The Everett Silvertips held their year-end awards ceremony following Saturday night’s game against the Victoria Royals at Xfinity Arena. It’s something that happens every year, as the Tips take a moment to honor that season’s standouts. The players who led the team. Who made the most improvement. Who were the most durable. The biggest cheers from the fans tend to be for the Most Valuable Player and the booster club’s F.I.E.R.C.E. Predator.
But one acknowledgement made annually, yet often overlooked, is of the team’s graduates. The WHL is a league for junior players, meaning in their 16-19-year-old seasons. Therefore, the 19-year-olds are all given a plaque commemorating their graduation from the league.
This column had to be submitted prior to this year’s ceremony, but I hope Everett’s graduates received a little extra love this year. Those 19-year-olds who were a part of the Tips’ 2012 bantam draft class truly are a special group.
Everett has four players on its roster who were drafted by the team in 2012. Defenseman Kevin Davis was selected in the first round, center Matt Fonteyne was taken in the third, defenseman Noah Juulsen was acquired in the fourth and winger Patrick Bajkov was nabbed in the sixth. All four have been with the Tips since their 16-year-old season in 2013-14. And while they may not qualify as the greatest draft class in Everett franchise history, they’re the next best thing.
The gold standard for Everett’s bantam drafts has always been its first in 2003. That class produced three first-round NHL draft picks in centers Zach Hamill and Peter Mueller and goaltender Leland Irving. It also contained an NHL second-rounder in defenseman Taylor Ellington and a third-rounder in winger Brady Calla. In addition, it included a pair of defensemen in Graham Potuer and Jonathan Harty who had long and distinguished careers in Silvertips sweaters. Heck, that draft class is not only the best in Everett’s history, it’s among the contenders for the best in WHL history among all franchises.
Everett’s 2012 class, which was for 1997-born players, doesn’t match that 2003 group, but it’s by far the best the Tips have produced since.
The 2012 draft was current general manager Garry Davidson’s first with Everett, so that was his first chance to place his stamp on the organization. He spent most of the season as Portland’s director of player personnel, meaning he spent many hours on the bantam scouting trail. Perhaps that’s why he hit a home run.
Davis, Fonteyne, Juulsen and Bajkov are now among Everett’s most accomplished players. Juulsen became just the seventh first-round NHL draft pick in franchise history when he was taken 26th overall by the Montreal Canadiens in 2015. Bajkov has entered Everett’s top five in career points (185 through Wednesday) and assists (107), and he was only one away from entering the top five in goals (78). Davis (273) and Bajkov (268) have joined the top 10 in career games played for the Tips, while Fonteyne (265) is knocking on the door.
Add in defenseman Jordan Wharrie, who was traded in 2015 after one-plus seasons with the Tips, and Everett has received 1,101 games and 534 points from its 2012 draft class. That’s still well behind the vaunted 2003 class’ totals of 1,625 games and 681 points, but it’s also far ahead of the third-place totals (749 games by the 2004 class featuring Zack Dailey, 354 points from the 2008 class that includes Ryan Murray and Joshua Winquist).
OK, looking just at contributions to Everett isn’t a complete evaluation of draft classes. Some of those drafts included players who did more for other WHL teams than the Tips, players like Eric Doyle (2004), James Reid (2005), Seth Jones (2009) and Micheal Zipp (2011). However, even taking those players into account, Everett’s 2012 class has played more WHL games and accumulated more points than any other Tips draft class since 2003 — and it also gives the 2012 class a goaltender, as Nik Amundrud was traded before appearing in a game for Everett, but appeared in 64 WHL games, winning 20.
However, the ultimate evaluation of a draft class is in winning. The 2003 draft class was the nucleus of Everett’s most successful period. Those players helped the Tips claim the Scotty Munro Trophy for the league’s best record in 2006-07, as well as U.S. Division titles in 05-06 and 06-07. In the years when those players were 16-19 Everett had winning records all four seasons and claimed an impressive 354 points in the standings.
The 2012 class? In its four seasons it has 360 points and counting, and heading into the weekend it still had a shot of matching the 2003 class’ feat of raising two division banners. And who knows what this class could have accomplished had Auston Matthews, the first-overall pick in the 2016 NHL draft and a third-round pick by Everett in 2012, hadn’t developed to the point where he was able to play professionally in Switzerland at 18?
This group isn’t done yet, either. Though the 97s technically graduate this season, Everett can bring three back next season as overagers. Juulsen, as a signed first-round NHL draft pick, is a lock to play professionally next season. However, Davis, Fonteyne and Bajkov are all undrafted and unsigned by NHL teams, meaning there’s an excellent chance they’ll be back in the league next season. If they are, and if they are able to replicate their numbers from this season, the 2012 draft class will surpass the 2003 class in goals, assists and points produced for Everett. There’s also a good chance they’ll be the best overage trio in franchise history.
So when the playoffs begin next weekend, take a moment to express a little extra appreciation for those members of Everett’s 2012 bantam draft class. It’s been a long time since a draft has meant that much to the Tips.
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.