A handful of Kelowna Rockets could have their names called at the NHL’s entry draft in Vancouver this weekend.
Three members of the Western Hockey League (WHL) squad could possibly have their names announced on Friday, when the first round is announced, with another four facing the chance of being selected on Saturday.
Defenceman Lassi Thomson is the highest-ranked Rocket, having been listed as No. 15 among North American skaters, according to the NHL’s draft prospect rankings. All told, the list has 217 ranked skaters from North America and another 135 from Europe.
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From Finland, Thomson had a breakout rookie season in Kelowna, with 17 goals and 24 assists for 41 points — enough to lead WHL rookie defencemen in all three categories.
Thomson was also a late cut with Finland’s world junior team. Upon returning to Kelowna, he played in the Top Prospects Game in Red Deer as a member of Team Orr.
Thomson is generally predicted to be a late, first-round selection. However, a report earlier this year came out stating that Thomson would be leaving Kelowna to play professionally in the Finnish Elite League.
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In May, the Rockets issued a press release, stating they were surprised by the news of Thomson wanting to play for his hometown team.
This weekend will likely determine Thomson’s playing fate for next season, as, generally speaking, drafted players usually wind up going to where they’re assigned by their NHL teams.
Defenceman Kaedan Korczak is ranked 32nd among North American skaters while left winger Nolan Foote was listed at 37th.
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Korczak, from Yorkton, Sask., had four goals and 29 assists for 33 points in 68 regular-season games. He also played in the Top Prospects Game and for Canada at the 2019 IIHF U18 world championship in Sweden.
Foote was second in team scoring with 63 points, but had a team-high 36 goals, 17 of which were scored on the power play. Foote, who was named Kelowna’s MVP, also played for for Team WHL at the Canada-Russia Series in October and in the Top Prospects Game.
Rockets president and general manager Bruce Hamilton says there’s a chance those two could be late Friday selections.
“It’s all on team preference.”
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Other Rockets who could be drafted include defenceman Jake Lee (146th) and Alex Swetlikoff (175th). Netminder Roman Basran was listed 18th among North American goalies, while forward Dillon Hamaliuk was put on a limited viewing list due to a lower-body, season-ending injury in December.
“We have a chance to have a real good weekend,” said Hamilton. “It’ll be great for our fans. We went through a bit of a dry year at last year’s draft, and now there’s going to be some excitement because these guys are all going to be good players.”
As for Vancouver hosting this year’s NHL draft, Hamilton called it a good thing.
“Anytime that the draft is in Canada, it draws really well,” Hamilton said from Vancouver on Friday morning. “I think tonight is sold out and I think tomorrow is sold out.
“It’s pretty cool and it’ll be pretty exciting for the kids being picked.”
In related news, Foote was one of 43 players invited to Hockey Canada’s national junior team summer development camp.
The camp will run July 27 to Aug. 4 in Plymouth, Mich.
The camp will feature five goalies, 13 defencemen and 25 forwards split into two teams. The teams will play four games, playing the U.S. twice in addition to single games against Finland and Sweden.