Broncos face shortage of early picks in WHL Bantam Draft

Steven Mah
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The Swift Current Broncos will be without second, third, and fourth round picks at the WHL Bantam Draft in Calgary next week

Swift Current Broncos

The Swift Current Broncos will need to make their first-round pick count and then uncover some hidden gems at the Western Hockey League Bantam Draft next week.

The Broncos, coming off a fifth-place finish in the Eastern Conference, hold the 12th overall pick in the first round. The Brandon Wheat Kings hold the first overall pick after acquiring it in a trade from the Saskatoon Blades.

The Broncos drafted 12th last year and selected promising forward Tyler Steenbergen in that spot, five years after they selected blueline stalwart Reece Scarlett 12th overall.

The Broncos must make their picks count this year. They are without their second, third, and fourth-round picks due to trades that brought Nathan Burns, Jay Merkley, Connor Sanvido, and Andrew Johnson into the fold.

“It is certainly not the deepest draft that we have seen in the past few years,” explained Swift Current Broncos Assistant General Manager & Director of Player Personnel, Jamie Porter. “As a staff it has been sort of interesting for us to track later guys and see where they are going to be because we don’t know where this draft is going to go and we don’t have a lot of early picks. We have had our guys doing a lot of due diligence for later on in the rounds and we’ll see where we are going to be.”

Porter expects that players out of British Columbia and Alberta will dominate the draft once again. “Higher end-wise it will probably lean a little bit more towards B.C.,” said Porter.

The Broncos selected a forward in the first round in 2013 for a second straight draft after using three consecutive first-round picks on defensemen, netting Dillon Heatherington, Brycen Martin, and Zach Gonek, who was later traded to acquire defenseman Jordan Harris.

Porter said that another forward, defenseman, or goaltender all remain possibilities in the opening round.

“Right now we could take any one of the three I think. There are a number of D-men in the draft, there is a number of forwards, and there is even a group of high-end goaltenders this year too.”

He said that the shortage of early picks didn’t have a major impact on their scouting process.

“We kind of did two things,” explained Porter. “First, we kind of didn’t change anything at all in a sense. We told the staff that there is always the chance that we could reacquire an early pick, so to continue to do the draft like we have in any other year.”

He pointed toward the 2010 Draft that netted current roster players such as Zac Mackay, Bobby Zinkan, and Landon Bow in the fourth round and beyond as reasons for optimism heading into this draft.

“If you remember back in the ’95 age group draft, we didn’t have a second or a third round pick that year either and we didn’t change our plan at all that year and that ended up being a fairly decent draft for us.

“At the same time, the guys were aware that we didn’t have a second, third, or fourth this year, so we talked about looking at guys that maybe have more growth potential than we normally would have looked at before in those later rounds, or guys that maybe would be a little bit more of a project than they have been in other years for us, just because we are not going to have those early picks to count on potentially.”

Jake DeBrusk is an example of that type of player. The 17-year-old rookie was one of the breakout stars in the playoffs with two game-winning goals. He was selected in the seventh round, 137th overall in 2011.

The Broncos will have a long wait between their first and second picks and could be among the last teams to conclude the draft process.

“I think right now I would project that we are going to take eight guys. We could take more, but right now I think that is a safe guess. There are some teams that traditionally go deeper, they make earlier decisions than we do, but I don’t think we will be the last guys working, god I hope not,” said Porter.

Porter said that that he is not frustrated by the lack of early draft picks.

“I guess a person would think that, but I was involved in the discussions involving the decisions that were made when we moved those picks in the first place. We have had a lot of picks the last couple of years. We are probably at a point now too where we do have a fare number of prospects in our organization. So if we were going to use some picks up it is probably right about now.

“But as a staff, sure, as the winter is going along and you are sitting in some rink in the cold and the dark on a Wednesday night in Winkler, Manitoba, yeah you are probably thinking geez none of these guys are going to be there when I am picking. But you can’t allow yourself to do that,” he cautioned.

The Broncos took a pair of forwards last season with their first and second round picks, Steenbergen in the first round and then Cole Johnson in the second. Both put up impressive numbers in the Alberta Major Midget Hockey League and met in the league final with the Red Deer Chiefs and the Lloydminster Bobcats. 

The Broncos followed up by drafting Middle Lake defenseman Matthew Parsons, who is currently playing with the Prince Albert Mintos in the Telus Cup in Moose Jaw. 

“I think that one year after the fact it is still always pretty comfortable with your guys. You haven’t got to the point yet where you are starting to pigeonhole guys into what they are going to be and looking at them and saying ‘this guy is falling off or this guy is not what we thought he was,’” said Porter.

“Right now we don’t have a guy that we are worried about and that is a bonus a year later. I think that there are a few guys that have taken a step that projection-wise we can see that they are going to play for us in a year or two years,” he added.

The WHL Bantam Draft will be held May 1 in Calgary.

Organizations: Western Hockey League Bantam Draft, Swift Current Broncos, WHL

Geographic location: Calgary, Swift Current

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