The 2018 WHL Bantam draft has come and gone and when it was done Seattle had added nine prospects to the fold. As always, it will be a few years before we know the impact these young players will have on the franchise as none of them are eligible to play full time with the T-Birds until the 2019-20 season. Among their picks, the Thunderbirds selected six forwards.
That includes first round selection Kai Uchacz. Uchacz, from De Winton, Alberta was said, by those who follow Western Canadian Bantam players closely, to be a "fast riser" among his age group. In other words he had a very good bantam season that got him a lot of notice. Uchacz was captain of his Okotoks Oilers Bantam AAA team, putting up 42 points, including 25 goals, in 33 games. Like three of his fellow draftees, Uchacz also participated in the Alberta Cup where he put up 12 more points (8g, 4a) in just five games.
Seattle's Director of Player Personnel Cal Filson, said the mandate going into the scouting process is to find players who project out to be good, two-way, 200 foot players. “We just want to bring in guys that work hard, good skaters, good hockey sense and they have some character." But in the top rounds there seemed to be another theme. Find guys who can light the lamp. With their two second round selections, their own and one obtained in trade from Medicine Hat, Filson and the T-Birds selected two players who combined to earn 159 points in 64 games. Edmonton product Lucas Ciona registered 48 of those points in 30 games playing for the Northern Alberta Extreme Bantam Prep team. Ciona would seem to be a playmaker as 35 of his points were assists. Winnipeg's Conner Roulette was Seattle's other second round choice. All he did this past season was break Jonathan Toews record for points in Manitoba. Yes, that Jonathan Toews, the one who has led the NHL's Chicago Blackhawks to three Stanley Cup titles. There is no guarantee that it will translate to the WHL level, but Roulette had 52 goals and 49 assists for 101 points in 34 games with the Winnipeg Hawks Bantam AAA team.
The T-Birds entered this year's draft without a third round pick. They did have two on the books for next year's draft though. It appears they used one of those, plus a 2018 sixth rounder they obtained from Red Deer in the Austin Strand trade to acquire the Rebels 2018 third rounder. With that pick Seattle chose Coquitlam, BC goalie Thomas Milic. Playing this past season with the Burnaby Winter Club Bantam Prep team, Milic was 13-7 with a 2.06 GAA and .925 save percentage. Filson likened his style to current T-Birds netminder Carl Stankowski. The T-Birds have done well as of late when drafting goalies in the third round or higher. Stankowski (2015) and Calvin Pickard (2007)were second round selections and Logan Flodell (2012) was a third round choice.
This move made me curious. Scouts, I'm sure, have an idea of the depth of not only this draft but of next year's draft as well, both in terms of overall talent and by position. Seattle could have held on to that 2019 pick for next season and had two third rounders, to go along with their first and two seconds. Are they making an educated gamble that Milic will be better then any goalie they could have had with one of those five picks in the first three rounds next spring? Or is the thinking that it is better to use those high 2019 draft picks on forwards and defensemen because the strength of next years draft will be in one of those two positions, so get the high end goalie now? If you want to be a scout, a GM or a Director of Player Personnel, I'm sure these are things you take into consideration.
Seattle picked their first defenseman of the draft in round four, plucking Roblin, Manitoba's Aiden Brook off the roster of the Parkland Rangers Bantam AAA team. Brook was described as a big, strong two-way defenseman. He comes from good blood lines. His brother Josh, also a defenseman, went fourth overall to Moose Jaw in the 2014 draft then was taken in round two (56th overall) of the 2017 NHL Draft by the Montreal Canadiens. Meanwhile brother Jakob, a winger, was a 2017 second round pick of the Prince Albert Raiders.
Seattle went back to the point-producing forward well in the fifth round adding Sam Popowich from Camrose, Alberta. Playing with the Camrose Red Wings Popowich produced 45 points (19g) in a 34 game season. In round seven the T-Birds picked defenseman Noah Barlage, another player with good WHL bloodlines. In 2016, his older brother Logan was the fourth overall pick in the first round of the bantam draft, going to Swift Current. Logan, a forward, was the centerpiece of a blockbuster trade between the Broncos and Lethbridge Hurricanes this past winter. Noah may have some room to grow. He's currently listed at 6'0" but brother Logan is now 6'4".
For their last two selections Seattle again chose a couple of forwards. Eighth rounder Reid Schaefer is described by Filson as a "hard-nosed power forward who makes room on the ice for his teammates." The Spruce Grove, Alberta native played last year for OHA Edmonton Bantam Prep where he had 23 points in 27 games.
And with their last selection of the draft Seattle kept it close to home by choosing Gig Harbor native Mekai Sanders. This past winter Sanders played with the Detroit Compuware 14U and put up 18 points in 20 games. Like most US born players, you don't know what path he will take in his hockey career. Will it be the WHL or NCAA? But at least his mom was excited to have Seattle choose him, tweeting a picture from 2014 of Mekai with his late grandfather from his playing days with the Junior Thunderbirds.