The Western League conducted its draft lottery Wednesday night and for the second straight year, the Saskatoon Blades lost by winning – OK, maybe we need to explain this a bit more…
There was a lot of hand-wringing in Toronto when the first draft pick traded to the Boston Bruins in the Phil Kessel deal turned out to be No. 2 overall, netting the B’s Tyler Seguin. But hey; at least the Leafs got one of the top scorers in the NHL in Kessel.
Now gently and kindly turn your eyes to the Western League’s Saskatoon Blades, who, thanks to their own trades, have accidentally given away the first overall pick in the bantam draft for the second year in a row.
The WHL held its draft lottery on Wednesday night and the Blades were mathematical favorites to win it all – 57 per cent, to be exact. But Saskatoon had traded a 2013 fifth-rounder and its 2015 first-rounder to Spokane back in 2013 for big left winger Collin Valcourt in an effort to win the Memorial Cup, which Saskatoon was hosting. So the Chiefs – about to start a playoff series against Everett – will pick first instead.
Valcourt, who now plays in the Czech Republic, couldn’t help the 2013 Blades enough and the team was swept in the first round of the playoffs by Medicine Hat, eventually finishing last at the Memorial Cup (but beating eventual champ Halifax in the round-robin, miraculously).
Another addition to that ill-fated squad was Brenden Walker, who was acquired in 2012 from Brandon. As part of that trade, the Wheat Kings reserved the right to swap first-round selections with Saskatoon in 2014 and when the Blades won the lottery last year, Brandon GM Kelly McCrimmon did just that. Brandon picked center Stelio Mattheos with the No. 1 selection.
This year, the consensus No. 1 prospect is offensive defenseman Ty Smith from Alberta. Since the WHL does a bantam draft, meaning players are selected when they are 14 instead of the midget drafts for 15-year-olds in the Ontario and Quebec Leagues, Spokane won’t get to play Smith full-time until the 2016-17 campaign.
But just to twist the knife a little further in Saskatoon, the 2013 pick in the Valcourt trade turned out to be gifted American center Kailer Yamamoto, who ranked third on the Chiefs in scoring this season and second among all rookies in the WHL. Only 2015 NHL draft prospect Ivan Provorov’s 61 points beat Yamamoto’s 57 and Provorov is nearly two years older.
The 6-foot-2 Mattheos will try to crack the Wheat Kings full-time next season and scored in a call-up this year (underage players are allowed to play a minimal number of games). Meanwhile, Yamamoto will surely be one to watch again in Spokane while the Chiefs watch Smith develop in midget.
And in Saskatoon, the Blades will attempt to build on this year’s team, which finished dead-last in the league, six points behind the disastrous Lethbridge Hurricanes. Unfortunately, the Blades haven’t done themselves any favors so far.