The WHL will hold their annual Bantam Draft this Thursday. This year, any player born in 1999 in WHL territory(basically Manitoba and westward in Canada, Minnesota and westward in the US) is eligible to be selected.
This year's draft should be a pretty interesting one for American hockey fans. Here's what you need to know to follow along on Thursday:
-The Brandon Wheat Kings hold the first overall pick in the draft, and they're expected to take Manitoba-native Stelio Mattheos. Mattheos is already 6'1" and scored 103 points in 32 games this season.
-If there is anybody that might push Mattheos for the first overall spot, it might be American defenseman Max Gildon from the Dallas Stars U16 team. Gildon is the complete package. Size, skating, smarts. He's a strong defender, and can make plays offensively.
It's hard to see Gildon lasting much longer than the third overall pick held by Kamloops. The Blazers are owned by Tom Gagliardi, who also just happens to be owner of the NHL's Dallas Stars.
I haven't heard anything on what Gildon's future plans are. He could probably hold his own in the WHL next year, though players his age are extremely limited in the number of games they can play. If he was willing to wait a year, there's no doubt the NTDP would love to have him for two seasons. He probably could have made next year's NTDP U17s, save the fact that they would never take an underage kid. On his current trajectory, it seems pretty unlikely that he plays very long in the NCAA, if at all.
-There's already three draft-eligible players that have made college commitments, which I think is a record, beating out last year's two. Two of those players, Mikey Anderson(Minnesota-Duluth) and Ryan Poehling(St. Cloud) have older siblings committed to the same school, so they're definitely headed to the NCAA. The third is Shattuck-St. Mary's bantam forward and southern California native Brannon McManus, who committed to Minnesota over the weekend.
-McManus is joined by multiple teammates off the national championship-winning Shattuck-St. Mary's bantam team. Of that group, Austin Pratt seems the most likely to sign with the WHL, with the rest leaning more towards the NCAA route.
-Another Minnesotan to keep an eye on is Baron Thompson, who started the year at Northern Educate Achiever Academy, before moving mid-season to the Omaha U16 team which has sent a lot of players to the WHL recently. He'll more than likely sign with whichever team drafts him.
-Two of the more intriguing players in this draft--and I haven't even seen anyone definitively say they're eligible--are the duo of Sasha Chmelevski and Ivan Lodnia. The two are originally from the Anaheim-area, though played last season with Detroit Belle Tire, where they were easily the two best players in the Tier I Elite League U14 division.
-The last of the Shore brothers, Baker Shore is eligible to be picked this year.