Saturday night was graduation night for the Everett Silvertips’ bantam draft class of 2014.
Those 1999-born players just completed their 19-year-old seasons, meaning they are now officially WHL graduates. They were honored as such during Saturday night’s end-of-season awards ceremony at Angel of the Winds Arena, and the five 99s who were drafted by Everett — forwards Bryce Kindopp, Connor Dewar and Riley Sutter, defensemen Jake Christiansen and Wyatte Wylie — accepted their awards with the knowledge that their bantam draft class was historic.
That group has seen unprecedented success during their WHL careers, winning three consecutive U.S. Division championships. Three of the five are NHL draft picks, and the other two are certain to draw interest from the professional ranks. They are in the conversation as Everett’s best ever bantam draft class, which is remarkable considering how good the Tips’ drafts were in 2003 and 2012.
But was this class always destined to reach these heights? Could one have predicted when they were 15 that they’d impact the franchise the way they have by the time they were 19?
Well, their first year in the organization was my last one on the Silvertips beat, meaning they were the last group I got a good look at while attending the entirety of training camp. With the class graduating, I thought it would be fun to look at those five not as they are now, but as I saw them straight out of their bantam draft.
Here’s my recollection of those five as 15-year-olds at training camp:
Bryce Kindopp, right wing, third round (49th overall)
As the first forward selected by Everett in the draft I paid a little extra attention to Kindopp. Without question my biggest impression was, “Kid, you need to work on that shot.” Kindopp was a goal-scorer at the bantam level, but what I saw in training camp was a player who needed serious shot development if he was going to score at the WHL level.
There was some concern during the season when Kindopp didn’t make Alberta’s under-16 team, despite being a high draft pick. But he had a productive season playing midget major, and when he was called up by Everett during the regular season I was struck by his defensive responsibility at such a young age.
And with a 39-goal season under his belt (prior to the weekend’s games), obviously he’s worked on that shot.
Jake Christiansen, defenseman, fifth round (105th overall)
Everett’s first-round pick that year was a defenseman in Jantzen Leslie, so Leslie was the d-man I initially watched closest. But Christiansen forced me to take notice. Leslie was very good in his own end, but Christiansen showed more when it came to skating the puck and being involved offensively. In his own way I found Christiansen equally impressive to Leslie.
Given how well Christiansen played at training camp I was puzzled when he didn’t make his midget major team as a 15-year-old, so I was wondering if my judgment was flawed. When Christiansen beat out Leslie for a roster spot as a 16-year-old those doubts were erased.
Connor Dewar, left wing, fifth round (107th overall)
Dewar was one of the surprises of training camp for me. Here was this little guy who showed no fear about going to the crowded areas and mixing it up with bigger and older players. I don’t remember him putting up a lot of points, but I do remember him winning battles against bigger players along the boards, then immediately turning and putting the puck into smart areas.
Dewar backed up his training camp performance with a strong season in midget major, and he produced for Manitoba’s under-16 team. I figured he had a future as a valuable role player on the team. I had no idea he was going to become a star.
Riley Sutter, center, sixth round (125th overall)
Sutter’s arrival was an exciting one, as this was the first time Everett had a member of the fabled Sutter clan in camp. Then during camp the only thing I noticed about him was that he was tall. He otherwise left no impression on me, and that seemed to be reinforced when he was consigned to playing midget minor as a 15-year-old.
However, Everett’s scouts always raved about Sutter, and he was one of the first members of the draft class who was signed by the Tips, so there was more buzz about him within the organization than in my own head. This is a good example of why they are the scouts and I’m just a lowly writer.
Wyatte Wylie, defenseman, sixth round (128th overall)
The question about Wylie was: How much of his selection was because the Tips liked the player, and how much was a public relations move? Wylie was the first player ever drafted out of Everett Youth Hockey, and it came just after the Tips took over administration of EYH. Everett had selected defensemen from Snohomish County in each of the previous two drafts, too, and neither of those panned out. So was Wylie a real prospect, or was his selection a case of pumping up the local youth program?
When watching 15-year-old defensemen in training camp, oftentimes the best thing is not noticing them, because it means they’re not getting beat. I remember noting that Wylie, while not blowing me away, wasn’t getting beat, and I came to the conclusion he was a legitimate prospect, though I never would have predicted he would become an NHL draft pick.
Interestingly, none of the five were the draft picks who stood out the most at camp for me. American-born forwards Carson Dimoff (seventh round, 143rd overall) and Blake Bergquist (eighth round, 169th overall) were the standouts in my estimation, but Dimoff ultimately chose the NCAA route while Bergquist chose baseball over hockey.
So could one have predicted the success this group would have in Everett based on first impressions? Probably not. And it’s a good reminder that the WHL is a developmental league. The player who shows up to training camp at 15 is not the same as the one who’s a core member of the team at 19.
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.