Jasper Weatherby, a standout hockey player and purposeful stand-up guy from Oregon

Jasper Weatherby, a standout hockey player and purposeful stand-up guy from Oregon

Jasper Weatherby is an anomaly. The University of North Dakota senior was the only Oregon-born player in NCAA Division I hockey (by comparison, Mississippi and Hawaii also have one apiece) last season, according to College Hockey News. He’s also just one of seven players from Oregon who have been drafted by an NHL team, according to Elite Prospects.

On their own, those distinctions set Weatherby apart from most everyone else. He also boldly uses his platform as a high-performance athlete to draw attention to social justice issues in a manner that’s unusual for most hockey players.

Taken in the fourth round of the 2018 draft by the San Jose Sharks, Weatherby has decided to play out his upcoming senior season at UND instead of turning pro. His decision was made more difficult by the fact the Sharks are a team dear to his heart and nearest geographically to his hometown of Ashland.

“I’d drive down there six hours, my stepdad had season tickets since they were (an expansion) franchise, and I’d go to games. I think that it was an unbelievable opportunity, and at the same time I think that another year in college is only going to benefit me and maybe leaves me entering, hopefully, an NHL roster that much more prepared,” Weatherby, 23, said during a phone interview last month from his father’s home in Bend, Ore.

Completing his college eligibility and not signing with the Sharks could allow him to become a free agent next year, but he said that didn’t really influence his decision because of his attraction to the team and respect for general manager Doug Wilson and others in the organization.

“It was obviously a really tough decision,” Weatherby, a marketing major, said. “I really respect everything San Jose does from their GM to their player development coaches and even some of the younger prospects on the team. They’re great guys, but at the same time I was kind of thinking about my development and trying to get that degree. Just trying to build on my on-ice things that I can do well and trying to improve so when I do hopefully make that jump, I’m the best prepared I can be.”

As one of the top college hockey programs in the country, North Dakota is accustomed to having some of its best players turn pro before completing their NCAA eligibility. Fighting Hawks head coach Brad Berry is excited to have Weatherby back, especially after losing eight seniors and seeing junior defenseman Jacob Bernard-Docker and sophomore forward Shane Pinto leave early to sign with the NHL’s Ottawa Senators.

“To have a player like Jasper come back four years, that says a lot about him,” Berry said by phone last month. “You know, I’m sure there’s probably opportunities for him to sign a pro contract with San Jose, but just talking with him and how mature he is (it’s great for UND) knowing that he wants to continue to round his game out and get better.”

After improving his production each year at North Dakota, including 14 goals and 24 points in 29 games last season, Weatherby is poised to continue his progression in 2021-22. In addition to training and watching his nutrition this offseason, he said he’s making sure to be mentally prepared so he shows up refreshed and feeling good for the start of the hockey season.

“He’s a big-bodied centerman, extremely smart, competitive, can make plays and also finish plays scoring goals,” Berry said of the 6-3 and 212-pound Weatherby. “So you know when you get players in college, when you recruit new players it’s sometimes tough finding big-bodied centermen that have all those attributes that I just described to you, and we’re very blessed and fortunate to have him in our group here for another year.”

Chasing a college hockey dream across a continent

Weatherby’s cross-continent hockey journey began in Ashland, which is better known for Shakespeare than slapshots. Weatherby was born in Portland, grew up in Ashland, and played his minor hockey 13 miles away at The Rrrink in Medford

“In high school I kind of knew I was serious about the game, (so) I was going to have to leave the Rogue Valley in Oregon. There just wasn’t quite enough there to fulfill the dreams of trying to play college hockey and then hopefully pro hockey,” Weatherby said.

At 13 he enrolled in the Canadian International Hockey Academy outside of Ottawa where he played Bantam AAA in 2012-13 and Minor Midget AAA the next season. Weatherby had been in a spring league in Vancouver, B.C., in eighth grade, but immersing himself in the Canadian prep school hockey environment took things to another level. 

“They’re unbelievable. I wouldn’t be here without them,” Weatherby said of the academy instructors at the boarding school in Rockland, Ontario. “It was an eye opening experience for sure.”

Weatherby had seven points in 29 games in his first season, and 18 points in 32 games in 2013-14 at CIH. The big jump in the quality of skills from Medford – “Oh my gosh these kids can really play,” he recalled about his introduction – greatly helped his hockey development.

While many classmates at CIH were eyeing the Ontario Hockey League route, Weatherby was focusing on playing college hockey instead of major junior. He moved to Nebraska where he finished high school and played two years for the Omaha AAA Lancers program in the North American Prospects Hockey League where he scored 23 points in 25 games for the 18U team in 2015-16.

After Omaha, Weatherby returned to the Pacific Northwest in 2016-17 to join the Wenatchee Wild of the British Columbia Hockey League. He said he “didn’t play a ton” in the first season, scoring 12 goals and 32 points in 46 games, but he learned a lot from veteran players and head coach Bliss Littler and his coaching staff.

“I think you can’t really go to Wenatchee without being a good human being,” he said. “They would rather have somebody who’s a good human being and maybe not as good a hockey player. But they want that team environment and everyone’s growing and looking to go and play college.


A painful longest game

Nearly three months after North Dakota lost a five-overtime epic to Minnesota-Duluth in the longest game in NCAA tournament history, the wounds were starting to heal for Fighting Hawks forward Jasper Weatherby.

“I think that as time goes you will look back on that as more of a positive memory. It’s just such a unique game to be a part of,” he said. “It was a lot of fun, and you learn a lot about the guys in that locker room, and you definitely think about it. Just happy and excited to be part of something kind of special like that.”

After falling behind 2-0 in the third period, North Dakota scored twice in 47 seconds with the goalie pulled for an extra attacker to even it up at the end of regulation. The teams had played an NCAA record 142 minutes and 13 seconds when the Bulldogs scored to win the game.

“You just kind of go back into your locker room and just kind of almost collapse in there,” Weatherby said. “They were just bringing us in all the food from the concession stand, and everything, you know, protein bars and anything that could get us calories. 

“It’s pretty crazy. We have an intermission clock in the locker room that’s ticking down and (I’d) be like ‘all right, you know, two more minutes I gotta stand up here.’ I stand up and you’re just like kinda going into the zone and you’re like ‘all right, I’ve got a job to do.’”

That 3-2 loss March 27 in the Fargo Regional final cost the Fighting Hawks a spot in the NCAA Frozen Four and will provide Weatherby and his teammates with motivation to make it further next postseason.

“The big thing is you want to win those last four games of the season, if you were lucky enough to get in the tournament. So for us, my goal is always to win a national championship,” he said. 


Jasper Weatherby
Jasper Weatherby had 14 goals, 10 assists and was a plus-seven as a junior for the University of North Dakota last season. (North Dakota Athletics photos)

“So that was a great experience. My first year we ended up losing in the playoffs the second round. And then the second year I came back and a lot of the guys, better players, had moved on to college, and I just kind of got given some opportunities and tried to put the work in that summer. Luckily they gave me some opportunities.”

In his second year he seized those opportunities, leading the league in scoring (74 points) and tying for the lead in goals (37) en route to winning the Vern Dye Memorial Trophy as the league MVP. Weatherby then led the BCHL playoffs in goals (15), assists (23), and points (38) as the Wild won the Fred Page Cup as league champions.

Weatherby’s successful stint in Wenatchee almost never happened, however. He wasn’t someone who was a top recruit guaranteed to get a roster spot. Weatherby got there with some hard work and good fortune.

“Not a lot of people know this, but I didn’t make a lot of junior teams and I think I must have been cut from like eight junior teams throughout those two years in Omaha and even before Omaha,” Weatherby said. “So Wenatchee was kind of like my last chance to make a good junior team. And I came in, there was I think five guys, and there was one spot. You know, I just played well and got lucky, and they ended up giving me that last spot.”

Oregon was not one of Wenatchee’s territory states from which it could recruit, but fortunately Weatherby’s mother was living in Lummi Island at the time. She had been filing his taxes from Washington state, so he was considered a resident and could compete for the Wild’s one opening for a Washington local (which explains why hockeydb.com lists his birthplace incorrectly as Lummi Island).

“It’s kind of funny how sometimes the stars align in that way,” Weatherby said. “I look back, if I hadn’t been from Washington, I wouldn’t have ever been able to play for Wenatchee because they did not have an opening for another import slot.”

A leader on and off the ice

Weatherby was an assistant captain last season and has a chance to become captain this year. Although the players vote to decide who wears the C and the A’s, Berry said he expects Weatherby to be wearing a letter again this season.

“I think he’s one of those guys that he doesn’t say probably a whole lot, but when he does it resonates in the locker room,” Berry said. “But you know the good leaders are the ones that back it up on the ice, or in the weight room, or in the community. They always do things at the highest level and every day. We call those guys ‘everydayers.’ And he is an everydayer, and guys follow that. And your bar is only going to go as high as your leaders, and he’s been an outstanding leader for us, especially over this last season. We’re really looking for great things for him and his leadership this year.”

Weatherby’s leadership extends beyond the dressing room and the ice rink. He’s one of three National Collegiate Hockey Conference representatives on the College Hockey for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion task force, and he’s a member of the UND Student-Athlete Inclusion and Diversity group.

After George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on May 25, 2020, Weatherby and Bernard-Docker took part in a Black Lives Matter march in Grand Forks, N.D. Before the Fighting Hawks’ 2020-21 season opener, the two players knelt during the playing of the U.S. national anthem to protest racial injustice. 

Believed to be the first Division I hockey players to kneel during the anthem, Weatherby wasn’t afraid of anyone’s criticism or trolling on social media. He said he and Bernard-Docker, who is from Canada, expected the mixed responses they received.

“So we kind of talked that summer, and I said I was going to do it. And he took his time … and decided that this was something he wanted to do,” Weatherby said of his close friend and former roommate of three years. “So we came out with an article beforehand kind of explaining why we’re doing it

“The positive stuff for us really outweighed the negative stuff. We had minority people messaging us on campus saying, ‘Thank you for that; sometimes we feel that North Dakota isn’t the most welcoming place for people like ourselves.’ And for us that’s all we needed to hear. If we can make UND and North Dakota welcoming for one person who doesn’t feel like it’s welcoming then we’ve done our job, and we’ve done the best we can.”

Preceding that season opener was a team meeting where everyone had a chance to share their views while others respectfully listened. By the sounds of it, a good percentage of our society could take a lesson from how the Fighting Hawks players from various parts of Canada and the U.S. learned about each other’s perspectives.

“It was really powerful to hear people’s opinions of what they believe in. And at the end of the day that’s kind of what makes these two countries so great is that people can have different opinions and still fight for the same cause,” Weatherby said. “I wasn’t gonna tell anyone that not kneeling is a bad thing, and I wasn’t gonna, hopefully, wasn’t gonna hear from my teammates that kneeling was a bad thing either. So we came to a mutual respect, and it brought our team a lot closer, which was a great thing.”

Family history of standing up against injustice

Weatherby’s grandmother and step-grandfather’s activism for social justice issues had significant influence on Weatherby and his family. Ann Macrory took part in the Selma to Montgomery, Ala., civil rights march in 1965 and was a civil rights lawyer. Ralph Temple, who was Jewish, moved to the United States from London at 7 because of Nazi advances across Europe, and he went on to become a civil rights lawyer who worked at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the ACLU. (Read the Grand Forks Herald’s coverage to learn about many more examples of Weatherby’s family’s passion for social justice.)

Jasper Weatherby is on the College Hockey for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion task force and UND’s Student-Athlete Inclusion and Diversity group. (North Dakota Athletics photo)

To those who make knee-jerk complaints that socially conscious athletes should be quiet and “stick to sports,” that’s not how Weatherby was brought up. To his critics, his response is, “educate yourself.”

“I’m a human being first, I have beliefs and feelings, and I’m an athlete second,” Weatherby, whose adopted brother is Black, said. “I think that sometimes in this world we like to put athletes on a pedestal and say just because you can shoot a ball through a hoop … that’s the only thing you are. And that’s so not true. I think that when you look at athletes who are able to voice their opinions and really become the people that they want, they’re just going to flourish in life. So I challenge those people and I say that my sport does not define who I am. Being a human being defines who I am and making choices for myself.”

Berry suggests Weatherby also developed his maturity, empathy, and some worldliness from moving around North America, living in different places, and being around different people.

“He’s a very deep thinking person. He’s a guy that is very sensitive, and he has a lot of care for everybody, and a lot of care for his teammates, and a lot of care for the people around him,” Berry said. “You know, he always approaches his day with kind of a deep thought process and that’s great to see.”

Being unafraid of standing out and drawing attention to yourself is quite unusual for hockey players. The culture of the sport has historically forced individuals to conform to certain restrained behaviors as a group. Being outspoken or drawing attention to yourself would be breaking one of those old “codes” that discourage actions that some might consider as individualistic. 

Unfortunately it took awful events such as the killing of George Floyd, the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin, racism directed at former NHLer Akim Aliu, and other incidents to prompt more players to change old habits, but it’s a start.

“I think for a long time it has kind of been a sport that’s been so stoic maybe, and not in a bad way, but hockey players are tough and they’re good people. I think that sometimes that can be misled for staying in line and don’t step out of the boundaries, but I think what we’re realizing now is that it’s good to be unique,” Weatherby said.

Becoming the seventh Oregon-born player to skate in the NHL would be unusual. Courageously standing up against racial injustice, trying to make college hockey more inclusive, and working to improve diversity on UND’s campus are proof that Weatherby isn’t just an anomaly in hockey; he’s someone truly exceptional.

Jim Wilkie is a longtime Northwest journalist, former NHL editor and NHL Insider writer for ESPN.com, onetime GSHL All-Star, and SJHA hockey dad. Follow him on Twitter @jimwilkie.

Sound Of Hockey Podcast Ep. 147 – Behind the Ropes at the Expansion Draft

Sound Of Hockey Podcast Ep. 147 – Behind the Ropes at the Expansion Draft

Well, Kraken fans, it has been a WILD week, and there’s more to come! This episode of the Sound Of Hockey Podcast is quite unique, as Darren is mostly driving the bus and doing the heavy lifting on this one without his usual wingmen. Andy does make a couple of appearances, though, as he and Darren take you behind the ropes at the Expansion Draft event to give you commentary from all of the players that were in attendance – Chris Driedger, Jordan Eberle, Brandon Tanev, Jamie Oleksiak, Mark Giordano, and Haydn Fleury – plus Seattle Kraken head coach Dave Hakstol and general manager Ron Francis and Ryan Clark from The Athletic. 

Aside from the very fun audio clips from the Expansion Draft, Darren gives his reaction to the selections and lack of side deals associated. He also shares the latest Seattle news including the NHL schedule release and the details of the NHL Entry Draft.

This is a short, unique, and fun episode. 

SUBSCRIBE! ENJOY! REVIEW! 

iTunes

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Header photo by Brian Liesse.

Seattle Kraken trade rumors, Kraken Community Iceplex – Weekly One-Timers

Seattle Kraken trade rumors, Kraken Community Iceplex – Weekly One-Timers

We did it, team! We made it through the 110-degree heat that suffocated our region and had more than 50 percent of us wishing that we had at some point bucked the Emerald City trend of not having air conditioning. If the unparalleled heatwave had arrived last week, at least the Seattle Kraken hiring a head coach in Dave Hakstol and a TV color commentator in JT Brown would have provided a distraction.

Instead, the fiery heat of 1,000 suns torched our region in a relatively quiet week for the Kraken, when all we could do was sweat and daydream about the artificial chill of an ice arena. 

The good news is that the peak levels of swass are behind us, 4th of July weekend is upon us, and we are just 19 days away from the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft. Holy guacamole! 

Kraken Community Iceplex

Hey, speaking of ice arenas, the Seattle Kraken training center at Northgate brought to you by hockey (or whatever it was previously being called) officially has a slightly more concise name now!

The team has partnered with Starbucks as its “Community Impact Partner to strengthen the community and advance inclusion and equity in Seattle.” Apparently part of that partnership means renaming the practice facility the Kraken Community Iceplex. It also means that said iceplex will have a Starbucks Community Store as one of its many amenities. 

Rendering of exterior of the newly named Kraken Community Iceplex, opening in September (source: Seattle Kraken).

The word “iceplex” does have a pretty good ring to it. It’s like a complex, but it’s centered around ice. It’s an iceplex. 

The partnership with Starbucks is interesting too. The coffee giant has tried to demonstrate that it cares about its community, so it’s no surprise that everything mentioned in the team’s press release about the partnership is focused on diversity, equity, and Seattle pride. 

Rendering of Starbucks Community Store at Kraken Community Iceplex (source: Seattle Kraken).

UW to play its home games at Kraken Community Iceplex

One other small nugget of Seattle-centric hockey news this week was that the University of Washington’s club hockey team will begin playing its home games at the Kraken Community Iceplex this coming season. The Huskies, who compete in the ACHA, previously played their home games at Olympic View Arena in Mountlake Terrace.

The new arena is much closer to campus and obviously will provide a more modern game-day experience for players and fans alike. 

Pre-Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft trade rumors heating up

Some Seattle Kraken trade rumors started swirling this week. The first one revolved around Duncan Keith’s status as a Chicago Blackhawk. Elliotte Friedman surmised that a trade could be brewing to send the three-time Stanley Cup winner to “either the Pacific Northwest or western Canada.” 

Isn’t that interesting? 

Keith has familial ties to this area of the continent, and reports indicate that the Blackhawks are trying to work with him to find a suitable landing spot. Keith has a full no-movement clause, so he can veto any trade he doesn’t like. 

Keith has just two years left at a $5.5 million cap hit, but the real dollars left are quite low at $3.6 million total remaining to be paid. If there’s a sweetener thrown in to get the Kraken to take that cap hit, it makes a ton of sense to throw Keith onto the second pairing on the Kraken blue line. Keith’s kid lives in Canada, though, so north of the border is probably preferable for him.  

There have also been unsubstantiated rumors flying around on Twitter that the Kraken are interested in Jake Voracek from the Flyers. Hakstol did coach Voracek, but man, at an $8.25 million annual cap hit through 2023-24, Philadelphia better be giving up its kitchen sink to get Seattle to take that on. Voracek’s production has also waned pretty dramatically in recent years, so I just don’t see it.

Meanwhile, the Nashville Predators have traded one of their core forwards, Viktor Arvidsson, to the Los Angeles Kings for a second-round pick in this year’s draft and a third-round pick next year. On paper it feels like a great deal for the Kings, who are trying to kickstart their rebuild. 

Arvidsson, 28, is just two years removed from a 34-goal season, but he has been dealing with a lot of injuries of late that have greatly hampered his production. His addition to the roster means LA will likely have to expose either Blake Lizotte or Lias Andersson in the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft. 

More coaches hired around the NHL

After the Kraken hired Hakstol last week, the Buffalo Sabres and Arizona Coyotes each named their bench bosses for the foreseeable future. 

The Sabres have removed the interim tag from Don Granato, who did seem to have a calming influence on that organization, though the team only went 9-16-3 under his watch this season. Still, he’s a well-respected hockey man who has been through the grind of coaching at every level of the sport and survived Hodgkin’s lymphoma, so you can’t help feeling good for the guy. 

The Sabres made the announcement in a pretty great way on social media. 

Meanwhile, in the desert, the Coyotes went off the board a bit with their hiring of André “Bear” Tourigny as their head coach after parting ways with Rick Tocchet in May. Tourigny spent the last three seasons behind the bench of the Ottawa 67’s in the Ontario Hockey League and also coached Team Canada to silver at the 2021 World Junior Championships. 

If you texted Bear to wish him congratulations, it may be a little while before you hear back. 

Former players Alex Tanguay and Tuomo Ruutu were also hired as assistant coaches in Detroit and Florida, respectively this week. 

Around the boards

The Montreal Canadiens, playing in their first Stanley Cup Final since 1993, asked if they could increase the number of fans allowed into the Bell Centre for the remainder of the series from 3,500 to 10,500. The request was denied by the Quebec Public Health authorities. The decision is a tad ironic, considering thousands of fans are allowed to stand shoulder to shoulder in the streets to watch the games, but that’s neither here nor there. 

Jonathan Toews was back in the public eye for the first time this week since the Blackhawks announced at the beginning of the 2020-21 season that he was dealing with a mysterious illness that caused him to sit out for the entirety of the campaign.

I don’t know what chronic immune response syndrome is, but I know I don’t want it. 

The big individual NHL Awards were announced this week. If you listen to the Sound Of Hockey Podcast, you will understand when I say that the only award that matters, of course, is the Calder Trophy. Minnesota’s Kirill Kaprizov won the rookie of the year award with 99 first-place votes, the biggest landslide victory since Teemu Selanne in 1992-93. Imagine being the one writer who didn’t vote for Kirill. OK, but seriously, the full list of winners can be found here.

ESPN announced its full lineup of hockey broadcasters and reporters in a video that will surely hype you up. No Gary Thorne, but still, some pretty incredible names in here.

Darren Brown is the Chief Content Officer at Sound Of Hockey and the host, producer, and editor of the Sound Of Hockey Podcast. He is an inconsistent beer league goalie who believes that five players have to make a mistake before the puck gets to him. Follow him on Twitter @DarrenFunBrown or email darren@soundofhockey.com.

Silvertips, Thunderbirds stock up during CHL Import Draft

Silvertips, Thunderbirds stock up during CHL Import Draft

In a sign that we are somewhat returning to normal, the Canadian Hockey League held its annual Import Draft Wednesday morning. Both Puget Sound WHL teams, the Everett Silvertips and Seattle Thunderbirds, made selections to stock up on talent for the upcoming season.

While the draft was back, there were some differences this year.

The Import Draft usually occurs after the NHL Draft, but this year happened a month prior. Instead of selecting the draft order by reverse season record, the CHL held a lottery to determine order. Everett won the lottery among WHL teams and held the second overall pick.

All 60 CHL teams – including the WHL, OHL, and QMJHL – participated in the two-round process. CHL teams are allowed two imports on their roster at any one time. Both the Silvertips and Thunderbirds had import slots open so both made selections in the draft.

Players drafted are not required to play in the CHL, which means recruiting of these Import Draft picks is now underway.

Here is a closer look at who the Silvertips, Thunderbirds and the rest of the US Division selected Wednesday.

Everett Silvertips

In his first action since adding general manager to his job title, Everett head coach Dennis Williams made one pick in the Import Draft.

The Silvertips played last year without imports but were hoping they would see Kasper Puutio and Michal Gut back in the fold. Puutio was drafted in the fifth round of the 2020 NHL Draft by the Florida Panthers and signed a pro contract with KalPa Kuopio in Finland, so he will not be returning to the Silvertips. Gut is expected back, though, which is good news for Everett after he scored 13 goals and 36 points for the Silvertips in 2019-2020.

Niko Huuhtanen – Finland – RW – 6-foot-1, 203 pounds – selected No. 2 overall

The Silvertips drafted a 2021 NHL Draft eligible forward with a lot of size working for him. Huuhtanen is ranked 49th among European skaters by NHL Central Scouting and is coming off a year where he scored 20 goals and 34 points in 37 games for a U20 Tappara team in the Finnish U20 SM-sarja league. Huuhtanen also represented Finland at the U18 World Championship this past spring where he notched a pair of goals and five points in seven games.

Scouts say he has a nose for goal scoring and possesses a heavy and strong wrist shot. His strength lies more working in the cycle rather than off the rush, and he has some room to approve his skating ability. If he signs with Everett, he’ll be a load to handle down low, behind and in front of the net.

Here’s a glimpse of how deadly that wrist shot can be:

The Silvertips have some offense to make up for with Cole Fonstad and Gage Goncalves both moving on this coming season. Huuhtanen signing and being a productive player could help in that endeavor.

Seattle Thunderbirds

Seattle also went without any imports this last season. In the offseason, the Thunderbirds acquired Russian forward Vladimir Alistrov from the Edmonton Oil Kings for defenseman Simon Kubicek. They also had selected defenseman Samuel Knazko from Slovakia in last year’s Import Draft.

According to general manager Bil La Forge, Alistrov will be playing in the KHL this coming season while Knazko, who was drafted and recently signed by the Columbus Blue Jackets, has chosen to play professionally in Finland this season.

So, with no imports incoming, the Thunderbirds made two selections Wednesday.

With their first pick, 41st overall, Seattle took an Italian forward in Alessandro Segafredo and followed with a right-handed defenseman from Great Britain, Leon Okonkwo Prada with pick 86.

Alessandro Segafredo – Italy – RW – 6-foot-0, 187 pounds – selected 41st overall

Seattle went with a younger pick with their first selection with Italian winger Segafredo. He’s set to turn 17 in September which means he would not be eligible for the NHL Draft until 2022. He played for a number of clubs last season, including the Zurich Lions U17 team where he appeared in 26 games and scored 25 goals, 27 assists, for 52 points. He also got into 24 games with the U20 team and added 10 more goals and 11 points.

If he were to sign, Segafredo would join what is becoming a crowded forward group for the Thunderbirds. Seattle can return all but one of the forwards it deployed last season which would make for some interesting personnel decisions for La Forge.

Leon Okonkwo Prada – Great Britain – D 6-foot-1, 201 pounds – selected 86th overall

It’s not often that a British player comes over to play in the WHL, and for Seattle, Prada would be the first. A big defenseman with a bit of grit to his game, Prada didn’t put up huge numbers with the Swedish Rogle BK J18 last year. However, two years prior, in a U18 league he put up 21 points in 27 games for the R8 Hockey Academy. The aforementioned grit showed up as well as Prada was penalized 32 minutes in those 27 games.

Like Segafredo, Prada joins a position group that is crowded. Seattle’s defensemen from last season are all eligible to return this coming season.

The rest of the U.S. Division import picks

Portland Winterhawks

With Swiss Simon Knak, who was second in team scoring last year, set to return to Portland this year the Winterhawks made one import pick Wednesday. With the 26th pick overall they selected Czech left defenseman Marek Alscher to join their young blue line.

Tri-City Americans

The Americans made one pick in the draft last year with Czech Republic goalie Tomas Suchanek, who did not play in the WHL. At pick 57 this year they selected a U18 World Championship teammate of Suchanek, forward Petr Moravec. Eligible for the 2021 NHL Draft, Moravec is ranked 82nd among international skaters by NHL Central Scouting.

Spokane Chiefs

The Chiefs made two selections Wednesday. At pick 17 overall they selected big, 6-foot-3 defenseman Timofei Kovgorenya, from Belarus. Kovgorenya is 17, a right-handed defenseman who played last year for Minsk Bison in the Vysshaya Liga.

At pick 117 Spokane selected 17-year-old German center Yannick Proske who played for his home country in the U18 World Championship.

Owen Power is an option for the Seattle Kraken at second pick in the NHL Draft

Owen Power is an option for the Seattle Kraken at second pick in the NHL Draft

In the months leading up to this year’s NHL Entry Draft, we’ve been told by the various draft experts that there is no definitive, sure-fire top prospect on the board. Yet, despite that narrative, University of Michigan defenseman Owen Power is ranked No. 1 on most draft projections, making him, it would seem, the closest thing to a consensus No. 1 pick. The only opinion of Power that matters is the one held by the Buffalo Sabres, who will be picking first during the July 23 NHL Entry Draft. If they pass then Seattle Kraken general manager Ron Francis will have a choice to make, and one that could land Power in Seattle.

Defensemen don’t go first overall very often and since 2000 only three have – Rasmus Dahlin to Buffalo in 2018, Aaron Ekblad to Florida in 2014, and Erik Johnson to St. Louis in 2006 – which means that Power being available at the second pick is not far fetched.

The first thing that stands out about Power is his size. He’s listed at 6-foot-5 and 214 pounds, which is not quite as big as a Victor Hedman but puts him in that range.

Power was one of three top draft prospects at Michigan last year, joining Kent Johnson and Matty Beniers. Growing up in Mississauga, outside of Toronto, he could have chosen the Major-Junior route but instead had his eyes focused on college and Michigan.

“You see how historic the hockey program is here, how many good players that came out of it,” Power said of his decision during the Wolverines media day in the fall. “With the school part, it’s a really good school… I always knew I wanted to go to college, play college hockey. School’s a big part of our family, and my parents really believed in going to university. I also think just there’s more time to develop in college than Major Junior so I think that also played a part in it.”

College or Junior, Power now has himself positioned to be a high-end NHL Draft pick.

Owen Power by the numbers

Power began his NHL Draft journey in the USHL, playing for the Chicago Steel. He spent two seasons in the Windy City and finished with an impressive 12 goals, 28 assists, and 40 points in 45 games during his final season of 2019-20.

That would turn heads, and he was soon being praised as a top player for the 2021 NHL Draft. His freshman season did nothing to assuage that perception.

Playing against predominantly older players at the NCAA level this season, Power added 16 points in 26 games, which put him on the Big 10 all-rookie team. Already ascending the draft rankings, Power further solidified himself by playing for Canada at the IIHF World Championship in June.

He was one of the youngest players in the tournament, and playing against established pros, he collected three assists in ten games while drawing praise for his overall performance against tough competition.

“He’s calm with the puck for an 18-year-old,” Canada head coach Gerard Gallant said. “He made the right decisions 95 percent of the time. He’s a total package. He played big minutes so when an 18-year-old kid can come in and do that, you know he’s going to be a great player in the NHL for a long time.”

What draft scouts say about Owen Power

Obviously, Power’s size is attractive to NHL scouts. It’s not something that can be taught, and he will fit right in on an NHL blue line. However, despite that size, he’s not yet a bruiser, and that is something that could improve as he moves into the more physical pro game.

He has good skating ability, especially for a player of his stature, and can move the puck. Power has offensive upside and has put up numbers wherever he has played. You can pencil him in to be part of your power play if you draft him.

“Probably a top pairing guy,” Hockey Sense’s Chris Peters told the Sound Of Hockey Podcast. “He’s not a lock to be a No. 1 defenseman, but I think that he is. He’s in the same mold of like a Victor Hedman kind of player. Really good skater, great mobility, defends well, probably could stand to be a little bit meaner, a little more physical with his defending. But he gets pucks up ice, he does everything, everything’s really fluid and calm and under control.”

The Big 10 and Michigan hit the ice before most other amateur leagues in North America this year, which means that NHL scouts flocked to games.

Power has been viewed and scrutinized as much as any prospect, along with his two highly ranked teammates. That can obviously be a distraction, but Power showed no signs of losing focus.

“None of us really talk too much about it,” Power said at the start of the season. “We’ve said things here and there, but it’s not a big part of like what we talk about every day. We all know, the draft is kind of out of control, where we go. So, just focusing every day and trying to get better.”

Owen Power on film

Reading about what scouts think of Power is one thing, but you really appreciate him by watching him play.

As a defenseman, he possesses all the skills and attributes that you would want out of a top-of-the-rotation guy.

Power contributes offensively but can also defend in his own end. He has size and has learned to use that size and reach to throw off would-be attackers, as seen in this clip.

He can move the puck out of his zone and displays not only great vision in the offensive zone but an accurate passing ability, as seen here where he sets up a goal with a pin-point assist.

Oh, he can also shoot it. Here he gets an assist as his blast from the point was deflected in during the IIHF World Championship.

Will the Kraken select Power with the No. 2 pick?

Seattle picking Owen Power in the draft all depends on what happens with the Sabres. Buffalo very well could pass as they still have a young Dahlin in the fold. Will they want another young, left-handed defenseman? It’s possible Buffalo prefers to pick up a center, such as Matthew Beniers.

If left available, there is a strong likelihood the Kraken will snap up Power with the second pick. Having a defenseman like him is a necessity in today’s NHL, and Francis has looked to the blue line in the draft before. As the general manager with the Carolina Hurricanes, Francis ran four drafts and in three of them, went defense with his top pick.

In 2014 Francis took Haydn Fleury with the seventh overall pick, in 2015 he drafted Noah Hanifin at No. 5, and in 2016 he selected Jake Bean with pick 13. His track record suggests building from the blue line, and he just may get the chance to do so again.

That leaves the question about whether or not Power is ready to jump into the NHL. It’s a tough position to do so at such a young age, but the top picks have done it before.

The tricky part for Seattle is that if they were to draft Power that decision would have to come quick. As a college player, Power is not eligible to participate in the Kraken main camp unless he signs an NHL contract. If he prefers to stay in school, Seattle would have to wait to see him.

He recently touched on the subject, saying that he does lean towards one more season at Michigan.

The draw to return to school is understandable, but would that be a deterrent to Francis in picking him? Power isn’t an automatic to be ready for the NHL in year one and another season playing for a big NCAA program with perhaps a shot at playing in the World Juniors might ultimately help Power and in turn, help Seattle.