Since Everett’s 2013 first-round bantam pick Tyson Jost committed to playing 2014-15 with the Penticton Vees of the BCHL last Wednesday instead of the Tips, I’ve seen some sentiment expressed that it may not be that big a deal. He can play in the BCHL as a 16-year-old, then switch to the WHL the following season in preparation for his NHL draft. Everett’s had other sought-after prospects play in the BCHL as 16-year-olds when they would have made the Tips’ roster, but then show up in Everett as 17-year-olds. The recently-graduated Manraj Hayer is a good example of this.
I’ve seen similar sentiment around the Seattle Thunderbirds and Dante Fabbro. The T-birds selected Fabbro one spot after Jost in the first round in 2013. Fabbro, a defenseman who had an equally spectacular year in the BCMML as Jost, also committed to playing for Penticton in 2014-15. In those circles there’s also chatter that it may not be a big deal for the T-birds.
Well, I’m telling you it is a big deal.
The reason why it’s a big deal is because it’s Penticton. This is not your typical junior A program. Penticton is an NCAA factory, perhaps the most prominent gateway to the NCAA in all of Canada. Last season the Vees had 17 NCAA-committed players on their roster. It’s program is geared around placing players in NCAA programs, that’s the culture, and Jost and Fabbro are going to spend the next year exposed to that environment fully. If either of them have any inkling about choosing the NCAA route, those inklings will be reinforced big time by playing for the Vees.
T-birds fans would point to the fact that Ryan Gropp, the team’s first-round pick in the 2011 bantam draft, played a season-plus in Penticton before jumping to the T-birds early last season. Sure, it’s happened where elite prospects have started at Penticton and moved to the WHL. In 2008-09 Ryan Johansen played for Penticton as a 16-year-old, switched to Portland as a 17-year-old, and went on to be a star. But Gropp and Johansen are the exceptions, not the rule.
If I’m a WHL general manager, Penticton may be the last place I want to see my top prospect playing. I may be more concerned about Jost in Penticton than I would be with 2013 second rounder Patrick Khodorenko opting for the U.S. NTDP the next two years.
So don’t think of Penticton as just a weigh station on the way to Everett. This is a serious problem for the Tips in their pursuit of Jost.