Produced by the WHL in partnership with BC Tree Fruits, “Growing the Game’s Best Talent” is a multi-part series highlighting the next generation of WHL stars set to embark on a journey pursuing NHL dreams. With the 2018 NHL Draft taking place this past weekend, WHL stars heard their name called by 14 different NHL teams, helping them take the next step in their blossoming careers Together, the WHL and BC Tree Fruits are “Growing the Game’s Best Talent.”
The 2018 National Hockey League Draft took place this past weekend in Dallas, Texas as players from the Western Hockey League realized the first part of their dreams in playing at hockey’s highest level.
Of course, once a player is drafted, the real work is just beginning. So close to realizing their dream of playing in the NHL, the focus becomes on getting that much better during the off-season so players are ready for their NHL training camps in the fall and shortly after, the 2018-19 WHL regular season.
But the seeds of success witnessed now, were planted by WHL clubs at the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft and beyond.
Defenceman Ty Smith was the highest pick at that year’s WHL Bantam Draft going first overall to the Spokane Chiefs. He was subsequently also the highest WHL player selected at this weekend’s draft, going 17th overall to the New Jersey Devils.
“It was special,” said Smith. “It felt amazing to hear them call my name and get up and get to give my dad a big hug.”
Smith led the list of WHL players identified by NHL Central Scouting throughout the course of the season and was billed as one of the strongest offensive contributors among the defensive prospects in his class. Having captain Hockey Canada on multiple occasions in his career already, Smith’s qualities as a leader have also been exhibited.
As the recipient of the Daryl K. (Doc) Seaman Trophy as the WHL Scholastic Player of the Year in the 2017-18 season, Smith has proved he has the smarts to succeed.
In a year when WHL defencemen led the league’s draft class, the 5-foot-10, 170-pound product of Lloydminster, Alta. felt honoured to be at the forefront of the group.
“It’s a great league and there’s lots of great players there,” added Smith. “I have lots of respect for those guys. To go first from that league is really special.”
Alexander Alexeyev of the Red Deer Rebels was the next WHL player to be selected as the 6-foot-3, 200-pound rearguard was selected by the defending Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals.
“Amazing feeling right now,” noted Alexeyev. “Being selected by this organization, it’s really nice. It’s just crazy and I’m so happy right now.”
The first welcome to the organization may have come when his name was called and he had his photo taken on stage, but the best welcome came from Capitals captain and fellow countrymen Alexander Ovechkin. The two shared a brief conversation in Russian before Alexeyev was put through the throng of photo-shoots and media availability.
All year, Alexeyev battled to raise his profile and did so more in the second half with the Rebels as they made a push to get into the 2018 WHL Playoffs. Later came an invitation to the 2018 NHL Scouting Combine where he had the chance to mingle more with teams and put his best foot forward from a physical perspective.
There was talk from teams to Alexeyev that they intended to use their late first-round selection on him. Though some passed, Alexeyev was overjoyed to be where he was with the Capitals.
“When it’s like, the teams who talked to me and they said they will pick me in first [round] late, they didn’t and I get little upset. When Washington Capitals call my name, I get really excited and so happy.”
The run of WHL defencemen continued six picks later with Moose Jaw Warriors defender Jett Woo being selected by the Vancouver Canucks, another joyous moment for the Manitoban product.
Originally chosen with the fourth overall selection at the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft, Woo hit another benchmark on his path to becoming a professional hockey star and said it was going to take time to let the feeling sink in.
“Maybe when this is all over in a day or two, I’ll let it sit in,” said the Winnipeg, Man. product. “You see a lot of your buddies go in the draft and they say you have no words or anything, and it’s true.
“I really have no words to describe how I feel right now. I’m overwhelmed with the opportunity that I have ahead of me.”
Woo talked about his injury-shortened 2017-18 campaign. While he had the desire to appear in more games, he was ultimately happy with how things had worked out and looked forward to the challenge ahead.
“When I was given a role or responsibility on the ice and put in a situation that I was able to do my best in that area,” continued Woo. “I wish I could have been playing those game to show myself a little bit more.
“Coming into and to be drafted by Vancouver I really wouldn’t change anything at all.”
Though he was also far from home, Woo had plenty of friends and family at the draft, a moment that made the 6-foot-0, 201-pound defencemen feel special on such an important day.
“It’s really cool to have so much support here with me. It’s a true blessing.”
Rounding out the selection of WHL defencemen as the top four picks from the league was Lethbridge Hurricanes defender Calen Addison, a 5-foot-11, 178-pound product of Brandon, Man. who ultimately went 53rd overall to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“I’m at a loss of words right now,” said Addison. “You dream about your whole life this moment and it’s right here.”
‘I’m so excited to be a Pittsburgh Penguin. This day has been a long time coming.”
Addison had shared many celebrations with his teammates this season, recording 65 points (11G-54A) in 68 games and playing a significant role in his team’s journey to the Eastern Conference Championship. There was however the celebration he got to have with his sister upon hearing his name called that meant just as much, if not more.
“It was my sister,” said Addison of his first person to hug upon being selected. “I just hugged her and told her I love her.
“We’re so close and I love her so it’s special for us.”
Different teams and different paths have led to each of the above four and the remaining selected players to realize the first step in their dream. Even more so, the journey is still just beginning for those who want to play professional hockey and not just be selected by a NHL team.
The seeds of their hockey career career were planted many years ago and this past weekend represented the first bloom of that talent. Now, nurturing their game to take them to the highest level becomes the goal and ensuring that their career is one that continues to shine at its best and brightest.
2018 NHL Draft – WHL Players
Overall – Player (Pos.) – NHL Team; WHL Team; Hometown
Round One (2)
#17 – Ty Smith (D) – New Jersey Devils; Spokane Chiefs; Lloydminster, Alta.
#31 – Alexander Alexeyev (D) – Washington Capitals; Red Deer Rebels; St. Petersburg, Russia
Round Two (2)
#37 – Jett Woo (D) – Vancouver Canucks; Moose Jaw Warriors; Winnipeg, Man.
#53 – Calen Addison (D) – Pittsburgh Penguins; Lethbridge Hurricanes; Brandon, Man.
Round Three (3)
#83 – Riley Stotts (F) – Toronto Maple Leafs; Calgary Hitmen; Winnipeg, Man.
#92 – Connor Dewar (F) – Minnesota Wild; Everett Silvertips; The Pas, Man.
#93 – Riley Sutter (F) – Washington Capitals; Everett Silvertips; Calgary, Alta.
Round Four (2)
#107 – Joel Hofer (G) – St. Louis Blues; Swift Current Broncos; Winnipeg, Man.
#122 – Milos Roman (F) – Calgary Flames; Vancouver Giants; Kysucke Nove Mesto, Slovakia
Round Five (5)
#127 – Wyatte Wylie (D) – Philadelphia Flyers; Everett Silvertips; Everett, Wash.
#128 – Cole Fonstad (F) – Montreal Canadiens; Prince Albert Raiders; Estevan, Sask.
#129 – Justin Almeida (F) – Pittsburgh Penguins; Moose Jaw Warriors; Kitimat, B.C.
#149 – Filip Kral (D) – Toronto Maple Leafs; Spokane Chiefs; Blansko, Czech Republic
#151 – Vladislav Yeryomenko (D) – Nashville Predators; Calgary Hitmen; Vitebsk, Belarus
Round Six (3)
#158 – David Tendeck (G) – Arizona Coyotes; Vancouver Giants; North Vancouver, B.C.
#161 – Alex Kannok-Leipert (D) – Washington Capitals; Vancouver Giants; Regina, Sask.
#168 – Dawson Barteaux (D) – Dallas Stars; Red Deer Rebels; Foxwarren, Man.
Round Seven (3)
#199 – Jermaine Loewen (F) – Dallas Stars; Kamloops Blazers; Arborg, Man.
#204 – Trey Fix-Wolansky (F) – Columbus Blue Jackets; Edmonton Oil Kings; Edmonton, Alta.
#217 – Eric Florchuk (F) – Washington Capitals; Saskatoon Blades; Fort Saskatchewan, Alta