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The Western Hockey League is the largest major junior league by geography. Players are also taken in the WHL draft younger than any other league, at age 14.
How it works
Once your 14 year-old season, your last bantam year, is over, the WHL bantam draft is held in early May.
Western Hockey League bantam draft scouts have to cover more terrain than in other leagues, but teams usually have at least one per province and even some in the States.
If teams are interested in players, scouts may talk to the player to get a feel of his plans for the future, especially if the player plays in a province where NCAA scholarships from Junior A are prevalent. In the past, top WHL bantam draft picks, such as #1 pick Jonathon Toews, have bolted for the NCAA, so teams like to see where a player’s head is at. They also want to get a feel for your character.
Sometimes teams will tell you if they are going to pick you. For a higher pick, this could me a bunch of teams want to pick you. For a lower pick, you may not even get a call.
The WHL draft is a weekend affair. Once you’re selected you’ll receive a phone call and a brief chat. That’s about it. You’ll get some follow up from the team and the process of coming to development camps continues.
For players already drafted or on protected lists, the Western Hockey League Bantam draft (or just prior to it) is when players get shuffled, dropped or picked up. The WHL draft is always in the spring, so teams are looking forward to the next season and replacing talent.
Protected lists have a maximum of 50 players. This includes players on the active roster as well as prospects. Usually the team who wants to list you gets first grabs—if you are 16 and have a good showing at, say, The Mac’s midget tournament, there may be a fight for you—if you weren’t taken in the WHL draft, but teams lower in the standings can veto you being signed and they can protect you themselves. Not being taken in the WHL bantam draft, every time I got picked up or dropped I received a call as per league rules. I didn’t even meet anybody from one team, but I always was told.
Of the 50 protected players, 23 are on the active roster and 27 are prospects.
Players who get picked, can play up to five games a 15 year-old, and unlimited games for the rest of that season once their team is eliminated. Remember, as an affiliated player you do no receive education benefits until you sign a contract. It’s the contract, not the games played, that get you the school.
Who Gets Picked?
Traditionally, players taken in the Western Hockey League bantam draft were larger players, with some teams having complete defensive cores of 6’4” players. Nowadays, with a more open league due to rule changes, WHL draft selections area range of sizes in a much more open and speedy league.
There is no one preferred area that players are chosen from, and the draft to a certain extent mirrors population size of each region players are chosen from. In Western Canada, all Bantam hockey is easily visible for the WHL draft.
Additionally, American players usually come from California, Arizona, Alaska, Minnesota, and Texas. However, players are also eligible to and do come from Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregona, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. American players are eligible for the WHL draft. The league even holds a prospect camp in California, by open invite. In 2011-12, 34 WHL players were from the USA.
In 2011, the 232 WHL Draft selections broke down like this:
|Region||# of Picks||% of Picks|
A Typical Season
Players who graduate through the midget ranks from the WHL Bantam Draft into the league will play the longest regular season in junior at 72 games.
Opening night occurs the third weekend of September. The big events include the Canada-Russia Super Series in November, and the CHL Top Prospects game in January. There is no break in the schedule for these games
The final roster date is the January trade deadline, the second week of the month. Playoffs take place at the very end of March and the Memorial Cup National Championship goes at the end of May.
The year rounds out with the Western Hockey League Bantam Draft at the beginning of May. The league has 22 teams, 17 in Canada, and 5 in the United States (Washington and Oregon).
The WHL has always been a leader in education. Their creed is simply ‘play a year, get a year’. The chief difference for this league from others is that the players get a full year of school paid for no matter where they hail from. That means a kid from rural Manitoba would get enough money to equal what is needed at U of M, while a kid from Orange County, California would get tuition needed to go to UCLA. This money is guaranteed whether or not the player was selected in the WHL draft.
There is a bit of a hitch with this scholarship in that you must play regular season games or playoffs after October 10. Otherwise, you just get half a year of school. This is still a better deal than the other Major Junior leagues.
You can also strike a deal better than these minimums with your parent team. I tell players and parents how this works in my book, The Junior Hockey Truth. (I know cause I did it.)
Interestingly, you don’t need to actually play hockey to use a Major Junior scholarship, and you can use it at any institution. I played with guys who became police officers, mechanics and a variety of other careers with their money. Some were taken in the WHL draft, some were not.
To access your money, you simply send the WHL office a receipt and copy of your transcripts and they will pay the school directly. It’s a simple process and it went off for me without a hitch for the three years I did it. Long time league academic advisor Jim Donlevy was always there to answer questions as well. If you’re a WHL Bantam draft pick you’ll get to know his name and recognize his face rather quickly.
The league’s scholarship program is a bit of a necessity given the strength of local Junior A hockey in Western Canada and the amount of scholarships that come from those leagues. Taking a 14 year-old player in the WHL draft provides teams a way to get to players early.
May 21, 2013
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