The Kelowna Rockets could see as many as seven players selected at the NHL Draft in Vancouver this coming weekend.
Heading into the season, most prognosticators felt Nolan Foote would likely be the team’s top pick, a lock to go in the first round. It could still happen, but it remains to be seen whether a lack of playoff viewings might impact the veteran of 189 Western Hockey League games.
And then, the emergence of rookie defenceman Lassi Thomson had heads turning for much of the campaign. The import rearguard had an impressive season, providing offensive contributions and solid defensive play.
Kaedan Korczak played his best hockey during the second half of the season and was very consistent down the stretch.
While these three key players were unable to drag the Rockets into the playoffs, their skill sets and respective performances will be enough to ensure Kelowna has at least three players drafted this weekend.
Thomson (15), Korczak (32) and Foote (37), along with Jake Lee (146), Alex Swetlikoff (175) and Roman Basran (18 among goalies) all appear on the NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings released in mid-April. Dillon Hamaliuk (limited viewings) is also in consideration as he attended the NHL’s Scouting Combine earlier this month and was given a limited viewing ranking on the list.
Thomson is the highest ranked at #15. The Rockets selected him 53rd overall in the first round of the 2018 CHL Import Draft. He had a breakout rookie season with 41 points (17G, 24A) and led WHL rookie defencemen in all three categories.
He was a late cut with Finland’s World Junior team. Upon returning to Kelowna, he suited up at the Top Prospects Game in Red Deer as a member of Team Orr.
Thomson took home the Rockets award for Rookie of the Year and was also named the Western Conference Rookie of the Year by the WHL. The 5′11, 190-pound defender also earned a spot on the WHL’s Western Conference Second All-Star team. He attended the NHL’s Scouting combine earlier this month in Buffalo.
The Rockets selected Korczak 11th overall at the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft after trading up from the 20th spot.
The Yorkton, Saskatchewan product was awarded the team’s Top Defenceman award this past season. He suited up in all 68 Rockets games, setting career highs in assists and points; he had four goals and 29 assists, giving him 33 points.
He played alongside Thomson on Team Orr at the Sherwin-Williams Top Prospects Game. Following the Rockets season, he suited up for Team Canada at the 2019 IIHF U18 World Championship in Sweden. Korczak also placed in the top 25 of 11 fitness tests at the NHL Scouting Combine last month.
Kelowna selected Foote 43rd overall during the second round of the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft.
His 36 tallies this past season led the Rockets in goals scored – 17 of them came on the power play. Foote was second in team scoring with 63 points (36G, 27A) and led the team in shots on goal this season with 236. He was named the Rockets Most Valuable Player.
The 18-year-old had a busy year. He put his talents on display for Team WHL at the CIBC Canada/Russia Series in October and Team Cherry at the Sherwin-Williams Top Prospects Game. He placed in the top 25 of seven fitness tests while attending the NHL Scouting Combine.
Defender Jake Lee was acquired from the Seattle Thunderbirds during the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft last month. He was originally drafted by the Thunderbirds 18th overall at the 2016 Bantam Draft.
This past season he posted a career-best 24 points (3G, 21A) in 67 games.
He played with Korczak and Thomson on Team Orr at the Sherwin-Williams CHL/NHL Top Prospects game this past January.
Alex Swetlikoff joined the Rockets following the Christmas break after the Rockets acquired his playing rights near mid-season. Before joining the Rockets, he suited up for Canada West at the World Junior A Challenge in December in Bonnyville, Alta. where he helped the team take home bronze.
The big centreman seemed to ease into his role as the season wore on, with the coaching staff depending on the rookie in all situations. He finished off his first season in the WHL with 14 points (6G, 8A) in 32 games.
Dillon Hamaliuk was acquired alongside Lee from Seattle.
The 6’3, 193-pound winger was drafted by the Thunderbirds 111th overall in the 6th round of the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft. He had 26 points (11G, 15A) in 31 games this past season before it came to an end due to a lower-body injury.
The 2000-born forward suited up for Team WHL at the CIBC Canada Russia Series this past November. He was invited to play at the Sherwin-Williams CHL/NHL Top Prospects game but missed it due to his injury. He also attended the NHL Scouting Combine where he only participated in the interview and medical portion as he continues to recover.
Kelowna drafted netminder Roman Basran with the 64th pick during the third round at the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft.
This past season he took on a large majority of the workload in the Rockets crease, he finished the regular season with a record of 20-19-3-1. The 6’1, 195 pound Vancouver product had a 2.79 GAA, and .906 save percentage.
He attended Hockey Canada’s Program of Excellence Goaltending Camp earlier this month in Calgary, Alta.
Both days of the NHL Draft will be televised on Sportsnet. The first round will take place Friday, June 21, broadcast coverage will start at 5:00pm PT. Rounds two through seven will take place on Saturday, June 22, broadcast coverage will begin at 10:00 a.m. PT.
(DUBNetwork thanks Paige Bednorz of the Kelowna Rockets for her input in this article.)