Braden Schneider’s phone was no longer being bombarded by texts and calls by the time Thursday morning hit, but the 19-year-old Prince Albert product was still on cloud nine after being picked 19th overall by the New York Rangers during the first round of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft on Tuesday night
“It’s sunk in a little bit now but I still can’t believe it happened at times,” Schneider said.
“To be honest, Tuesday felt like a regular day at first. I went for a walk and did my normal routine, but once my friends and family members came over to the house, it started to become a little more real.”
The Brandon Wheat Kings blueliner had a bit of a déjà vu moment on Tuesday, as the Rangers moved up from the 22nd overall pick (which the Washington Capitals would later acquire to take Chicoutimi Sagueneens forward Hendrix Lapierre) and a third round choice in 2020 (that became Saint John Sea Dogs blueliner Jeremie Poirier) to acquire the 19th overall selection from the Calgary Flames and select Schneider.
The same thing happened during the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft as the Wheat Kings dealt the 21st overall pick (Brayden Tracey), a third round pick (Austin Herron) and a sixth round pick (Konor Campbell) to the Moose Jaw Warriors in order to land the 11th overall selection and take Schneider just one slot ahead of his hometown Raiders.
“Braden was someone that we had coveted for a while,” Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton said during a Zoom press conference after the first round. “He has high character and he’s hard to play against. When you watched this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs, players like him had a lot of success. When you put that all together and combine that with how high we had him on our list, we feel like moving up on the board and giving up those picks were a good decision for us going forward.”
“I remember having a really good chat with New York in May and the thing that stood out to me was the excitement and the enthusiasm that their entire organization has,” Schneider added. “I had no idea though where or when I was going to be picked, so when it happened it was a relief to hear my name called.”
In addition to being the first Saskatchewan-born player to be picked in this year’s draft, Schneider was also the first local player to be selected in a number of years.
Joel Broda, who was born in Yorkton but grew up in Prince Albert, was a fifth round pick by the Capitals in 2008, while Adam Cracknell was chosen by the Calgary Flames in the ninth round in 2004.
Schneider is also the first local player to be a first round choice since Denis Pederson went 13th overall to the New Jersey Devils in 1993 and the first Prince Albert Mintos alumni to be drafted since Connor Ingram was a third round pick in 2016 by the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Ryan Pilon (a fifth round pick by the New York Islanders in 2015) and Ryan Parent (18th overall by the Nashville Predators in 2005) were both born in Prince Albert but called Duck Lake and Sioux Lookout, Ont. home when they were selected.
Schneider, who celebrated his birthday on Sept. 20, has put up 88 points in 185 games for the Wheat Kings and was named to the WHL’s Eastern Conference all-star team last season.
He’s also played for Canada at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge and the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, in addition to taking part in Hockey Canada’s World Junior selection camp last December.
“The mindset doesn’t change now that I’ve been drafted,” Schneider said.
“I’ve been working hard all summer to get better and I feel like I’ve been improving. Now I’ll be able to get some more help, guidance and new perspectives from the Rangers. I can’t wait to get going.”
Schneider was one of two opening round picks by the Rangers as they chose Rimouski Oceanic star forward Alexis Lafreniere with the first overall pick.
The pair are already familiar with one another as they’ve attended various Hockey Canada camps and won a gold medal as part of Canada’s 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup squad.
“Everyone knows how unbelievable Alexis is on the ice but he’s the exact same off of the ice,” Schneider said. “He’s a real leader in the locker room and a fun guy to be around. I’m excited to start the next chapter of my career with him.”
This year’s NHL Draft was also a memorable one for the Wheat Kings as they had four players selected, which was the most by any WHL club and tied with the OHL’s Soo Greyhounds for the most of any team in the CHL.
Forward Ridly Grieg was picked 28th overall by the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday, while forwards Cole Reinhardt and Ben McCartney were sixth and seventh round selections by the Senators and the Arizona Coyotes on Wednesday.
“I was so excited to see Ridly go in the first round and I was really fired up to see Ben and Cole go later on in the draft,” Schneider said.
“I think that shows just how good of a job the entire Wheat Kings organization does in helping to develop their players.”