The WHL Bantam Draft is coming up on Friday, and the Kootenay Ice will be looking to their future.
Scouts from across the league gather in Calgary on Thursday for the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft, and Ice head scout Garnet Kazuik will be there to make the calls.
The Ice have picks in every round but the eighth—sent to the Tri-City Americans for their spot in the CHL Import Draft last year—and also have four selections in the fifth round, which have accumulated in various deals over the last two seasons.
Kazuik, who spends his winter and spring months traversing Western Canada to identify up and coming bantam talent, said this year’s draft class has a higher profile than others in the past because of the influence of social media.
“The top players—the top layer—is very good, just like in most drafts,” said Kazuik. “The top group is good, but that takes away nothing from the guys in the middle of the first round either. They’re very good players and more often than not, some of those players turn out to be just as good as the top guys anyways.”
Kootenay selects ninth overall in the first round, but the Vancouver Giants start the show with the first pick after a poor season that finished with them in the WHL basement.
“Where we’re picking, we should definitely get a good player, and hopefully it’s an impact player, and we’re just looking for the best fit for the Kootenay Ice that fits into the framework of our team,” continued Kazuik, “that fits well with our dressing room and our coaching staff.”
Kootenay gets picks in the second and third round, and takes the fourth round selection of the Swift Current Broncos, which belonged to the Saskatoon Blades via a trade for Erik Benoit at the deadline in January.
The Ice then get a whopping four selections in the fifth round. Along with Kootenay’s own spot, the Ice picked up fifth round picks in trades that sent Elgin Pearce to the Medicine Hat Tigers, Mike Simpson to the Lethbridge Hurricanes and John Neibrandt to the Vancouver Giants.
“I think it’s going to be very valuable, because you can definitely find players in the fifth round that can play,” said Kazuik.
He referenced Kootenay Ice alumnus Nigel Dawes, the sniper who won a Memorial Cup with the team and a gold medal at the World Junior Championship. Dawes was drafted 73rd overall in the fifth round of the 2000 WHL Bantam Draft.
“If you can find some players that can play, it’s definitely going to help our depth in that age group for sure,” added Kazuik. “And that’s where the important part is—the depth that those fifth round picks can fill.”
While the draft is meant to build for the future, the picks are also important bargaining chips for trades. The Ice scooped up Jordyn Boyd from the Everett Silvertips on draft day last year, giving up a fifth round selection in return.
Ice general manager Jeff Chynoweth said he is looking to draft 10 to 11 players, but he is also waiting to see what happens in terms of who wants to buy and sell when the process gets underway.
“We’re going to look at all options and we’re going to see what everybody is going to do,” said Chynoweth. “If we can make our team better, we will, but it’s tough to make trades for veteran players with draft picks…you can do it, but you have to have a dance partner.
“…We’re excited about the nucleus of our team that’s coming back next year, we have lots of potential. We got some holes to fill, just like every other team does and we’ll address that starting Thursday as well as the rest of the summer and into the start of the season.”
WHL NOTES: The Portland Winterhawks won’t be able to make any selections in the draft until the seventh round, due to disciplinary sanctions from the WHL stemming from an investigation into alleged player benefit violations.