Conner Roulette may only be 17 years old, but his skills on the ice have him touted as an elite NHL prospect.
Roulette was recently one of 23 players named to the under 18 Canadian men’s team as one of the best players in the country at his age. The team will compete in Frisco, Texas as part of the IIHF U-18 World Championship.
The Seattle Thunderbirds forward from Misipawistik Cree Nation in Manitoba is excited to play hockey and wear the red and white jersey.
“Obviously I was really, really excited. I texted my dad and my mom right after and everyone, I kind of had to keep it on the down low for a bit but once that all got out you know I was just really happy and really excited,” Roulette said from his billet family’s home in Seattle where he is currently quarantining before leaving for training camp in Texas.
“A lot of people that kind of came up with their support and kind of reached out to me it really meant a lot and you know just all the people that have helped me get to where I am and just looking forward to getting there and playing.”
The tournament is another chance for Roulette to impress NHL scouts before the NHL draft takes place later this summer.
He is rated as an A level prospect by NHL Central Scouting which indicates he could potentially be a first round pick, while other draft rankings have him as a potential second round pick.
In his rookie season last year, Roulette had 39 points in 54 games, good for third on the team and eighth overall in the Western Hockey League.
This season, Roulette had 12 points in 11 games for Seattle before leaving the team for the U-18 Team Canada training camp.
Roulette’s mother Tannyce Cook said he has always loved hockey and having an older brother playing hockey reinforced his love for the game.
While it’s not easy to see her child leave home at such a young age, she said she knew early on Conner would have to leave home, and it’s eased her knowing he is having success doing what he loves.
“He was 10, 11 years old when we started realizing like this kid is really going to be good and he’s more than likely going to play in the western hockey league or have to move somewhere to go play at a young age so I think I started preparing myself for him to move away at a young age like a long time ago,” she told APTN News over Zoom as Thunderbirds jerseys hung in the background.
“And I mean when somebody loves the game of hockey as much as Conner does, like me as a parent, you know as much as I miss him when he’s here, I know that he’s over there doing something that he absolutely loves so it makes it a lot easier.”
Cook said the journey hasn’t always been easy, as there have been moments of racism with Conner and his previous teams.
She said it’s something she and Conner’s father have taught the boys how to manage.
“It’s always something that we talked to our kids about, being able to remain calm in that and educating them and saying you know it’s probably not those kids that feel that way you know,” she said.
“Like explaining to them about ignorance and where that comes from and all through high school he’s taken like an Indigenous perspectives course so they earn the history so knowing where they came from and knowing that history is really empowering them and helping them to move through and get over that racism and kind of try to ignore it and just move on and be better individuals.”
Roulette said he uses those negative feelings as motivation.
“There’s always that common stereotype that I’ve always noticed is that Indigenous hockey players aren’t as good as everyone else because we’re, I don’t know why, there isn’t an explanation to it, but you know yea it gives me that motivation to kind of just keep going and prove everyone wrong,” he said.
“You know there’s a lot of great Indigenous hockey players out there that don’t really get that exposure or get that opportunity to be in the spot I am so I take all that in and I just kind of embrace it as best as I can because I think you know one day there are going to be a lot more in the spot that I am.”
Roulette relishes the opportunity to be a role model for other Indigenous youth. He said at the tournament he will not only be representing Canada, but Indigenous Peoples across Canada.
“Just the support I get through it is just so awesome and to be in that role model setting it’s really good I know there’s a lot of kids out there that have reached out to me before that are little Indigenous kids and it just feels so good and just to be representing not only my family but every Indigenous kid in Canada, it’s just truly an honour and something I like to take pride in. Really show it out and be proud of who I am,” Roulette said.
Roulette and Team Canada are travelling to Texas where they will quarantine for four days before they have a mini training camp.
The tournament is set to begin April, 26 and runs until May, 6.