North Star Conference fans will need no introduction to two of the top three picks by the Kenai River Brown Bears in the North American Hockey League Draft on Tuesday.
In the second round, the Bears tabbed forwards Tanner Schachle and Colton Fletcher, who have both skated for the Wasilla Warriors. Both turned heads at the Bears tryout camp in Anchorage last weekend, leading to their selection.
“Both have always been strong players,” Kenai River head coach Geoff Beauparlant said. “Both skate well, are strong on the puck and have an excellent finish around the net.”
Schachle just finished his junior year for the Warriors. He was a first-team all-conference selection the past two years.
“Tanner is more a guy that gets his nose dirty around the net,” Beauparlant said. “He plays a physical game with high-end skill.”
Fletcher left Wasilla after his sophomore year after he was drafted by Omaha of the United States Hockey League. He didn’t make that squad, but spent last season playing for Omaha of the North American Prospects Hockey League.
As a sophomore, he scored twice in the NSC title game in a 3-2 victory over Soldotna.
“I think Colton brings puck protection and poise,” Beauparlant said.
The NAHL assigns draft picks by subtracting protected veterans and tendered players from 30. The Bears have 14 protected veterans and seven tendered players, which gave them nine picks.
Because the 30 must be eventually narrowed down to a 23-man roster, getting drafted by no means guarantees making the team.
But Beauparlant says the talent procured in the draft will set up good competition at the Bears main camp from July 24 to 27 in Minnesota.
“We’re very happy,” he said. “It’s always an exciting and long process. Josh Romano, our scouting director, and all the scouting staff did an excellent job identifying players throughout the season.”
Beauparlant and Nate Kiel, the general manager, ran the draft from Soldotna, while Romano joined in via the Internet.
The Bears’ first-round selection, and 11th pick overall, was forward Wade Wylie, who played last season with the Valencia (California) Flyers of the Western States Hockey League.
Wylie was at the Bears main camp last season and the team tracked him after that.
“We really like his speed,” Beauparlant said. “On the big rink, he should really impress because of his sheer skating ability.”
After selecting Wylie and two Alaska players, the Bears had to watch as Adam Kresl was snapped off the board by the Aberdeen (South Dakota) Wings. Kresl played four regular-season games for the Bears last year, not enough to become property of the team, but enough to impress with two goals.
Monday, the Bears had given a second-round pick to the Corpus Christi (Texas) IceRays for Maurin Bouvet, a forward out of France who played in 53 games last year and had 10 goals and 15 assists.
“He is super skilled and skates well,” Beauparlant said of Bouvet. “He loves the puck on his stick. He’s a power-play guy. We’re hoping he can fill a top-six role for us.”
But the coach knew assuming Kresl would drop to the third round was risky.
“We thought he could get to the third round, and we could draft him in the third round,” Beauparlant said. “Aberdeen had shown some interest. We know he will be a solid player in the league.”
Here is a brief look at the final six picks:
Mike Winn, a 1996 defenseman taken in the third round — Beauparlant said the 6-foot-3, puck-moving defenseman will be at the main camp for the USHL’s Chicago Steel, but the Bears will be there if he doesn’t make it.
Viktor Ponatovskis, a 1995 defenseman taken in the third round — Made the all-star game at the Bears’ main camp last season, but the Bears decided the Latvian needed another year of development. The team was happy with the progress he made with the Salt Lake City Moose of the Western States Hockey League.
Matthew Wikman, a 1996 forward taken in the third round — A find of the northeast scout, who convinced him to go to the Ohio tryout camp. There, the Northfield Prep player had a hat trick in the all-star game.
Lucas Blomquist, a 1994 defenseman taken in the fourth round — At the Denver camp, Blomquist chipped some teeth, got them capped, and played the next day. Beauparlant likes his toughness, and the fact he has previous junior experience.
Cody Longie, a 1994 defenseman taken in the fifth round — Played last season with the Fargo (North Dakota) Force of the USHL. Beauparlant fully expects him to make the Force, but wanted his rights in case he doesn’t. Beauparlant said that is the same reason the team tendered Alex Jackstadt, a former Bears forward and UAA commit who played with the Force last season.
Jacob Gerson, a 1995 forward taken in the sixth round — Beauparlant said Gerson is another pre-draft camp find. He said he has a lot of the same qualities as current Bears forward Zack Zulkanycz.
Bears notes: Goalie Kris Oldham, of Anchorage, has made the Omaha (Nebraska) Lancers of the USHL. “We’re excited and proud Kris has earned this opportunity,” Beauparlant said. “We’re excited to see his career continue to progress to playing Division I hockey and possibly pro hockey.” ... Oldham is the first Bears player this offseason to earn a USHL slot, but others have great opportunities, led by Sebastian Fuchs, whose tender by the Madison Capitals puts him in the front of the line for a spot. Nathan Colwell was drafted in the second round by the Dubuque (Iowa) Fighting Saints and will be at tryout camp this weekend, along with Zulkanycz. Defenseman Austin Chavez also has been hitting tryout camps. ... The Brown Bears Classic golf tournament will be July 20 at the Kenai Golf Course. ... The team is still looking for an assistant coach. Those interested can email email@example.com.