Seattle Kraken prospect and Moose Jaw Warriors forward Jagger Firkus has a lot of tools in his bag. The diminutive but electrifying winger scores goals and creates chances with his skill and creativity.
But when it comes to Jagger, it’s more of his swagger that differentiates him.
“He’s an infectious guy,” Moose Jaw head coach Mark O’Leary said. “He’s loud, he’s energetic, he’s a positive person, and it brings out the best in his teammates and makes him a popular teammate.
“Guys flock to him because of that positivity. He’s a cheerleader, whether it’s in the gym or we’re practicing or if guys are playing soccer or ping pong around the room. Jagger is encouraging, and he’s usually fired up about it. He’s trying to win, but he’s trying to cheer on his teammates as well. I think that over the course of a long season, guys like that.”
Firkus’ presence has been felt by O’Leary and Moose Jaw’s players since Firkus first joined the Western Hockey League, which is not an easy feat for a rookie entering a dressing room full of 19- and 20-year-olds.
“Even when he was called up as a 15-year-old, he was buzzing around the room,” O’Leary recalls. “He wasn’t that quiet kid sitting in the corner not saying anything; he was a little guy with the big red hair and a missing front tooth that wanted to play hockey and contribute.”
That confidence is what makes Firkus, the 35th-overall pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, the player he is on the ice. The 18-year-old forward is on pace for back-to-back 80-point seasons in the Western Hockey League, the first of which postured him as one of the most intriguing forwards in his draft year and a top prospect in the Kraken system.
Part of his uniqueness comes from his creativity on the ice, his ability to maneuver through tight spaces, and the quick release on his shot. But his size — Firkus is listed at just 5-foot-10, 156 pounds — is what makes him a curious case as a prospect.
Most pundits agree Firkus has the tools to be an NHL contributor, but his size sprinkles mystery into his case for playing at that level.
However, while he’s well aware of his perceived limitations, it’s not something that bothers Firkus.
“I just embrace it,” Firkus said. “People are going to ask you about that, and I have an answer for it. So it doesn’t really worry me. I can’t change my size, so I can’t worry about that. It doesn’t really change me.”
One thing that’s working in Firkus’ favor: the stigma around smaller hockey players is slowly fading away as players like Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner, who Firkus said he likes to watch and incorporate details he sees into his own game, excel at the NHL level.
Another diminutive forward with experience in Moose Jaw comes to mind for O’Leary.
“He’s not necessarily Brayden Point, but he has a lot of Brayden Point in him,” said O’Leary, who was an assistant coach for the Warriors during Point’s career in Moose Jaw. “One of the things that made (Point) special was his ability to put pucks in places around his body and around his feet where he protects it and be hard on it … there are things as a smaller guy you can do to play heavy and I think Jagger does that.”
“He’s also a slippery guy. He plays with his head up, and like Brayden Point, he seems to be very good at being evasive of hard and heavy contact.”
Firkus’ durability backs up O’Leary’s claim, as he’s only missed four games in the last two WHL seasons.
The Irma, Alberta native also said he has tacked on a couple of pounds during the season and plans to be more aggressive with gaining weight during the upcoming offseason.
But right now, Firkus’ focus is more on the ice, in particular on rounding out his game, something the Kraken have worked with him on in video sessions during the season.
“There’s one specific thing they want me to work on and that’s just spacing with the puck,” Firkus said. “For a smaller guy, you need to find open ice so you can give yourself room and that’s one big thing that they’ve been helping me.”
O’Leary also called out that Firkus’ defensive game has expanded this season, which earned him a spot on Moose Jaw’s penalty kill.
But make no mistake, Firkus still is imbued with the freedom to make plays offensively. This season in particular, he’s played primarily on a line centered by Brayden Yager, who is projected to be a first-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft.
The two have been “attached at the hip” since they both entered the WHL and showcase good chemistry with each other on and off the ice.
“He’s a fun guy to play with and just an unreal guy off the ice, too,” Firkus said.
Others would likely say the same thing about Firkus, whose aforementioned creative play style earned him the “Firkus Circus” nickname, which has an unknown origin but started in Moose Jaw and has spread to the rest of the hockey universe.
“I embrace it, I think it’s funny someone came up with that,” Firkus said.
Will the circus ever make its way to Seattle? That’s the burning question with any prospect, but especially one like Firkus, who harnesses more upside than most with his ability to put the puck in the back of the net and function as a playmaker for others.
He certainly has his supporters, including O’Leary, who is adamant that Firkus will crack the NHL.
“He’s got too much to offer,” O’Leary said. “He’ll find a way.”
Firebirds still rolling
While the Coachella Valley Firebirds cooled off slightly, they’re still seeing plenty of success, having won two straight and six of their last 10 contests.
The loss of Andrew Poturalski for the season and Jesper Froden to NHL callup have hurt the Firebirds’ depth, but Cameron Hughes and Tye Kartye have been integral in filling the void. Hughes has 15 points in his last 10 games and Kartye is nearly scoring at a goal-per-game pace with eight in that same stretch.
Kokko excelling on loan
Kraken goaltender Niklas Kokko, who was loaned to SaiPa in Finland’s top league last month, has been red hot for his new squad, posting a .949 save percentage in his last four starts.
It’s been an encouraging stretch for Kokko, who was selected by the Kraken 58th overall in the 2022 NHL Draft. Not only has the 18-year-old netminder posted encouraging numbers in Finland’s top league, Kokko shined for Finland’s U19 squad in an international tournament last month.
Wright healthy once again
After missing eight games with a lower-body injury, Shane Wright returned to the Windsor Spitfire’s lineup on Feb. 23. The No. 4 overall pick in the 2022 draft has two goals and three assists in five games since his return.
The prized prospect started off sweltering hot for the Spitfires with over two points per game before his prolonged absence. We certainly aren’t sounding the alarm due to his drop in production, but we’re keeping an eye on it.
The Spitfires certainly could use more out of Wright. Windsor, which has dropped four of its five games since Wright re-entered the lineup, is trailing the Ontario Hockey League Western Conference leading London Knights, which feature Kraken prospect Ryan Winterton, by two points. The Spitfires have eight games remaining in the regular season, with the Knights holding a game in hand. Windsor ends the season with back-to-back matchups with London.
- Ty Nelson (third-round pick in 2022) and Kyle Jackson (seventh-round pick in 2022) of the North Bay Battalion have clinched a playoff spot and are currently the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. North Bay is 10 points off Ottawa for the top seed and unlikely to catch the 67s, but it is fending off the Barrie Colts for home ice in the second round. The Battalion is three points up on the Colts with eight games remaining, none of which are against each other.
- Tucker Robertson (fourth-round pick in 2022) and the Peterborough Petes are still vying to secure their spot in the playoffs, but are more than likely to make it. The Petes are jockeying with the Hamilton Bulldogs, Mississauga Steelheads, and Sudbury Wolves, who feature Kraken forward prospect David Goyette, for home ice in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Petes have the inside track, with 65 points to Hamilton’s 64, Mississauga’s 62, and Sudbury’s 60, and have a game in hand on the Bulldogs.
- Firkus and the Moose Jaw Warriors are likely locked into the 4-5 matchup in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Warriors lead Lethbridge by five points, with the Hurricanes holding a game in hand, for home ice in the first round. But watch out for Connor Bedard and the Regina Pats. They likely can’t catch Moose Jaw, but they are only five back of Lethbridge with a game in hand. A first-round matchup pitting Firkus and Bedard against each other would be highly entertaining.
Quebec Major Junior Hockey League
- Jacob Melanson (fifth-round pick in 2021) and the Sherbrooke Phoenix are currently in a tight battle for the top spot in the Western Conference. The Phoenix lead with 89 points, but the Gatineau Olympiques are hot on their tail with 88. Two of Sherbrooke’s nine remaining games are against Gatineau.
- Jani Nyman (second-round pick in 2022) and Ilves are in a dead heat with Tappara for the league’s top seed, with both teams boasting 110 points and Ilves having a game in hand. With three games remaining in the regular season, it may come down to the two teams clashing on Sunday in Ilves’ penultimate game of the campaign.
- Kokko and SaiPa and Ville Ottavainen (fourth-round pick in 2021) of JYP will both miss the playoffs.
British Columbia Hockey League
- Ben McDonald (third-round pick in 2022) and the West Kelowna Warriors are third in the Interior Division standings but are fending off Salmon Arm and Prince George, who is one point and four points back, respectively, with six games remaining. Salmon Arm holds a game in hand.
United States Hockey League
- Barrett Hall (sixth-round pick in 2022) and the Green Bay Gamblers are currently fourth in the Eastern Conference with 55 points. There’s plenty of runway, however, with 16 games remaining in the regular season.
- Justin Janicke (seventh-round pick in 2021) and Notre Dame fell to Michigan State in the first round of the Big Ten tournament in a best-of-three series. The fourth-seeded Fighting Irish won Game 1 but failed to advance after dropping the next two to the Spartans, the No. 5 seed, and seriously jeopardized their chances of making it to the NCAA tournament. Janicke recorded one assist in the series.
- Tyson Jugnauth (fourth-round pick in 2022) and seventh-seeded Wisconsin were swept by second-seeded Michigan in their first-round series. Jugnauth recorded two assists in the final two games of his freshman season. Also noteworthy: Wisconsin fired head coach Tony Granato, who ran the program for seven seasons.