The Kelowna Rockets selected a pair of teammates on Wednesday in the WHL’s new U.S. Prospects Draft.
Kelowna chose Wyatt Olson with the 15th selection and his teammate, Finn Brink, at pick No. 30 in the two-round event.
“We saw them both play in Winnipeg this spring at a tournament,” Rockets director of player personnel, Lorne Frey, said. “Both of them are pretty good players. They’re both skilled guys. They can skate and compete.
“We spoke with both of them. I think there’s a good chance that they’ll come to training camp and have a look.”
They both hail from Maple Grove, Minn., where they played for the Bruins of the Minnesota Bantam Elite League.
Olson is a six-foot, 161-pound forward who turns 15 on May 24.
In 13 games this season, he scored 11 goals and eight assists.
Brink — who turns 15 early next month — is five-eight and 150 pounds. He compiled eight goals and four assists in 13 games.
The U.S. Prospects Draft was created to make inroads into states that don’t traditionally view the WHL as an option, Kelowna president and GM, Bruce Hamilton, said.
While WHL teams can take American-born players in the regular bantam draft, clubs don’t often take chances on players outside the top tier.
“It’s the first time through on this, and I think it was more about finding a way for these guys to feel a little bit more wanted rather than just being on invite lists or late picks in our own draft,” Hamilton said.
WHL clubs must also be mindful of their futures. Teams are permitted to name 50 players to a protected list, but nearly half of those players are in uniform, leaving GMs 25 spots to map the future with.
“Those spots are very, very valuable,” Hamilton said.
Teams have one year to sign or release players selected on Wednesday without it counting on the protected list.
Kids in Minnesota or North Dakota, for example, regularly set their minds on earning U.S. college scholarships. They forego that chance if they play in the WHL, viewed as a pro league by the NCAA, because NHL draft picks play here after signing entry-level contracts.
“Down there we are the scourge and devil of everything,” Hamilton said with a laugh. “All it takes is to get a couple of them up here to see what it’s like.”
Players earn one-year of scholarship to a Canadian university for every season played in the WHL.
Pats win ‘exceptional’ lottery
CALGARY — The Regina Pats have won the Western Hockey League’s draft lottery.
The Pats now get the No. 1 selection in the league’s bantam draft on April 22.
Regina had the best odds of winning the lottery Wednesday after making a trade to acquire the first-round pick of the last-place Swift Current Broncos.
The league puts the lowest six teams into the lottery, giving each team a certain amount of balls (with the worst teams having more).
Only one ball is picked — and that team moves up a maximum of two spots. The Prince George Cougars had their ball picked, allowing them to move up to No. 2 from No. 4.
The Moose Jaw Warriors will select third, and the Kelowna Rockets have the eighth pick.
The Pats now will have the first shot to select forward Connor Bedard, the first player to be given exceptional status in the WHL, allowing the native of North Vancouver to suit up a year early.
The WHL announced Bedard’s exceptional-player status on Tuesday night. He becomes the seventh player in Canadian Hockey League history to earn the status.
With files from The Canadian Press