Extra year of waiting worth it for Pillar

Photo Courtesy of Allen Douglas/Kamloops Blazers Prince Albert Mintos alumni Josh Pillar controls the puck for the Kamloops Blazers during a game this past season.

Prince Albert Mintos alumni Josh Pillar has gone through the gamut of emotions during the last two NHL Drafts.

After the Kamloops Blazers forward was not chosen during last October’s event, Pillar got to see his name come up on the draft board during the fourth round on Saturday as the Minnesota Wild selected him with the 127th overall selection.

“My friends and family were all with me here in Warman and it was a really special moment once we saw that I was picked by Minnesota,” Pillar said. “There were a lot of hugs and celebrations all around the house.

“I think it started to set in for me when I woke up on Sunday morning. It’s a pretty cool feeling.”

The 19-year-old was projected to be a potential late round pick this weekend after leading the Blazers in scoring with 29 points in 22 games during the shortened 2020-21 campaign.

In the days leading up to the draft, Pillar had a lengthy conversation with members of the Wild and left the chat with a good feeling.

“Obviously you never know what will happen on draft day, but I had a really good vibe from our talk over Zoom,” Pillar said. “They had a couple of guys from their front office on the call and they asked me a lot of deeper questions and wanted to know what I could bring to the table.”

The Wild traded up to get Pillar as they dealt their fifth and seventh round picks in this year’s draft to the Montreal Canadiens, who used those selections to take Sherbrooke Phoenix forward Joshua Roy and North Bay Battalion goaltender Joe Vrbetic.

“Josh is a two-way, high energy forward that has a great motor and a great attention to detail,” Wild director of amateur scouting Judd Brackett said following the draft.

“He may feel more comfortable on the wing from an offensive standpoint as he saw that growth in his game this year. He tends to move up the lineup when he does.”

Pillar’s linemate Cadean Bankier went to the Wild in third round, as the pair became the first Blazers player to be selected by Minnesota since Matt Kassian in 2005.

“I’ve lived with Cadean over the last couple of years and he’s got a bright future ahead of him,” Pillar said.

“It’s pretty crazy that we both got picked by the same team and it’s going to be awesome to have someone I know as we go through the experience of being at a pro camp for the first time.”

Blazers forward Logan Stankoven, who many had penciled in as a late first round pick leading into the weekend, was also selected on Saturday as he was a second round choice by the Dallas Stars.

“Logan’s always had that fire in his belly and I think we saw that when the season started as he was rated as a B-prospect by NHL Central Scouting,” Pillar said.

“It’s unfortunate that he didn’t go in the first round, but he’s going to a great team in Dallas and I know that this is going to light a spark under him. I’m sure he’s already back out on the ice looking to get even better.”

This marked the second straight year that a former Minto was picked during the NHL Draft, as Braden Schneider was a first round choice by the New York Rangers in 2020.

Prior to that, the last Mintos alumni to be selected was netminder Connor Ingram, who was a third round pick by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2016 after a stellar campaign with the Blazers.

“My year with the Mintos was a really important one for me, especially after coming out of bantam and being picked in the first round by Kamloops,” said Pillar, who had 50 points in 44 games during the 2017-18 season to help the Mintos reach the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League final.

“I gained a lot of confidence and the ability to believe in myself more out on the ice. I was surrounded by a great group of people during that season and it was a very special time in my career.”

Pillar was one of six Saskatchewan-born players to be picked during this year’s draft, with Regina forward Cole Sillinger of the Medicine Hat Tigers and Davidson defenceman Nolan Allan of the Prince Albert Raiders leading the way after being selected in the first round by the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Chicago Blackhawks.

Yorkton forward Ryder Korczak of the Moose Jaw Warriors was a third round choice by the New York Rangers, while Swift Current defenceman Ryan McCleary of the Portland Winterhawks and Estevan blueliner Max Wanner of the Warriors were seventh round selections by the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Edmonton Oilers.

“Even though Saskatchewan’s smaller compared to other places, we are definitely a hockey province,” Pillar said. “There’s a lot of great talent here and I think people saw that over the weekend.”

Regina Pats defenceman Ryker Evans, who is from Calgary and suited up for the Notre Dame Hounds during their run to the 2018 Telus Cup, was taken in the second round by the Seattle Kraken.

Prince Albert’s Gabe Klassen, who suited up for the Mintos and is now a forward for the Winterhawks, was ranked by NHL Central Scouting but was not selected.