Each and every spring at this time, Lorne Frey embarks on his busiest and most important stretch of the junior hockey season.
Over the next five weeks, the Kelowna Rockets’ assistant GM and director of player personnel will make stops in four provinces for one last perusal of the best bantam-aged talent Western Canada has to offer.
It’s the last chance for Frey and his assistants to fine tune their list of 1998-born prospects for the Western Hockey League bantam draft May 2 in Calgary.
“You get to see all the best players playing against each other, playing against their peers,” said Frey. “It’s a chance to refresh our memories, so the timing of these tournaments is great, we’re lucky to have them.
“You get a better indication of who rises to the top, and it’s helps us distinguish where certain players fit in,” Frey added. “Now we have to make up our minds and take what we know to the draft.”
Starting this weekend in Manitoba, each of the Western provinces will host their annual showcase tournaments, which feature 160 of the top bantam prospects from each province.
Mixed in on Frey’s five-week journey is a stop in Kindersley, Sask., for the Western Canadian Bantam Hockey Championship.
At this spring’s draft, the Rockets will choose 21st overall in the first round, the latest
pick in franchise history.
Still, as past drafts have proven, there is still plenty talent available beyond the middle of the first round. The Rockets grabbed Luke Schenn with the 20th pick in 2004, then a year later took Tyler Myers in the 19th spot.
Kelowna’s top rookie this season, Rourke Chartier, was a 16th overall choice.
“You don’t get a crack at the top guys, but sometimes it makes things a little easier picking late because it condenses your list,” said Frey. “Sometimes you get a little lucky, we have before, so you hope you can find a player of that calibre again. You just have to try and make the best of it and have a little luck, too.”
The Vancouver Giants have the first choice in the draft and are expected to select Tyler Benson, a 5-foot-10 centre from Edmonton.