By Scott Taylor

Photos by Bruce Fedyck

RHA Nationals Bantam Prep Coach Brad Purdie knows he can’t stop the talk. Fact is, it’s the same chatter that goes on almost non-stop in every elite 14-year-old locker room in Western Canada.

The 2019 Western Hockey League Bantam Draft is right around the corner – May 3, to be precise -- and, not surprisingly, it is an ongoing topic of conversation whenever the Bantam Prep Nationals get together.

And, with a smile, Purdie knows it can’t be avoided.

“You can’t get away from the draft when you’re a 14-year-old hockey player,” said Purdie. “The talk and the discussions are only going to increase now. When the season ends, the rankings are going to start coming out and we’re already getting questionnaires from some teams on our thoughts, as coaches, about players. 

“It’s something that’s always in the back of all their minds. It’s also out of their control. All they can do is what they do on the ice. We try to make sure 

They know that. (RHA’s Director of Player Personnel) Sandy Henry has been very good with that. He’s been through the draft with Red Deer and he’s been on the advisor/agent side as well. He’s really good at talking to the families. His position is always, ‘That’s just one person’s opinion on a certain day.’ Even if you don’t get drafted, we’ve seen guys quickly get listed and get multiple invites to camps.

“They all want to get their names called on that day, but it doesn’t really guarantee them anything and they still have to put the work in. As quickly as you get drafted, you can be de-listed or traded. If your name does get called, that’s when the work really starts. That’s when you have to go and prove you were worthy of the selection. You have to prove you can play at that level and make a difference.”

As Purdie points out, the Nationals have quite a number of players who could be selected this year. Three players in particular, Kyle Grysiuk, Ryder Thompson and Daimon Gardner, “All deserve to be drafted, but I don’t get to make that decision,” said Purdie. 

Keep these players in mind on Thursday, May 3.

KYLE GRYSIUK, RW, 5-foot-10, 154 pounds

Draft Prediction: Third or Fourth Round

Grysiuk started playing when he was five-years-old at Assiniboine West in St. James and played with the St. James Canadians and then a year with the AAA Hawks before joining RHA this year. 

“Kyle is an up-and-down winger with good skill,” said Coach Purdie. “He skates well, has good size and is very good around the net.”

He also enjoys the RHA program and has seen his game improve dramatically this past season.

“I love this program,” he said. “The training is awesome, my teammates are great and the coaches are awesome. I’ve also had a pretty good year, I think, I know scouts have been watching me. I think about the draft a little bit and you can’t miss it in the room. Guys are talking about it all the time.

“I’ve talked to the Spokane Chiefs a bit and I got a business card from the Kootenay Ice. I got questionnaires from the Saskatoon Blades and Brandon Wheat Kings. I want to play in the WHL. That’s the route I want to take.”

RYDER THOMPSON, D, 5-foot-9, 140 pounds

Draft Prediction: Second or Third Round.

Ryder Thompson

Thompson started playing hockey in Russell, Man., his hometown, when he was five. He played there until Peewee and moved on to Parkland Rangers AAA Bantam before joining the Nationals this season.

“Ryder is a very smooth skating defenseman who has some offensive upside.” Said Coach Purdie. “We’d like to see him show that a little bit more. It’s starting to come out in his game and that’s going to help him. He skates really well so he’s able to recover and get back into the play, or lead the play, whatever is happening at the time.”

Thompson is quick to admit that talk of the 2019 Bantam Draft can’t be avoided in the Nationals locker room.

“Yeah, I’ve been thinking about the draft,” he said. “I’m kind of getting a little nervous for it. I’m anxious to find out where I’ll get to go. Ultimately, I feel like I want to go the WHL route, but playing in the NCAA at UND would be really cool, too. 

“My mom and dad and my advisor have talked to a few WHL teams. It’s exciting. From my advisor, we’ve heard a lot from Seattle. I’m thinking that’s where I might end up. They seem really happy with my play and my skill.”

DAIMON GARDNER, C/LW, 5-foot-11, 145 pounds

Draft Prediction: Second or Third Round.

Daimon Gardner 1 2

Gardner was born in Eagle Lake, Ont., about 20 minutes from Dryden and played all of his minor hockey in Dryden before he moved, at age nine, to Warroad, Minn. There, he played age-advanced Peewee. 

“My older sisters moved there,” he explained. “A coach from Warroad saw them play in Eagle Lake and asked them to move to Warroad to play. The next year, my dad and I moved to Warroad and I played my minor hockey there for a few years and then, just last year, I moved to Winnipeg and played AAA for the Monarchs and this year, I’m at RHA.”

Coach Purdie likes Gardner’s offensive skills.

“Daimon is an offensive player, a puck-control guy who likes to have the puck on his stick,” said the coach. “He has good size, good speed and plays with some sandpaper. He has the potential to be a real good player. He thinks the game well.”

Gardner would very much like to play for the new Winnipeg (Kootenay) Ice someday.

“I’ve talked to a few teams,” he said. “I want to stay close to home. Kootenay is moving to Winnipeg next year and it would be pretty good to go there. I really would like to be drafted by Kootenay so I could stay at home. I don’t think I’ll make any quick decisions after the draft. I would play NCAA hockey if I got an offer. I’ll just wait and keep both roads open.”

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