The BCHL’s Penticton Vees are poised to be one of the top 2016 NHL draft hotspots. The Junior A club should garner no shortage of draft attention next year with top 1998-born prospects Tyson Jost and Dante Fabbro in their lineup.
Albeit a lot can happen between now and June, Jost and Fabbro are expected to don jerseys within the first 30 selections in Buffalo. If that comes true, it would be a memorable moment for the Vees. There have only been two BCHL teams to have multiple first-round selections in the NHL draft since 1979, when the process switched from an amateur draft to an entry draft.
It’s not surprising to see Penticton lead the way among Junior A clubs in draft eligible talent. Evident in how the Vees had 16 players with Division 1 commitments in 2014-15, they have developed an esteemed reputation for attracting high-end players who want to go the NCAA route. The club has seen the likes of Columbus Blue Jackets star Ryan Johansen, Pittsburgh Penguins first-round pick Beau Bennett and Minnesota Wild prospect Mike Reilly wear their colours in recent years.
“It’s a world-class organization,” says Jost. “They have a great facility, great fans and great coaches. They do a good job of preparing players for college in a pro atmosphere.”
Both draft prospects are set to join the Vees for a second season in 2015-16. They hit the ground running in their rookie seasons in Penticton, as they helped lead the club to a BCHL championship and a berth in the RBC Cup.
“Getting the chance to play against the top players (in Junior A) was a crucial experience for me,” says Fabbro, a native of New Westminster, B.C. “I learned a lot and was able to take a lot out of the experience. It helped me as a player and helped our team going into this year.”
Jost, a 6-foot, 194-pound forward who can play both centre and wing, was nearly a point-per-game player in his BCHL rookie season. He netted 23 goals and 45 points in 46 games while showcasing his powerful stride, lethal shot and soft hands.
“I’m happy with how I played last year,” says Jost. “I think it helped me prepare for this year. It’s going to be a big year with a lot of pressure. I want to improve all areas of my game, but the main focus is on our team. Team goals always go ahead of personal goals. The RBC Cup is something we want to win and that’s the big goal heading into next year.”
Fabbro thrived as one of his squad’s top all-around blueliners. He used his smooth stride, elite hockey sense and good puck-handling ability to transition the puck out of his own zone smoothly and create offense at the other end of the ice.
“Last year I tried to focus on my defensive game more, whereas this year I’m going to focus more on my offensive game,” says the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Fabbro, who notched four goals and 33 points in 44 contests. “But my personal goals never get in the way of team goals. My focus is always on the team and helping the team win.”
The precedents set by former Vees Ryan Johansen, who gave up a scholarship from Northeastern University to join the Portland Winterhawks, and Ryan Gropp, who left a University of North Dakota commitment to play for the Seattle Thunderbirds, show plans can change in junior hockey. But as it stands, it seems Fabbro and Jost have their hearts set on joining NCAA clubs in 2016-17.
“I’m set on the NCAA,” says Fabbro, whom the Thunderbirds chose eighth overall in the 2013 WHL bantam draft. “I’ve talked to my family and I feel the NCAA route is the best route for me. I still need to check out a few more schools before making my decision on where I’ll play.”
Jost, a St. Albert, Alta., native, has already made an NCAA shortlist. He is high on the University of North Dakota and is open to joining the University of Denver.
“I have a WHL background as I watched the (Edmonton) Oil Kings when I was younger and being from Alberta, but I am set on the NCAA route,” says Jost, whom the Everett Silvertips chose seventh overall in 2013. “They’ve done a great job getting players to the NHL and I feel that’s my best fit. I’ve narrowed it down to two schools: UND and Denver. North Dakota is the big one for me and Denver is also a great option. I can’t go wrong with either school.”
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen