Kootenay Ice to utilize ‘element of surprise’ at 2017 WHL Bantam Draft

Director of scouting still weighing options for second overall pick, confident in impact selection

“[Krebs] didn’t know that we were taking him until it actually went up on the day of the draft. It’ll be similar to that this year, with the number two spot.”

Kootenay Ice director of scouting, Garnet Kazuik, is not willing to show his hand for the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft, but is confident that, just like last year, the team will acquire an impact player with their high draft pick.

“We’ve got familiarity with three or four guys that we have an option to take at number two,” Kazuik said. “[This year] we are not number one. We do not control the draft entirely, but we definitely do have a good position of power.

“It’s no different than last year. We didn’t advertise who we were taking, we didn’t let anybody know — the element of surprise was good.”

Despite finishing in last place in the WHL, the Ice lost the draft lottery to the Prince Albert Raiders and will select second overall in the draft of the top 15-year-old prospects from the western provinces and states on May 4.

Last year, the team finished last and selected Okotoks, Alberta forward Peyton Krebs with the first overall pick. Krebs led the Alberta Midget AAA Hockey League last year with 40 points in 29 games and played six call-up games with the Ice, in which he picked up a goal and five assists.

Although Kazuik admits that the 2017 draft is not as deep as last year, he is confident that they will receive a very good player with their first pick.

“This [draft] is not going to be as exceptional as that one,” he said. “We will be able to revisit that question in approximately three years time and actually say that, [but] last year we were 15 deep with some exceptional players.

“[A lot] of the [2016 draft] players came in and played some [WHL] games this year at 15 [and] it was pretty exciting for them. [This year] there are only a couple of players, maybe four or five that would be able to do that.”

Out of the 21 first round picks made in 2016, 15 of them made WHL appearances as underage affiliates. This year, there are fewer names standing out.

“[In terms of] guys that have separated themselves, I’m sure there are five or six guys for sure, maybe even seven, but I can guarantee that the order will be different [in every team’s books],” Kazuik explained.

“People talk about guys like [Justin] Sourdif, [Seth] Jarvis, [Ethan] Bowen, [Connor] McClennon, [Kaiden] Guhle, [Ryan] Helliwell and [Aiden] De La Gorgendiere, [but] in that selection there are guys in there that are committed to college already, there are guys that do not want to go to areas geographically — teams are doing their homework to cover their bases, to make sure that they get a good prospect to play for their organization.”

In a mock draft released on the Western Elite Hockey Prospects website, McLennon — a forward from Kelowna’s Pursuit of Excellence program — was the first overall pick and Kaiden Guhle — a defenceman from OHA Edmonton — was in the second slot taken by the Ice.

According to Kazuik, while solid defencemen will be at a premium in the 2017 draft, the Ice will simply be looking to take the best player available.

“I feel that there is a big shortage of defencemen in this draft class, so there is definitely attention to that position once we go into the draft,” he said. “Even at the number two spot, we’re not set as to whether we’re taking a forward or a defencemen.

“There is nothing set in stone until that first pick is taken, then we will step into action at that time.”

The process of making a final selection is a long road and Kazuik said that contact with the players on their radar is frequent and thorough.

“Every team does their homework. They do face to face interviews with the player, with the parents, as do we,” Kazuik said. “[It] starts early in September, October, once you start to identify some players [and] start to have some conversations. There could be some phone calls through the season [and] we always continue to do that right until the night before or two days before the draft.

“We’ve got to be sure. We’ve got a very, very important pick and obviously, we’re going to get a very good player … There are a couple of options, but we feel confident [that] the player we’ll get is going to be very good.”

Last week, Kazuik attended the 2017 Alberta Cup, a four-day tournament with the best 2002-born players from Alberta.

While it didn’t necessarily have a lot of bearing on the Ice’s top pick, it was the last big tournament of the year and was a very important scouting opportunity for Kootenay’s later round selections.

“This is where the bulk of the players are in the four provinces, so we’ve got [to pay] attention to detail,” Kazuik said last week. “We’re looking at some players beyond the top pick that we have. We need to fill out our draft, so we’re actually moving into this final weekend in the middle of the draft order where we can build our team.

“Not that we’re taking all kids from Alberta, don’t get me wrong, we just know that the percentage is in Alberta.”

The 2017 WHL Bantam Draft will take place on Thursday, May 4. Following the first round, the Ice will be at the top of the draft order for every subsequent pick.

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