Raiders brass prepared for Thursday’s WHL Bantam Draft

The next few days will be unusually busy for the start of May for the Prince Albert Raiders.

In between goaltender Ian Scott, rookie forward Jakob Brook, head coach Marc Habscheid and general manager Curtis Hunt being finalists for awards at the Western Hockey League’s annual luncheon in Red Deer Wednesday and Game 1 of the Ed Chynoweth Cup against the Vancouver Giants at the Art Hauser Centre Friday night, the future members of the roster will be selected Thursday during the WHL’s Bantam Draft in Red Deer.

“There’s a lot of moving parts obviously, but it’s good to be busy at this time of the year,” Hunt said.

After selecting blueliners Nolan Allan and Kaiden Guhle with third and first overall picks respectively over the last two seasons, the Raiders will have to wait until the 22nd and final selection of the first round before picking a 2004-born player.

That’s the latest the Raiders have ever picked in the opening round, as they held the 21st overall selection in 2015 (which they got from the Kelowna Rockets in exchange for Leon Draisaitl) and selected forward Carson Miller.

The Raiders held the 22nd overall pick twice before, as they took Aaron Blair and Julian Marcuzzi in the second rounds of the 1998 and 2002 drafts.

“It’s a little different than the last couple of years, especially compared to 2017 when we have multiple high picks, but we still have our first rounder and we’re happy about that,” Hunt said.

“We pick again in the second round (at 44) and sit out a round before having two picks in the fourth round. We’re confident in the job that (director of player personnel) Curt Brownlee has done and we’re excited to meet our new prospects.”

The Raiders dealt their third round pick to the Victoria Royals for Regan Nagy last year, but it now belongs to the Regina Pats after it was dealt to the Lethbridge Hurricanes.

In addition to their own pick in the fourth round, they also have the Brandon Wheat Kings’ selection, which they got from the Royals in the Dante Hannoun trade in January.

Their fifth round pick is the property of the Kelowna Rockets, who picked it up for Konrad Belcourt at the 2018 trade deadline.

The Raiders have their own pick in the sixth round, along with the Calgary Hitmen’s pick that they got for goaltender Nick Sanders last January.

They also have picks in every other round except for the eighth, which belongs to the Seattle Thunderbirds after a deadline day trade for Loeden Schaufler.

The Raiders brass held a meeting on Saturday at the Alberta Cup in Red Deer and will have one final discussion Wednesday before Thursday’s draft.

“The process is the same as it has been and this is where you put together your body of work over the winter to make the picks,” Hunt said.

“Matthew Savoie leads the way but there’s a number of very good young prospects that are available and we are confident that we can bring some quality players that will come through our system over the next few years.”

Savoie, who is a forward for the Northern Alberta Xtreme program, is widely expected to be the first overall pick by the Winnipeg Ice when the draft gets underway at 8:30 a.m. Thursday.

It remains to be seen if he’ll come to the WHL, however, as he committed to the NCAA’s Denver Pioneers shortly after he wasn’t granted exceptional status by Hockey Canada to enter the league a year early.

According to Draft Geek, Conor Geekie of the Yellowhead Chiefs and OHA Edmonton teammates Koehn Ziemmer and Keaton Dowhaniuk are among the other top prospects available, with Dowhaniuk being their top ranked blueliner.

Ethan Buenaventura of the Rink Hockey Academy is projected to be the first netminder taken.

Oasiz Wiesblatt, who is the younger brother of Raiders rookie forward Ozzy, could also be in the first round discussion after a strong showing at the Alberta Cup over the weekend.

Draft Geek’s top Saskatchewan based player is Nolan Flamand, who had 27 points as an underage player in the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League for the Saskatoon Blazers.

There is also a chance of some movement on the draft board, as Kelowna Rockets owner and general manager Bruce Hamilton has hinted that he could deal the fifth overall pick to help build the roster for a team that will host the 2020 Memorial Cup.

“It’s always an interesting day,” Hunt said. “We each have our own little plan of how things are going to go and then we all throw wrinkles into it.”