The 2011 WHL Bantam Draft takes place this Thursday, May 5th in Calgary.
The Lethbridge Hurricanes have two picks in the top 5 and four picks in the first two rounds. The Calgary Hitmen with choose first overall followed by Swift Current, Lethbridge, Kamloops, and Lethbridge again to round out the top 5. This is the first time in franchise history that the Canes' will have two picks in the top 5 and it will no doubt be a historic day for the team. The WHL Draft will take place Thursday morning and will be webcast LIVE on the Western Hockey League website.
I had a chance recently to speak with Head Coach and G.M. Rich Preston about this draft. Here's what he had to say:
Pat: What exactly will be you be looking for with these two high picks on May 5th?
Preston: "Well, ideally it would be great to get a forward and a defenceman with these picks, but it all depends on what Calgary and Swift Current do with picks one and two. Maybe the 'D' you really like is taken before you choose so maybe if you don't like a defenceman after those first two picks and you like two top-end forwards, then the next three 'D' you have listed then maybe we take two forwards. Then you have a crack at getting a defencemen with one of the two picks we have in the second round. We'll just have to see how things play out."
Pat: Rich, you have four picks in the top 29 in this draft and maybe some of these are assets that would interest other teams. Have you had any conversations with other G.M.'s about your picks?
Preston: "Not really Pat, but you would expect to get those shortly before the draft. That usually happens, but we know we are going to get some top-end, high-quality players with these picks so really I can't see doing anything with these picks. It's just like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in Red Deer. He's the number one-ranked player heading into the NHL draft in June. If you can get a top player like that. Look what it did for Red Deer."
Pat: How important is this draft Rich or any draft for that matter to really build a team?
Preston: "Well, it's extremely important. This is how you get the top player you are going to have for three or four years. Nugent-Hopkins is a perfect example of that. One real top player can make a huge difference on a team, especially in junior. Hopefully we will get a couple in this draft. We certainly got some last year. I think this really is the only way to do it. Build your own organization with your own draft picks, because if you keep making trades and bringing in players from other organizations, first of all you really don't know what you're getting. Why do teams what to get rid of certain players? They do it for a reason. If you draft your own you know what you're getting and developing. I think that's the way to go."
Pat: Rich, is this one of the most important drafts in this organization's 25 year history?
Preston: "Well, I can't speak for the past 25 years, but when you have two picks in the top 5, it's very exciting. I've seen all the top kids in Western Canada and the U.S. and I look forward to this whole process. Not discounting last year. You put together our picks from last year along with the kids we will select on Thursday and we will have some great players for down the road."