The WHL Bantam Draft saw several Surrey-area players picked on Wednesday (April 22).
First among them was South Surrey’s Grayden Slipec, taken 27th-overall by Kamloops Blazers.
The 2005-born forward last played Bantam Prep at West Van Warriors hockey academy of the Canadian Sport School Hockey League (CSSHL), where he scored 26 goals and 47 assists in 30 games played during the shortened 2019-20 season.
Prior to the draft, scout Tyler Neisz projected Slipec as a top-10 overall selection and the top player from Surrey among 14- and 15-year-olds eligible.
“His speed, skill and playmaking ability are near the top of the class for 2005-born players,” said Neisz, who runs Western Elite Hockey Prospects, based in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. “He is able to make plays and stickhandle at high speed. Can beat defenders wide or draw defenders to him and thread passes through feet and find the open player consistently. Great player!”
Grayden’s older brother, Jacob Slipec, 18, is a forward with Powell River Kings of the BCHL.
Said Blazers’ director of player personnel Robbie Sandland about Grayden: “He’s a dynamic forward, dual threat with the puck in the offensive zone. Can make plays at speed. Dangerous off the rush. Really fun player to watch. We are thrilled to get him.”
While happy to be picked by Kamloops, Grayden has yet to decide if he’ll play WHL hockey or go the U.S. college route.
“WHL teams want a 100% commitment to be drafted in the first round,” he said. “I wasn’t prepared to give that as I wanted to keep my options open. My older brother is going the hockey college route and I want to explore that as well. If I signed with a WHL team right away I would no longer have that option. I feel lucky to be drafted by Kamloops as they are an amazing organization. Now I have the time to get to know them and make that final decision if WHL or college is the right path for me.”
Neisz said this year’s WHL Bantam Draft has been described in the scouting world as the strongest in many years.
Four Delta Hockey Academy products were selected in the first round of the draft, including Richmond’s Lukas Dragicevic (4th overall to Tri-City), Oliver Tulk (12th, Calgary), Terrell Goldsmith (15th, Prince Albert), Caden Brown (17th, Prince George).
Among nine B.C. players picked in the first round, Langley’s Kaden Hammell, a defenseman with West Van Bantam Prep, was taken 19th overall by Kamloops Blazers.
Elsewhere in the draft, Surrey’s Carter Savage was selected 113th overall by Tri-City Americans, where he could be reunited with his DHA defense partner Dragicevic.
“Carter is a reliable stay-at-home defenseman who is sometimes paired with (Dragicevic) to form perhaps the top pairing in Western Canada,” scout Neisz said. “Carter is a in-your-face type of defender who stands up at the blueline well to keep pucks in. He is physical in the corners and plays his position exceptionally. He has some untapped offensive potential but projects as a solid #3 defenceman for the WHL.”
With the 123rd pick, Lethbridge Hurricanes grabbed Cloverdale-raised goaltender Brady Smith, who played for the Yale academy in Abbotsford last season.
“Brady Smith had a fantastic year with Yale,” Neisz said. “He led the top league in Western Canada with a 1.55 GAA and also led with a .925%. Smith finished with a 13-2-0 record during regular season play.”
Coindentally, another player named Brady Smith – a D-man from Prince Albert – was selected by Vancouver Giants 122nd overall, just one pick ahead of Cloverdale’s Brady Smith.
Delta’s Grady Lenton, a forward with Greater Vancouver Canadians of B.C.’s Major Bantam league, was picked 161th overall by Kelowna Rockets.
Picked 216th overall by Spokane was Surrey’s Carter Nailen, a forward with Delta Hockey Academy’s Prep White team.
With the 230th pick, Vancouver Giants grabbed Sam Brown, a forward with Cloverdale Minor Hockey Association’s Bantam A1 team.
With the 10th overall pick, the Langley-based Giants picked Mazden Leslie out of Alberta. The right-shot defenseman, listed as six feet tall and 160 pounds, last season played Midget AAA as an under-ager with the AMHL’s Lloydminster Bobcats. In 32 games he scored five goals along with seven assists for 12 points along with 70 penalty minutes.
“Mazden Leslie is a big, smooth skating defenceman,” said Zach Hodder, the WHL’s Manager, Player Development, moments after the Giants picked him. “He can skate the puck well, he’s got a hard shot, a quick release and strong vision. He’s the most physical defenceman off the board so far.”
Leslie is the sixth ever defenceman selected by the Giants in Round 1 of the WHL Bantam Draft, and the first defenceman picked in Round 1 since Bowen Byram went third-overall to the Giants in 2016.
In Round 2, the Giants went to Vancouver Island to select forward Ty Halaburda, captain of the Pacific Coast Bantam Prep team, on his birthday. “We’re thrilled to get him,” said Giants director of scouting Daryl Anning. “He fits the ‘Giants mold’ perfectly. He’s fast, physical and has a great work ethic. He’s a 200-foot player but can finish his chances. The biggest thing for us is that he’s a good kid and a natural leader.”
In Round 3, the Giants went with Delta Hockey Academy forward Ethan Semeniuk, who scored 19 goals along with 31 assists for 50 points in 30 games last season. “I like his skillset,” said Giants head scout Terry Bonner. “He’s a good skater with decent size and overall he has a really good hockey IQ and sense for the game.”
Conducted online from the WHL’s Calgary office, the draft involved picks by the WHL’s 22 member clubs — 17 located in Western Canada and five in the U.S. Pacific Northwest. Results are available at WHL.ca/draft, with commentary on the league’s Youtube channel.
Winners of a draft lottery last month, the Regina Pats picked North Vancouver’s Connor Bedard, the first exceptional-status player in WHL history. Prior to the draft, the Pats announced they’d select Bedard first overall and then signed him to a WHL Standard Player Agreement. “Connor Bedard #98” t-shirts are being sold at PatsStore.ca.
In total, the draft saw 233 players chosen by WHL clubs, with 130 forwards, 82 defencemen and 21 goaltenders selected.
Alberta led all provincial branches with 77 players selected. A total of 53 players were selected from Saskatchewan, 49 from British Columbia and 33 from Manitoba. Twenty-one players from the United States were selected Wednesday. Combined with the 44 players chosen from the inaugural 2020 WHL U.S. Prospects Draft, held March 25, a total of 65 players from the U.S. have been drafted by WHL teams this spring.
Eleven players were selected from Canadian Sports School Hockey League (CSSHL) teams in the first round of the WHL Bantam Draft. In the first three rounds, 34 CSSHL players were chosen, comprising 51.5 per cent of the first 66 players chosen. In total, 81 players from CSSHL teams were chosen.
Players eligible for the 2020 WHL Bantam Draft are 2005-born players who reside in Alberta, B.C., Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Northwest Territories, Yukon, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.