SPORTS TALK: Yellowknife’s skin in the game for the Western Hockey League Bantam Draft

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Logan Cunningham, seen during the Canada Winter Games this past Feburary, has been getting a lot of attention leading up to the Western Hockey League Bantam Draft on May 2. Brandon White/Canada Winter Games photo
Logan Cunningham, seen during the Canada Winter Games this past Feburary, has been getting a lot of attention leading up to the Western Hockey League Bantam Draft on May 2. Brandon White/Canada Winter Games photo

May 2 is a big day for bantam hockey players across the western part of North America.

It’s the day when the Western Hockey League holds its bantam draft and that means hundreds of 14 and 15-year-olds will be sitting by the phone or waiting for that text from one of the league’s teams telling them they’re part of their immediate or future plans.

When it comes to this year’s crop, there are two players who have a genuine opportunity to make some noise.

We’ll begin with Logan Cunningham, who played with the Yukon Rivermen program this past season. Cunningham has the chance to be a rarity in junior hockey circles: be drafted while playing for a team not located south of the 60 th parallel. There haven’t been many players from the North who haven’t gone south and get a look-see from scouts but Cunningham is one.

The good thing about Cunningham is he’s a defenceman and teams are always looking for someone who patrol the blue line as well as he does. He’s big for a 15-year-old as well – 5 ft. 11 in – and he’s still got some growing to do.

What’s good about Cunningham – and what scouts like to see – is that he’s not afraid to jump in and join the play. He led Team NT’s boys squad at the Canada Winter Games in defensive scoring.

Mirsad Mujcin, his coach at the Games, thinks Cunningham’s chances of getting drafted are good and if he thinks so, then there’s something there. Mujcin coaches bantam AAA in Prince George, B.C., and there’s a very good chance some of his players from the Prince George Bobcats will end up on WHL rosters on May 2. Mujcin told me in a past interview that he’s been answering a lot of questions about Cunningham and that’s always a good thing.

I would not be shocked if Cunningham ended up as a mid-round pick, somewhere between fourth to seventh round. I would be stunned if he wasn’t selected.

Carter McLeod is another one who has a possibility of being selected on draft day. McLeod played with the Edge School in Calgary this past season, the same school where Jack Works played at, and had a fine season, scoring 18 points in 30 games. Offensively, he wasn’t the most dominant player but he’s fast and scouts always look at what a player has in a complete package.

Any idiot can put the puck in the net and just because you can score in bunches, it doesn’t mean you’ll be a superstar. It certainly helps but you need to show you can do it consistently while also doing the other things well.

Something I noticed about McLeod when he was at the 2018 Arctic Winter Games was his ability to find the open space on the ice. The gold ulu game against Alberta North was a perfect example of that and it came in the second period: McLeod picked up the puck in neutral ice and spent a second or two surveying the situation. Everyone else had been covered except for him. As soon as he saw that, he was gone, right through the middle, around four Alberta North players and depositing the puck top-shelf.

I noticed it right away and so did Shawn Talbot, his head coach at the time. The head tilt we shared told us so.

Good scouts look at those sorts of things because it shows you have ice smarts. Again, being a sniper means you’re one-dimensional. Being a hockey player means you can be a sniper and smart at the same time. If McLeod gets taken, it will be later on but he could be high up on a team’s depth chart.

Now, being drafted is just the next step in what’s a long process. If it happens, there won’t be any ice time because you have to be 16 to play major junior hockey.

Still, it means you get a chance to go to camp, get a taste of what you’ll be up against in years to come if you’re lucky to crack a roster, and get some serious feedback. Coaches in major junior hockey know what they’re talking about and what they say will go a long way to improving you as a hockey player.

Watch this space in the next 10 days or so.

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