The 2019 bantam draft featured a flurry of trades and exciting player movement, seeing first-round picks trade hands five times before the first 11 picks were completed and marquee players like Moose Jaw’s Jett Woo and Seattle’s Jake Lee and Dillon Hamaliuk change teams.
The Everett Silvertips sat on the sidelines for all of the commotion and let the draft fall their way, drafting a crop of smaller, but swift and skilled forwards in an overall draft class with a distinct American flavor to it.
After back-to-back years of blockbuster trades at the Western Hockey League’s trade deadline, the Silvertips didn’t pick until the third round, where they selected two smaller forwards, Ben Hemmerling of Sherwood Park, Alberta at 49th overall and Austin Roest of Coldstream, British Columbia at 64th overall.
Hemmerling is listed at 5-foot-4, 110-pounds and Roest is 5-foot-7, 145 pounds.
“We don’t focus on them being small, we just look at talent first,” Silvertips head scout Mike Fraser said. “I think at some point the size comes into question, but I think for the Everett Silvertips, we want to play fast, we want to play quick and I think we definitely accomplished that today.
“We talked about as a group that we want to play quick and we want to draft skill, and that’s what we focused on today.”
Hemmerling was second on his bantam team, Northern Alberta Xtreme Bantam Prep, with 53 points. His 42 assists ranked second in the Canadian Sport School Bantam Hockey League.
“This guy just goes,” Fraser said. “Every shift, you always notice him. He’s a very smart player and he plays quick. Once he fills into his frame a little bit more, I think he’s going to be a really quick, solid offensive player. Very creative and makes dynamic plays with the puck. He’s a guy that we’ve had a close eye on and he’s definitely trending in the right direction.”
15 picks later, Everett picked Roest with its second third-round pick (64th overall).
Roest, a North Zone Kings Bantam AA product, was a bit of an unknown commodity — his player page on eliteprospects.com, a database for hockey statistic with an emphasis on prospects, was created this morning upon his selection. Roest’s only recorded statistics are from the Kootenay International Bantam Ice Hockey Tournament, in which he recorded a goal and four assists in three games.
Fraser said it’s because he plays in a less heralded bantam league, but the Silvertips were infatuated with his potential.
“He’s a very quick, cerebral guy that’s good on faceoffs, makes good play, has a ton of upside and should grow a little bit as well,” Fraser said. “As a group at the B.C. cup we sat there and discussed him for quite a while and at length, and we were so impressed with how far he’d come from the midway point of the season. When he was there with the second pick in the third round, we just couldn’t pass on him.”
A pair of Californian forwards, Matthew Ng out of Cupertino at 100th overall (fifth round) from the San Jose Jr. Sharks Bantam AAA program and James Hong out of the Anaheim Jr. Ducks Bantam AAA program, were the first two United States players taken by the Silvertips in a five-man American draft class for Everett, the most of any team in the WHL (Saskatoon, Seattle and Medicine Hat each boasted three).
“We were fortunate to have a good portion of our staff, including myself, see more of the American side this year,” Fraser said. “We’ve seen the players at various points throughout the process and it makes it easier to identify them.”
While Fraser expressed excitement about the crop of players he selected, was it ever tempting for Silvertips general manager Garry Davidson to join the madness and try and break into the first round?
“I don’t think there was any way we could do what any of those teams did,” Davidson said. “We weren’t much of a player this year. … We just sat patiently, made our picks and we were the last team picking at the end.”
The Silvertips have a significant crunch in their 1999-group, with five or six viable options for just three 20-year-old spots, but Davidson said that’s a situation that warrants resolving down the road and not at the bantam draft.
The Silvertips did make a trade, sending 2002-born goaltender Blake Lyda to Seattle in exchange for the 2021 third-round pick shipped to the Thunderbirds in the deal for Zack Andrusiak.
Davidson said Lyda and his family wished to go to a situation that presented more playing time, with Dustin Wolf projected to firmly hold the No. 1 spot between the pipes in Everett for the next two seasons.
“I knew it would be an issue at some point, because they’re about the same age,” Davidson said. “They saw Dustin, as we all did, that will be here for a couple of years at 18 and 19 so I guess the thinking was they wanted to go to place where (Lyda) could play more, and they indicated that to us a long time ago.”
Lyda broke camp in 2018-2019 as the Silvertips’ backup goaltender, but sustained an upper-body injury during a morning skate, just days before he was scheduled to make his WHL debut ahead of a three-in-three stretch, prompting Everett to acquire Max Palaga from Kamloops. Palaga performed well in limited minutes with a 1.65 goals-against average and a .942 save percentage.
One Jr. Silvertip taken
Cade Littler from East Wenatchee went off the board in the 10th round to Edmonton for the first player from the state taken, then Jadon Kwiatkowski, who is a Sammamish native and plays for the Jr. Silvertips 14U squad, was picked by Calgary in the 11th.
Kwiatkowski, who’s father is a coach for the Everett Elite program and played three WHL seasons for Prince Albert and Kelowna, relocated to Lake Stevens about two years ago.