They’re excited and they just can’t hide it - the Bombers are pleased with their haul from this month's SJHL draft.
Months of preparation led up to the team’s picks made during June 1’s league draft, including a big trade to get a prized prospect, intriguing new faces and several players with ties to Flin Flon and former Bombers.
“There’s a lot of homework that goes into this. People think that you just watch these kids throughout the year and all that - we sent out questionnaires to players, we did phone interviews with the players and their parents. There’s a lot of hours that are put into this draft,” said Bomber head coach and GM Mike Reagan.
One of the key ingredients behind the Bombers’ drafts each year is the team’s head scout, Jon Klassen. A Bomber staff member whose tenure began before Reagan hit the bench, Klassen’s scouting has turned up several gems for the Bombers, both on draft day and later as signings and list players. Klassen’s influence is largely responsible for bringing players like Cole Duperreault, Jaeden Mercier and Andrew Johnston up north - a key part of the team’s puzzle.
“I often joke that we’re kind of like an old married couple,” Reagan said.
“He deserves a lot of credit and probably doesn’t get enough credit for the success of the team over the years. You think of any Saskatchewan kid we’ve had… Jon’s done a tremendous job.”
From the get-go, Reagan said the team had its eyes on one player in the first round - Leo Seitz. The Saskatoon Blazer forward came to the Bombers’ spring camp earlier this year and, according to Reagan, set the camp on fire. He was the Bombers’ most desired player, but with the club sitting at tenth on the draft board going in, Reagan knew he’d likely have to trade up to pick him.
“Going into the draft, we were sitting in the tenth slot. Leo was arguably one of the top three forwards at camp, if not the top forward. He was very good at camp, played exactly how we want someone to play. He looked like a Bomber. We knew he was going to go high in the draft and we didn’t think we could get him at 10,” Reagan said.
“Leading into the draft, I’d been contacting teams, trying to move up. Everybody was hanging onto their picks.”
With days to go, the Bombers called the Notre Dame Hounds and a deal was reached. In the end, the Bombers would move up in the first round, down from their third round pick to the fifth round and would pick up the rights to a Hounds prospect to help fill the difference. In the end, the deal sits as Seitz, hulking forward Brennan Brown and Estevan Bears forward Taye Shukin to Flin Flon for forwards Cruz Klapak and Kanyan Unger, who Notre Dame picked with Flin Flon’s old selections.
“We were able to, I think two days before the draft, make a deal with Notre Dame, which was huge. Moving into fourth, we thought we had a realistic chance to get him. We kind of knew what Melville, Yorkton and Kindersley were going to do,” Reagan said.
Picking Seitz was the biggest coup of the day, in the coach’s eyes. While the forward is just 16 years old and has been drafted in the WHL by the Tri-City Americans, Reagan says he hopes the player comes north, saying he’s got a shot at making the Bombers immediately out of camp - something no Bomber pick has done the same year as they were drafted.
“To get Leo Seitz at number four, we’re extremely excited. He’s got good size. He’s physically ready to play junior A. From our standpoint, we would like to see him as a Bomber this year,” Reagan said.
“We had great conversations with him. There’s some connections there with Flin Flon, through people he knows and that sort of thing. It was a great pick for us, for sure. We think he’s capable of playing with us now and we’re hoping he chooses to be a Bomber this year.”
After Seitz, the Bombers picked Benett Leibel, an offensive defenceman from Saskatoon who came highly recommended from Klassen and Bomber scout Travis Baber. Reagan hasn’t yet had a chance to see Leibel play live, but the scouts’ recommendation was enough for him.
“When we look at the future of our team, right now we’ve got Noah Houle, who’s going to be our number one powerplay guy. In a year or two, we’re going to need somebody who’s going to be able to provide us with some offence. That’s the direction we went in with him,” said Reagan.
The Bombers’ next pick was Hudson Brehaut, another spring camp attendee whose offensive acumen and skating impressed Reagan before the draft.
“Very skilled. Skates extremely well, really smooth - that’s one of the things I really noticed about him at camp, right off the get-go,” said the coach.
“I think that he can be a high-end, top-six forward that can pick up some big numbers. He’s a prototypical college-type player - when we look at players, we try to project where they end up being and we see him as an offence-minded forward that can provide us with top six minutes.”
Brehaut played with Flin Flonner Wyatt Stinton at Rink Hockey Academy in Winnipeg, who the Bombers have protected as a territorial pick. Another territorial pick for the Bombers is Ryder Mucha, a Creighton-born forward who played with the Tisdale Trojans this year - and who played on the same line as the Bombers’ next pick, Eric Han.
Han is an enigma. An athletically gifted forward who hails originally from Regina, Han had 14 points in 40 games last year in Tisdale, despite only having started playing competitive hockey at age 11. In his fifth year on the ice, he made a AAA U18 team - that upward trajectory and Han’s offensive ability has Reagan intrigued.
“He’s got a really high ceiling and everybody we talked to about him said great things about him. [Trojans coach Dennis] Kubat absolutely loved coaching him. We cannot believe we got him in the fourth round - we projected him to be in the second. For him to be available for us in the fourth, we were extremely excited,” said the coach.
With the pick from the Hounds, the Bombers snagged Brown, a high pick for Swift Current in a recent WHL draft, then picked goalie Logan Edmonstone, a highly-touted goalie prospect well on the radar of the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers. At least one of the players may go the major junior route, but Reagan said both players’ skill was worth taking a risk.
“With him, the later you get in the draft, the more you try to take a bit of a gamble on a player and hope it pays off. Who knows where these guys end up? We took a flyer on Brown, knowing he’s a really good player with really great size. Maybe he decides to go the NCAA route or maybe we’re his plan B to help on his journey. You just never know,” Reagan said.
“For Logan, we know he’s high on Kamloops’ radar, but we also wanted to have depth at that position in case of injuries. The ability to affiliate him or to be a plan B… with goaltending, you never know. I take a look at [Arizona Coyotes goalie] Connor Ingram, he was one of our players and he was very close to going the college route, going to Yale. He chose to go to Kamloops and it paid off for him, but the next player might land with us.”
That led to the Bombers’ 2008-born picks, where Flin Flon snagged three players, Keaton Lesperance, Jonah Sivertson and Kai Bridgeman. Lesperance and Bridgeman both attended the Bombers’ spring camp pre-draft, along with Seitz, Brehaut and Han.
“We drafted five players that were at our camp. I’m a huge fan of all of them. That was nice for Cole [McCaig] and I, to see these guys and know who we were drafting,” Reagan said.
Reagan heaped praise on all three of the 2008 picks.
“Lesperance… man, we loved him. He’s a Bomber. With Seitz and him, we were over the moon happy about getting those guys. This is a kid who has an impact every shift - not necessarily scoring or setting up goals, he’s just always involved, the puck follows him around, he’s got grit and determination and good size,” Reagan said, adding two key Bomber alumni - Dustin Ernest and Jason Schmidt - heaped praise on him.
Sivertson led the province in scoring in the U15 AA ranks and has ties to the area - those two things were too much for Reagan and company to ignore.
“His family has been up here before, fishing and stuff like that, they’re familiar with Flin Flon. By doing our homework and interviews, we found out that information. We thought he should have gone higher in the draft,” said the coach.
“We thought, ‘hey, he’s got ties to Flin Flon, he’s a big rig, put up huge numbers - let’s take a shot at him.’ We’re hoping taking him pays off for us.”
Bridgeman was the last pick, another spring camp attendee and the brother of Kolten Bridgeman, a Bomber pick last year. While Kolten wasn’t picked in the WHL draft, the Regina Pats took a shine to him and brought him in for games this year.
“We got to know the family a little bit and there’s been conversations with Kolten about us being plan B if something doesn’t work out for the Pats. With Kai, you just never know - maybe he decides to go the college route. He wasn’t drafted in the WHL, which we were surprised with,” Reagan said.
“We figured since people missed out on Kolten, they might go, ‘We’re not going to miss out on his brother.’ When you have a good relationship with the family and they feel comfortable with the organization, we talked with them about Kai - we wanted a defenceman with that pick and he’s extremely excited about us picking him.”