The Flint Firebirds saw two more of their players drafted to NHL clubs this weekend. Rearguard Vladislav Kolyachonok became the first-ever Firebirds’ player to be taken in the second round when the Florida Panthers selected him with the 52nd overall pick. Forward Ethan Keppen’s name was called two rounds later by the Vancouver Canucks with the 122nd overall pick. In the Firebirds’ four-year tenure in the OHL, 17 players have been drafted or signed to the NHL.
Kolyachonok racked up the most points by a rookie in Flint’s franchise history, scoring four goals and adding 26 helpers in 54 games played. Combining his 6-foot-1, 185-pound frame with impressive skating skills made him the second-best rookie defenseman in the league. According to Flint’s coach Eric Wellwood, Kolyachonok has, “some of the best edgework I’ve ever seen.” He was named to the OHL’s First All-Rookie Team for the 2018-19 season.
Kolyachonok was named captain of his native Belarus’ National Men’s Under-18 Team, who competed in the 2019 IIHF World Championship in Sweden. He finished with five points (1G, 4A) in six contests, which was third among all blue-liners in the tournament. When the media asked him to describe his playing style, he used the term “two-way defenseman.” After being drafted he was also asked to compare his style to NHL players. He responded, “I’m not trying to play like someone. I’m just trying to take everything best from the best players in the NHL and trying to develop in my own way.”
Keppen completed his second full season with the Firebirds with more than three times the points production. He played in all 68 games and tied for the second-most points behind team captain Ty Dellandrea (Dallas Stars) with 59 (30G, 29A). The term “power-forward” has been used to describe him, for his strength and physicality coupled with a 6-foot-2, 212-pound frame. In Flint, he was awarded as “Most Improved Player,” “Blue Collar Worker,” and “Combined Academic and Athletics Excellence Award.”
After putting on the Canucks jersey, Keppen addressed the media. “It’s such an honor to be drafted by the home team.” He gave thanks to his family, his billet family in Michigan, and the staff from the Firebirds for being there in Vancouver with him. Keppen also added that his first two seasons with the Firebirds didn’t go as well as they hoped, but that there is “still a lot of unfinished business,” including his excitement to be a “playoff team next season.”
Firebirds’ Draft History
In their four-year tenure in the Ontario Hockey League, Flint has now had 17 players drafted or signed to the NHL. In addition to Vladislav Kolyachonok (Florida Panthers) and Ethan Keppen (Vancouver Canucks) this season, the other drafted players are Will Bitten (Montreal Canadians), Dennis Busby (Arizona Coyotes), Nick Caamano (Dallas Stars), Connor Chatham (New Jersey Devils), Ty Dellandrea (Dallas Stars) Fedor Gordeev (Toronto Maple Leafs), Kyle Keyser (Boston Bruins), Nicolas Mattinen (Toronto Maple Leafs), Brent Moran (Dallas Stars), Alex Nedeljkovic (Carolina Hurricanes), Alex Peters (Dallas Stars), Vili Saarijarvi (Detroit Red Wings), Kole Sherwood (Columbus Blue Jackets), Jalen Smereck (Arizona Coyotes) and Josh Wesley (Carolina Hurricanes).