2024 WHL Prospects Draft Preview: Raiders look to be big players once again

Herald File Photo. Daxon Rudolph (pictured) was the first overall pick by Prince Albert in last year's WHL Prospects Draft.

For the second year in a row, the Prince Albert Raiders will be major players at the WHL Prospects Draft holding two selections in the first round, both in the top 10.

The Raiders will select at second and ninth overall in the first round and hold six selections in the top three rounds of the draft.

The last time the Raiders selected second overall was in 2023 when they selected centreman Riley Boychuk, who posted 62 points in 27 games last season for the Northern Alberta Xtreme U18 Prep Program and has yet to make his WHL debut.

It’s been a decade since Prince Albert selected ninth overall when they selected netminder Ian Scott out of Calgary, Alberta. Scott would go onto to a 87-64-9-5 record, a 2.90 goals against average and .905 career save percentage in 175 regular season games. Scott saved the best goaltending of his career for the 2019 WHL playoffs where he posted a 16-6-1-0 record, a 1.96 Goals Against Average and a sparkling .925 save percentage as the Raiders would go onto win the Ed Chynoweth Cup that season.

The headliner of this year’s draft is Calgary-born defenceman Landon DuPont who was granted exceptional status by the WHL and will be allowed to play in the league as a full-time player as a 15-year-old next season. He is widely expected to be drafted by the Everett Silvertips, who hold the first overall pick.

DuPont is the second player to ever be granted exceptional status by the WHL after Connor Bedard received it in 2020.

Joel Henderson is the director of scouting for Puck Preps and 2024 marks the fourth season that he has conducted rankings ahead of the WHL Prospects Draft. Henderson says DuPont is a strong player because of his intelligence and well-rounded game.

“He really doesn’t have anything that stands out as a really glaring weakness. He’s just an incredibly well-rounded, well-coached, well-developed player. He’s smart. He’s going to continue to just get better because of that smartness. I’ve seen him adapt at multiple levels now, between last year and this year.”

While DuPont may be receiving a lot of the pre-draft headlines and buzz, Henderson says there are a lot of very good players that will be available in the first round.

“There were a lot of high-end players in last year’s draft and there was a big tier of players at the top so it was very interesting. There wasn’t any player in my opinion that noticeably sailed above that. This year there’s two in Landon DuPont and Eli McKamey and then after that it honestly opens up. I think some people might have three in that tier and some people might have eight. It’s just really going to come down to picking a player that fits the program (and) fits what you’re doing. I think the player that some guys get at 10, they might have ranked at three so it’s going to be a fun year that way.”

In terms of individual position groups, Henderson says there isn’t one group that stands out but a common trend throughout the entire draft is the smaller stature of most players.

“I think it’s a little bit all over the place. Other years, there were a few goalies at the top that people were more excited about. I don’t think you’re going to see any goalies go real high. A lot of the players to be honest are really early in their physical development. There’s not a lot of players that are just big and dominant and project to be even bigger and more dominant. It’s just a lot of players who have some strength and some size to add. I think that’s why this is a good year to add a player to your team that fits what you’re looking for.”

There will be some names selected on Thursday that WHL fans will already recognize as they have older brothers who have made a name for themselves in the league. Some draft eligible players who have older brothers that played in the WHL include Graeme Pickering (older brother Owen played for Swift Current, Pittsburgh Penguins 2021 first round draft pick), Connor Howe (older brother Tanner served as Regina Pats captain last season) and Jacob Tait (older brother Ashton played for Kamloops last season).

Henderson says the scouting process always becomes a lot more interesting when the player has an older brother already in the league.

“I think it’s really interesting when you’re comparing player to player because what scouts are looking for is just more information. They’re looking for how big other members of the family are to try to get a gist with some of the smaller players how big are they going to get, how much of a timeline are we talking about, do they more so develop when they were 19 or do they make a big growth spurt at 16 or 17 it’s just all boring weird stuff like that.”

“When you have a player like Graeme Pickering, you know the story of Owen Pickering, his older brother who was smaller in his draft year, had a huge growth spurt in his next season and is now six foot four and a first round NHL pick. You look at a guy like Graeme who came into this year at I think at five foot eight 135 pounds and you start to imagine him as a larger fellow.”

Although Henderson has put many hours into his rankings by watching both film and live games, he says his rankings aren’t the end all be all and he wouldn’t be surprised if a team has a differing opinion from his own.

“I’m hoping that people don’t get hung up on the top end (of the rankings). I want people to understand that it really is close. I had to spend a lot of time really going over these players and sometimes it’s like flipping a coin between some spots and players. I just think a lot of players that come out of this first round, they’re going to be solid WHL players that find their way into the top six, the top line down the road. A lot of top pair defencemen here, even if they’re a number two.. There’s just a slough of real good players in this draft.”

Full List of Raiders Draft Picks

Round 1, 2nd overall*
Round 1, 9th overall
Round 2, 31st overall
Round 3, 49th overall*
Round 3, 54th overall
Round 3, 57th overall**
Round 4, 76th overall
Round 5, 111th overall***
Round 6, 120th overall
Round 7, 142nd overall
Round 8, 164th overall
Round 9, 186th overall
Round 10, 208th overall
Round 11, 230th overall
Round 12, 252nd overall
Round 13, 274th overall
Round 14, 296th overall
Round 15, 318th overall

*The 2nd and 49th overall picks were both acquired from Seattle as part of the Nolan Allan trade in November 2022.
**The 57th overall pick was acquired from Wenatchee (formerly Winnipeg) on December 31, 2022 as part of the Aiden Oiring/Carson Latimer trade
***The 111th overall pick was acquired from the Kamloops Blazers in a draft day pick swap. Kamloops acquired this pick from Saskatoon in the Vaughn Watterodt trade.

Top 5 Players Available according to Joel Henderson

•   Landon DuPont, D, Calgary, Alberta
•   Eli McKamey, F, Cowichan Bay, British Columbia
•   Mirco Dufour, F, Chestermere, British Columbia
•   Brock England,  F, Red Deer, Alberta
•   Calder Hamilton, D, Martensville, Saskatchewan

Prince Albert also holds the ninth and 31st overall selections in the 2024 WHL US Priority Draft which takes place on Wednesday morning beginning at 10 a.m.

The 2024 WHL Prospects Draft will begin with a pre-show on the WHL’s YouTube page beginning at 9:30 a.m. with the draft to begin at 10 a.m. The event is free to stream.