WHL Column: Bantam Draft age needs to move up

The WHL Bantam Draft is coming to Red Deer for the next three years, but the event carries with it some controversy in the hockey community.

Along with the WHL awards, the draft is a huge get for Red Deer and certainly carries a level of respect that it is a great hockey city. Especially considering the Hlinka Gretzky Cup will be here in the summer and the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game will arrive next winter.

With that all said, at issue in the Bantam Draft is the selection of players in their 15-year-old season (some players are 14 when they are drafted) and their readiness to play in the WHL right away. Players selected must be in their second year of bantam hockey.

A 15-year-old is limited to just five games in the WHL until his midget season is over, but is that really enough?

At 15, many players are not even fully developed yet and still need another two years of seasoning and development before they play in the WHL against 19-year-olds.

What would be the harm in delaying the draft until players complete their 16-year-old season or a year of midget hockey, then they would be fully ready to step into a WHL lineup the next fall?

In both the Ontario Hockey League and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, the two other member organizations of the Canadian Hockey League, players are picked in a priority selection during their 15-year-old season (the year they turn 16).

For continuity sake, wouldn’t it make sense for all three leagues to draft the same age group of players?

There’s also a case that at 15, many players haven’t even begun to show or scratch the surface on their potential and get passed over in the draft.

Although plenty of players have made a great WHL career without being drafted, being one of the 50 players listed by a team is a different animal altogether.

Psychologically, not being drafted probably has an effect on young teens in their second bantam season – If they aren’t picked, they think their hockey future is numbered. If they are lucky enough to be selected, maybe some overconfidence creeps into their game or they stop working because they think they’ve made it.

Physically, it’s complete guesswork to project how tall a 15-year-old will be as an 18-year-old.

Giving players another year not worrying about being too small or not getting drafted would help both teams and individuals alike.

While it’s really difficult in all those scenarios to understand why teams might be hesitant to adopt this simple change, consider the NCAA.

Schools are talking to players at 15, putting the idea in their head that it might be in their best interest to head south instead of staying in Canada.

Conversely, some players use that interest against WHL teams. If a player doesn’t want a team like the Prince George Cougars or the Brandon Wheat Kings to select him, he might float the idea that he’s going to play in the NCAA and therefore will not report to camp.

For WHL teams, this creates a considerable risk if they increase the draft age.

The easiest solution to the problem seems to be rooted in all three leagues using the same rules to select their future rosters.

I also don’t think any player in the history of hockey has ever been hurt from an extra year of growth and development.

Email sports tips to Byron Hackett

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