With the dust settled, let’s take a look at some of the WHL teams we believe had very successful drafts. While we believe many other teams had strong drafts, these are some of the teams and selections that really stood out to our group. Rest assured, if your team wasn’t mentioned, that does not mean they had a poor draft by any account.

Prince George Cougars

The Cougars find themselves winners not only because of the number of picks they possessed but the players they selected. Three first-round picks afforded the Cougars the ability to select three different types of players that all project favourably when it comes to the WHL. Adding the elite offensive winger in Riley Heidt who brings exceptional skating, speed, skill, and intelligence bolsters a future first-line featuring Heidt and last year’s fourth overall pick, Koehn Ziemmer. To complement these two sublimely talented youngsters, the Cougars opted for a strong, intelligent, two-way forward in Caden Brown, who captained the powerhouse Delta Green Bantam Prep team this past season. Rounding out their forward group in the first round was the selection of a relentlessly physical and offensively talented winger in Ryker Singer. These three selections bring a complement of assets to the Cougars forward corps in future years, which may allow them to be one of the more versatile and dynamic teams in the league. At 26th overall, the Cougars added one of the more complete defensemen in the draft in Bauer Dumanski. Dumanski projects to be a solid two-way contributor on the backend while bringing some much-needed physicality for the tougher games down the stretch. With their next pick, the Cougars opted to take another complementary player to their current crop of prospects in puck-moving defenceman Rylan Brown. One area of need for the organization was addressed in the 6th round, where the Cougars selected goaltender Liam Hallett. Hallett performed admirably down the stretch this season, winning big games for his West Vancouver Warriors squad and has the upside to easily develop into one of the best goaltenders in this draft class. For these reasons, and more, the Cougars turned their draft currency into an excellent draft class that should make them a very competitive team in a few years.

Seattle Thunderbirds

The T-birds were able to land one of the most prolific offensive weapons this year in Sam Oremba. The exceptionally talented skater and scoring machine that would have likely been a top-4 or -5 pick in many other drafts, but was overshadowed by a plethora of top-end talent this year. Oremba posted the highest point total (133 points) of any player in the SBAAHL in the last 18 years, surpassing Logan Barlage’s mark of 125. Complementing the Oremba pick, the Thunderbirds followed up with the selection of prolific goal-scorer Brayden Dube. Dube posted a line of 74G – 56A – 130P in 36 games played. Last year’s second overall selection, Connor Geekie, managed 49 goals and 37 assists in 31 games played (almost a full point-per-game less than Dube’s mark). While both are very different players, it is an exceptional stat line that hopefully projects to a level of success worthy of a first-round pick. Capping off a tremendous first three picks, the Thunderbirds selected arguably the most athletic and competitive goaltenders of the bunch in Scott Ratzlaff. Like all goaltenders selected at this age, Ratzlaff will require grooming and learn to conserve his energy at times, but this hyper-competitive and aggressive goaltender showed tremendous improvement over the course of the season and oozes potential.

Spokane Chiefs

The Chiefs were missing their third-round selection this year but were able to get a tremendous amount of value in their first four picks. Saige Weinstein, selected 18th overall, projects to be another smooth-skating, two-way defenceman that the Chiefs seem to always have a plethora of. Saige brings a strong and balanced game to the defence corps with an explosive and difficult to contain transition game. In the second round, the Chiefs selected a teammate of Weinstein’s in Kooper Gizowski. Kooper brings a ton of offence to the fold and loves to play physical and get in on the forecheck. Capable of creating on his own off the rush or on the cycle, Kooper has a more physically mature and demanding style of play that makes him difficult to play against. Another strong and physical forward, Jake Gudelj was selected in the fourth round. Gudelj brings a straight-line power forward mentality to his team as he uses his strength, balance, and straight-line speed to make the lives of opposing defenders miserable. A high-compete winger with limited offensive upside but a safe floor as he is already physically capable of stepping into the league. Lastly, Spokane was fortunate enough to land Tyler Chan at 100th overall, one of the best value picks in this draft. The undersized forward brings a well-rounded game and an underrated offensive upside to the table. A creative, speedy, and shifty forward that is relentless on the puck and shows no fear in battling those much bigger and stronger than him. As he grows, expect him to be a later bloomer than some of his peers and prove to outperform many of his peers selected before him.

Kamloops Blazers

The Blazers have done a fantastic job of retooling on the fly while acquiring valuable draft capital over the last two seasons. After what appears to be a strong 2019 draft class, the Blazers were handed a couple of gifts at this year’s draft and extracted a ton of value from their selections. At 19 and 27, the Blazers were able to acquire two exceptionally talented players out of the West Vancouver Academy, Kaden Hammell and Grayden Slipec. Both players could be found in many evaluators’ top-15 rankings, but their draft stock may have been hit due to issues stemming from the West Vancouver Academy. The Blazers staff compared Kaden Hammell to a Shea Theodore type of player, a versatile defenceman that can excel in a variety of situations while being a physical, mobile play driver, and sometimes a riverboat gambler, on the backend. Hammell already boasts a 6′ frame and has an exceptional upside that could make him a number one defenceman down the road. Grayden Slipec shockingly fell out of the first round and was a no-brainer decision for the Kamloops brass. Slipec is one of the most difficult players to contain in this draft class as he can beat you in a variety of ways. Slipec has one of the most accurate shots in the draft, complemented by exceptional vision, creativity, puck skills, and elite hockey sense in all situations. The Blazers continued to stockpile under-valued skill guys in their subsequent picks, landing a relentless and skilled undersized forward in Luke Korte who plays a complete game with a motor that few can keep up with, and a well-rounded two-way defenceman, Ryan Michael, who played in the shadow of Tanner Molendyk most of the season. The Blazers then took a flyer on the only NCAA-committed player in this year’s draft, Kai Matthew in the 5th round. Kai is a mature physical specimen and already plays a pro-style game, which would have made him a certain first-round pick should he have committed to the WHL route. The Blazers not only added to already stocked cupboards with some signings but should they convince either last year’s first-round pick Connor Levis or Kai Matthew to commit to the WHL, the team appears to be on its way to becoming a powerhouse once again.

Kelowna Rockets

In a disappointing season that resulted in the cancellation of the Memorial Cup tournament, the host Kelowna Rockets’ management did a tremendous job of preserving their first- and second-round picks, not giving them up for short-term help. In Lorne Frey’s last draft as Assistant General Manager and Director of Player Personnel, the Rockets took a big swing on the highly skilled forward from St. George’s Academy, Andrew Cristall. Cristall led a middling team in scoring with 80 points in 27 games played. What made this number all the more impressive, was the fact that the team’s second-leading scorer, Arjun Bawa, played 3 more games but had 39(!) fewer points. Cristall brings an absolutely elite skillset to the table with his puck skills, vision, and hockey IQ, once he adds strength and improves his skating, he could be one of the best players to come out of this stacked draft class. The Rockets then used their second-round pick on excellent offensive defenceman, Caden Price. Price brings stellar mobility and offensive production to the Rockets, after posting 55 points in 31 games for the Saskatoon Generals Bantam AA squad. Given time to develop his two-way game, Price will be a capable and versatile defenceman in the WHL with excellent offensive upside. Using the third-round pick the Rockets acquired from Spokane in the Leif Mattson trade, the team selected another exceptional skater in Marcus Pacheco. Pacheco was one of the fastest skaters in this year’s draft class and spent the season refining his two-way game for OHA Edmonton Bantam Prep as he logged heavy minutes in all situations. The centerman plays a simple north-south game with an accurate shot and strong offensive skills. As Pacheco’s two-way game becomes a habit, he will be able to focus on diversifying his offensive arsenal to become a more potent attacker both on the rush and on the powerplay as he matures in the WHL.

Moose Jaw Warriors

Despite only having three selections in the top 125, the Warriors managed to knock their first three picks out of the park while strengthening their prospect pool down the middle. Brayden Yager fell into the Warriors’ lap after Prince George opted to take a more sure commitment in Riley Heidt. Brayden Yager, one of two forwards to play Midget AAA for the Saskatoon Contacts this season and one of three players to apply for exceptional status, is a complete two-way center with elite speed and hockey sense that leads most to believe he has a very high floor and will surely be a true number one center, built to play in the WHL. In the second round, the Warriors selected another player close to home in Ben Riche of the Balgonie Prairie Storm Bantam AA squad. Riche is another strong centerman with great speed and character.  Riche drove play for his squad using his speed, strength, balance, and poise with the puck all while being one of the most consistent 200-foot players in this year’s draft class. The Warriors then addressed goaltending, selecting uber-athletic and talented goaltender in Jackson Unger from the Calgary Bisons. Unger brings more tools than most goaltenders his age and should be able to easily develop into the future backbone of a strong Warriors team.

Next week, we will feature some of the top prospects in next year’s draft class and where you can follow their development this upcoming season.