Max Graham: The Journey Home
The newest member of the Kelowna Rockets, Max Graham, has taken quite the journey during his young hockey career. The 17-year-old went from going undrafted, to having a breakout year and inking a WHL Standard Player Agreement, to playing in the WHL as a 16-year-old. He’s more than happy with the latest twist in the path, he’ll be suiting up his hometown Rockets this upcoming season.
The Kelowna product was acquired on Wednesday night from the Everett Silvertips in exchange for 20-year-old forward Alex Swetlikoff and the Rockets sixth-round pick at the 2023 WHL Draft.
“It was really exciting to get the call that I’ve been traded to the team that I watched growing up,” said Graham.
“My family and friends will be able to come and watch the games, it was really comforting being dealt to a city that I’m familiar with.”
Graham, who moved to Kelowna at the age of ten, grew up playing in the Okanagan Rockets program over the last few years. He went undrafted during the 2019 WHL Draft, but believes that his size held teams’ back from taking a chance on him.
“During my draft year I was pretty small, I was about 5’5″, 130 pounds. I didn’t get picked in the WHL Draft and after I just really hit a growth spurt that summer. I came into my U16 season in 2019-20 and was like 5’11”, 170, the added size really helped me that season.”
With the added size, the then 15-year-old earned an invite from the Everett Silvertips to their camp to get a look at him.
“It was pretty cool to be invited. I wasn’t listed or signed at the time, so I went in there and didn’t have too many expectations. I did pretty well at that camp and I think I really caught the team’s eye. They had kinda a little bit more of an eye on me through the start of my U16 season.”
He joined the U16 AAA Okanagan Rockets (BC U16) where he shot out of the gate. Everett took notice, listing the forward and later signing him in January 2020.
When the regular season was all said and done, he led all AAA BC 16 skaters in scoring with 61 points (33G, 28A) over 31 games. He was beat out for Player of the Year by current Rockets forward Scott Cousins, but earned All-Star honors.
“That U16 year was really helpful in my development, it really helped my confidence being able to put up some good points. I was playing with a bunch of high-end guys, we were building chemistry all season long. One of my linemates was Austin Roest, we actually ended up being teammates in Everett this past season.”
Graham was committed to playing for the Okanagan Rockets U18 AAA team this past year, but with Covid-19 forcing leagues to hit pause on the season he ended up heading down to Everett.
Filled out at 6’3″, 180 pounds, he dressed in 18 of the Silvertips 23 games, collecting a pair of assists and six penalty minutes.
“It was really different going into Everett as a 16-year-old. For three months I was down there, didn’t see any of my family members for a while. I wasn’t living with a billet family, I was living in a dorm. You’re kind of on your own, you’re doing everything yourself.
“I also had to adjust to everything on the ice, the speed and size. It was a little bit of a jump, but once I got settled in there and got to know everyone it started to smooth out. Towards the second half of the season I started to feel really comfortable.”
With a record of 19-4-0-0, Everett cruised to their eighth U.S. Division title. Graham said that he was able to take away lots from his first season.
“It was good to play on a winning team, you learn the mentality of what the WHL is like and what it takes to win. Having the older guys there that have been through that program, they were good and had lots of good pointers to pass onto the younger guys, and I think I really benefited from that.
“One of my roommates in the dorm was Jackson Berezowski, it was his third year with the Silvertips, he really took me under his wing. He knew what it was like to be a 16-year-old rookie, he really helped out whether it was at the dorm or at the rink, asking how everything was going or helping me out with anything I needed.”
Graham has been busy preparing for this upcoming season, training with a few Rockets players. He said that being familiar with a few guys on the team will make walking into the dressing room easier when camp rolls around.
“I know quite a few of the guys on the roster because we played in the Okanagan Rockets program at the same time; Dylan Wightman, Rilen Kovacevic and Steel Quiring. I’ve actually been training with Steel all summer long.
“I also know Tyson Feist quite well, I’ve been playing with his younger brother since I was about eight years old. Tyson and I have also been training on the ice this summer in Vernon.”
When it comes to the coaching staff, Graham already knows Rockets head coach Kris Mallette fairly well.
“I’m really excited to play under him (Mallette), I’ve known him for a little while here through my sister playing with his daughter. He’s a really good guy, who pushes the players quite a bit. I talked to him after the trade, he made me feel really welcome to the team already.”
For now, Graham has switched gears and is focused on hitting the ice with his hometown team for his sophomore year in the Western Hockey League.
“This season I’m looking to keep developing all of my skills, produce as a forward, and help out in the defensive end. I really want to be a solid 200-foot player that the team can rely on in the d zone, I really want to help the team succeed.”
The Rockets are set to open their regular season schedule on October 2, 2021, against the Everett Silvertips. Season tickets are now available to the general public for the upcoming 2021-22 Rockets season. Click here for details and pricing.