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Mark Masters

SPORTSCENTRE Reporter

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Braden Schneider hopes his ability to make a big hit will be a big hit with National Hockey League scouts and help him stand out among the top prospects in this year's draft class. 

"People say that it's a bit of a dying thing in the game today," the Brandon Wheat Kings defenceman said, "but if you have those guys who can be physical and have the ability to play at the speed of the game today, it's a big tool. It's a thing that definitely helps separate me a bit and a thing I'm proud of and I have fun doing."​

Schneider, who stands 6-foot-2, 202 pounds, certainly seems to relish the opportunity to flatten an opponent. It's something that's been part of his game since the beginning. 

"My dad always said he liked ​hitting so I YouTubed old hitting videos and Scott Stevens was the guy I watched a lot of," Schneider recalls. "And when hitting was allowed I tried to figure out the timing and what went into it and it's become a bit of an art for me."

 What's the key to landing a big hit in today's game?   

"The main thing is just staying tight with the forwards and making sure that your gap is tight," Schneider explained. "And if you get them where you want them, then it's pretty easy to finish a hard hit. So, the main thing is being tight and being right there in case that opportunity comes around." 

Schneider finished No. 9 in NHL Central Scouting's ranking of North American skaters, the fourth defenceman on the list behind only Jamie Drysdale, Jake Sanderson and Kaiden Guhle. The 18-year-old from Prince Albert, Sask., spoke with TSN via Zoom this week and opened up about his World Junior dream and the impact new head coach Dave Lowry made on him this season. 

The following is an edited transcript of the interview. 

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button compares your style to that of Jacob Trouba. Who do you see as your NHL role model? 

"It will take a lot more work, but I try to project myself as a guy like Shea Weber. I can still work on the shot, but me and Shea have a couple similar traits, you know, being bigger guys and right-hand shots. So, if I get that shot going I can maybe try and model my game after him." 

How is your shot?

"I'm working on it and working on the power. I think I have a pretty decent shot, but I just need to get more on net and work on the power a bit more before I can even put it in a conversation with a guy like Weber."

Your point total increased from 24 to 42; was the offensive side of the game an area you wanted to improve? 

"Definitely. I knew if I wanted to get noticed and get on the radar more, I'd have to work on the offensive side of the game a lot more so that was a big part of the summer training. I had more confidence and a little more opportunity with more power-play time and it worked out good for me." 

How did you work on it? 

"The main thing was being a little more deceptive and working on my stick skill a little bit more. I wanted to be a little bit quicker on the blueline, be a little quicker and more deceptive with my shot and in creating space. I know it still needs work."

Who helped you refine the skills? 

"I would go to Saskatoon, because in P.A. they close the ice up in the summer. I skated with [power skating instructor] Jordan Trach and his group. I'd be ​with guys from Saskatoon like [Connor] Zary and [Adam] Beckman who are offensive guys so I'd have some good teaching and competition."

How did new head coach Dave Lowry influence your game this season in Brandon? 

"He helped me grow a lot as a person as well as a player. He put a lot of responsibility on me and it helped me mature my game. He put more of a pro mentality into my head."

Can you give us an example of how he instilled that pro mentality? 

"He put responsibility on me and the rest of our older guys in the leadership group to take the reins a little more. He put the team in our hands. He said, 'It's your team as much as it is my team and I want you guys to be the voices and the people our younger guys look up to.' So, putting that standard on us and having us mature that way was huge."

What are you most proud of about your season? 

"There were a lot of proud moments, including being able to play for the WHL in the Russia series and having career-high numbers, but the thing I was most proud of was our team as a whole and the development of us as a group. I was happy with how we pulled together in the second half of the year and how we were coming together. It was sad how it ended, but I'm proud of how we grew."

You missed out on last year's draft by five days so you may be a little more developed than some of your peers, did that help you this season?

"Yep, for sure. I mean you would've liked to maybe have gone [to the draft] a little earlier, but for me as a player that extra year helped for my development and confidence."

Button projected the 2021 World Junior team this week and has you in the top four for Canada. What would that mean to you? 

"To play at the World Juniors in Edmonton would be something else. I may be 'projected' but the work still needs to be put in for that chance. But, it'd be pretty cool. I have a lot of family, as well, in Alberta so I'm sure if the chance came it'd be a big outing for them."  

What did you take from being at Hockey Canada's selection camp in December? 

"It was tough getting that close and not making the squad, but there's not much you can do. They went over there with a good team and came home with gold so they made the right decision. All I could take away from the camp was the experience and the positive outlook that I have a chance again next year. I was proud and grateful for the chance." 

What do you think of the WHL talking about a return-to-play plan this week? 

"It makes me excited, because our team last year was really coming on at the end and we have a lot of the same guys coming back so the idea we'll get another year to play together is exciting. I'm jacked that it's in motion."

How concerned were you about next season being impacted by the pandemic? 

"I wondered, but I always stayed optimistic. I've always hoped it would come, but I didn't want to think about it too much just in case it didn't.​ I’m glad to see there's a plan to get it going."