The Pursuit of Excellence Hockey Academy brought meaning to its moniker on Thursday at Calgary’s Deerfoot Inn.
The Kelowna-based bantam AAA program sent six players to six different Western Hockey League teams in the opening round of the 2017, with five hearing their name called in the Top 10.
While OHA Edmonton defenceman Kaiden Guhle went to the Prince Albert Raiders as the first overall selection at the draft, Pursuit of Excellence was the only bantam squad to send more than two players to the Dub in the opening round.
But there’s no sidestepping Guhle’s potential. The big-bodied blueliner managed more than a point per game with Edmonton in the Canadian Sport School Bantam Hockey League, netting 17 goals and 23 assists in 30 games — including seven power play markers and two shorties. At 6-foot-1, 174-pounds, Guhle was one of the most game-ready players available at the draft. He comes with a strong family pedigree, too, with his older brother Brendan having skated four years in the league — three and a half with the Raiders before being shipped to the Prince George Cougars in November.
Pursuit’s Connor McClennon started the landslide of picks from his franchise, going second overall to the Kootenay Ice. The 5-foot-7, 156-pound centre was nothing short of spectacular in his sophomore CSSBHL season, compiling at least 20 more points than anyone else in the league with a staggering 45 goals and 54 assists in 30 games. The Wainwright, Alta. product went on to add 16 more points in five playoff contests while helping his team take the CSSBHL championship.
Delta Wild Bantam Prep centre Justin Sourdif was named to the Vancouver Giants the third overall before the draft turned right back to Pursuit of Excellence, with the Edmonton Oil Kings adding left winger Jake Neighbours to their ranks.
At 5-foot-10 and 195 pounds, Neighbours boasts one of the strongest frames the CSSBHL has to offer. The Airdrie, Alta. product finished third in league scoring with 27 goals and 41 assists for 68 points in 30 games — besting a two points-per-game average to help his team to the title.
While the Saskatoon Blades opted to pick from the back end at fifth overall, selecting Aiden De La Gorgendiere from B.C.’s Yale Bantam Prep, once again the draft shifted back to Pursuit of Excellence for the sixth and seventh picks.
First centre Jack Finley went to the Spokane Chiefs, then the Calgary Hitmen followed suit by adding Pursuit blueliner Luke Prokop to their system.
Finley managed 23 goals and 25 assists in 27 CSSBHL games this year, while his defensive teammate Prokop was a set-up machine with 37 assists and four goals in his 30 games.
Pint-sized phenom Kyle Crnkovic rounded out the top 10 as Saskatoon’s second pick of the first round. The 5-foot-6, 149-pound centre didn’t let his size become an obstacle this season, finishing second in CSSBHL scoring with 40 goals and 39 assists in his 30-game campaign — good enough for second in league scoring behind McClennon.
Fellow Pursuit forward Ben King was called on to join the Broncos 13th overall — capping off a very impressive first-round draft class from his bantam team — while six more went to various teams in the ensuing six rounds.
In total, 230 players saw their name called at Thursday’s draft — including 126 forwards, 83 defenceman and 21 goaltenders — while hundreds more will continue their quest to the Dub as undrafted prospects in the coming years.
Once again, we got to see many of the shortlisted players for our annual Minor Hockey Player of the Year picked early at the WHL Bantam Draft. Make sure to follow HockeyNow as we bring you our last two preliminary lists and announce our winners in July.
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