Sunday, May 01, 2011

Top Pick a Three Player Race

With a majority of WHL General Managers, all 22 teams and 150 some scouts in attendance, Kamloops was the center of the bantam draft scouting universe this past weekend with the BC Cup in town.

Hanging around ISC you can't help but get caught up in all the talk leading up to Thursday's draft in Calgary.

It isn't breaking news by any means but it appears the top pick in the draft will be one of three players: Saskatchewan D Ryan Pilon, Calgary D Brycen Martin (left) and Abbotsford F Jake Virtanen (below).

Narrowing it down even further, I think the Calgary Hitmen will take either Martin or Virtanen with the top pick. If I was betting on who that player would be I'd wager to say it'll be Virtanen. He put on a pretty good show at times and showed flashes of some skill and speed that had ISC buzzing Saturday.

Virtanen scored three pretty goals and played with a visible edge. A lot of scouts and General Managers were likely imagining the type of impact he could have their club down the road.

Calgary has dibs if they want him. GM Kelly Kisio wasn't about to spill the beans to me as I interviewed him for our local coverage.

"(Virtanen) is a high-end player, he has all the tools, we will see which way we go" commented Kisio.

"We are pretty close on who we want to pick. As far as announcing anything (before Thursday's draft) I highly doubt it."

The Swift Current Broncos will have the 2nd pick overall and my belief is they will take Virtanen if he's passed over by Calgary.

If the Hitmen do scoop up Virtanen I get the feeling their scouting staff is thinking long and hard about a choice between the two defensemen Martin out of Calgary and Ryan Pilon (Warman Wildcats). It seems Martin may win out however.

Swift Current has a really busy draft day with the 2nd, 13th, 24th. 39th and 46th selections in the first three rounds.

Broncos GM Mark Lamb says they will take the best player available at #2.

"When you had the year we had, we need help everywhere. It doesn't matter if it's a forward or defenseman."

He was also impressed with Virtanen on Saturday.

"I just saw him score three or four goals that were all world. He's got the talent, he's got the size, he has some bite to him. He's going to be a great player in this league."

Lamb fully intends to use the picks in the Cody Eakin deal to stock the shelves with talent.

"That's why we got all these picks because he's a good player. We wish the best to Kootenay and the best to Cody and we hope with all these picks we can but Swift Current back on the map. We just want to do a good job with it and set us up."

Lethbridge will pick at #3. There was some talk they approached Calgary for the #1 pick overall via trade but nothing came out of it, or has come out of it so far. They must have their guy but aren't confident he'll be around come the third overall pick.

Lethbridge is set to get a couple of real good players for their future.

Kamloops is picking at number four and the belief is they will have the pick of the litter once Virtanen, Martin and Pilon (not necessarily that order) are chosen.

It'll be a big day for Kamloops players as well. D Joe Hicketts is revered as one of the top defenseman in the draft while F Ryan Gropp shows high-end skill that teams will have a tough time passing on. I think they both could potentially be top 10 picks at best. Both will go in the opening round though.

I spoke with both Hicketts and Gropp this weekend and came away impressed. Gropp shows me maturity beyond his age. He has size and skill. He doesn't have a lot of edge to his game but he will be a very good player down the road.

Hicketts is another good kid who has future captain written all over him. He's a leader and looks likes he loves to play the game. Whoever grabs Hicketts will have a steady defenseman who will play big minutes in all situations in a couple years.

Other local players like Chad Butcher and Carson Bolduc could be chosen anywhere in rounds two or three. There's a handful of others that will be drafted before the day is through.

Again if you want to keep tabs on the WHL bantam draft, I'll be on twitter doing pick-by-pick updates. I'm @JonKeenNLSports.

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