The Moose Jaw Warriors don't know whose name they will call first during the Western Hockey League's bantam draft Thursday.
Moose Jaw Warriors
There are sure that they're going to get a player that they like a lot with the fourth overall selection.
"The players we're keying in on as top-end players in the draft all bring some of the things we're looking for in terms of their skill level, their hockey IQ, their commitment to wanting to be a player and those types of things," said Warriors general manager Alan Millar. "We're comfortable with what we're going to end up with, it's just a matter of seeing where the chips fall with those first three picks."
After selection Brett Howden with the fifth overall pick a year ago and now the Warriors are looking to continue to add high-end players to their rebuild.
Stelio Mattheos, a six-foot-two, 177-pound forward from Winninpeg is the front-runner to be taken first overall by Brandon. Mattheos scored 103 points in 32 games with the Winnipeg Monarchs. Jordy Bellerive from the North Shore Winter Club in Vancouver had 114 points in 49 games. Bellerive, who is the younger brother of Kamloops' Matt Bellerive, is expected to be one of the first two players selected.
"It's a little bit different in terms of the top end," said Millar. "Last year we went into the draft with five or six guys who had really separated themselves from the group. This draft is a little bit deeper in terms of the top end players. It could stretch into eight or nine guys."
If Max Gildon was guaranteed to report, the six-foot-two defenceman from Dallas would likely be the first overall pick.
Forwards Brendan Semchuk from Kamloops, Jaret Anderson-Dolan from Calgary's Edge School and Michael Rasmussen from the Okanagan Hockey Academy are expected to go early in the first round. Defencemen Nolan Kneen from North Shore Winter Club, Notre Dame's Josh Brook and Scott Walford from OHA and are amongst the highest-rated defencemen.
Saskatoon Stallions forward Jake Leschyshyn, son of NHLer Curtis Leschyshyn, is expected to be the first Saskatchewan-born player selected.
"For us at four it presents more of an opportunity to draft by position or by need," said Millar. "Players are going to be so close that need and type of player are going to be a consideration."
The Warriors own the fourth and 26th overall picks and then have Victoria's third round pick (62nd overall) in the third round. They don't have a fourth round pick, but own their own pick (92nd) and Kelowna's pick (110th) in the fifth round.
Millar has talked about the need to build through the draft. While trying to find players that fit the Warriors team identity, Millar also they're very much in the mindset of trying to find the best players available regardless of position or location.
"You have to be careful when you're drafting 14 year olds that you're not getting caught up with a need or something specific with your team because they're not going to have an impact for two or three years. You have to focus in on the best players," said Millar. "We've heard the size issue with our team and we've discussed it to extremes as a staff. I think we've addressed some of those things moving forward."
The Warriors added forwards Jack Rodewald and Scott Cooke and defenceman Spenser Jensen which added some size to one of the smaller lineups in the WHL. Millar that helps in the short term, he also feels they have some size in the system with some of their recent draft classes.
"As much as we've been challenged on the size of our team â€” and I think it's legitimate and I think we continue to look at those areas â€” I still think skill and hockey sense is something we need to improve on our present team and continue to improve in our draft," said Millar.
"We can put together a big team really quickly, but they won't be very good."
The Warriors are increasingly willing to look south for talent. Millar expects American players to be even more prominent than usual in this year's draft.
"I think there's a possible of a little more influence of American players in the top-44. That's just a gut feeling. It may not happen, but that's what I'm sensing," said Millar.
"Teams seem to be more prevalent in the U.S. market. There were more teams in Anaheim at the U.S. prospects camp than in other years. There's more interest from U.S. players and agents in terms of their interest in the league."
Millar said there are some quality American players that they have rated pretty highly that are committed to playing in the WHL. He said they wouldn't hesitate to pick one of those players as early as they second round if they were the best player on their board.
"It's not a factor at four just because of the quality of players in Western Canada that are going to be available to us," explained Millar.
The Warriors will have some moves to make the morning of the draft and during the day as they look to open up space on their 50-man protected list. The WHL trade freeze opens up at 8 a.m. Thursday morning and the Warriors could be in the market to make a trade.
Twenty year-old players don't count against the 50-man list, but because they only had three 19-year-olds last season who now move off the list that didn't free up much space.
"We only open up five spots on our list going into the draft," said Millar. "So we do have some delete decisions to make heading into Thursday. Whether those are prospects or roster guys or trades or whatever â€” those are all options."
It seems likely that all of the above could be an option as the Warriors may drop a listed prospect or two and look to trade a veteran for a draft pick to give them room to draft eight or nine players at least.
"We have to open up at least two, if not three spots before the draft," said Millar. "We feel that we're going to be drafting through seven and eight and possibly nine players. So we need to open up some spots."