The Kamloops Blazers had a busy day at the 2021 Western Hockey League
Prospects Draft on Thursday. The Blazers made 11 selections in the first nine rounds and swung a pair of trades.
The first move saw Kamloops move their first round pick, 21st overall, to the Regina Pats in exchange for a first rounder in the 2023 WHL Draft. The Blazers were likely able to make the move, exchanging a first rounder now for an extra one next year, because they also owned the 26th overall pick and felt confident that the player they were targeting would still be available at that point.
With their first of two second-round picks the Blazers selected forward Ashton Tait from the Prince Albert Mintos U18 team. Listed at 5’10’’, 150 lbs, Tait scored the game-winning goal in the third period of the bronze medal game of the 2021 WHL Cup, lifting Saskatchewan past British Columbia in October.
The Blazers have plucked notable Mintos in past WHL Drafts, with recent examples including forward Kyrell Sopotyk (Blazers 2018-20) and goaltender Connor Ingram (Blazers 2014-17). Ingram became a third round pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2016, and made his NHL Debut earlier this season with the Nashville Predators.
Tait spoke to Jon Keen, radio play-by-play voice of the Blazers on Radio NL in Kamloops, about the opportunity to follow the path of those prominent Mintos turned Blazers. “(Ingram and Sopotyk) are both really important to (the Mintos), so to get a chance to follow them (to Kamloops), it’s great,” Tait said.
Blazers Director of Player Personnel Robbie Sandland described Tait as having “high-end puck skills and strong hockey sense. (He) goes to the hard areas to score goals and make plays.”
The Blazers second pick of the second round was goaltender Jesse Sanche from the Okanagan Hockey Academy, 42nd overall. Sanche played for Team B.C. at the 2021 WHL Cup and posted a .908 save percentage, which was third-best in the tournament.
In the third round, Kamloops selected defenseman Harrison Brunicke from the Calgary Royals U18 52nd overall before making their second trade of the day, moving their next third-round selection (67th overall) to the Winnipeg ICE in exchange for a sixth-round pick in 2021 and a third-rounder in 2022.
Kamloops stocked the cupboards with ten picks in the first seven rounds of the draft, including three defenseman, one goaltender and six forwards.
A potential high-impact move came in the seventh round when they selected 17-year old defenseman Tyson Jugnauth.
Standing 5’11’’, 160 lbs, Jugnauth was previously taken by the Swift Current Broncos in the first round of the 2019 draft, 21st overall but did not sign. He has played in the ‘junior-A’ British Columbia Hockey League for the West Kelowna Warriors since 2019-20, and recently committed to the University of Wisconsin.
With the unique timing of this year’s draft occurring during the season and his age, Jugnauth is a candidate to suit up immediately for the Blazers, if the organization can persuade him to come to the WHL and forgo the NCAA. Kamloops certainly has a strong pitch to make, with the team currently standing in second place in the Western Conference and were ranked fourth in the most recent CHL Top-10 rankings.
The Blazers also have an immediate need for depth on the blue line with defenseman Marko Stacha currently attending Slovakia’s selection camp for the World Junior Championship.
Blazers head coach and general manager Shaun Clouston commented on Jugnauth, saying:
“Tyson is an elite defenseman and an NHL prospect. With where our team is at now and moving forward, we believe we can provide Tyson with an excellent opportunity to develop.”
Calgary Royals U16 AAA defenseman Thomas Byrne was the Blazers final selection of the draft, in the ninth round. After infusing their system with 11 prospects, Kamloops passed on the final six picks in their possession in rounds 10 through 13.
US PRIORITY DRAFT
The WHL Prospects Draft took place on the heels of the US Priority Draft, which took place on Wednesday.
The Blazers owned the tenth and 35th overall selections in the two-round draft for 2006-born players who reside in the United States.
With their first pick, Kamloops took forward Mac Swanson from Anchorage, Alaska.
Listed at 5’6’’, 145 lbs, Swanson amassed 29 goals and 71 points in 32 games for Team Alaska 15U AAA during the 2020-21 season.
The Blazers used their second selection on defenseman Sam Webster from the Phoenix Jr. Coyotes 15U AAA squad. The 5’10’’ 170 lb product of Chandler, AZ has two goals and three points in eight games so far this season for the Jr. Coyotes.
UNFUSING THE PIPELINE
With the Blazers currently in the midst of a competitive window for a run at a WHL title and Memorial Cup berth, the club is hoping that the work put in by their scouting and player development staff put in this week and going forward, will not only extend their competitive window but build a perennial contender in Kamloops.
NEWS N’ NOTES
The Blazers dumped the Vancouver Giants 7-1 at the Sandman Centre in Kamloops on Wednesday night.
Logan Stankoven registered a goal and three points, and Dylan Garand stopped 20-of-21 shots in what was the final game for each of them plus Stacha depart for WJC selection camps. Defensemen Viktor Perrson and Mats Lindgren each logged three assists, which is an encouraging development for the defense unit who will now be without Stacha for an undetermined amount of time.
Last Thursday, Kamloops acquired forward Vaughn Watterodt and an eighth-round pick in today’s draft from the Saskatoon Blades for a fifth-round selection in 2024.
The Rosetown, SK native and former member of the Okanagan Hockey Academy has an assist in six games to date with the Blazers.