By Derek Holtom
MJHL Web Correspondent
The next superstar of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League could have his name read aloud this Sunday in Selkirk at the league’s annual Bantam Draft.
All 11 teams will first submit their local area “auto-protects”, and then begin to select the rest of the players from across the province. It’s a chance to build up their rosters, and select 14-year-old players who will start making MJHL rosters as early as two years from now.
It’s also a busy time for league coaches, general managers and scouts – perhaps even busier than during the season.
“When the hockey ends it gets pretty busy in recruiting, marketing, season ticket selling,” said Waywayseecappo general manager Barry Butler. “The exciting part is the draft. We enjoy it as coaches, and from that part you rely on your scouts, who come up with a list for you.”
But what kind of players are teams looking for? The MJHL draft comes after the WHL bantam draft, so teams have a good idea of what players are leaning towards playing major junior hockey. That doesn’t mean they might not also be drafted in the MJHL, but they might not be first-round selections.
Teams also have to consider where the player is from. Rural-born players are probably more likely to fit into a program outside of a larger urban centre, so it’s a real chess match to select the not only the best player, but the best player for that particular team.
“It’s a combination – if you have players in your region, you want to try your best to get them,” said Butler. “But sometimes you can’t, depending on where you are in the draft.
“For our organization, the draft is very important – we have a lot of drafted players in our lineup we develop,” he added. “And when you get to those late picks, you maybe look at some higher WHL picks who are local, who might get a chance to use them for a year, or they might change their mind and decide college is the route for them. You don’t want to throw away a pick, that’s for sure.”
Butler said he does try to watch some of the local midget AAA and bantam hockey during the season when he can, which can only help him when it comes to the draft and to keeping an eye on prospect.
“The local midget AAA program is only a few minutes from us, so we do our best to get out there as often as possible, and you always work to have a good relationship with the local bantam AAA program,” added Butler.
Swan Valley Stampeders head coach and general manager Erik Petersen is about to enter his fourth MJHL draft, and agrees that selecting the right sort of player for this league is nuanced to say the least.
“It’s definitely a challenge – you want to make sure you don’t draft too high from the WHL draft, if that makes sense,” he said. “We think twice about the first three rounds of the WHL draft.
“Normally we draft players who go in later rounds of the WHL draft.”
Petersen said the Stampeders have had success drafting players from Brandon – it’s a great market which doesn’t have a MJHL team, meaning no auto-protects.
“We also generally look at rural kids who are more open to coming here, but that said this year we did sign a player from Winnipeg who is committed to coming (to Swan Valley), but it’s always a factor,” noted Petersen.
And while he has got out to see more draft-eligible players this spring, Petersen relies heavily on assistant coach Darren Webster, who has a long history of working with draft-eligible players in the Program of Excellence.
“I rely 100 per cent on Darren – he knows the players very well,” he said. “He sees and works with the top 100 players. We had help from Jerry Mosiondz (long-time MJHL coach and scout) before as well).”
Petersen added players they would have scouted at spring camps are also on their radar come draft day.
Here’s a look at the first-round picks from the 2012 MJHL Bantam draft. As you can see, four years later, some of these players have already become impact players for their teams, while some have gone onto other levels.
- Neepawa – Ashton Anderson, played in his second season with the Natives last year.
- Steinbach – James Shearer, played parts of two seasons with the Pistons, now with the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings.
- Waywayseecappo – Colt Conrad, already playing NCAA hockey at Western Michigan after playing with Shattuck St. Mary’s.
- Swan Valley – Jordan Stallard, two seasons into his career with the Calgary Hitmen.
- OCN – Ethan Williams, sadly passed away just as his junior career was set to begin.
- Virden – Cole Oliver, already has two strong seasons with the Oil Capitals.
- Selkirk – Hayden Dola, goaltender, and another player who has two years with the team who drafted him.
- Winker – Liam MacLeod, no stats available.
- Winnipeg – Jackson Keane, played two years with the Blues, now committed to playing with the University of North Dakota this fall.
- Dauphin – Kirklan Lycar, played two strong years with the Kings.
- Portage – Tyler Jeanson, played two years before going to the NAHL last year, committed to Colgate University this fall.