For those selected in the WHL U.S. Priority Draft or the WHL Prospects Draft, the celebration will inevitably pass too quickly.
Last Wednesday, the WHL U.S. Priority Draft was held and the WHL Prospects Draft followed one day later. The players that were selected in those drafts rightly got to celebrate that big milestone with their family and friends.
It is a big accomplishment to get selected in a WHL draft. Once the excitement of being drafted dies down, players face the realization that being drafted is just a step forward towards potentially one day playing in the WHL.
WHL draftees now enter a journey where they will have to do a lot more to prepare to play in the WHL on a full-time basis. For players that don’t put in the work, they will get left behind by someone in their draft class that does or even an undrafted player that later gets listed by a club.
When the WHL U.S. Priority Draft and the WHL Prospects Draft wrap up, every WHL team feels good about what they were able to do coming out of those drafts.
The Prince Albert Raiders had to justifiably feel good about the players they were able to select in both drafts. The obvious prize selection was nabbing centre Luke Moroz in the first round and 15th overall in the WHL Prospects Draft.
The Grand Coulee, Sask., product, who will turn 15-years-old in July, had an eye-popping 2021-22 campaign leading the Saskatchewan Under-15 AA Hockey League in scoring skating with the Balgonie Prairie Storm. In 27 regular season games with the Storm, Moroz had 47 goals and 61 assists for 108 points.
Moroz, who stands 5-foot-8 and weighs 143 pounds, proceeded to pile up 15 goals and 12 assists in seven playoff games. He has a good family support system behind him, but Moroz’s past accomplishments don’t guarantee WHL stardom.
It is possible the Raiders find a star player in one of their later picks in the WHL Prospects Draft. That has happened before in past WHL drafts.
Way back in the 2014 WHL Bantam Draft, the Raiders used their seventh round and 141st overall pick to select Parker Kelly. The Raiders proceeded to nab defenceman Zack Hayes in the ninth round and 184th overall in that same draft.
Kelly became a heart and soul power forward and Hayes developed into a dependable defensive-defenceman and captain. Both players were key members in helping the Raiders finish first overall in the WHL in the 2018-19 campaign and capture the WHL Championship for a second time in team history.
Both went unselected in the NHL Entry Draft but later signed NHL entry-level contracts with Kelly going to the Ottawa Senators and Hayes to the Vegas Golden Knights.
Medicine Hat Tigers grad Tyler Ennis is an example of a player who was not a WHL draft selection but has had a great career in the game. Ennis cracked the Tigers in 2005-06 as a listed player as a 16-year-old rookie.
The skilled and speedy right-winger helped the Tigers win a WHL title in 2007 and advance to the Memorial Cup title game before falling to the tournament host Vancouver Giants.
Ennis would ultimately be selected in the first round and 26th overall in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft by the Buffalo Sabres. He has skated in 13 NHL seasons playing this past campaign with the Senators.
One factor that makes WHL drafts a gamble is the fact teams are drafting players who just finished their 14-year-old seasons. In most cases, the players are still growing and maturing physically, so they could look a lot different when they first attempt to crack a WHL roster for real as a 16-year-old.
Another factor that makes the WHL drafts a gamble is the fact all the players drafted will play one more complete hockey season before attempting to make a WHL team. During that one season, players encounter all sorts of different development, which changes how they will stack up with each other.
When WHL teams bring all their draft selections together for the first time, the coaches and managers have to wonder on a good front who will be the player that becomes the standout.
While it is a time to be rightfully joyful when a player gets taken in a WHL draft, it also means the work on the hockey development front hits a new beginning.
WHL Prospects Draft makes history on two fronts
Last Thursday’s WHL Prospects Draft saw history get made on two notable spots.
The first front came when the Medicine Hat Tigers selected forward Gavin McKenna, who is from Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory, first overall. McKenna is the first player from the Yukon Territory to ever be selected first overall in a WHL draft.
McKenna, who stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 160 pounds, was granted exceptional status by B.C. Hockey to play for the Kelowna based Rink Hockey Academy team in the under-18 division of the Canadian Sport School Hockey League.
With the Rink Academy under-18 team, McKenna appeared in 35 regular season games piling up 23 goals and 42 assists playing in a league with players that were three to four years older than him.
McKenna has a later in the year birthday and will turn 15-years-old this coming December. That means he won’t be eligible for the NHL Entry Draft until 2026 after he has completed his 18-year-old season in the WHL. Shortly after being selected by the Tigers, McKenna signed a WHL Standard Player Agreement with the team.
History was also made in the WHL Prospects Draft on a second front when the Vancouver Giants selected defender Chloe Primerano in the 13th round and 268th overall. The 15-year-old from North Vancouver, B.C., who stands 5-foot-8 and weighs 134 pounds, became the first female skater to be selected in any draft conducted in the three major junior leagues under the CHL umbrella.
Primerano played last season with Burnaby Winter Club’s under-15 prep team appearing in 30 regular season games posting two goals and 15 assists. The Burnaby Winter Club has a long established tradition for being a top level organization that helps players advance on to the game’s highest levels.