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What Teammates Say About Penguins Prospect Brayden Yager; Moose Jaw Eliminated

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Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Brayden Yager
Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Brayden Yager, Moose Jaw Warriors: Photo Credit Eric Young/CHL

SAGINAW, Mich. — The top forward prospect in the Pittsburgh Penguins system, Brayden Yager, saw his Moose Jaw Warriors’ season come to an ugly end Friday night in the semi-final of the Memorial Cup. After struggling through the round-robin portion of the tournament, Yager’s team was eliminated by the home team, the Saginaw Spirit, 7-1.

Saginaw will face London, owned and coached by former Washington Capitals tough guy Dale Hunter, in the Final.

It was the Warriors’ best season ever, as they won their first-ever WHL championship and advanced to the Memorial Cup. However, a few well-coached teams were lying in wait for the newbies, who looked a bit outclassed in three of the four games they played.

Moose Jaw is a small community-owned team, which made the journey a little more special.

Yager had mixed results. For those who look at the final numbers, he popped. Yager and teammate Denton Mateychuk currently lead the tournament in scoring with six and seven points, respectively.

Yager’s on-ice performance was slightly different from the optimistic tournament statistics. For a couple of games, he largely focused on defensive responsibilities, taking himself out of the play.

“A lot of these guys get 20-plus shifts every game. So there’s going to be shifts where your job is just to check,” said Moose Jaw coach Mark O’Leary. “You know, it’s not going so well offensively. You’re not playing down there in the fun zone. It’s work. It’s defense. And I think Brayden doesn’t shy away from that. I think that’s a big part of his game. And he likes those challenges against good players.”

Speaking with people around the Moose Jaw team, they expected him to return next season. He’s not quite ready for the NHL, but he’ll surely get a good look in the fall. Our assessment agreed. It’s not a slight on Yager’s potential but an acceptance that his game needs further maturation. That was especially obvious in some of the smaller details that would loom large at the highest level.

Must Read: The PHN+ Yager scouting report from the tournament.

“I think ever since I came into the WHL, my coaches have been really trying to develop my 200-foot game, and it’s something I take pride in as well,” Yager told PHN. “So, yeah, I think we’ve got a lot of good defensemen, and (Mateychuk) obviously is highly skilled, and he’s going to do his thing. I have no problem covering for him. Something that I take a lot of pride in is my 200-foot game and being able to play both ends of the ice.”

Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Brayden Yager

Moose Jar Warriors Brayden Yager. Photo Credit Eric Young/CHL

What Teammates Say About Brayden Yager

It was immediately obvious Yager is well-liked.

We added a little humor to the question about Yager as a teammate to put the boys at ease. Linemate Matthew Savoie, the Buffalo Sabres’ first-round pick in 2022 (ninth overall), played along and said that Yager was a terrible teammate who bangs on his door at all hours of the night.

We were both kidding, but it spoke to the affection his team has for Yager. He’s one of the leaders and a serious player who didn’t shy away from carrying the team this season.

Moose Jaw acquired Savoie via a midseason trade. So, he had plenty of experience against Yager. The pair also played together for Team Canada at the 2024 World Juniors in Sweden.

“He’s unreal. Since I met him in Sweden, I really got to know him more, just seeing how special the guy is. I’ve always known he was a special player, but just from playing against him and getting tough matchups, going head to head with him and (Jagger Firkus)–now seeing how close I am with him, (I get to see) how good of a teammate he is, and how hard he works. I mean, he’s a top-notch guy, and everyone just wants to be around him.”

Moose Jaw defenseman Kalem Parker has known Yager for a long time–the pair grew up together and played midget hockey on the same team. He, too, cracked a smile when we asked him to dish the dirt on Yager, who was simultaneously conducting his own interview with the CHL league reporter a few feet away.

“He’s a great teammate. I’ve known him for a long time. He’s obviously from my hometown (and) we played bantam Double-A together in Martinsville,” said Parker. “So I’ve known him for a long time. He’s always been a great friend. And then just really clicking with him this year has been unbelievable.”

Parker is also an NHL prospect. He was the Minnesota Wild’s 2023 sixth-round selection (181st overall) and part of Moose Jaw’s top pairing. He played beside the dynamic Mateychuk as the defensive anchor to Mateychuk’s freelancing.

“I think he’s taking another step, obviously getting drafted in the first round of the NHL last year. But yeah, he’s a great player, a great 200-foot player,” Parker said. “(He’s) good on draws too. So I think he’s developed every year since Bantam.”

After covering my first Memorial Cup, it was certainly an experience. The Saginaw community involvement, the number of Moose Jaw Fans who traveled 1300 miles (a 21-hour drive or an expensive flight), and the player’s enthusiasm were infectious. It was like a college football bowl game combined with the summer camp nature of the Little League World Series. Some players were fighting to get noticed, and others were trying to fulfill promises to organizations to win the Memorial Cup.

Yager showed well enough that his top forward prospect status remains unchanged. With Tom Kostopoulus and Matt Cullen in his ear, he’ll be here sooner rather than later, even if it is not next season. Another Team Canada appointment for the 2025 World Juniors also seems highly likely.