Prior to the entry draft in Columbus, Ohio, much of the WHL focus was reserved for the crop of elite defensemen. The list of eligible forwards added to the overall depth. Professional scouts opined the aberration that saw only 24 WHLers drafted in 2006 would definitely not repeat itself in Columbus this time around.
When the pucks drop in Western Hockey League cities this fall, a total of 37 newly drafted juniors will don the blades. Most will have returned from their first NHL prospects camp, motivated to parlay that learning experience into a shot at a job in professional hockey.
When the Los Angeles Kings stepped to the podium, their selection of defenseman Thomas Hickey (Seattle Thunderbirds) was considered a major surprise by many prognosticators. Chosen fourth overall, Hickey is a Calgary native who was projected as a late first-rounder. But Kings general manager Dean Lombardi, who was unsuccessful in trading down from the fourth spot, stuck to his guy and made the 5’11, 185-pounder the first WHL player selected.
“I might have been one of the most surprised guys in the building,” Hickey said afterwards. “I had good interviews with them, but you can’t always get a good indication when teams are talking to you when they obviously like a lot of guys.”
Regarding the inevitable question about his physical stature, Hickey noted his early selection confirms the professional game continues to evolve.
“I think this is a testament to how the game has changed,” Hickey agreed. “Size is no longer a limitation. That’s really encouraging for me and for younger defensemen coming up.”
With the next pick, the Washington Capitals chose Karl Alzner of the Calgary Hitmen, who in many quarters had been the consensus No. 1 pick from the WHL. The native of Port Coquitlam, B.C. had a standout season with the Hitmen. Alzner also played in the ADT Canada/Russia Challenge and was a member of the gold medal winning Canadian team at the 2007 WJC in Moscow.
Prior to the draft, Alzner was asked by HF about his thoughts on attending his first professional training camp.
“I want them to think that they have to have this kid in their line-up,” Alzner said. “The guys that are there, this is their job and this is how they’re supporting their families. I’m going to have to battle as hard as I can if I want to make it past rookie camp. I would love to stick for as long as I could. I want the experience.”
Zach Hamill of the Everett Silvertips, the WHL scoring champion, was chosen eighth overall by the Boston Bruins. He spent some extra time in Boston with the Bruins and had an inkling the club might call his name. He’s also prepared to show he can be a complete player.
“I did meet with them a little more and maybe had a little bit of a sense, but I didn’t want to say anything too early,” Hamill said. “One of my key assets is my offensive play but I also learned a lot about defensive play from Kevin Constantine in Everett. I think that will help me get to the NHL quicker because I’m not just a one-dimensional player.”
The remaining first round picks from the WHL were Keaton Ellerby (10th; FLA), Brandon Sutter (11th; CAR), Alex Plante (15th; EDM), Colton Gillies (16th; MIN), Jonathon Blum (23rd; NAS) and Nick Ross (30th; PHX).
The Numbers Game
In the first round, a total of nine WHL players were selected, including six defensemen. Overall, a total of 25 forwards and 12 defensemen were chosen. Of the 19 Western Conference players chosen, nine played in the U.S. Division while 10 skated for B.C. Division clubs. From the Eastern Conference, 11 draftees played for East Division teams and seven players skated for Central Division clubs.
A total of four players from the Memorial Cup champion Vancouver Giants were chosen while the Everett Silvertips, Saskatoon Blades, Regina Pats, Calgary Hitmen and Spokane Chiefs saw three of their players selected. Two players were chosen from the Brandon Wheat Kings, Lethbridge Hurricanes, Portland Winterhawks, Swift Current Broncos, Kelowna Rockets and the expansion Chilliwack Bruins.
The Kamloops Blazers, Red Deer Rebels, Kootenay Ice, Seattle Thunderbirds, Moose Jaw Warriors and Prince George Cougars had one player selected. Shut out at the entry draft were the Prince Albert Raiders, Tri City Americans, Medicine Hat Tigers.
WHL drafted players by round
4. Los Angeles – Thomas Hickey, D, Seattle Thunderbirds (HF WHL Rank 5)
5. Washington – Karl Alzner, D, Calgary Hitmen (HF WHL Rank 1)
8. Boston – Zach Hamill, C, Everett Silvertips (HF WHL Rank 6)
10. Florida – Keaton Ellerby, D, Kamloops Blazers (HF WHL Rank 2)
11. Carolina – Brandon Sutter, C/RW, Red Deer Rebels (HF WHL Rank 7)
15. Edmonton – Alex Plante, D, Brandon Wheat Kings (HF WHL Rank 4)
16. Minnesota – Colton Gillies, C Saskatoon Blades (HF WHL Rank 3)
23. Nashville – Jonathon Blum, D, Vancouver Giants (HF WHL Rank 8)
30. Phoenix – Nick Ross, D, Regina Pats (HF WHL Rank 17)
33. Vancouver – Taylor Ellington, D, Everett Silvertips (HF WHL Rank 13)
40. Florida – Michal Repick, RW, Vancouver Giants (HF WHL Rank 10)
47. Tampa Bay – Dana Tyrell, C/RW, Prince George Cougars (HF WHL Rank 11)
52. Los Angeles – Oscar Moller, C, Chilliwack Bruins (HF WHL Rank 9)
66. Philadelphia – Garret Klotz, LW, Saskatoon Blades
67. Atlanta – Spencer Machacek, RW, Vancouver Giants (HF WHL Rank 19)
70. Calgary – John Negrin, D, Kootenay Ice (HF WHL Rank 14)
72. Carolina – Drayson Bowman, C/LW, Spokane Chiefs (HF WHL Rank 25)
85. St. Louis – Brett Sonne, C/LW, Calgary Hitmen
91. San Jose Sharks – Tyson Sexsmith, G, Vancouver Giants (HF WHL Rank 16)
102. Carolina – Justin McCrae, C, Saskatoon Blades (HF WHL Rank 22)
107. Tampa Bay – Mitch Fadden, C, Lethbridge Hurricanes
109. Los Angeles – Dwight King, C/LW, Lethbridge Hurricanes
110. Minnesota – Justin Falk, D, Spokane Chiefs
112. Dallas – Colton Sceviour, C/RW, Portland Winter Hawks
116. Calgary – Keith Aulie, D, Brandon Wheat Kings
119. Nashville – Mark Santorelli, C, Chilliwack Bruins
124. Los Angeles – Linden Rowat, G, Regina Pats (HF WHL Rank 18)
125. Washington – Brett Leffler, RW, Regina Pats
136. Dallas – Ondrej Roman, C, Spokane Chiefs
140. Minnesota – Cody Almond, C, Kelowna Rockets
No WHL players selected
183. Tampa Bay – Torrie Jung, G, Kelowna Rockets
189. Boston – Jordan Knackstedt, RW, Moose Jaw Warriors
200. Minnesota – Carson McMillan, RW, Calgary Hitmen
203. San Jose – Frazer McLaren, LW, Portland Winter Hawks
205. Atlanta – Paul Postma, D, Swift Current Broncos
206. Vancouver – Dan Gendur, RW, Everett Silvertips
207. New Jersey – Ryan Molle, D, Swift Current Broncos
Hockey’s Future ranked players not drafted
Eric Doyle, D, Everett Silvertips/Swift Current Broncos (HF WHL Rank 12)
Andrew Clark, L/RW, Brandon Wheat Kings (HF WHL Rank 15)
David Schlemko, D, Medicine Hat Tigers (HF WHL Rank 20)
Matt Robertson, C, Prince Albert Raiders (HF WHL Rank 21)
Kurtis Mucha, G, Portland Winterhawks (HF WHL Rank 23)
Radek Meidl, LW, Seattle Thunderbirds (HF WHL Rank 24)
Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future. Jeff Dahlia and Dustin Nielson contributed to this article. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.