By Derek Holtom, MJHL Correspondent:
No team wants to finish last overall in the standings of any league, but someone inevitably will. And last season it was the Neepawa Natives who found themselves on the bottom of the heap, looking up at the 10 other teams ahead of them.
But there is a silver-lining to finishing last – and that’s the ability to draft first overall at the bantam draft. This year the bantam draft takes place June 9 in Winnipeg as part of the league annual general meeting.
The Natives enter the draft not only with the first selection overall, but also with a new head coach and general manager. But this won’t be Ken Pearson’s first foray into drafting 14 year old hockey players – he has overseen many previous drafts for his previous organization, Winkler Flyers. And other than drafting for a new team, it’s pretty much business as usual for Pearson in the lead up to the 2019 draft.
“It’s really been no different in that recruiting is recruiting,” said Pearson. “You get to go over your list, talk to different kids, and see what spots you need to target. It’s been very similar to other off seasons,” he added. “But with the draft and the position we’re in, perhaps we’re preparing a little bit different.”
In his assessment of the Neepawa Natives protected list, Pearson says there is some promising talent coming up through the ranks. It’s his job to see what this franchise needs to help get it over the hump and into a contending position.
“We’re very happy with our young guys,” he said. “But like any time you go to a new team, where a new coach comes in, there are areas they would like to see a little stronger in your depth chart.
“For us, we’re a group that is probably going to focus on our defense, and that’s not just in the draft – that will be in recruiting as well,” he added. “Overall we’re happy with what we have.”
Pearson also feels this year’s draft has plenty to offer, and he’s excited to be the first to call out a name on draft day.”
“You’re not only looking for that best player, you’re looking for a player that has ties to your area, and some someone who can step in and play – if not as a 16-year-old, then as a 17-year-old,” says Pearson. “I think it’s a pretty deep draft this year so no matter where you are picking you’re probably going to get a good player who can play at 16 or 17.”
And in assessing this year’s draft, Pearson said Neepawa is in a prime location to perhaps throw a wider net, and look at other players on draft day he might not have considered when he was in Winkler.
“If you coach in Manitoba before you’re going to probably target a lot of the same players no matter where the franchise is situated,” says Pearson. “And us being a little more central, it opens it up a little more I think.
“Now maybe we can attract players from just inside the Saskatchewan border, where when I was in Winkler, and the southeast corner (of the province), those kids are not always as excited to move that far from home. That’s just the way it has gone for kids the last five of 10 years – they want to stay closer to home.”
You can follow along with the draft at https://www.mjhlhockey.ca/draft. It begins on June 9 at 9 a.m.
2019 DRAFT ORDER
- Neepawa Natives
- OCN Blizzard
- Winkler Flyers
- Wayway Wolverines
- Dauphin Kings
- Winnipeg Blues
- Virden Oil Capitals
- Selkirk Steelers
- Steinbach Pistons
- Swan Valley Stampeders
- Portage Terriers