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Bantam Draft key to teams’ success

By Derek Holtom
MJHL Web Correspondent

A year’s worth of scouting will come to a head this Sunday during the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s annual bantam draft. All 11 teams – starting with Waywayseecappo with the first overall selection – will stock their 50-man rosters with local auto protects and a total of six draft picks.

Craig Anderson, the Assistant GM/Head Scout for the Winkler Flyers, is entering his eighth bantam draft. He explains drafting junior A hockey players is a multi-layered process.

“It’s this time of year when you have to separate guys who are going to play in the Western Hockey League, and guys who you feel will play in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, or choose to,” said Anderson. “It’s not an easy job, and it also entails calling a lot of these kids to make sure if they were drafted by the Winkler Flyers that they would be willing to come, and to see what their future plans are.”

MJHL teams kept a close eye on May’s WHL bantam draft, which is a strong indicator of where players could possibly end up. From there, Anderson and Winkler’s Head Coach/GM Ken Pearson get together to discuss their options for Sunday’s draft.

“What you work for all year is to scout these kids, and get reports done on them, and talk to the coaches,” said Anderson. “For myself, I have spent the entire year watching these players and ranking them. Ken leaves the draft to me and I make the final decision on who is drafted.

“But he obviously has some influence, depending on if we’re looking for a forward or a defenseman or a goalie,” he added. “We then look at our list and see where what we need to strengthen, but for the majority, I run the draft myself.”

And while these selections won’t make an immediate impact for the team’s on-ice fortunes, the draft is all about the future. Some of the more talented players will have the opportunity to play junior hockey by age 16, though the majority will become rookies as 17 or 18 year olds.

“The draft is very important, and it’s a bit tough with it only being six rounds,” noted Anderson. “So you really have to do your homework on these kids to make sure you’re getting the best possible player.”

Scouting means long hours, and many nights and weekends spent in arenas, but it is invaluable work which has to be done to come to a draft fully prepared to choose your future players.

“I probably take in 200 to 250 games a year, though I don’t really keep count,” said Tim Schick, Director of Player Personnel and Head Scout for the Winnipeg Blues.

Schick also scouts for the WHL’s Kootenay Ice, which provides him some extra insight on assessing whether a player might be headed to the WHL or the MJHL.

“I do try and find the cut off line (between the two leagues),” he said. “I rate every player from top to bottom, and then decipher where I think the cut off line will be.”

In Winnipeg, the Blues approach the draft with a bit of a different skew. As the largest centre in the province, the Blues have traditionally opted to keep their draft picks to either Winnipeggers or those just outside the perimeter. But overall, the job remains the same – stocking your roster with as many quality young men as possible.

“Usually we stay close to the city, because with our organization, we don’t billet a lot of kids,” said Schick, though he noted they do not have exclusive access to the largest pool of hockey players in the province. “And now with the open draft, other teams come into the city (to draft players), so it’s not like we’re getting all the city kids.”

As for the quality of this year’s potential draft class, Schick said all teams in the MJHL should fare well.

“I think it’s pretty good for the MJHL,” he said. “There wasn’t a lot of players who went to the ‘Dub’, but I think the draft is loaded with MJHL guys this year, much like last year.”

The MJHL AGM takes place Friday June 2 to Sunday June 4 in Winnipeg. Highlights include the board AGM on Friday, the schedule meeting on Saturday, and the bantam draft on Sunday.

For live results of the bantam draft, be sure to come back to the MJHL website on Sunday.