The last time the Vancouver Giants kicked off a rebuild with the first selection of the Western Hockey League bantam draft in 2002, their prized pick Gilbert Brule led them to an Ed Chynoweth Cup in his third season in the league.
Eleven years later, all signs point to Vancouver looking to Edmonton native Tyler Benson with their first pick of the 2013 draft to guide them to their second WHL championship.
Scout’s take: “Although the Vancouver Giants are not going to publicly reveal this information, they are in fact going to take Tyler Benson first overall,” says Western Elite Hockey Prospects founder Tyler Neisz. “Not only is he the most dominating player in the draft, but he also plays a good responsible two-way game, can play a pass first or be a goal scorer, has uncanny vision on the ice, has good hands and isn't afraid to go to the tough areas and plays a gritty game, if need be.”
One, however, has to keep in mind that stranger things have happened on the draft floor than the Giants going against the grain with their top pick.
Scout’s take: “I think Benson is definitely a first pick caliber player; however, you can never count out what can happen on draft day,” adds Tyler Boldt, the WHL’s manager of player development and recruitment. “The differences between Benson, (Kale) Clague, and (Nolan) Patrick are distinct. There is the obvious difference with Clague being a defenseman, and then Patrick brings you a kid who may play in our league as a skill player at 6-foot-3 or 6-foot-4. I would assume Benson will be selected first overall, but we will have to wait and see.”
Benson really got people talking when he broke Portland Winterhawks star Ty Rattie’s bantam scoring record with the SSAC Lions, racking up 57 goals and 146 points in 33 games.
But even before he planted his name in the history books, the 5-foot-11, 165-pound winger was receiving high praise. In an Edmonton Journal column by Terry Jones in December, Benson garnered lofty comparisons to NHL stars.
A couple weeks back, Lions coach Taylor Harnett went on the record with a pretty powerful quote about Benson.
“If I said 10 years ago ‘There’s a kid named Sidney Crosby playing midget hockey, you better come out and watch this guy because he’s going to be a starter one day’ you would have done it. I have the feeling that’s what we’re seeing with Tyler.”
Green won’t go quite that far.
“I saw Sidney Crosby play when he was 15 and that’s pretty lofty,” he said of the comparisons with Benson.
“I’d compare him more to Tavares, especially the way he plays the game. They’re very similar.
The Regina Pats, Prince George Cougars, Brandon Wheat Kings and Moose Jaw Warriors round out the top-5 picks in that order.
To give readers a better grasp on the 2013 bantam draft, which takes place on May 2 in Calgary, Alta., Buzzing the Net has put together a top-10 ranking. This ranking is based on two different scouting services' rankings (International Scouting Services and Western Elite Hockey Prospects) and insight from WHL scouts.
On the back end, Clague leads the way, but Fabbro and Quenneville aren’t that far behind the Lloydminister native.
Scout’s take: “Kale Clague has the best complete set of tools of any defenceman in the draft,” says Neisz. “He has a very hard shot, skates very well and remains composed. In saying that, Dante Fabbro projects to be a huge, mean defenceman with good offensive skills. Fabbro is able to work himself out of trouble do to superb skating and can flat out lay players out with bone crushing hits. He is definitely a top-6 prospect. Not too far behind the two is David Quenneville as well who projects as a pure leader and a power-play specialist. Quenneville plays with a nasty edge and with spunk.”
Patrick and Steel, meanwhile, have seemed to separate themselves from the rest of the pack as the top forwards behind Benson. Both snipers are regarded as can’t miss top-5 picks.
Scout’s take: “He has very high-end offensive skill for a big player and his skating is improving all the time,” says Neisz on Patrick. “He has the best pro potential of any player in this draft according to many in the scouting world.”
“Steel is a very talented player that has been overshadowed by Benson,” added a WHL scout who asked to remain nameless. “I think he’s clearly the second most talented forward in the draft, but Patrick has the size factor. Either way, he’ll be a top-5 for sure. I’ve heard rumours the Regina Pats might select him second overall.”
Past the first handful of prospects, Jaeger White is somewhat of a wild card in the draft. The 5-foot-10, 160-pound centre, who is the younger brother to Moose Jaw Warriors forward Torrin White, put up jaw-dropping numbers with BWC – 72 goals and 165 points in 58 games; however, the majority of draft insiders don’t have him ranked as a top-10 prospect.
Scout’s take: “Most believe White will go in the middle of the first round,” a WHL scout says. “He’s very talented and comes from a good hockey family. It comes down to how well he will transition his game to the major junior level. At this point, it’s tough to say how big of a task that will be for him.”
As for Saskatchewan, the Land of the Living Skies doesn't appear to have a top-10 prospect. Their best young gun seems to be Balgonie Prairie Storm forward Jared Legien, who is projected as a late-first to early-second round pick.
Sask. does, however, seem to have a handful of promising depth players for the later rounds.
Scout’s take: “I think there are 30-40 Saskatchewan players that could be selected in the draft,” says Yorkton-based Prince George Cougars scout Jason Gordon to Yorkton This Week. “There may not be a franchise player, but it is a year with a lot of balance. I think some players will go on and make an impact at the major junior level.”
At the end of the day, the bantam draft is a far cry from the be-all and end-all, though. Several NHL stars were passed over in the draft such as Pittsburgh Penguins winger Jarome Iginla, Phoenix Coyotes captain Shane Doan, Boston Bruins power-forward Milan Lucic and Vancouver Canucks defenceman Dan Hamhuis. This is a testament to how tough it is to predict the future of a 15-year-old hockey player.
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen.