Blades preparing for busy 2023 WHL Prospects Draft

A record breaking season has brought all the attention to the Saskatoon Blades on-ice product, but the club is shifting their focus to the upcoming 2023 WHL Prospects Draft.

“It’s a great day for our whole scouting staff,” said Dan Tencer, the Saskatoon Blades Director of Scouting, “There’s a tremendous amount of work that goes on from September through May not just for myself, but our regional scouts going and putting in hundreds of hours travelling and going to games to assess these players.”

For a second consecutive draft, Saskatoon holds the 21st overall pick, selecting 6-foot-2 defender Isaac Poll last year. The 16-year-old right-handed shot suited up for 41 games with the Regina Pats Canadians U18 AAA club this season registering five goals and 17 points. Poll also brought home a silver medal with Team Saskatchewan at the Canada Winter Games scoring a goal and assist in six games.

Late-round picks are just as important, with Tencer believing quality players can be found throughout the draft every year.

“From a team perspective it’s how we build,” said Dan Tencer, ” These are our critical days. When you look at the roster that just went on the playoff run, there were significant pieces that were selected in all different rounds of the prospects draft.”

The Blades achieved an Eastern Conference Championship berth this season for the first time since 1994. Both Round 1 vs the Regina Pats and Round 2 vs the Red Deer Rebels went to Game 7 after Saskatoon initially trailed in the series.

“Our team was built around really quality people who all had a common fire to improve as players,” said Tencer,” When you’re getting a little deeper in the draft, one thing that can really differentiate a guy from other players that you might be looking at is the character assessment and what you’re able to determine about how strong their will is.”

Aside from skills typically observed like skating, hockey IQ, and playing with size, Tencer says he and his staff are always watching for improvement.

“One big thing we pay a lot of attention too is trajectory. You’re looking for players that are consistently improving.”

The Blades currently have nine opportunities to find those players, holding nine picks ahead of this year’s draft:

First Round

  • 21st (SEA)

Second Round

  • 41st (SAS)

Fourth Round

  • 73rd (KEL)
  • 84th (RD)
  • 85th (SAS)

Sixth Round

  • 131st (SEA)

Seventh Round

  • 151st (SAS)

Ninth Round

  • 195th (SAS)

Tenth Round

  • 217th (SAS)

Saskatoon’s excelled building through the draft in recent years, especially in the first round.

Former captain Chase Wouters was picked 18th overall in the 2015 draft. The Lloydminster, AB native suited up in 280 career WHL games, all with the Blue and Gold. Wouters tallied 75 goals and 181 points during his tenure with the team. In July 2021, Wouters signed with the Abbotsford Canucks of the AHL, putting up five goals and 18 points in the 2021-22 season. Ahead of the 2022-23 campaign, Wouters was named the youngest captain in AHL history at 22-years-old.

Holding the second overall pick in 2016 the Blades drafted star forward Kirby Dach. The right-handed center averaged just under a point-per-game through two WHL seasons with 129 points in 133 games. The current Montreal Canadien was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks third overall in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.

Recent WHL graduate Aidan De La Gorgendiere was selected fifth overall by the organization in 2017. Named the 60th captain in franchise history ahead of the 2021-22 campaign, the Langley, BC product led the Blades to their first Eastern Conference Championship in nearly three decades. De La Gorgendiere etched his name in the record books on Mar. 24th, 2023 vs the Pats tying Wendel Clark at 155 career points, the tenth most among defenceman in Blades history. The 6-foot-1 left-handed shot also earned himself a spot on the 2022-23 East Division Second All-Star Team after 65 points in as many outings.

The organization hit the nail on the head again two years later selecting forward Brandon Lisowsky ninth overall, one the club’s leading scorers this season. The 19-year-old sniper tallied 33 goals in his sophomore year in 2021-22, catching eyes of the Toronto Maple Leafs who drafted him in the seventh-round of the NHL Entry Draft last July. Lisowsky followed up with a career-high 38 goals and 70 points in 65 regular season games this year, carrying over into the playoffs with 13 points in 18 games.

Bridge City welcomed top prospect for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft Tanner Molendyk at fifth overall in 2020. The 18-year-old blueliner’s 2022-23 season was excellent scoring nine goals and 37 points in 67 games, finishing +31. Molendyk represented Team White at the 2023 Kubota CHL Top Prospects game on Jan. 23rd racking up an assist, one shot, and a +1. The silky-skating defenceman from McBride, BC was instrumental in the Blades postseason success logging heavy minutes and added eight points to go with it.

It takes more than star-power to build a successful hockey club, and the Blades have been tremendous at securing gems in the deeper rounds.

Shining bright in the fourth-round of the 2018 draft was defenceman Charlie Wright. The Olds, AB product emerged as arguably the Blades best defender this season scoring eight goals and 40 points in 66 games. Like Molendyk, Wright logged heavy minutes during the regular season and playoffs leading the team with a +33 during the regular season.

Drafted four rounds later, Carrot River, SK’s own Jayden Wiens was one of the biggest contributors in the playoffs. The 5-foot-9 center collected eight goals in 18 appearances, good for second on the team behind only the Belarusian superstar Egor Sidorov with nine. Wiens’ hard-nosed style of play has won over Bridge City Faithful and allowed him to be a key contributor on both ends of the ice. The 2003-born left-handed shot was often tasked with shutting down opposing clubs’ top stars, most notably the Regina Pats phenom Connor Bedard.

The goaltending tandem of Ethan Chadwick and Austin Elliott were crucial to the Blades success this season. Chadwick was selected in the third-round of the 2019 draft and earned himself a 23-9-1-1 record during the regular season. Called upon in the playoffs at key points, Chadwick went 5-3-1-0 down the stretch with massive wins in both rounds to keep the Blades in the series.

A 12th-round steal in 2019, Elliott rocked a 25-6-3-0 record with a .911 save-percentage in his rookie season, securing a spot on the East Division Second All-Star Team. Elliott went 3-0 in elimination games through the first two rounds, finishing 3-6-0-0 by playoff’s end. Eligible for the upcoming NHL draft in Nashville, Elliott’s caught attention from scouts with his composed play during his first kick at the can.

Championship ambitions remain strong within the organization after an incredible season, with many of the cast who contributed expected to be back for another run next year. If the Blades have shown anything in the last half-decade, it all starts with a successful draft.

“You know that three or four years down the line there are guys that we pick this week that will be in that same situation with the big club in the future.” said Tencer.

First is the U.S. Priority Draft Wednesday, May 10th.

The 2023 WHL Prospects Draft takes place Thursday, May 11th at 10:00am CT.

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