(Courtesy of Perry Bergson, The Brandon Sun) — The Brandon Wheat Kings head into Thursday’s annual Western Hockey League bantam draft with a top 10 pick for the fifth time in the past 15 years, and will be hoping that history repeats itself.
After picking Stelio Mattheos first overall in 2014, Nolan Patrick with the fourth pick and Kale Clague with the sixth pick in 2013 and Brayden Schenn ninth overall in 2006, the team has found impact players every time.
Darren Ritchie, Brandon’s director of scouting, is hopeful the trend continues.
“With us having the eighth pick, we’re going to obviously just get the best player that we feel we can is available at that time,” Ritchie said. “We think we’ll get a real good player at number eight and our staff is real excited about that.”
The 22 WHL teams will be picking players born in 2002 from across Western Canada and the American states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.
Ritchie, who is in his first year in the position after the departure of Wade Klippenstein last summer, said it’s difficult for him to judge this draft against previous ones other than when he’s had a chance to see last year’s picks in action. He said defencemen will be particularly important this year.
“I think the top 30 to 40 are probably the same as any other year,” Ritchie said. “They’re good players. It may drop off a bit after that. I think D will be really important early on maybe than most years because I don’t think D is as strong as it has been in the past. There are still really good players in the draft; don’t get me wrong.”
The 2016 draft featured a rich selection of top defenders, with Brandon trading up to snag Braden Schneider of Prince Albert with the 12th pick in the first round.
Manitoba will likely make a more modest contribution at the front of the draft this year as well, according to a number of insiders the Brandon Sun spoke to about the draft. After the epic 2015 draft when Calen Addison, Jett Woo, Koby Morrisseau, Riley Stotts, Dawson Barteaux and Caiden Daley all went in the first round, only one Manitoban is widely considered a can’t-miss first round prospect in 2017.
Top-ranked Seth Jarvis of Winnipeg, a speedy five-foot-nine, 145-pound forward who led the Rink Academy with 45 goals and 26 assists in 33 games, should go in the top half of the first round.
Several more Manitobans could go in the first couple of rounds — including players such as Brandon’s Daemon Hunt who could work their way into the first round — with a steady number being picked each round after as well.
Manitoba had 36 players taken in the 2013, 2015 and 2016 drafts, 34 in 2014 and 31 in 2012.
The Wheat Kings head into the draft with extra picks in the second and eighth rounds, and no pick in the sixth. They have their regular selection in the second round at 30th overall, but also own the 27th pick as part of a deal with the Saskatoon Blades in January 2016 that sent Colton Waltz and Braylon Shmyr to Saskatoon for Mitch Wheaton and Schael Higson.
The Blades, however, hold the fifth and 10th picks in the draft.
The Prince Albert Raiders have the top pick after moving up two spots courtesy of the draft lottery.
After taking two forwards in the first round in 2015‚ Cole Fonstad and Carson Miller, the Raiders took defenceman Rhett Rhinehart in 2016.
They’ll have a choice to make with the first pick, likely between highly touted B.C. forwards Connor McClennon of the Pursuit of Excellence academy and Justin Sourdif of Delta Prep, and defenceman Kaiden Guhle, the younger brother of former Raider Brendan Guhle.
The six-foot-one, 165-pound Kaiden Guhle played with OHA Edmonton.
The first goalie to go will likely be six-foot-three, 204-pound Sebastian Cossa of the Fort Saskatchewan Rangers, who should hear his name called in the bottom third of the first round or early in the second.
The draft begins at 9:30 a.m. CLICK HERE TO TRACK THE DRAFT
Perry Bergson of the Brandon Sun breaks it down:
THIRTY TO WATCH
1. Kaiden Guhle, D OHA Edmonton (Alta.), 6-1, 165 pounds
2. Connor McClennon, C POE Academy (B.C.), 5-8, 145
3. Justin Sourdif, C/LW Delta Prep (B.C.), 5-10, 173
4. Ethan Bowen, C Yale Prep (B.C.), 6-0, 152
5. Aiden De La Gorgendiere, D Yale Prep (B.C.), 6-0, 167
6. Luke Prokop, D POE Academy (B.C.), 6-2, 177
7. Jake Neighbours, RW/LW POE Academy (B.C.), 5-11, 175
8. Seth Jarvis, LW Rink Prep (Man.), 5-9, 145
9. Kyle Crnkovic, LW/RW POE Academy (B.C.), 5-6, 146
10. Payton Mount, C/RW Delta Prep (B.C.), 5-9, 173
11. Kaden Kohle, C Humboldt Broncos (Sask.), 6-0, 172
12. Ozzy Weisblatt, C Calgary Bisons (Alta.), 5-8, 154
13. Ryan Watson, LD Delta Prep (B.C.), 5-9, 144
14. Cohner Saleski, C Saskatoon Stallions (Sask.), 5-9, 140
15. Anson McMaster, RD Rocky Mountain Raiders (Alta.), 6-3, 162
16. Anthony Kehrer, D Rink Prep (Man.), 5-11, 174
17. Joel Sexsmith, LD Rink Prep (Man.), 6-1, 162
18. Ridly Greig, F Lethbridge Golden Hawks (Alta.), 5-7, 130
19. Sebastian Cossa, G Fort Sask Rangers (Alta.), 6-3, 204
20. Tyson Phare, RW/C Yale Prep (B.C.), 5-11, 168
21. Cole Shepard, LW/RW Delta Prep (B.C.), 5-8, 135
22. Braden Plaschewsky, C/LW Calgary Bison (Alta.), 5-11, 154
23. Daemon Hunt, D Brandon, 5-11, 186
24. Michael Benning, RD St. Albert Sabres (Alta.), 5-7, 141
25. John Little, F/D Shawnigan Lake (B.C.), 6-0, 180
26. Ben King, F/D POE Academy (B.C.), 6-0, 155
27. Trevor Thurston, RD Delta Prep (B.C.), 6-0, 156
28. Logan Dowhaniuk, D Camrose Red Wings (Alta.), 6-0, 165
29. Sahil Panwar, F Los Angeles Jr. Kings U16 (U.S.), 6-0, 168
30. Tanner Brown, LD POE Academy (B.C.), 5-10, 165
* Note: Top prospect Ryan Helliwell has committed to the University of Notre Dame.
MANITOBA’S TOP 10
1. Seth Jarvis — Rink Academy
2. Anthony Kehrer — Rink Academy
3. Daemon Hunt — Brandon Bantam AAA Wheat Kings
4. Ty Thorpe — Rink Academy (Brandon)
5. Jakob Brook — Rink Academy (Roblin)
6. Nolan Ritchie — Brandon Bantam AAA Wheat Kings
7. Levi Thiessen — Winnipeg Hawks
8. Nathaniel Hinds — Winnipeg Warriors
9. Luke Benedictson — Winnipeg Monarchs
10. Jake Poole — Yellowhead Chiefs
WESTMAN’S TOP 10
1. Daemon Hunt — Brandon
2. Nolan Ritchie — Brandon
3. Ty Thorpe — Rink Academy (Brandon)
4. Jake Poole — Yellowhead
5. Landon Roberts — Southwest
6. Reece Richmond — Yellowhead
7. Calder Anderson — Brandon
8. Tyson Kozak — Southwest
9. Cory King — Southwest
10. Brody Wilson — Yellowhead
FIRST ROUND DRAFT ORDER
1. Prince Albert Raiders
2. Kootenay Ice
3. Vancouver Giants
4. Edmonton Oil Kings
5. Saskatoon Blades
6. Spokane Chiefs
7. Calgary Hitmen
8. Brandon Wheat Kings
9. Swift Current Broncos (from Red Deer Rebels)
10. Saskatoon (from Victoria Royals)
11. Portland Winterhawks
12. Tri-City Americans
13. Swift Current Broncos
14. Kamloops Blazers
15. Moose Jaw Warriors
16. Lethbridge Hurricanes
17. Kelowna Rockets
18. Prince George Cougars
19. Seattle Thunderbirds
20. Everett Silvertips
21. Medicine Hat Tigers
22. Red Deer (from Regina Pats)