The Kelowna Rockets won’t have a first-round pick at next week’s Western Hockey League bantam draft in Calgary.
Suffice to say, it will make each and every selection that much more vital for Lorne Frey and the Rockets’ scouting staff.
Kelowna’s first choice won’t come up until the second round, 39th overall. Frey will also have one pick in the third and two more in the fourth round.
“We have to hope to hit on those (earlier picks), at least most of them,” said Frey, the club’s player personnel director and assistant GM. “If we don’t do well with those picks, it won’t be a very good draft.
“But there are lots of good players out there, so it’s a matter of getting them and having a little luck, too.”
The Rockets yielded their first-round choice this year to acquire Reid Gardiner from the Prince Albert Raiders.
The 21-year-old forward from Humboldt, Sask., has been lights out since arriving from Scranton Wilkes-Barre of the AHL, particularly in the playoffs where he has already set a franchise record with 15 goals in 13 games.
Frey said winning often comes with a price, including having to part with potential franchise-building draft picks.
In Gardiner’s case, it’s clear the Rockets have no regrets with the decision—even if Kelowna doesn’t win a WHL championship.
“Those are decisions you have to make,” said Frey. “Eventually those things are going to catch up with you, but those kinds of opportunities are few and far between and you to take advantage of them when they’re there.
“It was a great trade for us, no question,” he added, referring to Gardiner, the WHL’s player of the week for the second straight time. “He’s been unbelievable, the major reason we are where we are right now. We never dwell on these deals after we make them, and we certainly won’t on this one.”
At this year’s draft, Frey isn’t counting on the same kind of second-round magic the Rockets found in both 2013 and 2015 when they landed brothers Cal and Nolan Foote, respectively.
As far as what position the Rockets will be focusing on at the draft, Frey said bolstering the club’s blue line is always a central theme.
“A lot of times you might take the best player available, but you’ve always gotta keep working on your defense,” said Frey. “Without good defense you just don’t win championships, so if the cards fall right we’ll probably go with a D-man.”
Frey estimates there are about 10 to 15 players in the draft who are potentially high-end talent. After that, he said the difference between the next group of players is much less discernible.
“Probably the next 100 kids are close to being the same, the way they’re coached, and the way they play,” said Frey. “That’s what makes (the draft) difficult and why there’s so much parity in the league now.”
Frey will be making final preparations for the draft this week at the Alberta Cup in Canmore, a showcase for bantam-aged players from across that province.
The WHL’s bantam draft is set for next Thursday, May 4 in Calgary,
Fan bus for Game 5…
A fan bus will be running to Kent, Wash., Friday for Game 5 of the Western Conference Championship between the Rockets and Seattle Thunderbirds.
Cost is $160 includes hotel (based on double occupancy) and a game ticket.
Travellers must ensure they have a valid passport in order to go on the trip.
For more information, contact Chantelle LaBrie at email@example.com or by calling 250-808-9897, or Bill Henthorn at 250-863-9985.