On Thursday the Portland Winterhawks participated in the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft by selecting 11 players from across western Canada and the the western United States.
Overall, Portland Winterhawks Head Coach Mike Johnston was pleased with the organization’s draft, “It was good. It was an interesting draft because we felt probably the top 15 players I expected to go in order and they pretty well did. There were a couple players there that were wild-card players because of college commitments that nobody knew where they would fall out.”
Portland’s first selection came in the third round of the draft after their first and second round picks had been dealt at the last two trade deadlines.
The Winterhawks first round selection (14th overall) went to the Swift Current Broncos as part of the trade for goaltender Joel Hofer. Portland’s second round pick (36th overall) was dealt to the Prince George Cougars in 2018 for defenseman Dennis Cholowski.
The first player to hear his name called by the Winterhawks was forward Kyle Chyzowski from Delta Hockey Academy. Chyzowski hails from Surrey, British Columbia and is listed at five-foot-eight and 140 pounds. According to WHL.ca he registered 46 points (17 goals and 29 assists) in 33 games.
“In our assessment, we had Kyle Chyzowski rated number one on our list in the first round and we got him in the third round, so we are really excited” Mike Johnston commented. “I talked with his dad, Barry Chyzowski, who I had known before, and this guy’s a real dynamic, skilled player. It gives us a number one pick that we like as far as our first pick a guy who is going to fit into our system really well. Then you build your draft around that first pick.”
After the Chyzowski pick, the Winterhawks selected seven additional forwards, two defensemen, and a goaltender. Johnston said the breakdown wasn’t on purpose, “I think it just happened to fall that way.”
He continued saying, “You want to take the best player, but at the same time, you got to consider positionally. We always want to take one goaltender every draft. Then you want to make sure you have a couple of defensemen for sure in with the group of forwards. We are trying as best as we can to work exactly off your list and take the best player.”
The biggest storyline of the draft for the Winterhawks came early in the fourth round when 1999-born goalie Shane Farkas was dealt to the Victoria Royals.
Despite being announced by the WHL right before the 80th overall selection (fourth round) the trade was actually finalized between the teams prior to the draft.
Johnston described the trade saying, “Similar to us acquiring an overage last year (Jared Freadrich), we had several  players that were coming back for next season. We wanted to make sure we could find a good spot for Shane Farkas. Victoria was looking for a goaltender, a little bit older goaltender, so we made the deal prior to the draft. So we knew heading into the draft that we had 3,4,5,6 (round pick) on the board.”
The Winterhawks general manager and head coach mentioned twice during media availability the importance of making sure Shane Farkas landed in a good spot.
Entering the draft, the Winterhawks held an extra fifth round selection as a result of the Ty Kolle trade earlier in the 2018-2019 season, so they were able to still maintain a pick in the middle rounds with flipping fourth and fifth round selections with Victoria.
Johnston commented on the return for the soon to be overage goaltender Farkas, “It depends on what we get back next year… so the conditions on Farkas for next could build up to a fourth round for next year which would be really good. It was a flip of picks this year, and then a sliding conditional for next year…which could be as high as a fourth-round pick.”
The trade now reads:
2019 5th Round (102nd Overall)
2019 4th Round (80th Overall)
2020 Conditional (As high as 4th Round)
— Joshua Critzer (@jjcritzer) May 2, 2019
With Farkas now headed to Victoria, the Portland Winterhawks have four 1999-born players who will battle for the three overage spots next season (Cody Glass will play pro hockey either in the NHL or AHL).
For now though, Johnston doesn’t anticipate anymore moves involving overage players, ““I always believe it is important to have four right now and leading into training camp because one of them could play pro, and that is a very likely possibility. So, we want to make sure we are always protected to that if one signs a pro deal, that we have our three locked in.”
With their newly acquired fourth-round pick, the Winterhawks selected forward Carter Streek from Yale Hockey Academy.
The Kamloops, British Columbia native is listed at five-foot-six and 147 pounds and is known for being one of the faster players in the draft as well as good forechecker. Per @draftgeekhockey, “Although short in nature, you wouldn’t know that by the way Streek played. Streek’s an uber tenacious winger whose reckless fore-checking is intimidating for defenders retrieving pucks below the goal line… Loves the physical side of the game..”
In the fifth and sixth round the Winterhawks selected Ryder Thompson and Luke Schelter respectively.
Thompson is a left-shot defenseman from Manitoba while Schelter is a towering forward standing six-foot-two and 175 pounds at 14-years-old.
For perspective, current Winterhawks forward Jake Gricius, a 19-year-old, is the tallest on roster at six-foot-three and 199 pounds.
The Winterhawks traded a 2021 seventh-round pick to the Moose Jaw Warriors in exchange for the opportunity to select goalie Ty Shumanski with the 148th overall pick.
Defenseman Josh Mori was the pick for Portland in the eighth round. Mori was a teammate this season with third round pick Kyle Chyzowski.
The Winterhawks again traded a late-round pick in a future draft (eighth round in 2022) for two ninth round selections. This marked the second year in a row where Brandon and Portland struck a late-round draft-day trade.
“As you move through the draft you take a look at how things are going according to your list” Johnston said when asked about the two trades. “Anytime you make a move in the later rounds it is usually because you have a couple of players you believe will be there, or are there, and you feel that if you wait too much longer they may not be. So sliding picks from this year to the following year is usually a good strategy. We’ve had some success with it in the past.”
Landon Van Engelen, a left winger from Tofield, Alberta, heard his name called with the 184th pick in the draft.
With their second pick in the round, the Winterhawks drafted a player with a last name familiar with many NHL hockey fans. Portland selected Marek Hejduk, the son of Colorado Avalanche forward Milan Hejduk.
Six picks later, the twin brother of Marek, David Hejduk, was selected by the Everett Silvertips. Should both players play in the league, a sibling rivalry within the U.S. Division will be a fun storyline to follow.
Johnston talked about the Hejduk twins, ““One is a forward and one is a defenseman. We took the forward first and Everett took the defenseman later. Milan was obviously a great NHL player. You watch his son play, and he is a little smaller now, but he has the skill and he has hockey sense. Marek, the forward that we took, is a player that I think will be a really good offensive player, but his skill set, all-around is something I think fits in well with our system.”
As other WHL teams began to start passing on picks, the Winterhawks made three more selections in rounds 10 (James Snuggerud), 11 (Marcus Nguyen), and 12 (Maddox Fleming).
The work now begins for the 2004 draft class.
“I’ve watched three of these guys play live, and the other guys play on video” Johnston commented. “Our scouts have watched them over the year, and really believe in these guys. We are going to have a good example at training camp of how they fit into our depth chart, where they fit in, how they’ve grown and changed over the summer.”
For Mike Johnston, he feels, “you have to remember these are 14-year-old players. They are going to change as 15-year-olds, and change a lot over the next year. It is just a matter of just trusting your scouts who watched them throughout the season, bringing them to training camp, talking to them about our program, and developing a timeline when we think each of them can play with us.”
Up next for Portland, sending out training camp (Neely Cup) invites.
“All of the players we drafted will come in at the Neely Cup, and one-day Development Camp prior to the training camp” Johnston expressed. “Then there will be several other players that we felt in the draft, maybe that slipped through the draft for one reason or another, that we would like to have in camp. We will invite those as well. You are allowed to start inviting players Monday (May 6th) morning, so you can start inviting players you haven’t picked in the draft.”
Over the next 24 hours though Mike Johnston and the Portland Winterhawks organization will contact the family’s of the players selected at the draft.
One last key date remains on the WHL offseason calendar for the Winterhawks, the CHL Import Draft.
Johnston, Kyle Gustafson (assistant general manager), Mike Coflin (assistant to the general manager), and the rest of the Portland front office staff will have at least one pick to make later in June.
The CHL Import Draft shortly after the NHL Entry Draft is an “ongoing process throughout the (year) much like the bantam draft where we are evaluating players” Johnston described. “The U18 just finished in Europe and watching some of those games on TV. Just going over the season that they had and try to figure out with agents which player are going to come over to our league and which aren’t. A big factor will be the NHL draft and what the NHL team wants that player to do, and so sometimes prior to the Euro draft it can change dramatically in the last week depending on where they are selected in the NHL.”
Joachim Blichfeld graduates out of the WHL after becoming the second Winterhawk from Denmark (Oliver Bjorkstrand) to lead the WHL in scoring as well as win the MVP.
Johnston doesn’t have a set country where he feels the team looks for players, “We are looking at a lot of different players. Certainly in the past we’ve had the two players from Denmark who were really good for us, a few Swiss players, then Henri from Finland. Usually the Finns and the Swedes there are not as many of them that are coming over. Then we haven’t had many Russians, one in my time here, and one Czech player. You are trying to look for the best player who is going to come over, and then see where you pick in the draft, and see if they will be available in that spot.”
Ultimately, for the Portland Winterhawks, May 2nd, 2019 proved to be an exciting day and one the organization may look back on a few years from now a pivotal moment.