Defenseman is Silvertips’ top pick

Jantzen Leslie had what can only be described as a unique experience during his math class Thursday morning in Lloydminster, Alberta. It’s not often a student is specifically told by a teacher NOT to pay attention in class.

That’s how Leslie was able to find out in real time he’d been selected by the Everett Silvertips in the first round of the Western Hockey League’s bantam draft.

“I walked into math class, sat down, and my teacher was looking at his computer,” Leslie recounted. “He put something up on his computer, came over and told me I wasn’t allowed to do any math, I had to watch the online video feed and keep everyone updated. He’s a big hockey guy.”

Leslie was one of 15 players — nine forwards and six defensmen — selected by Everett during Thursday’s draft, which took place in Calgary, Alberta, dispersing the rights to 1999-born players from western Canada and the western United States among the WHL’s 22 teams.

And the Tips were pleased with the way the draft unfolded.

“We’re excited, we think we did very well in the draft,” Everett general manager Garry Davidson said. “You never know who’s going to be available when you pick, but we got a lot of players we had rated higher than where they went in the draft. It was a very positive day for us.”

It all began with Leslie. Leslie is a good-sized defenseman (6-foot and 167 pounds) who plays a strong two-way game, racking up 15 goals, 25 assists and 63 penalty minutes in 30 games while captaining the Lloydminster Heat bantam AAA team to a 31-1-1 record, the Alberta provincial championship, and a second-place finish in the Western Canadian Bantam Championships. He was projected as a possible top-10 selection, so the Tips were delighted when he was still available when Everett picked at No. 15.

“Jantzen is a defenseman with all kinds of upside,” Everett head scout Bil La Forge said. “He’s an intelligent player who plays hard and plays heavy minutes. We were so excited to get him when we did, I didn’t think there was a chance he’d be available. I was absolutely stunned there.”

Leslie said he didn’t know a lot about Everett, but had heard only positive things so far. He also said he was fully committed to playing in the WHL.

“It’s a dream getting picked in the first round,” Leslie said. “It couldn’t have worked out any better. I was holding my breath when every pick was about to go, I felt like I was going to pass out.

“I’m going to spend the summer working out with my coach, find out what Everett wants me to work on, then hopefully have things corrected by training camp (in August).”

Everett decided to go all-out in this year’s draft, selecting 15 players. That’s the most the Tips ever selected in a single draft, with the previous high being 13 in 2003 and 2012. Last year the Tips selected just nine players.

But Davidson decided there were just too many quality prospects to leave on the table. That was particularly true of American players. The Tips selected eight players from south of the Canadian border, using their final seven selections to take players from the U.S. Most of those Americans are high-end talents who were available late in the draft because of doubts about whether they’ll ever play in the WHL.

“We really only had 10 spots available on our protected list,” Davidson said. “But after the first 10 or 11 there were still a few a good players there. So we cleaned up our list a little so we could bring in some more guys. Some of those U.S. guys are very good players. Now it’s a recruiting process.”

After picking Leslie, Everett spent much of the rest of the draft loading up on skilled forwards. The Tips took Leslie’s teammate, winger Bryce Kindopp, with their second selection, picking up the fellow Lloydminster resident in the third round. Kindopp, who measures in at 5-foot-11 and 148 pounds, had 26 goals and 37 assists in 33 games with the Heat this season, finishing tied for second on the team in scoring. He then scored 16 goals in 11 playoff games.

“Bryce is a kid we were strongly considering in the first round, not expecting Jantzen to be there,” La Forge said. “He’s an all-around solid player who has a big offensive upside. We think he has a chance to be a big-time player in the WHL.”

Everett also took skilled forwards with each of its next three picks, selecting Nick Henry with its second third-round pick, Brian King with its fourth-rounder and Ryan Anderson with the first of three fifth-rounders. King, from Golden, Colo., and the first of Everett’s eight Americans, is a high-end talent who the Tips believe has serious interest in playing in the WHL.

The Tips chose not to select a goaltender, the first time the team has gone an entire draft without picking a netminder. Everett has Carter Hart, an eighth-rounder from last year who saw game action as a 15-year-old call-up, and the Tips are happy with their depth in goaltending prospects.

Players selected Thursday are ineligible to join the Tips full-time until the 2015-16 season.

In a draft that didn’t have a consensus top-overall prospect, the Brandon Wheat Kings selected center Stelio Mattheos from Winnipeg, Manitoba, with the first pick.

Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.

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