Abram Wiebe ready to jump to UND after winning BCHL's defenseman of the year honor
Chilliwack coach Brian Maloney says: 'Abram is ready. He's a kid I'll be driving to the airport and wishing him luck.'
GRAND FORKS — Brian Maloney has been the head coach of the Chilliwack Chiefs in the British Columbia Hockey League for six seasons.
That's long enough to know his meeting with UND commit Abram Wiebe last summer was out of the ordinary.
"Usually, I'm driving the conversation about playing another year of juniors," Maloney said. "I worry about a lot of kids going in too early and figuring it out too late."
But that's not how it went with Wiebe, a seventh-round pick of the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2022 NHL Draft.
"In one of our first exit meetings last year, Abram said he knew he needed to come back and get better," Maloney said. "Not a lot of kids are that self aware with their game."
Wiebe, a 6-foot-3, 198-pound defenseman, had a dominant season in the BCHL.
He scored 12 goals and tallied 53 points in 54 games for Chilliwack, finishing second in points among defensemen in the league.
Last week, he won the Campbell Blair Trophy, which is awarded to the league's best defenseman.
Only two UND players have ever earned the honor of the BCHL's top defenseman — Troy Stecher in 2013 and Travis Roche in 1998. Both Stecher and Roche won NCAA national championships at UND before moving on to the NHL.
Other notable winners of the honor include NHLers Akito Hirose (Minnesota State-Mankato), Dante Fabbro (Nashville Predators), Devon Toews (Quinnipiac), Mike Reilly (Minnesota), Justin Schultz (Wisconsin), Jason Garrison (Minnesota Duluth) and Duncan Keith (Michigan State).
Other winners were college stars like Denver's Joey LaLeggia and Mat Bodie, who starred on Union's 2014 NCAA national title team.
This fall, Wiebe will take his next step and come to UND.
Maloney says it's the right time.
"I'm one of those guys who thinks a player should overcook and develop first before going to college, because I know how hard it is at the next level," said Maloney, who played at Michigan State. "But Abram is ready. He's a kid I'll be driving to the airport and wishing him luck."
Maloney said Wiebe rounded out all aspects of his game this season.
First, Wiebe improved defensively.
"He's got some good size to his frame now, and when you have that, he's been able to check properly," Maloney said. "He was a smaller, offensive first-pass guy when he came to us. He's had to learn to check properly with a good angle, a good stick or get into a player's hands. As he grew, he was able to do that. But he has the physical element to it. He's a really good player on that side of the puck."
He's also developed offensively.
Wiebe ran Chilliwack's top power-play unit.
"His skating ability and escapability — being able to skate himself out of danger — was pretty fun to watch," Maloney said. "Obviously, offensively, he was a kid with a lot of deception in the offensive zone. He has great hips. He's a tough kid to get in front of. You're not sure which way he's going. He has a really good release, a really good shot. . . he's ready for college hockey."
Wiebe could step into a big role as a freshman.
UND is turning over its entire defensive core from last year. The Fighting Hawks are bringing in some veterans from the transfer portal like Alaska captain Garrett Pyke, Michigan alternate captain Keaton Pehrson and Minnesota State-Mankato's Bennett Zmolek.
But some of the rookies also are going to have to slot in as important players.
"There's always going to be a big adjustment, but I think the areas he needs to improve on, he'll be able to pick up quickly," Maloney said. "It will be an adjustment with the pace and not trying to do too much. Sometimes, we over-used him. He was doing things at our level where he might get in trouble at the college level. . . hanging on to pucks too long or making the impossible play. He can pull it off at this level, but at that level, he'll simplify."
Wiebe played an average of 25:34 per game for Chilliwack — most on the team and second-most in all of the BCHL.
"We relied on him so much," Maloney said. "The mistakes he made, it was us over-playing him. He was logging a lot of minutes for us. I think he's going to be a good all-around defenseman."