Westman players share draft experience
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As the Western Hockey League proceeded last Thursday, Grady Taylor’s day just got longer and longer.
The 15-year-old Brandon defenceman, who skated with the U15 AAA Wheat Kings last season, finally went with the 278th scheduled pick to the Lethbridge Hurricanes after 20 teams had begun to pass on their picks.
“I had a feeling I would get drafted but I just didn’t know where I would go,” Taylor said. “I was talked to by a couple of teams and just throughout the day I was checking and checking. When the later rounds started coming up I started getting nervous.
“To see my name was a relief. I was excited.”
The only player who went after him was Nolan Viesner, a forward who was taken by his hometown Kamloops Blazers with the 284th scheduled pick, also in the 13th round.
Taylor, a defensive defenceman, had eight goals and six assists in 30 games this season.
His family connection to the WHL, who just happens to be a former Wheat Kings captain, has made major junior an aspiration for a while.
“It’s been a goal for a long time, obviously watching my older cousin Tanner Kaspick play with the Brandon Wheat Kings,” Taylor said. “It was always good looking up to him and saying ‘I want to play here one day.’
“It’s a big dream of mine.”
All the Westman players who were picked that day happened to be together in one place, Hockey Manitoba’s Pursuit of Excellence camp at J&G Homes Arena that began on Thursday afternoon and ended Sunday.
The five-foot-11, 160-pound defender went so deep into the draft the players were already back at the hotel waiting for supper.
“The later picks coming in, I was excited,” Taylor said. “It was a good day.”
Brandon forward Jaxon Jacobson was the first to go when he was taken fifth overall by his hometown Wheat Kings. The pick came early enough that he was able to react to it for a story in Friday’s Brandon Sun.
But as the day went on and the camp began, the players began to track the draft on their phones to see if they were also picked and then were tied up with the camp.
Here’s a look at the other Westman players who were chosen:
The five-foot-11, 160-pound Carels was taken in the first round, 15th overall, by the Prince George Cougars after the defenceman led the Pilot Mound Hockey Academy with 10 goals and 22 assists in 20 prep games, and added 12 more points in four playoff games.
The Cypress River product also had a pair of assists in two callup games with the U17 team. He was still en route to Brandon when he was taken.
“That was a pretty exciting moment,” Carels said.
While it will be a long way from Cypress River from Prince George — just under 2,000 kilometres to be exact — Carels is excited to take that step. In a way, he thinks the community of 76,000 will be a little like home.
“It’s going to be a big step but it’s kind of in the middle of nowhere too,” Carels said. “I’m kind of used to it, and it will be nice to get away from home for a bit.”
He is friends with Winnipegger Jett Lajoie, who was selected by the Cougars in the second round a year ago, and has played against some other Prince George prospects, so he will know some guys there.
And one day he hopes he’ll be able to step into the WHL.
“Back in atom, I wasn’t much into hockey because I was a country kid and farm was really it,” Carels said. “After I played spring (hockey) and it was my dream was to play in major junior.”
The six-foot-two, 175-pound Hamiota defenceman was grabbed 24th overall by Spokane.
Allan, who was the captain of the Yellowhead Chiefs, had 25 goals and 24 assists in 34 games. His pick came early enough that he had just arrived at the hotel in Brandon to prepare for the POE camp.
“You can try not to think about it, but it’s always in the back of your mind,” Allan said. “Now that it’s over, it’s just a relief to know where you are. It was a great feeling.”
Allan is also a gifted baseball player who was on the mound in the final as Midwest won a Tier 2 championship at Baseball Manitoba’s 15-and-under AAA provincial championships at Simplot Millennium Park last July.
He’s happy Nolan Saunderson and Cole Hunter will also be heading to Spokane.
“It’s great,” Allan said. “It will be fun at camp being with all those guys. Having guys you know will just make it a little bit easier.”
And he’s certainly looking forward to taking that big step into major junior.
“All my life I’ve wanted to play in the WHL, and now that the draft has happened, it’s pretty exciting,” Allan said. “It’s the best thing ever.”
The five-foot-11, 157-pound defenceman from Carberry was chosen 90th overall by Spokane. The younger brother of Saskatoon Blades blue-liner Ben had seven goals and 21 assists in 31 games as captain of the U15 AAA Wheat Kings.
Saunderson was doing dryland exercises before his skate and didn’t find out until later he had been picked by a couple of guys who were in the dressing room.
“I was definitely looking forward to seeing my name called and it was early,” Saunderson said. “It was a dream come true to see it come to life.”
In the sibling rivalry department, Nolan was narrowly edged by Ben, who went 89th overall in 2019.
He’s excited that Allan and Hunter were also picked by the Chiefs. He also knows Spokane veteran Grady Lane, so there will be lots of familiar faces there.
“It’s going to be fun, obviously going to training camp with guys I know,” Saunderson said. “It’s going to be a lot easier to get the swing of things with people who I know and can talk to. It will be a lot easier and a lot more fun.”
The five-foot-10, 140-pound forward from Oakburn was Spokane’s third Westman pick, going in the seventh round, 134th overall. The alternate captain led the Chiefs in scoring with 20 goals and 31 assists in 34 games, and was in the dressing room at J&G Homes Arena when he learned he had been selected.
“I just wanted to go,” Hunter said. “It’s been a goal for me for a long time. I’m happy that it happened and it’s rewarding, but the work is just starting now.”
It was not just Allan and Saunderson who went to Spokane. Winnipeggers Brayden Thompson and Wyatt Dick were also chosen by the Chiefs, who used five of the seven picks they had been between 24 and 134 to take Manitoba players.
“There are five Manitobans that they took, so it will be good to know people there,” Hunter said. “It will be a good experience once camp comes around.”
And while he understands how much work lies ahead, he said skating in the WHL is something he’s always dreamed of achieving.
“I always wanted to play there one day and dreamed about it,” Hunter said. “It’s good to see that there’s a good chance it might happen now.”
The six-foot-three, 188-pound Souris defenceman was taken 138th overall by Brandon. He was in a dressing room getting ready to head out onto the ice when he found out he had been selected.
“It was good,” Swaenepoel said. “I get to stay close to my hometown so I don’t have to move anywhere.”
He had 13 goals and 21 assists in 33 games with the Cougars, and wasn’t sure what was going to happen in Thursday’s draft. He chose not to get too worked up about it.
“It was whatever happens, happens,” Swaenepoel said. “I was hoping I was going to go but I wasn’t expecting it.”
Now that he has been picked, he’s looking forward to attending Brandon’s prospects camp at the end of the month. The chance to skate in the WHL with Westman’s only major junior team is a dream.
“It’s a big goal,” Swaenepoel said. “I really want to play with them.”
The five-foot-seven, 134-pound forward from Brandon went 178th overall to the Prince Albert Raiders after posting 26 goals and 54 assists in 33 regular season games with the U15 Wheat Kings. He was just outside the dressing room waiting to get on a shuttle back to the hotel when he was picked.
While he was on the ice, he said he was able to focus on the task at hand.
“I was thinking about it before the skate, but when I got on the skate, I just thought about doing good in the skate,” Lemoine said. “The draft didn’t really matter to me at that time. I really wanted to make Team Manitoba and was more worried about that than the draft at that point.”
Still, that didn’t diminish the joy of seeing his name called when that moment came.
“I think every kid our age dreams of getting drafted in the WHL,” Lemoine said. “One of my dreams came true when I got drafted.”
A year ago, the Raiders took McCreary’s Ryan Gower, a friend of his who plays with the Parkland Rangers, so Lemoine will have a comfort level beyond just what he’s seen from the organization.
“I would like to play in Prince Albert,” Lemoine said. “They have such good player development and I like the players who have played there. One of my buddies who plays in Parkland got drafted by them last year so that would be pretty cool knowing someone when I get there.”
» For more on the POE camp, see Wednesday’s edition of The Brandon Sun.
» Twitter: @PerryBergson