By Ryan McCracken on May 3, 2018.
The Medicine Hat Tigers added some finesse up front by selecting Okanagan Hockey Academy centre Cole Sillinger with the 11th overall pick in the Western Hockey League bantam draft Thursday morning in Red Deer.
Sillinger — who leads Medicine Hat’s class of 10 newly drafted Tigers — put himself on the WHL radar after a stellar year in the Canadian Sport School Bantam Hockey League.
“I was actually on my way to the rink and I was looking on my dad’s phone and saw the Tigers had drafted me,” said Sillinger, who is in Philadelphia for the World Selects Invitational tournament. “I was super stoked and all my friends congratulated me. We have a team here in Philadelphia for the World Selects and every one of us got drafted today. It’s pretty exciting.”
The 5-foot-11, 165-pound Regina product factored in on 63 per cent of Okanagan’s offence this season while netting 35 per cent of his team’s tallies with 46 goals and 37 assists in just 30 games. He then carried that pace into the post-season with seven points in three playoff contests.
On top of providing a prolific offensive presence, Sillinger says he also enjoys playing the role of aggravator.
“I like to throw the body around and get under people’s skin,” he said. “I think I’ve got a great shot and I like to use my quick release and I’m a solid faceoff man, whenever our team needs to win a face-off I’m usually the guy taking it.”
If the name rings a bell, that’s because Sillinger’s father, Mike, spent 17 years in the National Hockey League with a record 12 different teams after a memorable junior career with the Regina Pats. Sillinger now follows in the footsteps of his older brothers Owen and Lukas, who both spent this season playing for the British Columbia Hockey League’s Penticton Vees. While he’s too young to vividly remember his father’s glory days on the ice, Sillinger says hockey has always been a part of his life.
“I was really young when my dad was going through it all. The guy who really got to understand it was my oldest brother Owen, he was nine at the time when he was going through it all,” said Sillinger. “I was really young so I don’t really remember but, but as soon as I got to the age of 10 or 11 it started to become real to me and I was happy that my dad knew all these programs.”
One of those programs was OHA. Sillinger joined the Penticton-based academy for his bantam draft year this season and says the staff have truly helped elevate his game in pursuit of a WHL career.
“The OHA provides it all. They’ve got good schooling, they’ve got everyone to help you out with school if you’re having trouble. They’ve got workouts every day, you’re on the ice every day. It’s the perfect place for development and it honestly got me ready for these tournaments and will get me ready for development camp in Medicine Hat,” said Sillinger. “It was a fantastic experience. With both my brothers playing for the Vees my family moved down there so I didn’t even have to billet.”
Tigers head coach and general manager Shaun Clouston says he’s very pleased with the team’s results from the draft, which addressed needs in all areas of the ice.
“We were able to, with our first three picks, get a forward, a defenceman and a goaltender and then kind of go from there,” said Clouston. “I think all teams believe they’ve pick guys who are going to be really good players. We definitely believe that and now we’ll have a chance to start working with those guys. Hopefully we’ll see most or all of them in the beginning of June at our camp.”
Edmonton-based centre Dylan Guenther went first overall in the 2003-born draft to his hometown Oil Kings.
The Tigers shifted their focus to the blue line in the second round, selecting Okotoks Oilers defenceman Dru Krebs with the 38th overall pick.
The 5-foot-9, 156-pound Okotoks product recorded seven goals and 10 assists in 34 Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League contests this season before adding six points in five games with Team South at the Alberta Cup last week.
“Right now he’s a skilled defenceman, he plays with his head up and he distributes the puck real well. He’s a strong skater and we believe he’s going to get bigger and stronger just like the vast majority of players when you’re drafting at 14,” said Clouston. “We believe he’s an impact player, a guy who will be able to play on the power play, a guy who will be able to start rushes, join rushes and contribute at both ends of the ice.”
Krebs also comes from a rich hockey family, with both of his older brothers playing in the WHL. Peyton Krebs went first overall to the Kootenay Ice in 2016 and recorded 17 goals and 37 assists as a rookie this season and Dakota closed out his year with the Calgary Hitmen.
Medicine Hat opted to put some size between the pipes with their first of two picks in the third round by selecting Yale Hockey Academy goaltender Liam Vanderkooi at 55th overall.
Standing 6-foot-4 and 195 pounds at just 15 years of age, the Abbotsford product recorded a 2.71 goals against average and a .914 save percentage while going 11-4 in 17 CSSBHL contests with Yale this season.
“He’s for sure one of the toughest goalies in the league to score on,” said Sillinger, who spent the season playing against Yale in the CSSBHL. “I think we played them six times including tournaments and regular games.”
The Tigers went back to the centre position to close out the third round by taking Calgary NWCAA Flames forward Jayden Davis with the 66th overall selection.
The 5-foot-9, 147-pound Calgarian is coming off a point-per-game season with the Flames after registering a balanced 16 goals and 16 assists in 32 AMBHL contests. David also put up four goals in five games at the midget level with the Calgary Stamps this season and added seven points in five games with Calgary North at the Alberta Cup.
The Tigers kept their focus up front in the middle of the fourth round with the selection of Prince Albert Priates forward Ashton Ferster at 77th overall.
The 6-foot, 145-pound Prince Albert product finished his season with the Pirates just shy of the two points-per-game mark after collecting 24 goals and 36 assists in just 31 Saskatchewan Bantam AA Hockey League games.
Medicine Hat used the 99th overall pick in the draft to select Airdrie Xtreme defenceman Rhett Parsons.
“It’s a real honour,” said Parsons. “I was just following it along and I saw my name pop up by the Med Hat Tigers and I was really excited, I still am. It’s a great organization and I really want to play there one day.”
Parsons recorded eight assists while providing a shutdown presence on Airdrie’s back end in 36 AMBHL games this season. The 5-foot-11, 182-pound blueliner went on to add two assists in five games at the Alberta Cup on Team Central’s championship roster.
“It was a great experience winning the Alberta Cup. It went by so fast, it was just so fun. I made some real great memories and a lot of new friends. I played really hard and that’s a key part of why I got drafted,” said Parsons, adding he hopes to bring a calm presence to Medicine Hat’s blue line. “I’m definitely a defensive defenceman. I’m really physical and I can move the puck well.”
The Tigers ventured into the Lone Star State with their seventh pick of the draft, taking Dallas Stars Elite Hockey Club forward Hayden Cox at 121st overall.
Cox — a 5-foot-11, 165-pound product of Garland, Tex. — tallied eight goals and added three assists in 12 games with the Stars’ 14U club this season.
The Tabbies used their first of two picks in the seventh round to acquire Calgary CRAA Royals forward Alex Walicki at 134th overall.
Walicki established himself an offensive threat in the AMBHL this season with 23 goals and 23 assists in 35 games with the Royals. The 5-foot-10, 169-pound Calgarian went on to added five points in five games with Calgary South at the Alberta Cup.
Medicine Hat returned to the clock nine picks later to select Yale Hockey Academy defenceman Devin Benson at 143rd overall. The 5-foot-10, 150-pound product of Lac Le Jeune, B.C. recorded a goal and two assists in 22 CSSBHL games this season. Benson was also called up to compete in eight contests with Yale’s midget 15 squad this year.
“Devin Benson is a really smart hockey player,” said Sillinger. “He’s a super nice guy. He’s very smart with the puck, a good defenceman to have.”
The Tigers shook things up in the eighth round by trading the 165th overall pick in the draft to the Victoria Royals in exchange for an eighth round selection in 2020. The Royals — who selected four times in the eighth round — took Pacific Coast Hockey Academy goaltender Keegan Maddocks with Medicine Hat’s pick.
Medicine Hat returned to the blue ice for their 10th pick in the draft, selecting Golden State Elite Eagles goaltender Owen Millward with the 187th pick.
The Vacaville, Calif. product logged a .900 save percentage and a 1.92 goals against average through 28 games with the Eagles this year.
“We’ve got a scout from that area who believes in him and we just felt it made sense at that time in the draft to round things out,” said Clouston. “We believe he’s a guy who has some interest in our league and has lots of potential. He’s a real good goaltender.”
Later in the ninth round, the Swift Current Broncos used the 197th pick to select Medicine Hat’s own Caleb Wyrostok. The 5-foot-8, 144-pound forward recorded 15 goals and nine assists in 27 games while helping his hometown South East Athletic Club Tigers end a lengthy AMBHL post-season drought this year.
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