For the first time in the franchise’s Cranbrook history, the Kootenay Ice will select first overall at the WHL Bantam Draft.
The Ice won the Bantam Draft Lottery, hosted Wednesday morning at the Western Hockey League head office in Calgary, in order to retain the first-overall selection.
“It’s a feeling I’m not really used to, I haven’t had it in so long,” said Jeff Chynoweth, president and general manager of the Kootenay Ice, Wednesday afternoon. “But it was something we were definitely hoping would happen when we found out we were going to be in the draft lottery.”
The Ice finished the 2015-16 WHL regular season at the bottom of the league standings with a record of 12-53-6-1, missing out on post-season action for the first time since 1997-98.
The 12 wins represent the lowest total in franchise history and the accompanying 31 points are the second-lowest amount amassed in a single season.
With all that in mind, this is the first year the Ice will select first overall since 1997 and represents the highest pick since forward Ben Maxwell was chosen second overall at the 2003 WHL Bantam Draft.
“It’s bittersweet in a sense — it’s exciting to get a chance at picking a top-end player, but at the same time… this isn’t exactly the formula you set out to build a team to begin with,” said Garnet Kazuik, director of scouting for the Kootenay Ice, over the phone from Calgary Wednesday afternoon. “The biggest thing that comes out of it now is we’re in complete, 100-per-cent control of what happens at the top [of the draft]. That’s the big benefit.”
Each of the six non-playoff teams, including the Ice, Vancouver Giants, Saskatoon Blades, Swift Current Broncos, Medicine Hat Tigers and Tri-City Americans had an opportunity to win the lottery and move up a maximum of two spots in the draft order.
Conducting the draft lottery, David Evans of KPMG pulled a Kootenay Ice ball from the randomizer, ensuring the club retained the top selection.
“You get to control it [selecting first overall] and you get the full opportunity to talk to the prospects we will narrow down to,” Kazuik said. “That’s the biggest part of it. It gives us full advantage to have the opportunity to meet with families, meet with players and do our homework prior to the day of the selection.”
Both Kazuik and Chynoweth believe the top end of the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft class is deep and while they aren’t about to show their hand, there’s no shortage of talent for them to choose from with the first-overall selection.
A trio of names have jumped to the forefront of conversations when it comes to the top-five in this year’s bantam draft, including defenceman Bowen Byram and forwards Kirby Dach and Peyton Krebs.
“There’s no clear cut top one, two or three guy,” Kazuik said. “At the end of the day, 22 team lists are different and their top five will be different… People weight things different as do we.”
Byram, a native of Cranbrook, has spent the 2015-16 season with the Lethbridge Golden Hawks of the Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League (AMBHL), stacking up 22 goals and 59 points in 34 games to lead all defencemen in scoring.
“Bowen is going to be an excellent major junior player,” Kazuik said. “I foresee him having a pro career once he is done even at the major junior level.
“He’s everything. He’s a 200-foot player for his team right now and probably moving forward. He’s a penalty-kill guy, he’s a power-play guy. He’s very hard to play against. He has good size and one of his biggest assets is he can really shoot the puck. His No. 1 asset is his skating ability. He’s very lateral… He has a great stick and he communicates so well on the ice.”
Dach spent the 2015-16 season with the Fort Saskatchewan Rangers of the Alberta AAA Midget Hockey League (AMHL), registering 14 goals and 35 points in 34 games.
“He’s definitely one of the top forwards available in the draft,” Chynoweth said of Dach. “He played AAA Midget as an under-aged bantam and that’s very rare.
“He has good size, sees the ice very well and there’s lots of upside with his game as there is with Peyton Krebs and Bowden Byram. There are some good players available and a lot of teams are going to be happy with who they get in the first round.”
Krebs spent the 2015-16 season with the Rocky Mountain Rangers of the AMBHL, leading the league in scoring by an absolute long shot. With 46 goals and 102 points in 27 games, Krebs easily outdistanced the second-leading scorer in the AMBHL — Ethan Browne of the Sherwood Park Flyers (39-38-77).
“He has change of pace, he’s highly offensive and he’s an unselfish hockey player,” Kazuik said of Krebs. “He puts his teammates first. He’s a game changer and a game breaker. He’s done it for two years now.
“He’s highly offensive and he’s dynamic.”
This will be the third time in franchise history the Ice have held the top pick in the annual bantam draft, but the first time since moving to Cranbrook for the 1998-99 WHL season.
At the 1996 WHL Bantam Draft, defenceman Steve McCarthy became the franchise’s first-overall selection.
The native of Trail, B.C., went on to skate in 154 regular season games with the Ice, tallying 43 goals and 128 points before being made a 23rd-overall selection of the Chicago Blackhawks at the 1999 NHL Entry Draft.
At the 1997 WHL Bantam Draft, the Ice made forward Jarret Stoll the top pick.
The native of Melville, Sask., went on to 245 regular season games with the Ice, amassing 124 goals and 286 points. Over 57 WHL playoff games with the Ice, Stoll registered 18 goals and 50 points.
He eventually went on to a successful NHL career, which continues today. Stoll won Stanley Cups with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012 and 2014. With 864 NHL regular season games under his belt, Stoll is currently toiling with the Minnesota Wild.
The 2016 WHL Bantam Draft will be hosted Thursday, May 5 in Calgary.
The order of the second round and all other rounds will be the inverse order of the final 2015-16 WHL regular season standings.
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.
2016 WHL Bantam Draft — First round order of selection:
1) Kootenay Ice2) Vancouver Giants3) Saskatoon Blades4) Swift Current Broncos5) Medicine Hat Tigers6) Tri-City Americans7) Edmonton Oil Kings8) Spokane Chiefs9) Portland Winterhawks — forfeit10) Prince George Cougars11) Red Deer Rebels via Regina Pats12) Moose Jaw Warriors13) Prince Albert Raiders14) Everett Silvertips15) Kamloops Blazers16) Calgary Hitmen17) Swift Current Broncos via Saskatoon Blades via Red Deer Rebels18) Seattle Thunderbirds19) Lethbridge Hurricanes20) Kelowna Rockets21) Brandon Wheat Kings22) Victoria Royals