Thursday, May 2, 2019
DUPONT'S AROUND THE DUB
The draft begins at 8:30am MT. Here are the top five selections:
1 Winnipeg ICE
2 Prince George Cougars (from Swift Current)
3 Saskatoon Blades (from Regina)
4 Prince George Cougars
5 Kelowna Rockets
2. LOVE THE DRAFT - Count me as one who loves drafts, trade deadlines, training camps, etc. These are about building your team and creating a buzz and I'm a fan. I love being around the rink and hockey types for these moments but, I'll admit, I've never been to a draft. 🤷♂️
3. TRADE BUZZ - The Saskatoon Blades hold the Regina Pats first-round selection and are set to pick third overall. I'm hearing there is some interest from the team to move down and I'm told Winnipeg wants to add another top-five pick. Winnipeg also holds the 9th-overall pick and could flip it & others to move up. 🤔
4. HABBY IS TOP COACH - There is no doubt in my mind that Marc Habscheid is the WHL's coach of the year, and on Wednesday the league recognized that at their awards ceremony in Red Deer. 🙌
Habscheid last won the award in 2003 as head coach of the Kelowna Rockets.
5. THE REST - Portland's Joachim Blichfeld was named player of the year after taking home the league's scoring title… PA's Ian Scott beat out young star Dustin Wolf of Everett for goaltender of the year… And Moose Jaw Warriors’ forwards Brayden Tracey (rookie of the year) and Justin Almeida (most sportsmanlike player) also took home major awards on Wednesday.
6. DRAFT GUIDE - I received my copy of the WHL Draft Guide from the folks at DraftGeek.com on Tuesday and have been combing through the 121-page document. I must say, there is a TON of great stuff in there!
These guys really did their homework and I'll do my best to share a few nuggets over the next couple of points.
7. SAVOIE #1 - You will likely know by the time you're reading this who Winnipeg ultimately selected with the 1st overall pick, but my guess is they'll take a shot at phenom Matthew Savoie. They already acquired his brother earlier in the offseason and will likely spend the next while convincing the two that Winnipeg is best for their hockey futures.
Moving up to get the #3 pick will help reduce some of the risk associated with taking a player who has committed to the NCAA.
Although, they've had the opportunity since the lottery to get him to commit and if that hasn't happened they could as easily pass on him. Conor Geekie, the #2 rated prospect, is a nice consolation prize!
8. HOME-GROWN PROSPECTS - Nolan Flamand, a 5’7”-135lb centre from the Saskatoon Blazers, is considered to be the top prospect in the draft from Saskatchewan. DraftGeek has him ranked #16.
Flamand moved up to play midget as a 14-year-old and put up 27-points in 41 games on one of the top teams in Western Canada.
Right on his heels at #17 is Kyren Gronick of the Regina Aces (SBAAHL). At 5’10”-150lbs, he is a little bigger and described as a 'new aged power winger’. He could be available when the Regina Pats make their first selection in the draft.
9. NAMES YOU'LL KNOW - Defenceman Josh Niedermayer (ranked #26) is the son of NHL Hall-of-Fame defenceman Scott Niedermayer. Reading his draft profile you'd be confused about which of the two they are talking about. That's a big compliment!
Oasiz Wiesblatt from the Calgary Bisons (AMBHL) is DraftGeek's #14 ranked skater. You'll know his brother, Ozzy, who is currently with the Prince Albert Raiders preparing for the WHL Championship. Ozzy is finishing his 16-year-old rookie season and put up 39-points in 64-games with PA. He's added another seven points in 16 playoff games.
Orca (18-years-old, Calgary Hitmen/Portage Terriers) and Ocean (19-years-old, Portage Terriers) are the two other brothers.
10. THE FINAL - Call it the WHL Final or call it the Finals, either way you're grammatically correct.
It would be silly to have this column and not offer a thought on the upcoming series before I send you on your way for the day. It's Vancouver and Prince Albert. The top seeds from each conference have advanced and it has created a great match-up for the league and fans across Western Canada.
On one hand, you have the juggernaut Raiders who ploughed through everyone on their way to the league's best record and often were the country's top-ranked team. On the other hand, you have the highly-skilled Giants who have arguably the country's top-ranked NHL draft prospect in defenceman Bowen Byram.
Plenty of reasons to pay attention.
Vancouver won the only meeting of the season between the two, a 3-1 win on the coast back on January 24th.
The travel, and home ice, could be a factor in the swries. PA was dominant on home ice this season at 28-4-2 while Vancouver was also strong going 26-6-1-1 at the Langley Events Centre. Both are 7-1 at home in these playoffs.
Vancouver's edge may come on special teams. Their powerplay is over 35% in these playoffs and a remarkable 7/15 on the road. Byram also leads players in playoff scoring.
On the other side, Noah Gregor and Brett Lesson continue to get stronger but it was rising draft prospect Aliaksei Protas who recorded back-to-back hattricks to push PA past Edmonton in the conference final.
The series will begin Friday and Saturday in Prince Albert and head to the coast for games three, four, and five beginning on Tuesday.
11. BONUS CONTENT + A PICK - With all the draft talk this morning I've had to sneak in a bonus point today to have room to make a prediction.
They were lined up to buy tickets in Hockeytown North when the box office opened this week, and quickly games one and two were sold out. I love the passion this time of year when teams are making a run. Two years ago in Regina, and last spring in Swift Current, are some of my greatest memories and I feel such happiness for the people in Prince Albert who get to experience it this time. I just wish we were covering it on television!
As for a pick? It's hard to predict when you get this far but I'll take the Raiders in seven!
(Follow Darren Dupont on Twitter at @darrendupont)