Forgive the Swift Current Broncos scouting staff if they don’t have time for small talk this week. With five picks in the Western Hockey League Bantam Draft’s opening 54 selections, the Broncos scouting staff has been bunkered down as they prepare for a pivotal draft on Thursday.
The group is led by Director of Player Personnel, Gary Aubin and Head Coach and Director of Hockey Operations, Dean Brockman, who are both in their first year with the franchise.
Aubin noted that this was also the first draft for most of the staff with the Broncos, excluding longtime scout Dennis Ulmer.
“For the franchise I think it’s huge. We don’t have all of our picks, but we have multiple picks. It’s our first draft to kind of reset after the team winning the championship. Being that it’s an all-new staff, the first draft as a group, hence we started in the boardroom at 7:30 a.m. and we’ll probably go until 11 p.m. and be back in at 7:30 until 11 tomorrow night,” said Aubin on Monday morning during a brief break from the boardroom. “We are just analyzing every player and a lot of phone calls to the kids, to the parents just to confirm that they do want to come. We have sent out player profiles, player questionnaires, we’ve talked to their agents, talked to the families… We feel it’s important to talk to these kids and parents again and say look, “If we draft you are you coming to Swift Current?”
One year after winning the WHL championship, the Broncos finished last in the WHL with an 11-51-4-2 record. They don’t have the benefit of that lottery pick, second overall, as they traded it to Prince George for Josh Anderson on their run to the league title.
The Broncos do hold the 14th and 21st overall selections, picks acquired in trades from the Portland Winterhawks and Vancouver Giants.
“I don’t think it is as strong as obviously next year. I think it’s a little bit of a down year. But in saying that, there’s going to be a lot of guys that will play. There’s a couple guys at the real high end and then it kind of levels out quick,” said Aubin.
“Every province has a little bit of different variables. Saskatchewan has some great smaller puck-moving D-men. Manitoba has some goalies and a few forwards and some D. It is a little bit in every province. Alberta obviously has [Matthew] Savoie and a couple high end forwards. Their D group isn’t as strong. BC is a bit of a mixture with a couple goalies and some higher end D… Overall it is a good mix across the Prairies and a couple kids in the US that are alright.”
Aubin and Brockman have been combing Western Canada over the past few months as they look to replenish the skill level of the team after they finished last in the WHL with 135 goals in 68 games.
“Right now when we are discussing these players we are keying in on skill, the ability to make plays. With the team this year, obviously we didn’t score a lot of goals. Not to say that these kids now are going to be able to come in at 16 and you are going ‘Oh they are 40 goal scorers.’ But we are hoping that we can project these kids at 18 or 19 to be more skilled offensively. That’s what we are going to key in on this draft anyway is trying to restock the list and just try and get guys that if we are going to error maybe we are going to make sure that at least these guys are skilled,” explained Aubin.
Aubin added that were looking for elite skaters and that compete level was also a factor.
“It’s so much easier to trade for a gritty third, fourth-line guy then it is for a 40-goal scorer no matter what level you’re at.”
Last season the Broncos made their first pick in the 54th spot, a far cry from the five picks they possess in the top-54 this time around.
“I think you just keep evaluating. Once we acquired a few higher picks it just made things a little bit different. I think that whether your first pick is in the third round or your first pick is number one overall, you still evaluate because you just don’t know who is going to slide and who teams are interested in,” said Aubin when asked about the scouting approach as the team acquired more picks throughout the 2018-19 season.
The Broncos restocked the draft cupboards throughout the past season and now have seven picks in the first four rounds of the draft.
“But from a scouting staff it definitely makes it more exciting when you have more picks. There’s nothing worse than going into a draft for a bunch of scouts and you have three picks and your first pick is not until the seventh round, so you show up in your sweats for the morning,” he laughed.
The Broncos are hoping that potential draft picks will view Swift Current as a good opportunity to break into the WHL.
“When you win that championship there’s a bit of a void for a bit. We are selling it as these kids have a great opportunity coming in. They’re our first draft and they have opportunities at 16 whereas you go to other teams where there are more bona fide players ahead of them. This just creates more opportunities for them,” said Aubin.