The Brandon Wheat Kings’ first victory of the post-season included an assist from the Saskatoon Blades.
The Wheat Kings landed the first-overall pick in this year’s Western Hockey League bantam draft through Wednesday’s lottery, giving them the chance to add another blue-chip prospect to an impressive stable of young thoroughbreds.
"It’s great news for our organization," Wheat Kings head coach and general manager Kelly McCrimmon said. "We’ve never selected first overall. It’s real exciting for our scouts and our fans."
Brandon’s good fortune was the result of WHL wheeling and dealing going back two years, when the Wheat Kings secured the right to trade places with the Blades in the first round of this year’s draft as part of the package they received for sending forward Brenden Walker to Saskatoon. After finishing with the WHL’s third worst record this season, the Blades "won" Wednesday’s draft lottery — Saskatoon was a 19 per cent longshot — allowing the Wheat Kings to move up to the top spot. To muddy the waters a little further, the Blades followed the Walker trade by sending a first-round pick to Vancouver for Nathan Burns as part of their build-up to host the 2013 Memorial Cup, meaning the Giants will now pick in the Wheat Kings’ spot, 10th overall.
The end result is Brandon gets its pick of the litter in a class not considered as deep as last year’s stacked draft, but still sure to yield some impact players. Although the list could change dramatically before the May 1 draft, the candidates include a trio of offensive dynamos: Winnipeg Monarch Stelio Mattheos is a big, fast forward who piled up 103 points in only 32 games to lead the Winnipeg AAA Bantam Hockey League in scoring; Jordy Bellerive is a budding power forward for the B.C.’s North Shore Winter Club Winterhawks; and Zane Franklin racked up 89 points in 27 games for the Lloydminster Heat of the Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League.
"It’s going to give us the top player in that age group, or the player that we deem to be the top player in that age group," McCrimmon said. "It’s like any draft, there’s lots of things that are going to happen still regarding development and who continues to improve and those types of things. But it’s going to be an elite player."
The Wheat Kings are already considered a team on the rise, coming off a banner 2013 draft when they had three of the top 25 picks, using the No.4 selection on Winnipeg forward Nolan Patrick, who has joined Brandon for the WHL playoffs, the No.6 pick on dynamic defenceman Kale Clague from Lloydminster, Alta., and their second-rounder on homegrown two-way centre Tanner Kaspick.
In fact, after finishing 13th overall in the WHL standings at 34-29-6-3 for 77 points, if the Wheat Kings hold on to the top pick they’ll be the best WHL team ever to select first. Since the first draft was held in 1990, the best team to secure the top pick was Prince George in 2004, when the Cougars registered 68 points to finish 16th overall.
"It’s special in that usually to pick first overall, it means you finish last overall and this is a situation where we acquired that right to exchange first-round picks through a previous trade," said McCrimmon, whose team is preparing to face the Regina Pats in the first round of the playoffs. "So to be a playoff team and select first overall is real exciting for the Wheat Kings."
The Lethbridge Hurricanes, who finished last in the league, were bumped down to the second spot in the draft, with the Kamloops Blazers to pick third. The Moose Jaw Warriors will have the fourth pick.