Approximately 120 bantam hockey games later, Prince George Cougars scout Jason Gordon is ready for the 2013 Western Hockey League bantam draft.
“It has been another good year of watching players at the bantam level develop and showcase their talent and potential,” said Gordon.
“I’ve watched roughly 120 games this year, focusing on the Southern part of Saskatchewan. We (the Cougars) have two bantam scouts in Saskatchewan. Ron Gunville is our other scout. He does a lot of Northern scouting and also does some Manitoba scouting.”
As for Saskatchewan bantam prospects, the consensus among scouts is there isn’t a player who has clearly separated himself from the rest of the pack as a first-round pick. But despite the lack of elite talent, Gordon sees a lot of upside in the crop.
“I think there are 30-40 Saskatchewan players that could be selected in the draft,” said the Yorkton native. “There may not be a franchise player, but it is a year with a lot of balance. I think some players will go on and make an impact at the major junior level.”
Three players in particular have garnered the most attention of the 2013 draft crop. The South Side Athletic Club Lions centre Tyler Benson leads the pack after notching 47 goals and 146 points in 33 games. But Winnipeg Hawks centre Nolan Patrick, who scored 33 goals and 75 points in 19 games, and Lloydminister Heat defenceman Kale Clague, who potted 35 goals and 77 points in 33 games, aren’t far behind.
“I haven’t got to watch them play, but I know there is a lot of discussion about those players,” said Gordon. “I know most believe the first handful of players selected have the potential to be franchise players.”
Holding the third pick in the draft, which takes place on May 2 in Calgary, Alta., the Cougars will have an opportunity to draft one of these prospects.
“You want to win and do well in the season, but the one benefit of having an off year is getting a high bantam pick,” said Gordon. “It is a great opportunity for the Cougars to bring in a good younger player to build around.”
Gordon isn’t new to sitting around a table with scouts at the bantam draft. He is in his second season with the Cougars and before that he spent time with the Moose Jaw Warriors and Calgary Hitmen.
“I originally got involved in scouting in 1997,” he said. “I’ve always had a passion for hockey and have worked with developing players, so scouting was something I was interested in. And I’ve enjoyed my time with the three different organizations I have worked for.”
Jeff Odgers, the Cougars’ other Yorkton-based scout, played a role in Gordon joining Prince George’s scouting staff.
“Jeff was their bantam scout, but when he started coaching the Yorkton Harvest, he didn’t have a whole lot of time to watch bantam hockey, so he moved on to focusing on the midget level,” said Gordon. “I knew Jeff and I also knew Wade Klippenstein (the Cougars’ former assistant GM) so knowing them helped me get my foot in the door with the organization.”
Last year, the Cougars took a dent out of Saskatchewan in the draft. They selected Saskatoon blueliner Tate Olson 24th overall, Rosetown defenceman Shane Collins 62nd overall, and Yorkton puck-stopper Matt Kustra 167th overall.
“I was happy we got Olson with that pick,” said Gordon. “I didn’t think he would be available there. Collins was another good pickup on the back end. But I’ve been really happy with the development of Kustra. He has grown a lot this year with the Notre Dame Hounds program. He is a promising goalie prospect.”
The bantam draft, however, is far from the be-all and end-all. There is no shortage of NHL stars, such as Pittsburgh Penguins winger Jarome Iginla, Vancouver Canucks defenceman Dan Hamhuis, Toronto Maple Leafs winger Joffrey Lupul and Boston Bruins power-forward Milan Lucic, who were passed over in their respective bantam draft classes, but went on to do great things after being listed by a Dub club.
“It’s tough to project a 15-year-old hockey player’s future, so there are always some who slip between the cracks,” said Gordon. “Young hockey players should never give up if they aren’t drafted. If they keep on working, they can go on to have a strong junior career at the SJHL or WHL level.”