Jim Hammett has served in various hockey organizations over his three-decade career.
But in his first season as Spokane Chiefs assistant general manager, this was his first time overseeing a bantam draft.
On top of that, this draft was hardly typical. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was held entirely online, rather than the planned gathering in Red Deer, Alberta, with a contingent of Chiefs front-office members making official selections from the team’s Spokane office.
But with the team’s 10 scouts connected by conference call, scattered across various provinces and states, Hammett said the process went well, as the Chiefs selected 11 prospects from their original list of 200 or so.
“I was really impressed how prepared our scouting staff was,” Hammett said from his home in Kelowna, British Columbia. “It really made a difficult set of circumstances run really smoothly.”
The Chiefs used the 18th overall selection to take Saige Weinstein, the third time in six seasons they have used their first-round pick on a defenseman. At 40th overall, they took forward Kooper Gizowski, Weinstein’s teammate on Northern Alberta Xtreme Bantam Prep, an association Hammett said was coincidental. Both are from Edmonton, Alberta.
“Saige is a player that we’ve been very high on all year long,” Hammett said. “We felt that Kooper, skill and hockey sense-wise, he fit into the first half of the first round of the draft, so we were more than pleasantly surprised he dropped to us.”
Without a third-round pick, the Chiefs selected forwards Jake Gudelj and Tyler Chan in the fourth and fifth rounds, respectively. They used their first of two sixth-round picks on goalie Cooper Michaluk and their next selection on defenseman Kyle Federico.
They closed out the draft by selecting five more forwards.
None of the players will be eligible to play for the Chiefs next season but could be as early as the 2021-22 season.
Hammett said the team approached the draft looking for “a little bit of everything,” trying to build positional depth as well as depth and variety of other attributes, like grit, speed and size.
This year the WHL preceded its usual bantam draft with a U.S. prospects draft, a two-round affair held on March 25. In it, the Chiefs selected a pair of defensemen: Anthony McIntosh-Asgard from Minot, North Dakota, and Liam Hupka from Eden Prairie, Minnesota.
“It was only a two-round draft, but I thought that was a really good test and dry run for this,” Hammett said, referring to the remote nature of it. “It went really smooth.”
Overall, Hammett said he was pleased with the team’s draft.
“I think everybody we’ve taken in our draft has strong upside,” he said. “I thought there was really good depth in this draft, and our scouts, even until late in the draft, were passionate about a lot of players.”
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