Heading into the 2018-2019 season, this will be my third year covering the Bantam Draft. I haven’t gotten the opportunity to basically see every kid play in the 2002 + 2003 born classes, and this year will be the first that I get to see some of those kids perform at the Junior levels. Every year there are kids who I watch closely to see how they develop after their bantam draft class. This year is no different for me. There are obviously more than ten players I keep a close eye on but here is a list of ten players I will be watching closely this year.
Alex Thacker – Fort Saskatchewan Rangers Midget AAA/AJHL
Alex Thacker was regarded as one of the most talent playmakers in his draft year, at least that is what we felt. His playmaking tools and hockey IQ are tremendous, consistently creating offense for his team mates. The physical tools for Alex weren’t all there and he didn’t dazzle with his explosive footwork. This past season he finished 14th in AMHL scoring and from all accounts was expected to make the Swift Current Broncos after a great camp performance. He was recently cut but Alex is still regarded as a key piece to the Bronco’s offensive future.
Sebastian Cossa – Edmonton Oil Kings
While he is still on the Edmonton Oil Kings opening day roster, I am not too sure what they are doing with the late 2002 born goalie. They currently have four goalies on the roster including Cossa and none of them really stand out as proven WHL starters. Cossa has the potential to be the best goalie in his WHL Draft class and is blessed with all the natural tool needed to be an elite WHL net minder. I would love to see him get into 30+ games in the WHL but with four older goalies that looks unlikely. If he gets reassigned, I will be watching him closely.
Cole Shepard – Penticton Vee’s
While he is playing Junior A hockey on the Okanagan, I am still going to try to see Shepard play as much as possible via the Hockey TV streams. Shepard in my personal opinion is the most dynamic player to come through the WHL draft since I have started watching it. His agile footwork and endurance are spectacular. In his bantam draft year, I would have said he was a bit soft, but last year he was a much more aggressive presence on the Delta Hockey Midget Prep’s and he led his team in scoring. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here when I say some teams would value Shepard as a top ten pick in his draft year if he committed to the WHL. Currently committed to Harvard University.
Matthew Gerke – NAX Midget Prep
Gerke was a player who overly impressed me in his WHL Draft year, he was a kid blessed with strength and fluid skating but didn’t impact the game to well. This past season I thought Gerke really turned around that opinion with the MLAC Midget AAA. His puck protection and puck control looked ten-folds better than it did in Bantam’s and I felt his presence was more noticeable in Midget than it was in Bantam. Will get a great season of development with the NAX Midget Prep’s.
Zac Robins – Tisdale Trojans
Coming back to the SMHL to play for the Tisdale Trojan’s, Robin’s will likely get into a few SJHL games this upcoming season. The Spokane Chiefs 4th round pick, Robin’s is a smooth skating two-way defender whose intuition in his defensive zone is impressive for his age. Mature for his age and starting to really fill out. I’m excited to see what he can do in the SMHL this year and if he can crack the Chiefs line up as a 17 year old next year.
Tanner Brown – Delta Midget Prep
Despite not making the Vancouver Giants as a 16 year old, there is a lot to be excited about with Tanner Brown. First off he has a late 2002 birthday so he could still get two WHL season’s in before his NHL Draft year. Brown’s is an assertive two-way defender blessed with four-way mobility and offensive presence. I was always impressed with Brown’s physical game, he loved to make big hits in the neutral zone. A heavy left handed shot, Brown’s footwork on the blue line and awareness is impressive. Already has four points in two games with Delta Midget Prep.
Tyler Horstmann – Delta Midget Prep
Horstmann was a kid whose development caught my eye at the Edmonton Oil King’s camp in late August. His overall explosiveness and dynamic play looked a tonne better as a 16-year-old. Controlling the puck with a lot more confidence and more involved in the physical play. Horstmann is another player who will spend this season with the Delta Midget Prep’s and should be a key piece to their offensive core.
Gabe Klassen – Prince Albert Minto’s
Selected in the first round of last year’s WHL Draft, Klassen (Portland Winterhawks prospect) is stepping into his first Midget season with a lot of hype and expectations. One of the most creative players in his draft class, Klassen’s capabilities in the offensive zone are impressive. He can dazzle with the puck and has proactive instincts with the puck. A bit of a long term selection by Portland but I am excited to see how he can be offensively for the Minto’s this upcoming season.
Zack Stringer – Lethbridge Hurricanes Midget AAA
The Telus Cup’s Top Forward last year, and a key piece of the Lethbridge Hurricane’s Midget AAA lineup is back this season. Likely a top five scorer in the AMHL this season, Stringer is an elite WHL Prospect who still has a lot to develop in his game. I’m looking forward to seeing how he is able to improve these aspects of his game. A player who does most of his damage with skilled stick positioning and by imposing his frame in fearless areas. A 2003 born prospect who will be in the WHL next year.
Breck McKinley – St. Albert Midget AAA/Minor Midget AAA
Breck went undrafted in last year’s WHL Draft to our surprise, he was our 100th ranked player and I personally felt his two-way game and hockey IQ would earn him a selection. Breck’s ability to process the game and constantly engage on the puck is magnificent, I always felt that he had the mental capabilities to be a solid Junior player but just didn’t have the physical tools yet. Breck is expected to play for the St. Albert Minor Midget AAA or Major Midget AAA