Regarding Thursday’s Western Hockey League bantam draft, there aren’t many weeds among the upper-end prospects in the Wild Rose province.
Alberta is definitely deep in talent, Red Deer Rebels director of scouting/player development Randy Peterson confirmed Tuesday.
“This province is like that most years, but this year there’s an exceptional amount of top-end kids,” he insisted, while preparing for the annual draft of graduating bantams, this year to be held — for the first time — at the Fantasyland Hotel at West Edmonton Mall.
“That’s really encouraging for us because we like to stay in our back yard as much as possible. A lot of teams are going to be shopping in Alberta, for sure.”
The Rebels hope to nab a defenceman with their first-round pick, 12th overall.
“That’s the way we’re leaning and we feel there will be some good ones available in the top two rounds,” said Peterson. “Overall, the draft will likely separate itself after the top six or seven players are selected. The talent pool is heavy on defence this year, at least that’s what we (Rebels scouting staff) feel, although there are some forwards with size and talent in that top group.
“Once they’re gone you can still get some skilled forwards, but smaller.”
It is widely believed that the top rearguards available are Madison Bowey of Winnipeg and Josh Morrissey of Calgary.
“They are two of the best in our mind. They’re both highly-skilled guys, players who can handle the puck, can skate and are smart,” said Peterson, “And both of them will be good-sized kids.”
The Rebels are unlikely to get a look at either of Bowey and Morrissey, but might get a shot at Red Deer product Joel Topping, who’s ranked ninth for the draft by Hockeyprospect.com.
His older brother, Mitch, was selected eighth overall by the Chilliwack Bruins two years ago.
“Joel is very similar to his brother in a lot of ways in terms of his ability to quarterback a power play,” said Peterson. “He can skate and shoot the puck. He’s the top local (Central Alberta) kid.”
Peterson was also impressed with another group of Red Deer and area players in last week’s Alberta Cup, including defencemen Stefan Danielson of Red Deer and Dallas Bergstrom of Bashaw, forwards Scott Ferguson of Sylvan Lake and Scott Feser of Red Deer, and goaltenders Anthony Hamill and Matt Zentner, both of Red Deer.
“Both goalies have nice size and they have both showed some good signs. They’re both athletic goaltenders,” said Peterson.
As for Feser, while he’s a smallish player at five-foot-eight, 145 pounds, it’s doubtful that he’ll slip through the draft after his brother — five-foot-nine Justin — was picked in the ninth round three years ago and is now an emerging star with the Tri-City Americans.
“(Feser) had a good (Alberta Cup) tournament. The kid can put the puck in the net and he thinks the game really well,” said Peterson. “He maybe doesn’t have the overall speed of Justin but is very similar in terms of his touch around the net and his compete level.
“We’ll have to keep an eye on him. His brother was a bit of a sleeper pick and he turned out to be a darn good player in our league.”
Saskatchewan product Alex Forsberg, who was third in scoring in the province’s midget AAA league as a bantam-age player, will almost certainly go No. 1 overall to the Prince George Cougars.
“That sure makes sense for Prince George. The kid comes from a real good family and his brother (defenceman Jesse) is there,” said Peterson. “(Alex) thinks the game so well and he has great hands. He’s not a dynamic player but he’s just so strong and smart and has good speed. He has a feel for the puck and a touch around the net. He’s also a great playmaker.”
Peterson is also high on centre Curtis Lazar of the Kelowna Pursuit of Excellence, along with Calgary forwards Morgan Klimchuk and Jonathon Merkley.
“Lazar has blazing speed and compete hard for a five-nine kid, and Klimchuk and Merkley have size and skill and are from a strong crop of Calgary players. We anticipate these three will be among the top five — top 10 for sure — players selected.”
Centre Brian Williams of the Los Angeles Selects is another high-end prospect. The Rebels, however, will likely steer clear of American players, not that Williams will be around at No. 12.
“There are some very good kids with the Selects, but the feedback we’re getting is that most of them are leaning towards U.S. colleges,” said Peterson.
Eric Comrie of the Selects, the younger brother of NHL player Mike Comrie, has committed to playing in the WHL and will likely be the first goaltender selected in Thursday’s draft.
The Rebels will also pick in the second and third rounds. They gave up their fourth-round selection to Kelowna during the past season in exchange for defenceman Adam Borejko, but have an extra fifth-round pick for sending defenceman Dominic Perrault and Mike Scarborough to Regina during the 2007-08 campaign.
Red Deer will also pick once in each of the sixth, eighth, ninth and 10 rounds. They gave up their seventh-round selection to Seattle while obtaining defenceman Brad Haber.
While Peterson and Rebels senior scout Dale McMullin will be seeking a dominant defenceman in the draft, they’ll consider drafting a forward like, say, Tyson Baillie of Fort Saskatchewan, who captured the Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League scoring title with 33 goals and 79 points in 32 games.
It just so happens that a mock draft by the Saskatoon StarPhoenix matches Baillie with the Rebels in the first round.
“That’s interesting,” said Peterson of the mock draft pairing. “He’s a precision shooter, a talented kid around the net. He’s a little on the small side (five-foot-eight, 148 pounds) and he has average speed, but he’s very talented and will put up some good numbers as a WHLer.
“At this particular stage, we feel we’d be filling a need with a defenceman, but for sure, we’d look at him (Baillie).”
The bantam draft will be preceded by today’s WHL awards luncheon.