Beginning Thursday at 8:30 a.m. MT, the first round of the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft will be streamed live at WHL.ca and a complete live draft tracker will be available at WHL.ca/draft throughout the day.
A new age of WHL stars will be anointed at the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft Thursday in Calgary.
For players born in the year 2002 as well as WHL club scouting and management staff, Thursday marks a long-awaited day – the first fruit produced following tireless work and enduring efforts both on and off the ice over the past season and beyond.
“A lot of people don’t understand the amount of work that goes into it,” said Kirt Hill, Senior Manager – Hockey Operations for the Western Hockey League. “Each one of our clubs has upwards of 10 to 15 scouts out there working every day. It’s a full-year process. Some guys are even watching players a year out in order to understand what they have to offer.
“A lot of the players, when I talk to them specifically, I remind them that it’s very much about how you improve over the year. That’s one thing our scouts look at – you go to an event in September and then you go to an event such as Alberta Cup or B.C. Cup at the end of the year and the key is whether these players have improved over the year. Are they on the path to continue improving to when they’re 16 and can potentially play in the Western League?”
No matter how you cut it or who you’re talking about – players or scouts – the process is ongoing and the work seems endless, but it all builds towards the annual WHL Bantam Draft, where all those efforts are rewarded.
The Prince Albert Raiders – winners of the WHL Bantam Draft Lottery – will be the first club to stand at the podium and call a name, followed by the Kootenay ICE and Vancouver Giants (see WHL.ca/draft for the complete draft order).
“All the scouts are anxious to make their selections on Thursday – it’s been a long year,” Hill said. “Every year, it seems there are more and more events out there, more and more players you have to track to try to find these guys, especially the depth guys in the draft.
“It was a long stretch the last month with all the provincial wrap-ups but it will be exciting to see some kids get their names called on Thursday.”
The month of April sees scouts, general managers and coaches log long miles and extensive hours at provincial tournaments throughout western Canada – B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba – one final blast of high-intensity hockey before final draft lists are prepared in anticipation of May.
With all of this in mind, the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft is expected to produce quality depth through the first round, with a group of strong contenders representing each region within the league’s western Canadian and U.S. capture zone.
“It’s a good draft class,” Hill said looking ahead to Thursday. “There’s some real high-end talent at the top end of the draft. There’s going to be strong representation from the Canadian Sports School Hockey League this year. They will be very strong in the first round and the province of Alberta has a pretty strong year as well.
“All in all, there’s a high-end group and after that teams can address specific needs – are you after a defenceman, are you after a two-way forward or are you after a scorer? I think a lot of teams will be happy that they will be able to narrow in on a player they specifically want in this year’s draft.”
Defenceman Kaiden Guhle – brother of longtime Prince Albert Raider and former Prince George Cougars defenceman Brendan Guhle – is a strong contender to find his name called early Thursday morning. The product of Sherwood Park, Alta. Spent the 2016-17 season with OHA Edmonton Bantam Prep where he racked up 40 points (17G-23A) in 30 games. Bringing an enviable and well-rounded blend of offensive instinct and defensive responsibility, the younger Guhle isn’t afraid to mix it up when the situation calls for it.
Guhle isn’t the only Alberta-bred defenceman with a good chance of hearing his name hit the top of the draft board. If your team is looking for a hard-nosed, stay-at-home blueliner with incredible intelligence and unflappable poise, Luke Prokop might be your kid. A product of Edmonton, the rearguard spent 2016-17 with Pursuit of Excellence Bantam Prep where he collected 41 points (4G-37A) in 30 games while serving as a defensive anchor.
Another CSSHL athlete raised in Alberta, forward Connor McClennon is coming off a dominant year with the Pursuit of Excellence Bantam Prep where he notched 99 points (45G-54A) in 30 games. The product of Wainwright, Alta., owns one of the best one-timers in the 2017 draft class while using speed and size to create space for himself and teammates.
Out of Chilliwack, B.C., forward Ethan Bowen comes to the draft table following his WHL bloodlines. The younger brother of Lethbridge Hurricanes forward Ryan Bowen. Ethan spent the 2016-17 campaign playing for Yale Hockey Academy Bantam Prep where he logged an astounding 62 points (33G-29A) in 29 games. The owner of what has been widely regarded as one of the best releases in the 2017 draft class, Bowen has good vision, soft hands and knows how to make the most of a power play.
As seems to be the case every year, Winnipeg continues to produce quality WHL prospects. This year, the marquee name to keep eyes on is Seth Jarvis of the CSSHL’s Rink Hockey Academy. He might be one forward whose release can compete with that of Bowen’s and on top of that, Jarvis is widely considered to be an elite-level forward with great speed and skating ability. His 66 points (42G-24A) in 30 contests provide ample evidence.
The rough-and-tumble prairie hockey boy lives on year after year in the WHL and Josh Pillar stands to be the next in a long line of big, skilled forwards to emerge from the Land of Living Skies. A product of little Allan, Sask. – boasting a population of 648 as of the 2011 Canada Census – Pillar tore up the Saskatchewan Bantam AA Hockey League with the Sask Valley Vipers, tallying 54 points (18G-36A) in 25 games. Regarded for his 200-foot game, there is no questioning the compete level of Pillar.
Goaltender Sebastian Cossa of the Fort Saskatchewan Rangers provided the backbone for his club as it claimed the 2017 Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League (AMBHL) crown, Alberta provincial title and a bronze medal at the 2017 Western Canada Bantam Championship. Widely regarded as one of the top goaltenders in the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft class, the towering product of Fort McMurray, Alta., put up a record of 15-4-0 with a sparkling 1.80 goals-against average, .934 save percentage and five shutouts.
Another interesting study out of Alberta is the under-sized but ultra-intelligent Ridly Greig. With professional hockey in his blood – father Mark Greig was a WHL veteran of 206 games before playing more than 1,100 pro games, including 125 in the NHL and 606 in the AHL – the junior Greig is responsible at both ends of the rink and thinks the game at an incredibly high level. A product of Lethbridge, he spent the 2016-17 season with the Lethbridge Bantam AAA Golden Hawks where he registered 71 points (22G-49A) in 35 games.
While hundreds of players will be selected over the course of Thursday’s proceedings, nothing is guaranteed. The road to the WHL is a long one not easily conquered.
As hundreds of players celebrate a milestone in their blossoming hockey careers, many others will assuredly suffer the defeat of being passed over by 22 teams at the draft. The key is to survive. Being passed over doesn’t mean the end of the road for a player willing to invest the time and effort required to take his game to another level.
“For the players who get drafted – congratulations,” Hill said. “You wake up the next morning and that’s when the work starts for you to try to make the Western Hockey League.
“For the players who don’t get drafted, I tell them throughout the season that close to 25 per cent of our league is made up of undrafted players. It’s something that happens quite often – players every year are making our teams, making our rosters that were never drafted in bantam. So, for those guys that don’t get drafted, you wake up the next morning and get to put the same amount of work in [as someone who did get drafted] and try to become a great Western Hockey League player yourself.”
The 2017 WHL Bantam Draft will take place Thursday (8:30 a.m. MT) at the Deerfoot Inn in Calgary.
2017 WHL BANTAM DRAFT FIRST ROUND ORDER OF SELECTION
- Prince Albert Raiders
- Kootenay ICE
- Vancouver Giants
- Edmonton Oil Kings
- Saskatoon Blades
- Spokane Chiefs
- Calgary Hitmen
- Brandon Wheat Kings
- Red Deer Rebels traded to Swift Current Broncos
- Victoria Royals traded to Saskatoon Blades
- Portland Winterhawks
- Tri-City Americans
- Swift Current Broncos
- Kamloops Blazers
- Moose Jaw Warriors
- Lethbridge Hurricanes
- Kelowna Rockets traded to Prince Albert Raiders
- Prince George Cougars
- Seattle Thunderbirds
- Everett Silvertips
- Medicine Hat Tigers
- Regina Pats traded to Red Deer Rebels
Players eligible for the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft will be 2002-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.