffs in each of the past two seasons.