15-year-old hockey phenom Gavin McKenna dazzling at Circle K Classic

Gavin McKenna is the first Yukon-born player to be drafted first overall in the WHL. Cami Kepke/Global News

See hockey’s stars of tomorrow, today.

The tantalizing thought is one of the major draws of the newly-rebranded Circle K Classic in Calgary.

And that’s exactly what fans are getting in 15-year-old Gavin McKenna.

Yep. 15.

He may not be old enough to get his driver’s licence, but the South Alberta Hockey Academy (SAHA) winger is driving through defences all around Western Canada.

McKenna has tallied one goal and four assists through his first two games at the tournament, including a three-assist performance against the Calgary Northstars on Wednesday.

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“I think I’m doing pretty well. Obviously there’s a little bit of a target behind my back,” McKenna laughed. “But that’s when I’ve just got to use my linemates and try to make space for them.”

His head coach, Brayden Desjardins, is a little more forthcoming with the compliments.

“Some of the plays he makes, you’ve got to remind yourself he’s probably the youngest kid in the tournament,” Desjardins said. “He plays with a lot of pace.

“You see when he gets the puck everyone’s kind of on the edge of their seats. He doesn’t play slow, he doesn’t give guys time to react to him.

“He’s a pretty special guy. You see his skill, but I don’t think a whole lot of people know the kind of person he is. He’s an unbelievable person. You’d never know he was a first-overall pick if you talk to him.”

The winger from Whitehorse, Yukon has dazzled at all levels of the game, with his family and community coming together to support him as he travelled south to pursue his hockey dreams.

Earlier this year, McKenna was granted exceptional status and snapped up by the Medicine Hat Tigers with the first overall pick in the 2022 WHL Draft.

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He’s only had a cup of coffee in the “Dub” so far but quickly made his presence known, putting up four assists in his Tigers debut.

The dominance continued when he returned to the Canadian Sport School Hockey League, where he’s currently ranked second in his sophomore season with 20 goals and 21 assists in 16 games (seven fewer matches than current scoring leader Terik Parascak).

McKenna said he is drawing on that experience as he chases the Circle K Classic championship — and loftier goals down the road.

“The WHL is a bit faster, but it’s not by much,” McKenna said. “You have to play the exact same way you would play in the WHL. There’s a bunch of talent here, and yeah, just try to take as much as I can from the Dub and bring it down here.

“There’s a big goal of getting drafted to the NHL… It’s just step-by-step. You’ve just got to take it day by day and work hard every day off and on the ice.”

High-level scouts told Global News McKenna is already being eyed as a future top pick at the NHL Entry Draft even though he won’t be eligible until 2026.

Should he make the jump to the big show, McKenna would become the fourth Whitehorse hockey player to suit up in the NHL, behind Buffalo Sabres 2019 first-round pick Dylan Cozens, and Peter Sturgeon and Bryon Baltimore, who suited up for a handful of games in the 1950s.

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In the meantime, McKenna is focused on SAHA’s title defence.

SAHA faces off against the St. Louis Blues in its final round-robin match Thursday at 4 p.m. at Max Bell 2.

Click to play video: 'Circle K Classic prepares for biggest U18AAA tournament in event history'
Circle K Classic prepares for biggest U18AAA tournament in event history

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