With the 2023 NHL Draft just around the corner, discussion regarding top prospects has begun to soar. The Kamloops Blazers have a roster full of talent, and eleven of their players are eligible in the upcoming draft. While some are expected to go higher than others, each player deserves a spotlight and a case made for them going into the draft. Listed in age order (youngest to oldest), here are the eleven Kamloops Blazers eligible.
All statistics listed are as of January 7th, 2023. For updated stats, visit the Blazers’ roster.
Defenseman Kaden Hammell has been a strong part of the Blazers’ defensive core, growing and improving since his rookie season in 2021. Given a B-rating by NHL Central Scouting, it’s possible his name will be called in the second or third round of the upcoming draft.
The Langley, B.C. native was drafted 19th overall by the Blazers in the 2020 WHL Bantam Draft and played his first full season with the team last year, in the 2021-22 season. “He has an excellent combination of skating, skill, hockey sense and compete along with a strong presence which will be a great addition to our organization,” said previous Blazers General Manager Matt Bardsley. Overall, Hammell has played 99 games in the WHL and has 23 points (7G-16A). As of early January, for the 2022-23 season, he sits at 35 games played, with nine points (4G-5A). Although his points tell a simple story—he needs to work on his offence—there’s much more to his game.
Adam Tate of McKeen’s Hockey describes Hammell as a player who is “starting to look like that of a modern-day two-way defenceman.” Although his numbers haven’t increased much since his previous season, his style of play has developed and shown significant growth. He’s strong on special teams and doesn’t take a lot of penalties. His desire to create offence is evident, and he continues to work on improving his execution. If he succeeds in increasing his offensive skill, he has the potential to break the top 50 of the 2023 NHL Draft.
Before playing for the Blazers, Hammell played for the West Van Acadamy Prep and Bantam Prep of the CSSHL U18 and U15. He scored his first WHL goal on January 1, 2022. Before that, he played for Team Canada’s U17 team in November 2021.
Hammell is an impressive defenseman who has the potential to be even greater, and Blazers fans are hoping an NHL team will see said potential and call his name.
The youngest draft-eligible rookie on the Blazers, Ryan Michael, is in the middle of his first full year with the team. With 38 total games played in the WHL, he has five assists and one goal; he scored his first goal on January 4, 2023.
Despite it being his rookie season, the young defenseman shouldn’t be dismissed. While the chances of being drafted this year are low, he has the potential to really make a name for himself as his career progresses. “Our scouting staff considers him the modern-day defenseman,” Matt Bardsley commented when Michael signed with the team in August 2020. “His game continued to trend upwards toward offensively as the season progressed while also providing a steady presence when defending. We feel he has all the skills necessary that will enable him to be a key contributor to our organization while helping him reach his individual goals.”
Before joining the Blazers, Michael played for the Yale Hockey Academy U18 team of the CSSHL U18, where he had 19 points (2G-17A) in 25 games.
Connor Levis is continuing to make a name for himself in his third season with the Blazers. Along with Hammell, the forward was given a B-rating by NHL Central Scouting and is expected to go mid-second round, early third. Ranked #62 by Craig Button (TSN) and #76 by FCHOCKEY, Levis is absolutely a name to listen for in the early to mid rounds of the upcoming draft.
Levis was drafted by the Blazers in 2019, going 20th overall in the first round. He later signed with the team in June 2020. “Connor has an impressive skill set, combined with an excellent skating ability and sense for the game,” Matt Bardsley said regarding the signing. “We believe he has all the qualities necessary to be a pro and look forward to helping him maximize his development over the next four seasons.”
Overall, Levis has played 125 games in the WHL and has a total of 86 points (35G-51A). This season he has scored 30 points (10G-20A) in 35 games played. He scored his first two goals in his WHL debut on March 26, 2021, against the Vancouver Giants.
His hockey career before joining the Blazers was one to behold. In his very first season with St. George’s Hockey Academy, at only fourteen years old, he had 90 points (44G-46A) in only 30 games. As the league level increased, his scoring decreased, but that’s to be expected. His output is still very high, and it’s only expected to go up.
In preparation for the 2023 NHL Draft, Levis maintains a good mindset. “I’m treating it the same as last year, and I think it’s important,” he said. “But obviously, it’s a big year for me and being ‘B’ rated, I feel fortunate to get recognition. I’m trying to do the best on the ice and in practices and in workouts — just keep on improving every single day.”
In the same piece, Linemate Fraser Minten commented, “I think he’s more confident this year, first of all, after having a full season last year, like most of us are. He’s a big strong guy, skates hard, and plays hard. He can also shoot the puck. Big strong power forward with some skill.”
Minten is right: Levis is a big, strong player. He has good physicality and has improved his speed and technicality. His defensive play is an area for improvement, but he’s already established himself as someone who learns and adapts quickly. Whichever team picks him up will help unleash that potential into something extraordinary.
Although Nathan MacPherson Ridgewell’s numbers in the WHL have decreased since the time of his signage, there’s hope he can turn it around and increase his offensive output. The forward has one goal, and one assist this season; the sole goal was his first and was scored on December 28, 2022, against the Kelowna Rockets.
Before being drafted by the Blazers in the 2021 WHL Draft, the eighteen-year-old played for Delta Hockey Academy, where, in his first year, he had 58 points (30G-28A) in 30 games. “From the start of camp, he has continued to get better every day,” Assistant General Manager and Director of Player Personnel Robbie Sandland said. “He plays a heavy, straight-line game and has great energy. He is consistently in the fabric of the game, and he is not easy to play against.”
MacPherson-Ridgewell signed with the Blazers in September of 2021.
‘Sydor’ is a popular name within the Kamloops organization: Dylan Sydor’s father, Darryl Sydor, played for the team from 1988-1992, has two Stanley Cups under his belt (Dallas, 1999; Tampa Bay, 2004), and is one of the owners of the club. Although his father was a defenseman, Dylan Sydor is a strong and skilled forward who puts up consistent numbers.
Sydor played for the Thompson Blazers before being drafted by Kamloops in the 2021 WHL Draft. In his second year with Thompson, he had 37 points (17G-20A) in 40 games. “His vision on the ice and ability to make plays in all areas of the game will enable him to have success,” Matt Bardsley said regarding Sydor’s signage with the team in March 2021. “We look forward to watching him continue his development with the Blazers.”
With Kamloops, Sydor has recorded a total of 40 points (15G-25A) in 113 games played. He scored his first WHL goal on May 8, 2021, against the Vancouver Giants.
Noted for his easy speed and good footwork, he has a strong hockey IQ and a clear vision on the ice. His forechecking is a highlight of his game.
If Sydor is drafted this year, it’s expected to be in the later rounds. Although his chances may be low, he is a name to watch out for in the coming years, as his skill will only grow with time.
Eighteen-year-old goaltender Matthew Kieper, who was recently traded to the Kamloops Blazers from the Regina Pats, is a name fans should listen for. An athletic and tactile netminder, Kieper was named to the 2022 NHL Central Scouting’s List as a top prospect for the 2022 NHL Draft.
“My main goal coming into this season was just giving my team the best chance to win every night and just playing my best,” Kieper said in anticipation of last year’s draft. “And if when I’m playing my best, that’s enough to get my name called, then okay, that’s awesome, but if it’s not enough to get my name called, I just got to use that as motivation in the off-season to work harder and come back next year even stronger.”
Before joining the WHL, Kieper played for the Winnipeg Bruins and the Winnipeg Sharks of the MU18HL and the WAAA U15, respectively. In his last season with the Bruins, he posted a 4.04 GAA and a .912 SV%.
He received his first WHL shutout on January 25, 2022. Overall, Kieper has played 55 games in the WHL and has a 3.88 GAA and a 0.873 SV%, and this season alone, he has recorded a 4.39 GAA and a 0.865 SV% in 12 games played.
Although he didn’t hear his name last year, he’s eligible for the 2023 NHL Draft, and hopes are high.
Shea Van Olm
2022 Ed Chynoweth Cup winner Shea Van Olm was traded to the Kamloops Blazers from the Edmonton Oil Kings in November 2022. So far this season, he’s doing a great job at proving he was a key piece in Edmonton’s success last year and is set to bring that success with him to Kamloops.
When he was still in the AMMHL with the NWCAA Stampeders, he recorded an impressive 60 points (35G-25A) in 30 games played. At the end of that particular season (2019-2020), his penalty minutes sat at 147. He signed with the Edmonton Oil Kings in the spring of 2020 and played with them until November 2022, when he was traded to the Blazers.
With skilled hands and intuitive vision, Van Olm battles hard and creates strong plays on the ice. “Shea is a good skating, physical player who has the ability to finish plays around the net,” Neutral Zone scouts remarked. “He plays a hard-nosed style of game which makes him an effective player each and every shift.”
Overall, Van Olm has played 95 games in the WHL and currently has 29 points (14G-15A). With the Blazers this season, he has 12 points (4G-8A) in 21 games played. He’s an asset on the ice and entertaining to watch. If he continues to work hard and show improvement, he has the potential to hear his name called in the draft, whether it be this year or within the next few.
A top prospect for both this year’s and last year’s draft, goaltender Dylan Ernst is one to watch for. The eighteen-year-old received a C ranking by NHL Central Scouting for the upcoming draft and was slotted 30th among North American goalies last year.
Although his name wasn’t called in the 2022 NHL Draft, he was one of the four undrafted Blazers to attend an NHL development camp, his invite being from the Carolina Hurricanes.
Ernst played for the Moose Jaw Warriors of the SMA3HL before being drafted by the Kamloops Blazers, 28th overall in 2019. He signed with the team that same year. “Dylan is an athletic goaltender who has a presence in the net along with the ability to make difficult saves look routine,” said Matt Bardsley regarding the signage.
Ernst’s first full game with the Blazers was on April 9, 2021, a 6-3 win over the Victoria Royals. Since that game, he has played 59 games in the WHL, with a 2.67 GAA and a .908 SV%. This season alone, he has played 30 games and has a 2.40 GAA and a .918 SV%. In previous seasons, he backed up for Dylan Garand; the 2022-23 season is his first year as the starter. With the Blazers hosting the 2023 Memorial Cup, all eyes will be on him.
“It is really exciting. I just really want to show the city of Kamloops what I can do as a starting goalie,” Ernst said. “It is going to be really good this year. It is amazing. There are so many other people who would kill to be in my shoes so I just want to make the most of it and have the best year I can possibly have.”
“I think we have seen a lot of growth,” Blazers head coach Shaun Clouston added. “He went to the Carolina Hurricanes [development] camp and performed very well, and that was real positive feedback. He is a talented young goaltender. There is a lot of potential there.”
One of two import players on the Blazers, Aapo Sarell joins the Kamloops Blazers for his first WHL season this year. Selected in the first round of the 2022 WHL Import Draft, 55th overall, Sarell demonstrates a lot of potential as he transitions to the WHL.
The defenceman wore an A for the SaiPa U20 of the SM-sarja in Finland and notched 15 points (6G-9A) in 39 games last season. He also has twelve games in the Liiga, the top league in Finland, under his belt. “His minutes were increasing in the junior level, and he was getting games in the Liiga,” said Shaun Clouston. “We really liked his game at that level, against men, so I think that gave us a lot of confidence he can come in here and help us right away.”
At 6’1 and 187 pounds, Sarell is a large guy and adds a physical presence on the ice. He’s played 35 games with the Blazers so far, recording seven points (1G-6A). His first goal was scored against the Kelowna Rockets in a 6-1 win on November 12, 2022.
As the defenceman adjusts to hockey on the other side of the world, he has a bright future ahead of him and lots of potential waiting to be unlocked.
Acquired by the Blazers from the Medicine Hat Tigers in September 2022, forward Ashton Ferster has played 32 games with the Blazers. He was originally drafted by the Tigers 77th overall in the 2018 WHL Draft. “Ashton is a smart, hard-working forward with [a] scoring drive. He knows how to get open and has an accurate shot. He has a high ceiling, and we are excited to monitor his progress,” said Bobby Fox, Tigers Director of Player Personnel.
Before joining the WHL, Ferster played for the Prince Albert Mintos of the SMA3HL and donned an A with the team in his final year with them. In his last season there, he had 21 points (10G-11A) in 31 games played.
The Blazers added him to their roster in hopes he would add depth to their lineup, especially after sending eight players to NHL camps that same week. With the team so far, he’s posted 10 points (5G-5A) in 32 games played, and in his WHL career, he’s played 108 games with 29 points (14G-15A).
His passion and work ethic is enough to draw fans’ attention. There’s hope both will pay off, whether it be in the near future or further down the line.
Defenceman Logan Bairos, known for his smooth and skillful skating, is one to keep an eye on. The nineteen-year-old has already established himself as a strong defender, and his hockey IQ and vision on the ice are only components of that.
Drafted by the Blazers 27th overall in the 2018 WHL Draft, Bairos played for the Saskatoon Contacts of the SMA3HL and was the captain of the team his last season. With the Contacts, he had an impressive 39 points (9G-30A) in 43 games, further proving his role as an offensive defenceman.
Bairos signed with the Blazers the same year he was drafted. “We are excited that Logan has committed to the Kamloops Blazers organization,” remarked Matt Bardsley. “His skating ability to join or lead the rush and the skill to make quick plays makes him dangerous in transition. That same skating ability also enables him to defend against the rush. We feel he is the modern-day defenseman and look forward to watching his game develop while in Kamloops.”
And develop he has. His WHL career started off slow, with his production relatively low. However, this season alone, Bairos has recorded 21 points (5G-16A) in 35 games. At this rate, he’s nearly doubled his production compared to last season, where he had 25 points (4G-21) in 66 games. With his performance on an upward trend, it’s a matter of when not if, he’ll get recognized for it.
Whoever hears their name called in the 2023 NHL Draft will join the seven NHL prospects on the Blazers roster:
- Logan Stankoven – 2021 – DAL – Rd. 2 #47 (Signed)
- Caedan Bankier – 2021 – MIN – Rd. 3 #86
- Kyle Masters – 2021 – MIN – Rd. 4 #118
- Jakub Demek – 2021 – VGK – Rd. 4 #128
- Fraser Minten – 2022 – TOR – Rd. 2 #38 (Signed)
- Daylan Kuefler – 2022 – NYI – Rd. 6 #174
- Matthew Seminoff – 2022 – DAL – Rd. 6 #179
The Kamloops Blazers have strong draft prospects on their roster. Those who don’t get drafted will of course, have the opportunity to be invited to NHL development camps, opening up the door for a possibility of being signed with the team. While some may be passed over in the draft, there’s no denying each player works hard and deserves a strong future.