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The 2024 Upper Deck NHL Draft will be held at Sphere in Las Vegas from June 28-29. The first round will be on June 28 (7 p.m. ET; ESPN, ESPN+, SN, TVAS) and Rounds 2-7 will be June 29 (11:30 a.m. ET; ESPN+, NHLN, SN, SN1). NHL.com is counting down to the draft with in-depth profiles on top prospects, podcasts and other features. Today, a profile on defenseman Harrison Brunicke of Kamloops of the Western Hockey League. NHL.com's full draft coverage can be found here.

Harrison Brunicke hopes one day to become the first skater born in South Africa to play in the NHL.

The 18-year-old was born in Johannesburg, the largest city in South Africa, before moving to Calgary when he was 2 years old. The only player born in South Africa to play in the NHL was goaltender Olie Kolzig, who was born to German parents in Johannesburg. Kolzig was selected by the Washington Capitals with the No. 19 pick in the 1989 NHL Draft and went on to play 17 seasons, including winning the Vezina Trophy in 1999-2000.

"I do think about that. ... It would be pretty special," Brunicke said. "[The South African Ice Hockey Federation] reached out and they've been very supportive, as well as my whole family. Hockey's not a big sport in South Africa, so to come to Canada, play and have some success, it's pretty special for sure."

Andy Milne, once a captain for South Africa's ice hockey team, recently sent an encouraging email to Dean Brunicke, Harrison's father, and Gary Boddington, a friend of Dean's who played field hockey and ice hockey in the country. Milne praised Harrison for his achievements and for keeping the country's heritage in the spotlight.

"Hockey in the Western Cape has certainly grown much stronger but there are two rinks in Johannesburg and Pretoria hanging in there on that front too,” Milne wrote in his email. “Dean, you and the family should be so very proud! Please extend my personal support to Harrison. Our small South Africa Ice hockey community is rooting for Harrison all the way! We would like to celebrate with you and the family and with Harrison in the coming weeks and then let us know how we can grow the connection and leverage the South Africa game off of this fantastic achievement. A proud moment for us all."

Shaun Clouston, his coach with Kamloops of the Western Hockey League, agreed.

"What a story," Clouston said. "There's some traditional hot spots for hockey players. You've obviously got a lot of different areas of Canada and in the United States, and there's certain countries in Europe that produce a lot of hockey players. But to be born in South Africa, very nontraditional, is pretty unique."

Brunicke (6-foot-2, 196 pounds), a right-handed shot, is No. 52 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters, moving up 15 spots from the midterm rankings in January. He had 21 points (10 goals, 11 assists) in 49 games for Kamloops this season after he had eight points (four goals, four assists) in 59 regular-season games and two assists in 14 playoff games in 2022-23.

"It's certainly intriguing to have a South Africa-born player being considered for the NHL draft," Central Scouting director Dan Marr said. "But Harrison's hockey has been developed in Western Canada, and his first year in the WHL included a long playoff run and Memorial Cup play, which are beneficial to any young player's development.

"This season his game continued to mature, which was evident by the confidence and improvements he showed both with and without the puck. He's a good skater, moves the puck and reads the ice well, and can defend with authority. He's a very capable two-way defenseman, and NHL clubs' projection will be to factor in how much offensive upside there could be going forward."


That assessment is similar to what Clouston and his management team saw in Brunicke when they selected him in the third round (No. 52) of the 2021 WHL prospects draft.

"There's some 14-year-old players who might be in a 16-year-old body and some 14-year-olds who might be in a 12-year-old body, so there's a major discrepancy in development," Clouston said. "The challenge for our scouts is to project where those players can potentially end up, and they really liked Harrison's potential. He's worked hard in the time he's been here and is open to coaching. Don Hay runs our defense and works with these young men, pushes them during practice and spends a lot of time after practice, in small areas and in 1-on-1's.

"He's a little bit raw and definitely not a finished product, but we saw the potential for him to grow and develop and he's really done a good job of embracing that."

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Although Brunicke missed the final 14 games of Kamloops' season because of an upper-body injury he sustained following an illegal hit by Victoria forward Alex Edwards on Feb. 19, he was able to return and play a significant role for Canada at the 2024 IIHF World U-18 Championship. He finished the tournament with four points (one goal, three assists), a plus-11 rating and averaged 18:43 of ice time in seven games, helping Canada win the gold medal.

"I think what showed up at U-18s to me was his character and his personality," Clouston said. "He's very open to that improvement piece, that development piece, and I saw him get better as the tourney went. The ultimate vote of confidence for a player is having your coach trust you every time you're out there, and he earned that trust throughout the tournament."

John Williams of Central Scouting said Brunicke's stock improved even more after the U-18s.

"Harrison has the ability to be a difference-maker, but in a different way," he said. "He has the size and reach to be a good defender, but [he] also has a real good puck game and makes quick and smart plays in all zones. His game and his role grew over the course of the season, and you could see him growing into being the guy on the young Kamloops team."