There are always a handful of players who are highly coveted during the first round of Western Hockey League bantam draft, but by the time the Tri-City Americans’ pick rolls around at No. 12, general manager Bob Tory knows those players will be gone.
But there still is plenty of talent left to be had.
“You want to pick first, but you don’t want to pick first,” Tory said. “When you are 12th, it’s harder to pinpoint who you will get. We always have a philosophy of picking the best players available. We have taken a lot forwards the past four drafts.”
But those picks have paid off in Parker AuCoin, Nolan Yaremko, Michael Rasmussen, Kyle Olson, Carson Focht and last year with Sasha Mutala.
“The last time we took a defenseman in the first round was Parker Wotherspoon (2012), and the last goalie was Eric Comrie (2010),” Tory said. “We’ve been fortunate with goalies and developing them. It’s hard to determine how quickly players will develop and adjust to the league.”
Defenseman Kaiden Guhle of Sherwood Park, Alberta, is expected to go first during Thursday’s draft. The younger brother of former Prince Albert Raider Brendan Guhle, he is one of three defensemen projected to go in the top 10.
“Everyone says it is a year with a lot of good players, but not one with players head and shoulders above the others,” Tory said. “There are a lot of smaller players this year.”
The Prince Albert Raiders have the first pick of the draft, followed by Kootenay, Vancouver, Edmonton and Saskatoon rounds out the top five.
The Americans have a pick in each round, except the sixth, where they have three picks.
Tri-City, which finished third in the U.S. Division (41-28-3-0, 85 points) before losing in the first round of the playoffs to eventual Western Conference champion Seattle, returns eight of their top 10 scorers from last season.
Gone are forward Tyler Sandhu (23 goals, 60 assists) and Wotherspoon (10 goals, 56 assists).
Leading scorer Morgan Geekie (35 goals, 55 assists) returns, as does Rasmussen (32 goals, 23 assists), who missed the last 18 games of the regular season and the playoffs with a broken wrist.
“The scoring is back, but we lose Wotherspoon and (Dalton) Yorke,” Tory said. “We might have to address the blue line at some point.”