Kayden Longley: The Final Pick
When the WHL Prospects draft took place on December 9, 2021, Kayden Longley started to feel more anxious as the rounds went by, but he held out hope that his name would eventually pop up on the screen. With the final pick in the draft, the Kelowna Rockets selected the forward 281st overall in the 13th round.
“It was a big relief when I saw my name up on the board,” said Longley in an interview with kelownarockets.com recently. “I’m really happy that I was picked by Kelowna. It honestly couldn’t have worked out any better.”
Longley grew up in Wainwright, AB, a 206 km drive southeast of Edmonton. When talking about his hometown, he made sure to mention that watching Connor McClennon, who also hails from the same town, showed Longley that he too could take the same path to play away from home. McLennon was the second-overall pick of the Kootenay ICE in 2017, in 2020 the Philadelphia Flyers selected the winger in the sixth round at the NHL Draft. This past May McClennon signed a two-year deal with the American Hockey League’s Chicago Wolves.
“Growing up in a small town, you see those kids who are older than you that are moving through the ranks. A big one for me was Connor McClennon, he just finished his WHL career. Being from the same place I was from and sometimes even skating with him in the summer helped me realize that being from a small town didn’t restrict you from playing a high level of hockey.”
Just like McClennon, Longley departed Wainright to play hockey in the Okanagan at the Canadian Sport School Hockey League’s Pursuit of Excellence. Longley spent the 2019-20 season playing for their U15 Prep team alongside fellow Rockets prospect Landon Cowper.
“Leaving home at 13 to play there kind of helped prepare me for the future of doing it again down the road. We had a tremendous coach there and they really helped my game become more complete. I had a lot of good friends and buddies at RINK, like Landon, so getting the opportunity to play with him again in Kelowna is exciting.”
Longley returned POE, rebranded as RINK, for his WHL Draft year during the 2020-21 season. He recorded 13 points (5G, 8A) over five games with their U15 Prep team before the season was canceled in early November due to Covid-19. With scouts unable to watch players due to no hockey being played, the WHL made the decision to push the 2021 Prospects Draft back to December.
The following season he made the move to the CSSHL’s Northern Alberta Xtreme U16’s Prep team. It allowed for him to be closer to home and live with his parents instead of billeting.
When the draft took place on December 9, 2021, Longley had posted 16 points (8G, 8A) and 18 penalty minutes in 14 games. Longley was hopeful that his numbers had put him on the radar of a WHL team that would take a shot on him, yet somehow he slipped all the way to the Rockets in the 13th round – making him the only player the organization has ever picked past the 12th round.
By the end of the season, the 15-year-old had posted 43 points (21G, 22A) and 26 penalty minutes through 30 games. In five playoff games, he added another nine points (1G, 8A), with his team capturing the CSSHL’s U16 Championship.
Last fall he attended his first Rockets camp where he got a better idea of the league. He said that the Rockets coaches and scouts gave him some tips before sending him back to NAX where he would play with their U18 team.
“I was nervous coming in and playing against older guys, but they were all really nice and showed me the ropes. It was good to get that first camp under my belt and realize what it takes to play in the Western Hockey League.”
By the end of January, he had recorded 28 (11G, 17A) and 16 penalty minutes in 25 games. It was enough to impress the Rockets scouts and management, Longley flew to Kelowna on January 31st and signed a WHL Scholarship and Development Agreement making his WHL debut later that week. Appeared in six games as an affiliate for the Rockets between February 3 to the the 11.
“It was a really quick experience; getting a call from Bruce, then flying to Kelowna and living with someone new, two days later I’m making my debut. I had the privilege of living with Adam Kydd, who showed me the ropes around Kelowna and what it takes to play in the league.
“The first game was an eye-opener of how fast everyone is and how structurally sound the game is. There weren’t a lot of mistakes and when there were, goals were scored. So a big thing for me is seeing mistakes become more limited, but also my pace of play getting faster.”
In early March Longley wrapped up his season with NAX, he finished second in team scoring after recording 28 points (11G, 17A) over 27 games.
Following the end of his season, he joined the Rockets for the remainder of their regular season and first-round appearance against the Seattle Thunderbirds. He appeared in the final two regular season games of the season against the Vancouver Giants, recording his first WHL goal in Langley. Standing at the right side of the net, Longley jammed home the rebound.
“Coming in and playing those affiliate player games, you don’t really expect that you’re going to score. When I saw the puck go in the net I was overjoyed. It was almost a relief, it’s a little less pressure on me now.”
For Longley, his focus since the end of the Rockets season in the spring has been working hard over the summer to secure a spot on the Rockets roster full-time this season.
“The nerves are still there heading into my second camp, but I’m more excited than anything. I just need to show what I’ve focused on over the summer when training and just play my game, hopefully that ends in a spot on the roster for me.”
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