Inaugural WHL Lottery Prognostication, Part I

Hi my name is Tyler Lowey and I’m addicted to lotteries.

It’s not what you’re thinking; I’m not a gambler. I don’t light money on fire for a chance to win a dream home or try to predict seven lucky numbers. Just hand me the remote control or the wifi password and let me watch the lottery shows that shake loose the draft orders in the NHL, WHL and NBA  and I’m in heaven.

It’s just something about how bouncing ping pong balls can drastically shape the outcome of million- and billion-dollar organizations that really turns my crank.

Last year, I did a deep dive (maybe deeper than necessary, but I regret nothing!!) on the history of the WHL Bantam Draft Lottery. I probably enjoyed it more than the readers did. Fine by me.

This year, instead of adding minor updates to my mega-feature about how the Prince Albert Raiders are benefiting from winning the 2017 lottery by landing Kaiden Guhle (a pick they acquired via trade with the Prince George Cougars in 2016) when they could have ended up with Justin Sourdif in an alternative non-lottery universe, I’ve decided to go in a completely different direction.

Introducing: the Inaugural WHL Lottery Prognostication!!

Maybe this drawn-out column would be better served broken up into several chapters or viewed as a six-part Netflix mini series. After talking with my editors, they convinced me to take it easy on you guys and split this feature into two parts. Toughen up. In the meantime, put on a pot of coffee, flick on airplane mode and send the kids to the in-laws — because this is a slow burn.

Who has earned the right to win this year’s lottery? Did the Kootenay ICE (2016, Peyton Krebs) and Calgary Hitmen (2002, Jake Virtanen) deserve to keep their No. 1 overall picks? Probably. Did the Brandon Wheat Kings (2014, Stelio Mattheos) and Spokane Chiefs (2015, Ty Smith) deserve to win those lotteries with picks that the Saskatoon Blades handed out in an attempt to bolster their roster in preparation for the 2013 Memorial Cup? Probably not. We can’t say for sure because the Prognostication wasn’t even in its first trimester back then.

But that’s why I’m here now. I am going to try and determine in the most scientifically way possible, who deserves to win the lottery the most.

Die-hard WHL fans, this next statement is not for you.

When you stream the lottery this year, keep in mind that even though a team may win the lottery, they are not automatically given the No. 1 overall pick. Winning the lottery just means that one team’s ping pong ball was chosen first by the honourable WHL Vice-President of Hockey Richard Doerksen. The winning team is afforded the luxury of moving up of two slots in the draft. For example, a team can jump from third to first, but not sixth to first. The highest that the sixth-placed team can draft is fourth. In the scenario where the team worst lottery odds wins the lottery, the teams ranked first, second and third retain their draft position. That sixth-placed team would then leap frog the fourth- and fifth-placed teams in the draft. The new draft order would read: #1, #2, #3, #6, #4, #5, rather than the traditional #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6. The change in the order only applies to the first round. The following 16 picks are an inversion of the regular standings — barring any previous transactions.

Got it? Good.

This year, the lottery standings shake out like this:

Swift Current Broncos 11-51-4-2, 28 points — six balls/28.6% (pick belongs to the Cougars)

Kootenay ICE 13-45-7-3, 36 points — five balls/23.8% (owns their first-round pick)

Regina Pats 19-45-1-3, 42 points — four balls/19.0% (pick belongs to the Saskatoon Blades)

Prince George Cougars 19-41-5-3. 46 points — three balls/14.3% (owns their first-round pick)

Kelowna Rockets 28-32-6-2, 64 points — two balls/9.5% (owns their first-round pick)

Brandon Wheat Kings 31-29-4-4, 70 points — one ball/4.8% (owns their first-round pick)

Top Prospects

Since I started working on this column, there has been a lot of negative momentum and cold water poured on what was thought to be the best prospect the WHL has ever seen. First, there was the decision by Hockey Canada to deny Matthew Savoie the first exceptional status in the WHL. Then, a few days ago, he announced his verbal commitment to the University of Denver to play alongside his brother for his 17-year-old season (2021-22).

This lottery would be much more entertaining if there was a chance Savoie could join a team as soon as next September. He’s certainly still going to be selected in the draft, but maybe he isn’t the locked in No. 1 overall choice with all this recent outside noise. Only time will tell.

Regardless, Savoie is a stud and should go first overall. Only the crustiest of scouts could poke a hole in his game. Listed at 5-foot-9, he is slightly undersized to be a centre at the WHL level. But he’s been undersized for a while now. That hasn’t stopped him from being named MVP in three consecutive seasons while playing up an age group each time.

Packed to the gills with potential, Savoie is the most dynamic player in the draft. His Elite Prospects profile is loaded with ridiculous numbers and accolades. He has vision, the hockey IQ and the rare ability to make next level plays while travelling at warp speed. If you don’t want to take my word for it, peep this article from last year where CBC compared him to Sidney freakin’ Crosby. If my dog had the No. 1 pick, he would know who to take. It’s that obvious.

Behind Crosby 2.0 is another Albertan in Koehn Ziemmer. Any other year and Ziemmer would likely be the top pick.

Matthew Savoie is widely regarded as the top prospect for the upcoming draft. Photo courtesy of Rob Wallator.

Playing for the OHA Edmonton Prep program, Ziemmer doesn’t need time or space to do damage. He has the ability to slip loose from trouble and put the puck in the back of the net. Ziemmer might not be an elite skater at this moment, but he makes up for it with a high compete level and high IQ. He was the leading scorer in the Canadian Sport School Bantam Hockey League (CSSBHL) for 2004-born players with 37 goals and 76 points in 29 games.

According to a few scouts, once the top two names leave the board, the draft really opens up.

Keaton Dowhaniuk has a chance to be the first blue liner off the board. At 5-foot-10, he is your prototypical, smooth-skating defenceman. Some scouts believe he could be limited offensively at the next level, but he did finish this season as the highest scoring defenceman in the CSSBHL with eight goals and 35 points in 25 games.

A teammate of Ziemmer’s, he is better known for being an elite puck mover. He is also the younger brother to Logan Dowhaniuk, who patrolled 33 games this season on the blue line for the Edmonton Oil Kings.

If a team is looking for a more offensive punch and missed out on the two top dogs, Brandon Lisowsky might here his name get called up high.

Said to be 5-foot-8, Lisowsky is a little smaller at this point in time, but is a very hard worker and packs a laser beam of a wrist shot. He finished second on the Burnaby Winter Club and 14th in the CSSBHL with 32 goals and 49 points in 26 games.

GMs searching for high-ceiling talent with WHL bloodlines might want to check in on Conor Geekie.

The Manitoba product is already a six footer and a natural goal scorer. He is also the younger brother to Morgan, who turned himself from a fifth rounder 2013 Bantam Draft to a third rounder 2017 by the Carolina Hurricanes. The middle brother, Noah, was a second round pick by the Hitmen in 2015 but chose baseball over hockey.

Conor has done a good job living up to his older brothers, as he led the Winnipeg Bantam AAA League this season with 49 goals and 37 assists in 31 games.

Two names to keep an eye on are Connor Levis and Mats Lindgren, as they both have verbally committed to the University of Michigan for the 2022-23 season.

Lindgren is said to be the best skater in the draft with Levis not too far behind. Levis already carries a 6-foot frame and Lindgren has the bloodlines of an NHLer, as his dad — who is also named Mats — spent six seasons in the show.

Now that you know a few of the players that could hear their name called after Savoie, the only impartial way to break this down and determine which ping pong ball the WHL Gods should select is to dust off an old gimmick and pay tribute to one of my favourite writers, Bill Simmons.

Warning: I haven’t attempted this in a few years. I have also never busted this out to determine the outcome for a WHL story. But the wait is over. Grantland OGs will recognize this — although it will be a spinoff of Simmons’ barbaric/volcanic/catastrophic/intense version. Yes, it’s time for the Dr. Jack Breakdown!!! I hope I make him proud.

Before we get going, let’s get one thing clear: I have no horse in this race. I love the chaos that the lottery potentially brings. I also love seeing a team hang onto their draft pick after enduring an undesirable year. Either way, I win!

Programming note: the WHL Bantam Draft lottery will be streamed live on WHL.ca, Facebook and YouTube Live commencing at 11 a.m. MT.

HERE WE GO!!!

The Breakdown

Each franchise will be ranked on a scale of one to six Ping Pong Points in five different categories. The categories are: Legitimacy For Being In The Lottery, Greatest Need For A Boost In The Draft, Likeliness To Sign Their Draft Pick, Organizational Karma and Most Exciting Team In 2–3 Years. The organization that is determined to have the greatest need/have the best fit/presents the best case to win each category will receive six points. Fractional points might also be awarded when necessary to narrowly split differences. Once the final category has run its course, I will contact some mathematics students from the prestigious Thompson Rivers University to help me with the crunch the numbers. The franchise with the highest score will be proclaimed the winner of the inaugural Prognostication.

Without further ado…

LEGITIMACY FOR BEING IN THE LOTTERY

1 Ping Pong Point: Kootenay ICE

Oh yeah, it’s starting off tough right off the bat. No layups here.

There is no way that the ICE should have the second-best best odds to win the lottery. This team benefited from winning the lottery a few years ago and landed Krebs, who is likely to be chosen in the top 10 in the NHL Entry Draft this June.

The ICE also won the lottery last year and jumped into the second slot where they snagged the Winnipeg product, Carson Lambos. Lambos finished sixth in scoring by defenceman in the Canadian Sport School Hockey League (CSSHL) with 14 goals and 16 assists in 23 games. Production aside, he was recently named the top defenceman for the CSSHL midget prep division. He has also debuted for five games with the ICE this year and picked up one goal, a very difficult feat for a 15-year-old rearguard.

Kohen Ziemmer could be selected by the Kootenay ICE this spring. Photo courtesy of Dave Waitling Photography.

Sure, they got bumped down one spot in the aforementioned 2017 lottery that saw them miss out on Guhle with the No. 1 overall pick, but they still landed Wainwright’s Connor McClennon second.

They have become the Edmonton Oilers/Cleveland Cavaliers when it comes to the lottery. They don’t need anymore top picks just yet. Let someone else have a turn.

2 Ping Pong Points: Kelowna Rockets

What a gut-wrenching way to end your season.

It wasn’t quite the 18-wheeler swerving off the cliff that I got used to growing up as a passionate Toronto Maple Leafs fan, but it was a considerable collapse. Roman Basran will probably have nightmares about playing the puck behind his net for years to come.

Three weeks ago, it would have been blasphemous to group the Kelowna Rockets in this column. They sat comfortably in the final divisional playoff spot seven points up on the Blazers with six games remaining.

The Rockets didn’t nose dive out of contention, they were simply passed by a red-hot Blazer unit led by a 16-year-old netminder who was filling in for his injured teammate and NHL prospect Dylan Ferguson.

The road to the playoffs became laced with banana peels after the Blazers swept a home-and-home series from the Rockets at the beginning of the month.

Prior to puck drop on March 8, the analytics hated the Blazers playoff chances.

Back in February, the Blazers had more than an 80 per cent chance of making the playoffs. Heading into the March matchup with the Rockets, that percentage dropped down to the teens.

Not only did the Blazers nearly cut their playoff deficit in half in a matter of 24 hours, but they also tamped Kelowna’s playoff chances down from 90 per cent to less than 50 per cent. From being a near lock to a coin flip in one weekend.

The Rockets ignited a surge of momentum in the Blazers, as they picked up wins over the playoff-bound Chiefs and Victoria Royals the following week, hiking their playoff chances back up over 80 per cent. They recorded points in seven of their remaining 10 games.

To the Rockets credit, they didn’t fold like a cheap suit. They battled back from trailing 5-2 against the Chiefs to force overtime. They also defeated the heavily favoured Vancouver Giants in overtime in the final regular season game, despite surrendering the game-tying goal with 30 seconds left in regulation.

The Rockets have to still be shaking their heads, confused on how they ended up in this column and with a seat at the lottery table.

Also not helping the Rockets out in this category was the fact that they wouldn’t have been anywhere near a tiebreaker game with the Red Deer Rebels if they were in the East.

3 Ping Pong Points: Brandon Wheat Kings

The Wheat Kings were in a freefall since January, but saw their recent playoff percentage peak at 60 per cent at the beginning of the month, as they were four points out of the second wildcard position. Their playoff percentages quickly dropped off the table in the final two weeks when they went 0-0-5-1, capped off by getting swept in a home-and-home series to the sapless Pats. They had more than a fair share of chances to get into the post season.

You can’t melt away crucial leads to the Pats (twice) and Rebels down the stretch and expect to make the big dance.

As much as I should feel sympathy for the Wheat Kings missing the playoffs in the East when they could have been the sixth seed in the West, I can’t get too far ahead of myself. There are worse teams out there that endured worse seasons. At least they bumped up two points in this category relative to where they finished in the overall standings.

4 Ping Pong Points: Prince George Cougars

The Cougars were stringing together a nice run of playoff appearances from 2014-17 after missing out on the big dance for three-straight seasons. The Cougars bottomed out last year and their 24 wins tied them for the sixth-fewest in franchise history. Unfortunately, they couldn’t even keep the No. 3 overall pick from the draft last year, as they traded it to the Raiders in 2016. Missing out on top picks hinders development. They are still picking up the pieces from their all-in approach that earned them their first B.C. Division banner two seasons ago.

One of the highest-drafted goalies in league history, Taylor Gauthier didn’t take off the way some expected him to during his 17-year-old season. A lack of depth up front and talent hurt the Cougars, as they finished second-last in the league with 152 goals for. The future is still bright for Gauthier, but it was a trying year for the Cougars.

5 Ping Pong Points: Swift Current Broncos

When you are in the conversation for one of the worst Canadian Hockey League teams of all time, you should present the most legitimate case for being in the lottery.

Unless you’re coming off an Ed Chynoweth Cup celebration.

Championships can never be taken away from the players, staff and communities that celebrated them. The Credit Union iPlex probably still reeks of champagne. The Broncos went all-in with one of the most aggressive championship pushes the WHL has ever seen and they are now paying for it.

Nobody is crying too hard for the Broncos as they sit and stare at the championship banner hanging from the rafters.

The Cougars, the new owners of this pick, had the foresight to see that last year was a lost cause and dealt away their third-overall pick in 2013 — Josh Anderson — to the Broncos in his last year of junior hockey for a chance at a championship. Mission accomplished on all fronts.

6 Ping Pong Points: Regina Pats

Hindsight and revisionist history will not treat the Pats kindly when they look back at the 2018 WHL Trade Deadline.

At the deadline, the Blades sent Libor Hajek to Regina for Dawson Davidson, Tristen Robins, and Regina’s 2019 first-round pick. The deal was seen as being relatively mutually beneficial.

A season and a half later, the Blades are viewed as the big winners from that deadline swap. Not only did they nearly make the playoffs for the first time in four seasons, but they will certainly enjoy drafting in the top three this spring.

Unfortunately, the trade didn’t pan out in the longer run for the Pats. By law, only one team can be crowned king in the WHL per season. If the Pats would have went further in the WHL playoffs and pulled off the miracle of winning the Memorial Cup, the trade would have been viewed through a different lens and they would be rated lower in this category.

Despite using the same all-in mentality as the Broncos, the Pats fell in seven games in the first round to those very same Broncos. It would be cruel to see the Broncos have one final victory over the Pats in the lottery — even if neither team can keep the pick.

GREATEST NEED FOR A BOOST IN THE DRAFT

With the caveat of every team would benefit from a boost in the draft, the team receiving 1 Ping Pong Point is the Regina Pats.

One year removed from the new playoff bracket format robbing them of a playoff spot, the Blades finally ended the second-longest playoff drought in WHL history (five years) this season. It was a long time coming, especially for a team that saw so many high-end picks go to other teams in recent years.

The Blades should be thrilled to be back in the playoffs with a team ready to do damage in April and possibly May. They should be pumped to finally have homegrown talents in Aidan De La Gorgendiere, Kirby Dach and Nolan Maier delivering significant contributions.

Worst-case scenario, they end up with the fourth overall-pick. Drafting fourth is a great position to be in. The Blades should be thankful to be on the other side of the coin for a change. They aren’t at a point in their franchise’s lifecycle where they need to bump in the lottery, regardless of how nice it may feel. Blades fans are satisfied with the current trajectory of their franchise.

2 Ping Pong Points: Swift Current Broncos

Before you scream at your computer/smartphone, telling me how I’m such an idiot please hear me out Cougar fans.

You do not want to see a Bronco ball chosen first. Seeing the Bronco ball come out first is great, it assures you that you get to draft the player you want without any other team interfering. But it’s unnecessary.

If the Pats’ or ICE ball comes out first, at the very worst, the Cougars will draft second overall. Drafting second overall is nothing to shake a stick at.

Keep in mind that the Cougars have their own pick in the lottery as well. More on that later.

3 Ping Pong Points: Kootenay ICE

Do the ICE really need to win the lottery in order to take another skilled forward? Depending on the organization, teams either draft the best player available or try to fill an organizational need.

Last year they bucked a three-year trend by taking a blue liner with their top pick. If they are dead set on taking another talented forward, there will certainly be one with the second- or third-overall pick. And if they feel inclined to add to their prospect pool of defencemen, they would even have the opportunity to trade down from wherever they land on lottery day and gain another asset.

Conor is the latest Geekie brother that could hear his name get called in the WHL Draft. Photo courtesy of Sharla George Photography.

4.30 Ping Pong Points: Brandon Wheat Kings

The Wheat Kings have been one of the most consistent organizations in the league since the end of the miserable 1980s. This marks the third time since the turn of the century that Manitoba won’t host a WHL playoff game.

The Wheaties have proven that they don’t rely on lottery success to build winner, even though it helped winning the right to draft Mattheos.

As good and as consistent as the Wheat Kings have been, one program has been better.

4.70 Ping Pong Points: Kelowna Rockets

If there was ever a team involved in this year’s lottery that is due for a boost in the draft, it is the Rockets.

This is only the second time In the Rockets’ 24-year run that they have been on the outside looking in on the playoff picture. Add on the four years of existence for the Tacoma Rockets from 1991-95 if you want. That club never missed the playoffs, either.

The Rockets aren’t satisfied with simply qualifying for the dance. When they get in the playoffs, they do damage. Just look at their four Ed Chynoweth Cups and one Memorial Cup in that time frame.

All that winning has hindered the Rockets ability to select high in the draft. Small price to pay.

In the past 20 years, they have only picked in the lottery twice: No. 4 Josh Lepp (2000) and No. 2 Luke Moffat (2007). Their other top-5 pick in that time frame came pre-lottery days: No. 5 Jason Ryznar (1999). In that same time frame, they have only taken two more players inside the top 10. They have been the Detroit Red Wings of the WHL when it comes to the draft.

The lottery system was designed to keep teams from tanking. The Rockets have treated tanking like the plague and stayed as far away as possible. They deserve to be rewarded for their awe-inspiring run.

6 Ping Pong Points: Prince George Cougars

This is the ping pong ball Cougar fans want Doerksen to be holding in his hand, signalling the winner of the lottery.

The Cougars could already be laughing with the No. 1 pick in hand courtesy of the Broncos. Imagine adding to that by jumping up two spots and owning the top of the board?

Back-to-back picks like that hasn’t been seen that high in the first round since the Vancouver Giants pulled it off in the lottery’s inaugural year, 2002. Back then, the Raiders won the lottery but traded down with the Giants, giving them the top two picks in the draft. The Giants turned one of those picks into a meaningful WHL player and whiffed on the other. The Cougars would obviously like to hit on both picks and change the course of their franchise for the better.

LIKELINESS TO SIGN THEIR DRAFT PICK

I would like to point out one teency caveat for this category: as I’ve mentioned before, picks three through 10 are said to be wildly open and unpredictable, so trying to pin down the likelihood of where someone could sign is tricky. Proximity of a organization to a player’s hometown was the most consistent factor I could nail down with mock drafts being a scrambled mess at the moment.

That being said, going with the local kid isn’t always the right choice. GMs and scouts have told me in the past that when it comes to the draft, they often select the best player available. But they also admitted geography does play a factor.

Example: the Hitmen kicked geography to the curb in 2011 when they passed on local product Brycen Martin and selected Abbotsford, B.C.’s Jake Virtanen with the top pick.

Virtanen appeared in 192 WHL games, reached two Eastern Conference Finals, racked up 85 goals and 161 points and eventually turned himself into the sixth-overall pick in 2014. He also has fans shot-gunning beers after he scores.

The Broncos landed a very solid player in Martin with the next selection. The blue liner played in 277 games, supplied 21 goals and 131 assists. He also turned himself into an NHL product, when the Buffalo Sabres nabbed him in the third round during the same draft. He was and still is a great player, but he’s not quite on Virtanen’s level.

Sometimes, localizing isn’t always the right move.

I bring that up because this seems an ample opportunity to remind readers that Savoie’s dad came out and said this about the family’s decision on whether or not his son will sign with whichever team drafts him.

At the time, those quotes could be interpreted a few different ways. Knowing what we know now, it’s safe to assume that the Savoies might not want to play in remote locations.

According to a highly respected journalist in the industry, as much as the decision to not grant Savoie the exceptional player status was a Hockey Canada decision, the WHL also had a say in the matter. In the OHL, part of the reason Shane Wright was given the approval because he and his family were fully on board with whatever team drafted him. (The OHL doesn’t employ the lottery draft format, so Wright also had a better idea where he might end up than Savoie.) Apparently, that same feeling was not felt out west.

So with the Savoies possibly playing the picking and choosing game, here are the points for this category.

1 Ping Pong Point: Kootenay ICE

I’m assuming you all read Scott’s quote. It’s perfectly reasonable to connect the dots and infer that Scott isn’t thrilled with the idea of Matthew playing far from his home in St. Albert. There is nothing wrong with that.

Savoie is a fascinating problem this year. How confident is a team’s front office in selling their program? How much did Hockey Canada’s decision impact the family’s thoughts about life in the WHL? Is he really going to play junior A and go the college route?

Other than selling the future, what could the ICE use from their recent past to sway Savoie? Now that the Blades’ playoff drought is a thing of the past, the ICE carry the belt for longest drought, which has now stretched to four years. They have top picks in their lineup but have nothing to show for it. Heck, Krebs is in danger of turning into the next Jay Bouwmeester — former No. 1 overall pick in 1998 — and could go his entire junior career without tasting the post season.

Edmonton to Winnipeg is nearly five hours longer than Edmonton to Prince George is, which could be a factor in the Savoie family decision.

There is also a New York Islanders-esque situation brewing here, seen as the ICE don’t have a permanent arena in place yet. When the puck drops on their inaugural season, they will be playing out of the University of Manitoba’s 38-year-old Wayne Fleming Arena. By sharing the arena with the Bisons for at least two years, the ICE would play in front of 1,400 fans. The Wayne Fleming Arena has the smallest seating capacity in the league and it’s not even close.

The next closest WHL barn in size is the Art Hauser Centre in Prince Albert, which squeezes in 2,580. Even the Credit Union Place — home of the Dauphin Kings — seats more at 1,763. The Wheat Kings are tennates in the building each spring when they get nudged out of the Keystone Centre for the annual and wildly popular Royal Manitoba Winter Fair.

It has been reported that the ICE are hoping to move into their new digs for their third season in Winnipeg. It will be interesting to keep an eye on that timeline. To my knowledge, no shovels have gone into the ground yet. Now, I’m not as sharp on my cryopedolgy as I used to be, but I would imagine the construction season to be shorter in Winnipeg than most other cities south of Red Deer. A two-year timeline might be a little optimistic.

By the time the ICE finally move into the new 4,000-seat complex, Savoie could have as little as one year with the club with the lofty assumption that he makes the jump to the NHL at a young age similarly to previous CHL exceptional players.

What facet of this organization is supposed to be enticing to the Savoie family?

Nobody wants another Jonathan Toews situation all over again.

2.25 Ping Pong Points: Prince George Cougars

Look, let’s all be adults here.

At one point in time, the Cougars struggled to sign players. The likelihood of them signing a player drops the further you move away from the CN Centre. There have been instances in the past with players such as Lane Zablocki, Alex Forsberg and Tyler Ho, to name a few, who for whatever reason, didn’t want to spend their junior career in Prince George.

If Savoie lives up to the hype, he could be the player to change that stereotype about how unfortunate it is to play in a remote location. He has the chance to stand up, go against the grain and prove that he can bring a winning culture to a franchise that has only seen two playoff series victories in 25 years(!!!). There are plenty of good people running that organization that want nothing more than to prove to other players, parents and fans that it is a healthy place to play. He could change the stigma of that organization.

The good news is that, from what I hear, is that the stereotype is changing. The Cougars are doing a better job scheduling, accommodating the players and have beefed up their bus to make the long road trips more comforting. The Cougars are trending up and are having an easier time selling players on their program.

But the Cougars aren’t alone! Teams on the extremes of the WHL circumference feel their pain: the Raiders, Wheat Kings (maybe Winnipeg overtakes the Wheaties in this category next year) and the Portland Winterhawks.

These are kids that are being asked to leave home at a young age and play a few provinces away from their home or in a completely different country.

As Savoie’s dad hinted earlier, he might not be thrilled to drive at least eight hours in the winter for their closest road games in Vancouver or Edmonton.

The Cougars still have a power move left in their hand. They will own two of the top five picks at the worst and at best, the top two picks. It will be interesting to see if they say, “screw it,” and take him anyways. Maybe they think they can afford to call his bluff, as they have another pick in their pocket. Even if they draft him and he doesn’t sign, they could hoard him, keeping him away from other clubs until someone gives into their list of demands.

2.75 Ping Pong Points: Swift Current Broncos

The Cougars could see one of two balls they own win the lottery. The only reason the Broncos’ ball is given 0.5 more points is because if it were to appear first, Cougars fans might not feel as bad — however slightly — in the end if Savoie doesn’t sign. They’ll have the poor excuse of blaming another team’s ball for their misfortune. A lame reason, yes, but at least I tried.

I just want to see the Cougars have better luck if they win the lottery than the last time they won the lottery in 2004. There, they jumped the Blades and Seattle Thunderbirds and selected Ryan Kerr No. 1 overall. Kerr wasn’t long for Prince George, as he was traded after 20 games to the Lethbridge Hurricanes.

Sorry to bring that one up. Hang in there Cougar fans.

4 Ping Pong Points: Brandon Wheat Kings

This ping pong ball has no chance at selecting first overall. Should the Wheat Kings win the lottery, the highest they will pick is fourth overall.

GMs would be slightly worried about not having their first-round pick sign at the fourth slot than the first one, but not by much. A first rounder is still a first rounder and ideally, you would want that player in your system.

Going strictly off geography, this scenario resembles the issues the Cougars could face in the draft.

There is a slight chance that the Wheat Kings might be hamstrung by a player from the west coast.

The guys at DraftGeek have the Vancouver product Lisowsky pegged as the fourth-best prospect and Lindgren as the fifth-best prospect. Brandon, like Prince George, has had issues in the past with recruiting players from a few provinces over. The fix is simple, especially in a wide-open draft: pick someone else.

But, if they are dead-set on either Vancouver boys, it would be painful to see the Wheaties lose out on them because of geography.

5 Ping Pong Points: Kelowna Rockets

There are no real winners in this category.

There is no Stankoven waiting for the Blazers. There is no Nolan Patrick waiting for the Wheat Kings. There is no Gilbert Bruhle waiting for the Vancouver Giants. There is no homegrown kid that a community gets behind for years to come.

Local options don’t exist, so allow me to waive the personal opinion flag here: the Okanagan is the greatest region in Canada.

Unless you grew up on a farm and find peace in the neverending fields — and there’s nothing wrong with that — you simply cannot beat the B.C. Interior.

Kamloops counts. Kamloops is part of the Interior, but they have rivers instead of lakes.

Lakes > Rivers.

Lakes might not be enticing in the dead of winter, but wait until training camp rolls around. Players arrive in September and Kelowna is still fully engulfed in summertime mode unlike some of the prairie towns. Players tour the city, see the beautiful… beaches, enjoy the lively outdoor downtown atmosphere and can cool off in the lake.

And that hasn’t even taken into account what it’s like to play for a first-class organization like the Rockets.

GM Bruce Hamilton sticks to his guns when finding new players for his program. He goes after the best players available, regardless of their situation and puts on his salesmen hat.

Trevor Wong was a perfect example of that last year.

After racking up 64 goals and 77 assists in 30 games during his draft year with the St. George’s School Bantam Varsity, there were still question marks surrounding Wong, as he had shown commitment to the University of Denver (sound familiar???).

The Rockets didn’t flinch and pegged him with the 18th overall pick.

Eventually, Wong came around. He has since signed a contract, appeared in four games this season and sniped his first-career goal.

2017’s draft posed a similar problem for the Rockets, when they chose Ethan Bowen with their top pick in the second round.

Bowen, a Chilliwack product, hasn’t signed a contract yet. He kept his commitment to the University of North Dakota and is currently playing for the Chilliwack Bruins of the BCHL and has 19 goals and 38 points in 59 games as a 16-year-old. Don’t be surprised if Hamilton has one final sales pitch up his sleeve with the Memorial Cup looming.

6 Ping Pong Points: Regina Pats

Some players might not like extended hours of sunshine, beaches and not having to shovel your driveway in May. Some players might want to play with great players.

The Blades seize the top spot in this category not only because of their geographic location, but more importantly, they can sell a highly drafted player on a winning franchise.

Their front office has gone through the sludge of losing seasons with no draft picks for long enough. They have solid core that could entice even the most distant prospects.

They could also sell the fact that they are one of the oldest franchises in the league and have never won the Ed Chynoweth Cup. Bringing the first league title to the great Canadian city of Saskatoon would be something those players could tell their grandkids about while bouncing them upon their knee. Also, they might not have to pay for meals at Leopold’s Tavern or UNA Pizza ever again.

With that, the first half of the Prognostication has come to an end. How was it? Did it not live up to expectations like Jared Legien? Or did it deliver as advertised like Mathew Barzal?

Either way, take your first and only timeout here. Charge your batteries and prepare for Part II: hydrate, get some electrolytes in your system, inhale some fresh oxygen and get your eight hours in. Tomorrow, it’s going to get cranked up a notch and we aren’t leaving until we have solved this mystery.

Home Forums Inaugural WHL Lottery Prognostication, Part I

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