The Prince George Cougars were done drafting players in the 2020 WHL Bantam Draft before 1 pm PDT on Wednesday. It was nearly two and a half hours later that the draft actually concluded. With three picks in the first round, two in the second round, two in the third round, and four more by the sixth round though, the Cougars had already drafted 11 players.
Leading off the draft, the Cougars were set to pick second overall. With Connor Bedard already off the board to Regina, there was little doubt who Prince George wanted.
“We’ve been tracking Riley for the last couple of seasons. we always knew he was going to be a highly projected prospect and when the draft lottery went the way it did, we were going to have our choice of players not named Connor Bedard. For us Riley was an easy choice,” Prince George’s director of scouting Bob Simmonds said.
Riley Heidt played up a year with the Saskatoon Contacts of the SMAAAHL and was fifth in team scoring. He posted 37 points in 44 games.
“He really makes the players around him better. He drags his team with him and drags his linemates with him. He checks off all of the boxes that we needed and it was actually a really easy selection. We consider him on the elite crown jewels of the draft.”
Having already played in Midget, Simmonds feels like Heidt will not look out of place, should he get a chance to play in the WHL as a 15-year-old next season. Heidt made his commitment official by signing with the Cougars on Thursday – the day after the draft.
“I would anticipate as most teams do for their high-end draft picks, should the opportunity present itself he will get into some games. I would imagine the opportunity will be there for Riley and I have no concerns with him navigating through a Western Hockey League game at 15. I think his ability to process the game and his skill set – he will be just fine. We are looking forward to his 16-year-old season.”
P.G. took forward Caden Brown 17th overall next in the first round.
“He’s a natural goal scorer. He’s got pretty good hands. His shot is hard and heavy. He’s a competitor. We like so much of what he brings to the table. With respect to the creation of offense. There are some Northern B.C. with Caden and his family which is an added bonus. He’s a goal scorer.
The last pick of the first round also belonged to the Cougars and they took their third forward of the day in Ryker Singer for the Lloydminster Bobcats Bantam team.
“We were very surprised to see Ryker there at 22. Much like Caden Brown, he’s a goalscorer. He has a deadly accurate shot. He’s a competitor, an on-ice leader. We view a lot of his off-ice character as top drawer. The upsides and positives that he brings were just a natural fit for us.”
The Prince George Cougars scored just 144 goals in the WHL last season, only more than one other team – the Swift Current Broncos. They were also 21st out of the 22 member teams in 2018-19, with 152 goals in five more games. It was clear the Cougars needed to add some playmakers to the pipeline. Simmonds believes they did just that.
“We addressed our need to have players that can generate offense and score. I think those three are a nice compliment to each other checked off a lot of the boxes we had.
While all three are listed as wingers, Simmonds does not view them that way.
“Certainly a couple of them are more than capable of playing in the middle. We are very comfortable with that.”
Brown had 65 points in 30 games with the Delta Hockey Academy and Singer piled up 51 points in 32 games with Lloydminster.
This was the first time the Cougars have ever had three first-round picks. They had two in each of the last two drafts.
P.G. also had multiple second-round picks as well and took two defensemen. Bauer Dumanski went 26th overall and Rylan Brown went 46th.
Dumanski put up 33 points in 30 games from the blueline for the Humboldt Broncos Bantam AA team.
“He’s a complete player. He does everything well. He’s calm and poised on the back end. He manages the game very effectively and has all the elements that you want. He has a very hard and heavy shot. He retrieves the puck and he moves it. That is what you want from your defenseman.”
Brown, who is 5-foot-8 and 126 pounds, posted 24 points in 27 games with the OHA Edmonton Bantam Prep squad.
“Rylan is continuing to grow and mature. I think in a couple of years he’s going to be an unbelievable player. We know his family really well His Dad (Sean Brown) played in the NHL for the (Edmonton) Oilers. (Prince George general manager and head coach) Mark Lamb actually coached him so we know the bloodlines are there for sure. We project Rylan in a couple years, to be a top tier defenseman.
Sean posted 907 penalty minutes and 57 points in 436 career NHL games for the Oilers, Boston Bruins, New Jersey Devils, and Vancouver Canucks. His son also does not shy away from the physical stuff.
“He’s a competitor, that’s for sure. We are very, very happy with that pick.”
Next up, Simmonds and the Cougars took center Zackary Shantz from the Grande Prairie GPAC Storm. Shantz had 52 points in 33 games.
“Zackary had a really strong year with his Grande Prairie Bantam team. He scored a lot and generated a lot of offense. He was able to play in all situations. He was clearly one of the go-to guys on his team. We like his offensive upside. He really processes the game well. He seems to have an intuitive sense of where to be and what to do with the puck. He’s a very creative player which is exactly what we were looking for.”
The next two selections both came from the Red Deer Rebels Bantam AAA team with forward Chase Walker (4th round-70th overall) and right-shot defenseman Ephram McNutt (5th round-92nd overall) being taken.
“Both of them are big, tall, rangy kids. They both play very hard games. Chase is (a) hard to play against competitor who will do whatever it takes to win. He can play any style of game. We look at Chase as a very effective role player that can go up and down in the lineup. He’s a rural Alberta boy and when you play against him you have to bring your lunch bucket and hard hat because he’s going to make you earn everything.
“Ephram’s upside is very, very high. He can play an offensive style or a shutdown type of games and his ability to move the puck is top drawer which is what we like in a defenseman.
Prince George took another right-shot defenseman with their next pick, also in the 5th round, this time 102nd overall; Dylan Compton from Victoria.
“Dylan is another young defenseman that has all the elements you like. He’s a good skate and has a good head for the game. His Hockey IQ is high. His Dad is connected to the game and knows the game. We were very happy he was there. ”
Their last pick in the draft came at just 114th overall. They selected goalie Liam Hallett, a 6-foot-2, 166-pound netminder from Victoria. Hallett posted a 3.04 GAA and 0.900 save percentage for the West Vancouver Bantam Prep team.
“Liam is a big, tall kid who is continuing to sprout up. He played for a run and gun team in West Vancouver and he was the steadying influence in net. He always gives his team a chance. He makes the saves and is technically very sound. We think he’s got the potential to be a really solid WHL goalie in the future. You can never have too many good goalies and we feel fortunate Liam was there in the sixth round.”
Simmonds also had a lot of positive things to say about the two picks the Cougars made in the inaugural U.S. Prospects Draft.
They selected 19th and 26th overall in the two-round draft.
First, they took left-shot defenseman Zephyr Tangri out of the Los Angeles Jr Kings, and then they added goalie Dylan Johnson from the Dallas Stars 14U squad.
Simmonds and Prince George are excited about the two American prospects. He believes Johnson would have gone high in the Bantam Draft if he was born north of the border.
“If he was a Canadian boy and committed to the league, he would have been one of the first goalies taken. He’s a legitimate prospect. We spoke to Dylan and his family and they are certainly excited about the opportunity to explore playing in the league. They’ve learned a lot about the league and think it’s a viable option for him now. He’s a really good prospect. I think he could be a really good one.”
He had praise for their first pick as well. The six-foot, 183-pound blueliner had 27 points in 51 games with L.A.
“With Zephyr Tangri, the tall and rangy defenseman out of Los Angeles, he could be a really good player,” Simmonds relayed.
Prince George had four American players on their 2019-20 roster at different points in the season with forwards Nikita Krivokrasov and Mitch Kohner, defenseman Joe Kennedy and goalie Isaiah DiLaura all hailing from the U.S.
The Cougars had never before had three first-round picks. Simmonds, Lamb, and their scouts had plenty of chances to add a lot of talent to the pipeline with 11 picks in the first six rounds and the U.S. Draft. With five players in the 2003 age group and the top three players taken in the 2019 Bantam Draft signed to go with Heidt, the Cougars have a young core to envy.