On Wednesday the WHL will conduct its 2020 Bantam Draft starting at 9:00 AM Pacific. The draft this year will be held virtually rather than in Red Deer, Alberta. It was also moved up from its originally scheduled May 7 date.
The Bantam Draft serves as one of the primary ways teams build their rosters for the future. This year, players born in 2005 are eligible to be selected. With the exception of a few games in their 15-year-old seasons, these players will not appear in the league until the 2021-2022 season.
Many scouts within the hockey community have spoken about the depth of the 2020 draft class. Oftentimes at the trade deadline in the season prior, contenders will trade first-round picks to help bolster their lineups for the stretch run.
At this year’s deadline, only three trades involving first-round picks occurred.
Everett made a deal with Swift Current for what is now the 21st overall selection. The 17th pick, belonging to Prince George, was traded three times over the span of 33 days. Originally belonging to Medicine Hat, Vancouver and Saskatoon both briefly held possession before the pick landed in Prince George.
Four other selections have exchanged hands but were dealt in prior seasons.
The first overall selection belongs to the Regina Pats, who by all reports, are selecting Connor Bedard — the first WHL player to be granted exceptional status, allowing him to play in the league at 15 years old.
Prince George has three selections in the first round — 2nd, 17th, and 22nd — the most of any team.
What will Wednesday entail for the Portland Winterhawks?
Portland officially has a total of 13 selections on Wednesday; however, the three selections after the 12th round are rarely used.
Vice president, general manager, and head coach Mike Johnston and his scouting staff led by Mike Coflin — assistant to the general manager and director of scouting & player development — will more likely make ten selections pending any trades.
The Winterhawks’ first selection is the first pick of the second round and 23rd overall. With the top 15-30 players being relatively close in skill level, Portland will be getting a first-round talent.
This pick originally belonged to the Swift Current Broncos and was traded to Saskatoon back in 2017. Johnston acquired this selection in the Josh Paterson and Ryan Hughes trade. Also included was a 2021 fourth-round pick. Portland’s first-round pick would have been 22nd overall but now belongs to Prince George.
At the previous two trade deadlines, Johnston made blockbuster moves acquiring Dennis Cholowski from Prince George and Joel Hofer from Swift Current. Both deals included several draft selections so the return Johnston received for Ryan Hughes went a long way in replenishing some of the draft capital.
In addition to its first-round selection going to the Cougars, Portland’s third-round selection on Wednesday will serve as the final piece of the Cholowski deal.
Three of the six picks included in the Hofer deal will be satisfied on Wednesday with the Winterhawks not holding their own second- and fourth-round selections. The fifth-round pick included in the trade originally belonged to Everett until Portland acquired it in the Bronson Sharp deal. After the draft is concluded, only one pick — next year’s first-round pick — will still be in the balance to the Broncos. The other two picks occurred at last year’s draft in the first round (Matthew Ward) and third round (Sam Court).
After its first selection at 23, Portland will next be on the clock in the fourth round at 83rd overall as a result of the Nick Perna trade to Medicine Hat.
Prince Albert holds Portland’s sixth-round pick after Red Deer traded away the selection previously acquired when the Winterhawks brought in Lukus MacKenzie.
At last year’s draft, goalie Shane Farkas was traded to the Victoria Royals. Included in this deal was a conditional 2020 selection. Based upon the minutes played by Farkas, Portland received a seventh-round selection — 141st overall.
Per the WHL’s website, Portland will be making the following selections:
- 2nd round – 23 overall
- 4th – 83
- 5th – 110
- 7th – 141
- 7th – 154
- 8th – 176
- 9th – 198
- 10th – 220
- 11th – 242
- 12th – 264
- 13th – 286
- 14th – 308
- 15th – 330
Keep in mind these picks can move around as teams move up and down throughout the draft, targeting specific players who caught the eyes of scouts.
Portland’s draft picks may have looked a lot different if Johnston made a decision to bring in additional players at the deadline. During an interview with me late in March, Johnston spoke about the decision to leave his roster as-is.
“We didn’t make any trades at Christmas, any trades during the year giving up picks or young players. We are still positioned well for the future. That would have been disheartening if we had made some big moves and were left here sitting with an older, talented team with nobody to play in the playoffs. That said, nobody knew what was going to happen, but that was our choice at Christmas to decide for the sake of the future, and because our team earned the right going into the second half, by their first half, to get to play the year out as a group.
“We therefore decided to do that and glad we did right now looking back now in hindsight. We can say, ‘Wow, we still have our picks and we still have players and we didn’t load up for the stretch run.’”
Who might Portland select with the 23rd overall selection?
As previously mentioned, the top-30 players in this year’s draft are fairly bunched together, so getting an exact idea who might be around at 23 is tough to say.
That said, take a look at the DUBNetwork mock draft complete with scouting reports from the recently launched DUBNetwork Scouting. Familiarize yourself with some of the names near the back half of the first round as well as the Honorable Mentions section.
The Winterhawks have not always had a first-round selection over the last several years; however, when they do, they often draft a superstar.
Players drafted by the Winterhawks in the first round since 2008 include: Ty Rattie (2008), Derrick Pouliot (2009), Nic Petan (2010), Cody Glass (2014), Seth Jarvis (2017), and Gabe Klassen (2018).
None of these players need any introduction as to what they brought, or are currently bringing, to Portland.
While whoever Portland selects on Wednesday will not officially be a first-round selection, they have the potential to join some pretty elusive company.
Johnston, Coflin, and the rest of Portland’s scouts have a tendency to lean towards players with a high hockey IQ, speed, and can transition the puck well. In previous conversations Johnston and Coflin have both talked about drafting the best player available who will fit within the style the organization wants to play.
Many fans can often times get caught up in the size of a player when being drafted, but many of these players have not fully grown yet as they are just 14 or 15 years old. For example, Cody Glass was 5-foot-9, 138-pounds when he was drafted. In his final season with Portland, Glass was 6-foot-2, 185 pounds and considered to be an NHL-sized centerman.
Late round gems and other draft notables
Like all drafts, not all first- or second-round players will be superstars, and not all late-round selections will be role players or not play in the league at all.
In fact, Portland has found many players later in the draft who are impact players. Jaydon Dureau — second leading scorer on the team — was an eighth-round pick. Team rookie of the year Tyson Kozak was the 121st player selected. NHL Central Scouting-rated forward Robbie Fromm-Delorme was picked in the seventh round. On the blue line, Portland found Nick Cicek in the seventh round as well. And fan favorite and energy winger Kishaun Gervais heard his name called in the ninth round.
Going back just a few years, guys like Kieffer Bellows (7th), Brendan De Jong (7th), Skyler McKenzie (8th), Alex Overhardt (11th), and Evan Weinger (13th) have all played important roles for the Winterhawks.
In each of the last four drafts, the Winterhawks have selected a goaltender:
2019 – Ty Shumanski
2018 – Lochlan Gordon
2017 – Dante Giannuzzi
2016 – Evan Fradette (Now with Medicine Hat)
If recent trends continue, expect to see a netminder called before the draft concludes.
With the U.S. Prospects Draft held last month, Portland already has two 2005 American-born players added to its pipeline. However, the team may still select additional players later in the draft after selecting four players in 2019, three in 2018, and five in 2017. Johnston has shown he will not shy away from using a late-round pick on a player likely to play NCAA hockey. Eric Doyle is Portland’s head USA scout, and prior to seasons concluding, he was all over the western portion of the United States identifying talent.
As shown by the Farkas trade last year, the draft can often be the time when trades can occur, so that’s one more element to keep an eye on Wednesday afternoon.
Several have asked about who Portland has signed but was not on the 2019-2020 roster. As of Sunday, April, 19, the Winterhawks have ten signed prospects. Next season, 2003-born players will be considered 17-year-olds, while those born in 2004 will be considered 16-year-old rookies.
- Jonah Bevington – 2003
- Kyle Chyzowski – 2004
- Aidan Litke – 2003
- Dawson Pasternak – 2003
- Luca Cagnoni – 2004
- Ryan McCleary – 2003
- Josh Mori – 2004
- Brody Tallman – 2003
- Ryder Thompson – 2004
- Lochlan Gordon – 2003
Not all players listed above will be on the 2020-2021 roster. All are expected though to compete for a roster spot once training camp and preseason rolls around in the fall.