For the first time since 2002, the Kootenay Ice will go without a first-round selection at the WHL Bantam Draft. Despite the lack of a first-round pick, there’s still plenty of opportunity for success at the WHL’s annual restocking.
“In any draft, you want to get the best players. It’s pretty simple,” said Jeff Chynoweth, Kootenay Ice president and general manager, Tuesday afternoon. “It’s always tough. It’s a crapshoot. You’re dealing with 14- and 15-year-old boys. They change over time. Going into every draft, you’re hoping to get minimum three players and possibly up to five.
“We’re going to try to get the best available player. One thing about the draft, with 22 teams, you get 22 different opinions. Everyone rates players differently.”
The WHL Bantam Draft gets underway Thursday morning at 8:30 a.m. from the Deerfoot Inn in Calgary, though the Ice are slated to sit out the first round of selections after Chynoweth dealt his team’s 2015 first-round pick in the trade that brought Tim Bozon to Cranbrook from the Kamloops Blazers on Oct. 22, 2013.
The Saskatoon Blades won the 2015 WHL Draft Lottery, but the team swapped its 2015 first-round selection with the Spokane Chiefs in exchange for forward Collin Valcourt at the 2013 trade deadline.
Called to the podium to open the festivities, the Chiefs are expected to select the consensus top-ranked player heading into the draft — 5-foot-10, 161-pound defenceman Ty Smith of Delta Hockey Academy.
As for the Ice, Chynoweth and director of scouting Garnet Kazuik, will call their first name in the second round with the 33rd-overall selection.
“You want to draft the best player and it’s not specific by position,” Kazuik said over the phone Wednesday morning. “Once that draft rolls live, it takes a life of its own. At the time when your pick comes out…there’s going to be a lot of decisions made before we get to our pick.
“Obviously, you would love to have a first-round pick…Hopefully we’re going to be able to get a player that’s going to be able to play. All you have to do is go back in our draft history and see some of our second-round picks. A lot of them have played for us and been very, very good players.”
Tanner Faith (2010), Wyatt Hoflin (2010), Elgin Pearce (2007), Brayden McNabb (2006), Steele Boomer (2005) and Dustin Sylvester (2004) represent a host of quality second-round selections, each of which went on to lengthy WHL careers in Cranbrook.
Though the 2010 draft class was particularly good for the Ice, Kazuik isn’t convinced the 2015 class carries the same depth and quality, though only time will confirm or challenge that assessment.
Kazuik believes the strength in this year’s draft exists in the contingent of blue-liners, with many of the available forwards projecting as similar throughout. As far as he’s concerned, the goaltending class at this year’s draft isn’t particularly strong at all.
“With the forwards, there’s a lot of guys there that are very, very similar,” Kazuik said. “It’s our job as scouts to hopefully pick them apart a little bit more and do a good job of projecting them out. A lot of these kids, right now, it’s going to be interesting to see how they develop once they do come into the league, because there’s not a lot of differences separating the hockey players right now.
“You could get a player similar to the backend of the first [round] that we’ll get [with our second-round pick].”
Barring a transaction to acquire a first-rounder, or any other draft choice, the Ice have 10 picks to make from the second round through the 12th round and Chynoweth expects to use each one.
The Ice have a proven track record of unearthing diamonds in the rough beyond the second round as well.
Perhaps the most recent example exists in the form of defenceman Cale Fleury, the 2014-15 Alpine Toyota Rookie of the Year and Rocky Mountain Diesel Scholastic Player of the Year.
“Once they’re drafted, the late-round picks…they’re going to be treated just as fairly as the top-end guys,” Kazuik said. “Once we draft them…it’s about development at that point and what they do moving forward. They’re all going to be important pieces.”
Fleury, a native of Calgary, was a fourth-round pick, 78th overall, at the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft. To say he is an important piece of the Kootenay Ice future would be an understatement.
If you go deeper in time and deeper into the draft, you’ll find the likes of well-tenured Kootenay Ice, including Jon Martin (2010, seventh round, 135th overall; 246 WHL games), Jagger Dirk (2008, 11th round, 235th overall; 310 WHL games) and Ryan Russell (2002, 11th round, 204th overall; 263 WHL games) just to name a few.
“Because of the age of these players, they always develop and mature at different stages of their hockey life,” Chynoweth said. “That big guy sometimes takes longer to develop. It takes a lot for our scouts to see that. That’s a good scout to project that player down the road.
“Having the experience and having gone through like a lot of members of our [scouting] staff have, you’re hoping that, in the long run, that sixth-rounder might be as good as your second-rounder.”
Each of the WHL’s 22 member clubs has the opportunity to replenish its system with graduating bantam-aged players (born in 2000) through Thursday’s draft.
“It’s a big day. I always say the two most important days are bantam draft day and schedule day,” Chynoweth said. “It’s a very important day for our organization as it is for every other team in the league.”
Coverage of the first round of the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft can be found streaming live online at whl.ca Thursday morning beginning at 8:30 a.m. (Mountain).
Players eligible for the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft include 2000-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 or Wyoming.
2015 Kootenay Ice WHL Bantam Draft Picks:
1st round – Traded to Saskatoon Blades via Kamloops Blazers (Tim Bozon trade)2nd round3rd round4th round5th round – Traded to Kamloops Blazers (Tim Bozon trade)6th round6th round – Acquired from Victoria Royals (Jayden Sittler trade)7th round8th round9th round10th round11th round12th round – Traded to Lethbridge Hurricanes (Lenny Hackman trade)
The Kootenay Ice will look to restock the shelves at the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft in Calgary Thursday morning. Follow sports editor Taylor Rocca on Twitter and keep your eyes on dailytownsman.com for more Kootenay Ice bantam-draft coverage Thursday.