The Western Hockey League had a strong showing at this week’s NHL Draft with 28 players selected. It was the second most – falling short of the OHL’s 35 picks – for all development leagues in the world. Locally, the U.S. Division had each of its five teams see a player selected.
Leading the way was the Seattle Thunderbirds who had four players that played on their roster drafted plus a player in Brad Lambert who they own the CHL rights to. All of the U.S. Division players selected project to be back with their junior teams this coming season which makes for an exciting time amongst local hockey fans.
The Thunderbirds are coming off a season that saw them run to the WHL Championship Series against Edmonton, and it should be no surprise that they had the most players selected, two of whom went in the first round.
“I feel great for the kids, I’m so proud of them and happy for them,” Thunderbirds general manager Bil La Forge said from Montreal. “I’m happy for the coaching staff. They put in a ton of work getting these guys where they need to be. So, it’s an exciting day for the whole organization.”
Having players drafted is a big deal for a junior team. As they draft and recruit players to choose their team and the WHL, it helps to be able to show that your program develops players that the NHL wants.
For Seattle, they now have a bevy of drafted players and appear to have a strong team heading into next season.
“I think we’re a destination city now, it’s a great place to play,” La Forge said. “Great ownership, and the coaching is so good. They’re coming here. I think we’ve had 12 or 13 guys drafted in the last three or four years. So that just shows that we’re a viable option for your development. It definitely helps us with the recruiting.”
Here is a look at the U.S. Division players drafted at the 2022 NHL Entry Draft.
Kevin Korchinski, D, 7th overall, Chicago Blackhawks
Seattle was on the board early when the Blackhawks selected the high-flying defenseman. Korchinski rose up the draft boards this year and was projected to go anywhere in the top 15. He was spectacular for the Thunderbirds in the playoffs and that helped his stock rise.
Korchinski had 61 assists in 67 games this year which is a big number.
“We had a pre-draft tool going and I think both [head coach Matt O’Dette] and I had him at number seven, Chicago,” La Forge said. “We thought anything after five was a possibility.”
Reid Schaefer, F, 32nd overall, Edmonton Oilers
Schaefer is a big power forward, and he played well in the Championship Series in Edmonton against the Edmonton Oil Kings. Interestingly, those Oil Kings are owned by the Edmonton Oilers, Schaefer’s future team.
Originally an eighth-round pick in the WHL Draft who failed to score a goal during the COVID-shortened season in 2021, Schaefer exploded for 32 goals this past year. He went from eighth-round bantam pick to first-round NHL pick.
“He’s another guy that just works so hard,” La Forge said. “Just with his development and what he needs to do to get to the next level, I thought that our coaches did a great job with him and Reid put in a ton of work.”
Jordan Gustafson, C, 79th pick overall, Vegas Golden Knights
Vegas is no stranger to the Thunderbirds program, as former Seattle players Shea Theodore and Keegan Kolesar both play for the Golden Knights. Now they add an all-around player in Gustafson who can score, play all over the ice, and has the trust of his coaches.
“Smartest guy on the ice every time he’s out there,” La Forge said of Gustafson. “He’s a coach’s security blanket, you always want him out there. Five on three for us, five on three for them. There’s no situation that he can’t handle, and Vegas taking him where it traded a pick to get him there, I thought it was a good move.”
Jared Davidson, C, 130th overall, Montreal Canadiens
Perhaps the best story of all the Thunderbirds drafted, Davidson was not drafted in the WHL. He was a camp invite by Seattle and worked his way into a top center who scored 42 times last year. Davidson was passed over twice before by the NHL, but players develop at different paces, and Davidson has worked himself into a good position.
He’s 20 next year and Montreal could choose to send him to the American Hockey League.
“He’s one of my favorite people. He’s a kid I talk to every single day during the season and bug him a lot,” La Forge said. “He just outworks any issue that his game has had. He’s a special kid, and if Montreal keeps him in the American League next year, I’ll be the first guy to jump up and down with excitement for him, but if they send them back, I’ll be pretty excited as well.”
Brad Lambert, C, 30th overall, Winnipeg Jets
Lambert, who is from Finland, has yet to play a second of hockey for Seattle, but the Thunderbirds own his rights, and there is speculation that he’ll sign to play in the WHL for next year. Once considered the top prospect in the draft, he slipped after some non-productive years playing pro hockey overseas. Scouts who watch him say the skill is still there, though.
“We wish him all the best in trying to make the Winnipeg Jets or the [AHL] Manitoba Moose,” La Forge said. “We’ll be really excited if they ask us to help in his development, and we think we’d be a great fit for him.”
Ben Hammerling, RW, 177th overall, Vegas Golden Knights
Hammerling broke out for the Silvertips this year. After seven points as a rookie he jumped to 47 last season as Everett raced out to another U.S. Division title. He’ll be back with the Tips after appearing in the Vegas prospect camps and will be a key player as they look to repeat their division title.
Ryan Hofer, 181th overall, Washington Capitals
It feels like every season, the Silvertips get a big year from a guy that flew under the radar the prior season. Hofer was one of those players this past year as he blew up from six goals to 25 this past year. How many will he score this next season?
Mason Beaupit, G, 108th overall, Spokane Chiefs
Beaupit’s numbers are not pretty, but NHL scouts look beyond statistics when judging talent. Playing behind a young team that took it in the teeth most nights, Beaupit played well. He really jumped out at the CHL Top Prospect game and made an impression.
Graham Sward, F, 146th overall, Nashville Predators
Like Beaupit, Sward was a good player on a struggling team. He has good size and has shown that he can play, picking up 43 points in 57 games. Will Spokane keep him next year, or strengthen their rebuild by scoring prospects in a Sward trade?
Marek Alscher, D, 93rd overall, Florida Panthers
Alscher got better as the season wore on, as he got used to the North American game. By the end of the season the import from Czechia was in Portland’s top defensive pairings. He ended the year with 16 points.
Parker Bell, F, 155th overall, Calgary Flames
Bell is another player who managed to flourish on a rebuilding team that suffered some growing pains through the season. He scored 18 times to go with 31 assists to be the Americans second leading scorer. As Tri-City builds its roster they’ll have Bell as a centerpiece for at least another year.