Silvertips staying course despite lack of early draft picks

For the first time ever, Everett is without a first- or second-round pick in the WHL bantam draft.

An assortment of high-profile trades allowed the Everett Silvertips to remain a legitimate contender for the past couple seasons, but aggressiveness in the trade market has often forced the Silvertips to pay the piper in recent years in early May.

The price for being competitive is as steep as its ever been in terms of what lies ahead for Everett in the upcoming 2019 bantam draft.

Everett is without its first-and second-round selections in Thursday’s draft, which is hosted in Red Deer, Alberta. It’s the first time in the franchise’s history it won’t make a selection in the opening two rounds. The first-rounder (20th overall) was sent to Kamloops in the January 2018 deal for Garrett Pilon and Ondrej Vala and the second (42nd overall) was packaged to Seattle for Zack Andrusiak this past January.

Barring any movement up or down, the Silvertips won’t be on the clock until the third round (49th overall), a pick the Silvertips acquired from Kelowna in exchange for Mark Liwiski.

The absence of flashy, top-of-the-draft picks isn’t keeping the Silvertips from maintaining their usual draft philosophy, according to Silvertips general manager Garry Davidson.

“We don’t do it any differently,” Davidson affirmed earlier in the week before the draft, which begins at 7:30 a.m PT. A live telecast for the first round is free on the WHL’s website.

“We build our list and rank according to how we feel about the player and we draft off our list. And between now and Thursday morning, things can happen. Teams can trade their first-round picks. … As a scouting group, we have to prepare our list accordingly.”

The team heavily rumored to be shopping its first-round pick is Kelowna, which holds the fifth-overall pick on Thursday. With the Rockets set to host the Memorial Cup in 2020 and coming off a disappointing season, in which Kelowna failed to make the WHL Playoffs for the first time since 2006-2007, the Rockets need to construct a contender in a hurry and will likely dangle draft picks for immediate help.

Another wrinkle to Thursday’s draft is the status of Matthew Savoie, who is heralded as a super prospect and is already projected by many analysts and pundits as a top-two selection in the 2022 NHL Draft. The St. Albert, Alberta native applied for exceptional status, which would allow him to play a year early as a 15-year-old, but was denied by Hockey Canada — he would have been the first ever play in the WHL to be granted it — and has since committed to play at the University of Denver, an upper echelon NCAA Division-I program.

Winnipeg, formerly the Kootenay Ice, holds the No. 1 overall pick in the draft and acquired the rights of Matthew’s older brother, Carter Savoie, who is also committed to play at Denver, this offseason from Regina. The Ice are tasked with an equally tantalizing and pain-staking decision: Pass on one of the most talented players in the WHL draft pool or take him and try to lure him away from the NCAA route, while running the risk of the younger Savoie brother spurning the league entirely.

What they ultimately decide could dictate how hectic the draft ends up being.

Whether Everett decides to capitalize on any teams attempting to move early-round draft picks is up to Davidson, but Everett possesses some veteran assets that could be appealing.

Everett’s cupboard is dry when it comes to early selections, but it’s not as bad as the situation some other franchises have been pressed with. Lethbridge, after acquiring Nick Henry and Jake Leschyshyn in a massive trade with Regina, shipped out its first- and second-round picks and won’t select until 60th overall. And the first-round selection that Regina picked up is its first since 2015.

The Silvertips have been able to build rosters in the past that haven’t been overly dependent on recognized valuable players in the middle-to-late rounds of the draft. Only 2002-born defenseman Ronan Seeley boasted a first-round pedigree on Everett’s 2018-2019 roster and 2002-born forward Jackson Berezowski was the only second-round pick on the squad.

The draft room tasked with finding more diamond-in-the-rough type players has a different look than it ever has under Davidson, as Bil La Forge is set for his first draft as general manager of the Seattle Thunderbirds after eight seasons concerting bantam drafts as the Silvertips head scout from 2011-2013 and director of player personnel from 2014-2018.

Alvin Backus, a NHL scout with Montreal for seven season, was hired as Everett’s director of personnel and Mike Fraser tabbed as head scout. But the Tips’ draft table still boasts much familiarity, as six of Everett’s nine area scouts boast previous experience scouting for the franchise, two of which, Garry Ryhorchuk (senior scout in Saskatchewan) and Doug Sinclair (senior scout in Manitoba), have scouted for Everett since the team’s inception in 2003.

The Silvertips’ picks entering Thursday’s bantam draft

3rd — 49th overall (from Kelowna for Liwiski)

3rd — 64th overall

5th — 100th overall (from Medicine Hat)*

5th — 108th overall

7th — 152nd overall

8th — 174th overall

9th — 196th overall

11th — 240th overall

12th — 262nd overall

13th — 284th overall

14th — 306th overall

15th — 328th overall

16th — 350th overall

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