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Spokane Chiefs

WHL teams try to find diamonds in the rough in bantam draft

San Jose Sharks’ Patrick Marleau, left, was selected sixth overall by the Seattle Thunderbirds in the 1994 WHL bantam draft. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

On Thursday, the Western Hockey League teams will determine which 14-year-old will be the future for their franchise.

Naturally, uncertainty follows.

And after a poor year, the Chiefs have a high pick in this year’s WHL bantam draft. Spokane selects sixth overall, the franchise’s third top-10 in three years.

And while it’s fun to dream of how this promising preteen will figure into the Chiefs’ long-term plans, patience is key for following junior hockey. Because often it takes a long time for things to be set into motion.

Here’s an example:

In 2013, the Spokane Chiefs traded Collin Valcourt to Saskatoon, which was trying to beef up their forward unit after being selected to host the Memorial Cup that season. Spokane acquired a first-round pick in 2015 and a fifth-rounder in 2013 in the trade.

Valcourt was decent, scoring 18 points in 32 games that season, but it didn’t push the Blades over the top, who were thumped 6-1 by London in the tie-breaker playoff round.

The first-round pick Saskatoon swamped for Valcourt ended up being No. 1 overall after the Blades won the draft lottery. The Chiefs selected defenseman Ty Smith, an instant impact, first-pairing player in his rookie season last year.

And that fifth-rounder? Well, that turned into hometown phenom Kailer Yamamoto, who has developed into a top NHL prospect and a top-line star for Spokane

How’s that for value?

Of course, there are instances where the draft produces no value whatsoever. In 2011, the Chiefs’ top-two picks, Tanner MacMaster (1st round, 19th overall) and Rhett Gardner (2nd round, 41st overall), elected not to play in the WHL and played collegiate hockey. MacMaster is entering his senior season at Quinnipiac and Gardner enrolled at the University of North Dakota and won a NCAA National Championship with the Fighting Hawks in 2016.

The moral of the story is: it’s difficult to predict how 14-year-olds will develop and the decisions they will make. They are teenage boys, after all.