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The WHL Bantam Draft: A Crash Course

This Thursday marks the WHL’s annual Bantam Draft, where each team in the Western Hockey League selects the players that they hope will one day make up their rosters, and eventually, lead their franchise to a WHL Title. With that in mind, let’s do a quick FAQ on what to expect on Thursday:

Who’s eligible?

The Bantam Draft takes place every May and includes players who’ve just completed their second season of “bantam” hockey. These players are just finishing the season where their “hockey age” is 14, meaning they’d be eligible to join the Winterhawks in two seasons. This means that on Thursday, all players in their first year of eligibility will have been born in 2002.

The players eligible make up the territorial footprint of Western Canada and the Western United States. In Canada, all players from Manitoba westward are eligible, while in the United States the players from Minnesota to the Pacific Ocean are eligible. If you want to learn more about which territories players can hail from, you can find full territory details here.

What happens to the drafted players?

Each team in the Western Hockey League has what is called a “protected list”, a list of 50 players that they have the rights to. Teams are required to have all their roster players on their protected list, so typically around 23-30 of the players on a team’s protected list are roster players or players who’ve signed with the team. The final 20 or so spots are taken up by prospects.

The players selected on Thursday in the Bantam Draft will fill the prospects portion of their team’s WHL protected list. Teams will immediately begin speaking with the families of the players, and work with them on bringing the newly selected prospects to development camps, as well as the full training camp for the team. The Winterhawks’ training camp comes at the tail end of August each season, and allows the Hawks to look at usually somewhere in the neighborhood of 80-90 players.

Wait, I thought each team had 50 players on their list, how do teams have more than that at their training camps?

Well, as you know, there are a ton of examples of very good hockey players who were not selected in their Bantam Draft year, but went on to have fantastic careers both in the WHL and the NHL. For example, recent Winterhawks graduate Keegan Iverson was not selected in his Bantam Draft year, along with current Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Paul Bittner, and countless other examples in the WHL like current NHL stars Jamie Benn, Shea Weber, Jarome Iginla and many more.

A team is allowed to protect 50 players on their list, but teams are always looking to see whether players have slipped through the cracks on Bantam Draft day for one reason or another. A good example of that would be current Winterhawk Ryan Hughes. Hughes came to Winterhawks training camp in the summer of 2016 having gone through his Bantam Draft. With his impressive performances, Hughes earned himself not only a spot on the protected list, but a spot on the full Hawks roster. So if a player doesn’t get selected this Thursday, it doesn’t mean that they can’t still become a star in the WHL.

So if undrafted players become stars all the time, what’s different about drafted players?

While it’s true that there are countless examples of players who fly under the radar in their Bantam Draft and develop into superstars, there are many examples as well of elite players at age 14 still being elite when they’re 19 or 20. So, the Bantam Draft ensures that the wealth of talent is spread as fairly as possible throughout the WHL. The WHL has a draft lottery, and the order is set in reverse order of the final standings.

The Hawks, with our strong 40-win season, ended up smack in the middle of the first round at number 11. So, we’ll be able to select (barring trade since teams are allowed to, and often do, trade their selections) a player at #11 to help our team. This player won’t have an immediate impact on the Winterhawks full roster as he won’t be eligible for full-time play until the 2018-19 season, but typically a player selected in the higher reaches of the first round has a big impact on their organization.

Some examples of first round picks for the Hawks recently include the likes of Cody Glass (19th overall), Nic Petan (16th overall), Ty Rattie (2nd overall) and Derrick Pouliot (1st overall). Many times, the elite prospects for the WHL are identified at this young age, so it’s always a nice thing to be able to select in round one to have an elite player at an age group to build around.

There are gems to be found throughout the Bantam Draft as well, with players from nearly every round having had major impact on the Winterhawks. The second round has produced talent like Keoni Texeira, while the third yielded former captain Dominic Turgeon. Later round picks like sixth rounder Brendan Leipsic, seventh rounder Ryan Johansen, or ninth rounder Chase De Leo have had huge impacts on the Winterhawks organization over the years.

How do I follow along on Thursday, then?

We’ll have a full recap of our selections on Thursday here on Winterhawks.com, as well as live tweeting out the Bantam Draft picks on our twitter page. The first chance to see many of these players in action in person will be at the annual Neely Cup at Winterhawks training camp this fall. We’ll announce full details on that camp as we get into summer.

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