WHL hosts unique in-season draft preparing for 2022 and beyond

It was a big week for the 2006 class residing on the western side of North America.

The 2021 WHL Prospects Draft and the 2021 WHL U.S. Priority Draft took place on Dec. 8-9 instead of the traditional May timeframe, meaning some of the top ’06 players in the world now know which major junior team holds their rights. 

Players eligible for the two-day selection had to be born in 2006 and reside in Canadian provinces Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Northwest Territories and Yukon, or Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, or Wyoming of the United States. The WHL held its U.S. draft on Wednesday; the Canadian edition took place on Thursday. A total of 214 players were selected; 119 forwards, 71 defensemen and 24 goaltenders.

The WHL made the decision to bump back the draft to allow more time for scouting purposes due to the missed games impacted by COVID-19.

The Spokane Chiefs made the first selection of the 2021 WHL Prospects Draft on Thursday, kicking off the 13-round process by selecting Berkly Catton of the Saskatoon Contacts U18 team. Catton is the first Saskatoon Minor Hockey Association player to be selected No. 1 overall in the WHL Draft.

He has already signed a WHL Standard Player Agreement, which means Catton can play in up to five games during the current 2021-22, and will be eligible for full-time status with the Chiefs next season. 

Catton started this season with the Shattuck-St. Mary’s 16U team, but after an injury, the 5-foot-11, 150-pound forward decided to return home to play for the U18 Contacts team for the rest of the season. In 2019-2020, he dominated at the U15 age group, racking up 108 points in just 30 games with the Saskatoon Bandits U15 AA.

Alberta led the way in the Canadian portion of the draft, as 75 players hailing from said province were selected. Sixty-five were selected out of B.C. and Yukon, 41 from Saskatchewan and 26 from Manitoba. 

The first three rounds featured 40 players chosen from the Canadian Sports School Hockey League (CSSHL) – 59 percent of the total. In all, a record-breaking 94 players from the CSSHL heard their names called by WHL teams; 12 of the 22 in the first round were current CSSHL players and 14 of the 22 in the second round.

Forward Jordan Gavin from Delta Hockey Academy U17 Prep was selected at No. 2 overall by the Tri-City Americans. Charlie Elick of Edge School U18 Prep was the first defenseman selected, going at No. 3 to the Brandon Wheat Kings.

The Portland Winterhawks made Luke Brunen the first goaltender selected; the native of Warman, Saskatoon was claimed in the second round at No. 36 overall.

Here is a look at some of the top youth programs, in terms of WHL selections:

16 players selected from the Saskatoon Contacts U18 AAA team

15 players selected from Yale Hockey Academy

14 players selected from Rink Hockey Academy

12 players selected from Delta Hockey Academy

10 players selected from Edge School

A look at the U.S. side

The first day of the two-part WHL selection process was the 2021 WHL U.S. Priority Draft, where 44 players residing in the 50 states were selected by the major junior league’s teams.

Macklin Celebrini, a native of North Vancouver, B.C. but currently living in Minnesota while skating for Shattuck-St. Mary’s, was the No. 1 overall pick by the Seattle Thunderbirds. A 5-foot-11, 181-pound forward, Celebrini has 42 points in 23 games with the Shattuck 18U team this season. It is his second season with Shattuck; last year he posted a mind-boggling 141 points in 50 games for the 14U squad that won a national title after only dropping one game all season.

Jack Lackas, a Las Vegas native and forward with the Phoenix Jr. Coyotes 15U team, was selected second overall by the Lethbridge Hurricanes. The Winnipeg ICE went third, claiming Upland, California native and center Nicholas Christianson of the Windy City Storm. 

Yoonho (Roy) Chung was the first defenseman chosen – the Rolling Hills, Calif., native and Los Angeles Kings 15U blueliner was chosen No. 4 overall by the Prince George Cougars. 

At No. 20 overall, the Medicine Hat Tigers selected the first goaltender of the U.S. Priority Draft, claiming Phoenix Jr. Coyotes 15U goaltender and Phoenix native Ben Vatis.

California produced the most American players in the draft; the Golden State was responsible for 15 selections as it continues to establish itself as a new-age hockey hotbed. Arizona had six, as did Minnesota; Alaska produced four and Texas produced three. 

Seven players were selected from the Phoenix Jr. Coyotes 15U team, five players were selected from teams at Shattuck-St. Mary’s and four were selected from the Los Angeles Kings 15U team.

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