The Western Hockey League will be holding their annual Bantam Draft on Thursday, May 3 in Red Deer, Alberta and the Kootenay Ice are ready to take another step towards a bright future.
For a second straight year, the Ice hold the second overall pick (after winning the draft lottery and moving up from fourth) and are confident that they will once again add a quality player. While the team isn’t willing to tip their hand in any way, they have a simple strategy: they’ve got their list and they plan to stick to it.
According to Jake Heisinger, the team’s Director of Scouting and Hockey Operations, the scouting process has been ongoing since September and the Ice have a good grasp of which players interest them.
“We’re going to operate under the best player available mentality, and whoever is there when we pick, that’s who we’ll select,” Heisinger said. “We’re going to operate [that way] throughout the whole draft… we’re going to do that for the second overall pick and we’re going to do that in the seventh round.”
Heisinger is part of a small but dedicated group within the front office tasked with finding the next generation of Ice prospects. Taras McEwen is the Ice’s Manager of Scouting and travels across Western Canada during the season, attending all the major tournaments, while Zenon Herasymiuk is a regional scout in Alberta who follows the Alberta Bantam leagues.
President and General Manager Matt Cockell also plays a vital role, attending as many tournaments as he can and ultimately being responsible for the organization’s direction. The entire group attended the BC Cup showcase last weekend and will be at the upcoming Alberta Cup as well.
“We use [the major year-end events] just to see [the prospects] all together and maybe make a couple of tweaks, but nothing crazy,” Heisinger said. “The hope is that you did your work during the winter and [now] you’re just watching and seeing where it plays out.”
This year’s draft eligibility will be open to all 2003-born players who reside in Alberta, B.C., Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Northwest Territories, Yukon, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.
While the WHL covers an expansive area, Heisinger said that it is not an impossible task to watch all of the top players.
“The way it’s set up now, you can schedule it to see everybody,” he explained. “There are a lot of showcases now where you’re able to knock off up to twelve games a day, so you really do see everybody. If there’s a guy that you want to go back to because you only saw him once, you can work that in [too].”
Although Heisinger kept the team’s list of top players a secret, he said that, in general, he believes that the 2018-class is a strong group.
“There are a lot of good players [and] any guy we draft is going to have a chance to play, no matter where [they go],” Heisinger said. “You hear a lot of names getting thrown out, but the truth is we’re [just] going to follow our list.”
According to the ‘Western Elite Hockey Prospects’ website, the top three players available for the 2018 WHL Bantam Draft are defenceman Carson Lambos of Rink Hockey Academy in Winnipeg, forward Logan Stankoven of Yale Hockey Academy in Abbotsford and forward Zack Stringer, who plays for the Lethbridge Hurricanes in the AMHL.
Last season, the Ice selected forward Connor McClennon of the Pursuit of Excellence Bantam Prep team with the second overall pick. McClennon played this past season with NAX Academy and put up 67 points in 31 games, leading the team to a CSSHL Midget Prep title. He also played five games with Kootenay, but had zero points.
In 2016, the Ice had the first overall pick and drafted forward Peyton Krebs, who just completed his first major junior season and was the WHL’s top rookie scorer with 54 points in 67 games.
While this will be Heisinger’s first draft in his new position, having joined the organization last summer and taken on a more prominent role following the restructuring of the scouting department under the Ice’s new ownership, he is confident that he knows the sort of player that will be a strong addition to the roster.
“We’re looking for smart players [and] guys that can skate and have a good, skilled stick,” he said. “That’s where we start. We want guys that can compete and work hard and want to win loose puck battles and want to be a difference maker for their team.
“They did a great job last year with the draft [and] we were able to add some good players. I think we’ll be able to add more talented players this year.”
The first pick in Thursday’s draft is held by the Edmonton Oil Kings, who finished last season with the WHL’s worst record. While, the Ice have the second pick in the first round, in the subsequent seven rounds, they hold the fourth selection, having finished last season with a better record than Edmonton, the Prince George Cougars and the Calgary Hitmen.