An early dental appointment kept me from being glued to my computer Thursday for the 2011 WHL Bantam Draft. I had my iPad with me but it's hard to watch things upside down and with a couple of fingers in your mouth so I didn't get the chance to view the league's first ever free webcast of the first round. I did see the video replay of the team's Director of Player Personnel, Colin Alexander, announcing the first pick. I've never seen Colin looks so dapper!
The Thunderbirds ended up making nine selections. I liked the first round pick (6th overall) of Ryan Gropp. This isn't the NHL draft where there is a ton of info and video available of these guys but I did read a couple of scouting reports on the top 100 players eligible for this draft, as well as looking at one mock draft, and all three had Gropp as the fourth best player in the draft and the second best forward available (Jake Virtanen, who went number one overall to Calgary was the only forward rated higher).
I was a bit surprised that Gropp got passed up by his own home town team. Gropp is from Kamloops but the Blazers opted to use their top choice on a defenseman (Jordan Thomson) and who can blame them after allowing almost 850 goals against the past three seasons combined. The irony is that Seattle was originally slated to draft ahead of the Blazers until Kamloops won the draft lottery and moved up three spots in the draft order, jumping over the T-birds in the process. It would seem the stars had aligned for the Blazers to choose the local kid,Gropp, but fortunately they went a different direction and the T-birds gladly scooped him up. Playing for the Kamloops Jardine Blazers, a AAA BCAHA bantam team, Gropp recorded 53 goals and 53 assists in 49 regular season games and added 13g and 18a in 17 tournament and postseason contests this past season.
For the second straight year Russ Farwell uses his second round pick on a BIG defenseman, selecting 6'5" Austin Douglas from Winnipeg. Last year he took Taylor Green, who at last report is now 6'6". The knock on these big kids at this stage of their hockey development is that they aren't top end skaters. But Russ mentioned that Douglas is a good skater and I read a scouting report that said he's really dedicated the last year to improving that aspect of his game. The scouting report also mentioned things like "high end potential" and "could develop into a monster on the ice". Douglas is still a month away from his 15th birthday. I mean he's 6'5", 195 lbs as a 14-year old. Imagine what he'll be at age 18 or 19!
One thing we are learning these past two years of T-bird drafting is that size does matter. The vast majority of the 'Birds picks the past two years have been six feet plus. Gropp is listed at 6'2". Their third round pick, winger Michal Holub is 6'0. Nolan Kruizenga, a goalie they chose in Round 7 is already 6'1" while their last two selections, Kevin Wolf and Mark Nelson, a pair of defensemen, are both listed at 6'4". A year ago the team's first two selections, Jared Hauf and the aforementioned Taylor Green were both 6'5", the third choice, James Neil was 6'0", their 6th round pick, Daniel Wray came in at 6'1". Actually you can go back to the 2009 draft when Seattle's first two picks, Branden Troock and Justin Hickman, were both six feet or taller and 6th round pick Evan Wardley, 7th round pick Johnny Dora and 9th rounder Kyle Horsman all measured in at 6'2" or better. Not every pick is going to make the team just because they are six feet tall or above but you can certainly see a belief that bigger is better. It goes back to this; you can teach them how to skate and shoot, how to forecheck and pass but you can't teach size!
When you look at those measurements, don't be off put by the fact a player is well over six feet tall but only weighs a buck-fifty. Remember, depending on their birthdays, these draft choices are only 14 or 15 years old. They are gonna fill out those frames over the next 2-3 years.
As usual, we'll see this group of draft picks at training camp in August. A few will get a couple of games under their belt with the T-birds next season but their real impact won't be felt for a couple of years.