Bruce Hamilton, owner and general manager sits with Lorne Frey, director of player personnel of the Kelowna Rockets in preparation WHL draft. (Photo: Marissa Baecker/Kelowna Rockets Images)

WHL updates off-season plans as Kelowna Rockets look to 2021

Off-season starts March 25 as Rockets commemerate three players who played their last WHL game

While the 2020 season and playoffs have been cancelled, the Western Hockey League and Kelowna Rockets hope to move forward in preparation for next season.

With hopes that the COVID-19 pandemic will end and a 2020-21 season will happen, the Canadian Hockey League and teams will start off-season prep work leading into the WHL Bantam Draft and U.S. Prospects Draft starting March 25.

For the Kelowna Rockets, who traded much of their future draft capital at last year’s draft as they looked to build towards the 2020 Memorial Cup in Kelowna, the end of the year is especially sombre for the host-team Rockets.

“We had a lot of discussions within our leagues and with the CHL over the past weeks. It was a tough decision to cancel the Memorial Cup, but with the uncertainty right now, we feel that it is the right one,” said Rockets’ general manager Bruce Hamilton after the cancellation was made March 23.

READ MORE: CHL cancels 2020 Memorial Cup in Kelowna due to COVID-19 concerns

The WHL’s off-season will officially start on March 25 with the Bantam Draft Lottery and U.S. Prospects Draft.

While the lottery will choose who selects 1st overall at the Bantam Draft among the league’s six lowest-ranked teams, the prospects draft will allow the top 2005-born American players to be selected into the league with each team getting two selections (Rockets select 15th and 30th).

At the Bantam Draft, which will be conducted online on April 22, the Rockets are looking at a mid-round first pick and will have 10 picks after last season’s trades.

READ MORE: A trip down memory lane: 5 of the best single-season player performances in Kelowna Rockets history

The loss of the Memorial Cup is not only an economic hit to Kelowna and the Okanagan but a dispiriting end to three over-aged Rockets players and a rare shot at the CHL championships.

Long time Kelowna favourite Kyle Topping finishes his four-year WHL career with the Rockets while recently-traded for players Matthew Wedman and Conner McDonald conclude their brief time with Kelowna as fan favourites.

With the year officially over, Rockets’ players in their final season had it unceremoniously and bitterly end in a 3-2 loss to the Victoria Royals in the last game of the year on March 11.

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