Jarret Stoll

Jarret Stoll

Kootenay Ice eager to surprise as WHL Bantam Draft looms large

With WHL Bantam Draft set for Thursday in Calgary, Kootenay Ice prepare for top choice since selecting first overall in 1997

For only the second time in franchise history, the Kootenay Ice are set to make the first-overall selection at the WHL Bantam Draft.

In a season full of ups and downs, the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft at Hotel Arts in Calgary Thursday morning (8:30 a.m.) will most definitely be a highlight.

For Garnet Kazuik, director of scouting, and Jeff Chynoweth, president and general manager, Thursday will mark the end of a journey that took both far and wide across the region in search of not only the prized prospect at the top of the proverbial pile but hidden gems and depth throughout the rest of the draft.

Having spent plenty of time in arenas across western Canada all season long, and particularly over the final few months of the bantam hockey season, Kazuik, Chynoweth and the rest of the Ice scouting department are all but set when it comes to making the top selection.

“We’ve got a lot coming at us, obviously people want to know what we’re doing,” Kazuik said over the phone from Calgary Tuesday morning. “We’re not revealing that one bit. We think it’s exciting — what’s wrong with a little bit of surprise at the draft?

“There’s no doubt we’ve narrowed it down as a staff. There are rumours out there — three or four players we’re looking at, but they’re just rumours. We’re the only ones that know what we want to do here.

“It’s very exciting, it’s very different drafting first overall and that’s exciting in itself. It’s not the way you want to do it. You don’t want to finish last, you don’t want to have this pick, but at the same time, we are here and it’s exciting. We’re going to take full advantage of it.”

After finishing the campaign in the WHL cellar with a record of 12-53-6-1, the Ice went on to win the WHL Bantam Draft lottery to retain the top selection in the league’s annual restocking.

One has to dig deep into the archives — a full 19 years ago — to track down the last time the Kootenay Ice were the first franchise to step to the podium at the bantam draft.

“There were two forwards — Jarret Stoll and Eric Johansson,” Chynoweth said Tuesday, reminiscing upon the lead up to the 1997 bantam draft. “Eric Johansson was a local boy from Edmonton who had an outstanding year playing bantam hockey.

“I think the turning point for us that year was at the St. Albert bantam tournament in January where Jarret had a phenomenal tournament. That was the tipping point for us to make a decision on Jarret at that time.”

In 1997, the Edmonton Ice called Stoll’s name with the prestige pick, adding to a stable that already housed defenceman Steve McCarthy (1996, first overall). One year later, a well-known workhorse goaltender by the name of Dan Blackburn (1998, third overall) saddled up beside McCarthy and Stoll. The rest is history as the trio helped lead the club to the 2000 WHL championship. Stoll carried on, captaining the Ice to a second WHL championship and Memorial Cup crown in 2002 after McCarthy and Blackburn turned pro.

Stoll, a native of Melville, Sask., stacked up an impressive 124 goals and 286 points in 245 career WHL regular-season games, adding 18 goals and 50 points in 57 post-season games along the way.

Since going pro, Stoll has won two Stanley Cup championships and played nearly 900 NHL regular-season games. There is no questioning the impact he had both with the Kootenay Ice and beyond.

“In three consecutive bantam drafts, we think we had the best position player — Steve McCarthy in 1996, Jarret Stoll in 1997 and Dan Blackburn in the 1998 draft,” Chynoweth said. “It isn’t just the first pick that allows you to have success. But Jarret’s leadership skills that are evident in the NHL today were evident back then. He came in and he struggled and adjusted to life just like any 16-year-old player, but he came in at 15 during our last year in Edmonton, played some games, made an impression.

“You could see the potential in him, Steve McCarthy and Dan Blackburn. It provided a bright future for our hockey club at the time.”

The aforementioned Johansson ended up going fourth overall to the Tri-City Americans in 1997, tallying 266 points over the course of a 262-game regular season career. Despite being selected in both the 2000 and 2002 NHL Entry Drafts, Johansson never played an NHL game, instead taking his talents to Europe, where he remains to this day.

Kazuik and Chynoweth were both rightfully mum as to what name will be called first at Thursday’s bantam draft, though it’s no secret whomever is selected will eventually be tasked with contributing big things to a club in rebuild mode looking for a brighter future once again for the first time in nearly 20 years.

Chynoweth recalls deliberating both Stoll and Johansson in the months leading up to the 1997 draft and similarly there has been plenty of conversation revolving around a number of options heading into 2016. Outside that, there is only one existing commonality between 1997 and 2016 as far as Chynoweth is concerned.

“It’s been so long since we had the first-overall pick, obviously the game has changed a little bit since then,” Chynoweth said. “There are more teams and the scouting is more detailed than maybe it was in 1997. It continues to get better, year in and year out, in the Western Hockey League.

“The only similarity is we have the first-overall pick.”

With names like Bowen Byram (Lethbridge Golden Hawks), Kirby Dach (Fort Saskatchewan Rangers) and Peyton Krebs (Rocky Mountain Raiders) floating around — just to name a few — there’s no shortage of quality atop the charts.

“We’re close to finalizing our decision,” Chynoweth said. “We’ll let the player that we select know Thursday morning. It will be a surprise.”

Beyond the excitement of the first-overall selection, the Ice hold 13 picks in the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft. According to both Chynoweth and Kazuik, the game plan is to tab 10 players by the time the proceedings wrap up.

The later rounds of the draft can prove just as fruitful and are certainly significant, despite not sharing the same glamour and glitz as the first round.

According to Kazuik, his group of scouts has prioritized a list of 60 to 80 targets they project will go on to be successful WHL players. Hitting on as many of those names throughout the proceedings is the ultimate goal as the club continues its rigorous rebuild.

The 2016 WHL Bantam Draft will be webcast live at new.whl.ca with coverage beginning at 8:30 a.m.

Players eligible for the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft will be 2001-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.

Kootenay Ice 2016 WHL Bantam Draft

Round 1 — First overallRound 2 — 23rd overallRound 3 — 56th overall (via Red Deer for Luke Philp via Vancouver via Moose Jaw)Round 4 — 67th overallRound 4 — 70th overall (via Swift Current for Jon Martin)Round 4 — 78th overall (via Moose Jaw for Tanner Faith)Round 5 — 89th overallRound 6 — 111th overallRound 8 — 155th overallRound 9 — 177th overallRound 10 — 199th overallRound 11 — 221st overallRound 12 — 243rd overall

Kootenay Ice First Round Draft History

1996 — Steve McCarthy, D (Trail, B.C.) — First overall1997 — Jarret Stoll, C (Melville, Sask.) — First overall1998 — Dan Blackburn, G (Montreal) — Third overall1999 — Andy Thompson, D (North Delta, B.C.) — Seventh overall2000 — Dale Mahovsky, RW (Fort Saskatchewan, Alta.) — 17th overall2001 — Jeremy Schenderling, C (Langley, B.C.) — 18th overall2003 — Ben Maxwell, C/LW (North Vancouver) — Second overall2003 — Todd Panchyson, D (Nipawin, Sask.) — 12th overall2004 — John Negrin, D (West Vancouver) — Seventh overall2005 — Jordan Wilkins, D (Princeton, B.C.) — 20th overall2006 — Nathan Lieuwen, G (Abbotsford, B.C.) — 16th overall2007 — Drew Czerwonka, LW (Glenavon, Sask.) — 20th overall2008 — Brendan Hurley, LW (Fort Saskatchewan, Alta.) — 15th overall2009 — Colby Cave, C/LW (Battleford, Sask.) — 13th overall2010 — Sam Reinhart, C/RW (North Vancouver) — 15th overall2011 — Collin Shirley, LW/C (Saskatoon) — 17th overall2012 — Troy Murray, D (White City, Sask.) — 10th overall2013 — Jared Legien, LW (Pilot Butte, Sask.) — Ninth overall2014 — Griffin Mendel, D (Kelowna) — 11th overall

Townsman/Bulletin sports editor Taylor Rocca will be reporting live from the WHL Bantam Draft in Calgary. For instant updates from the draft room floor, follow Taylor on Twitter (@taylorrocca).