Is Reese the piece the Calgary Hitmen are looking for back on the blueline?
They certainly hope so after making defenceman Reese Hamilton the fourth-overall pick Wednesday in the 2022 WHL Prospects Draft.
“Reese is a modern-day defenceman, a smooth skater with a good stick who can skate and pass out of trouble,” said Hitmen director of player personnel Garry Davidson. “He checks all our boxes and will be a great addition to our back-end and team.”
Hamilton, a product of Whitewood Sask., played with the Northern Alberta Xtreme under-15 prep team during the 2021-22 Canadian Sports School Hockey League season. The 5-foot-11, 150-lb. blue-liner finished the year with 54 points, including 12 goals, in 27 games.
The last time the Hitmen had the fourth overall pick was in 2018, when they selected now-Anaheim Ducks prospect Sean Tschigerl, who has starred in the last four seasons with Calgary’s WHL squad.
“Reese is a complete player,” Davidson said. “He’ll play big minutes — thinks the game so well. He’ll pack it out and pass it out of our zone, and I certainly like his game on the offensive blue-line, too.”
Hamilton was one of 10 players selected by the Hitmen in the draft. All told, they called the names of six forwards, three defencemen and one goalie in the pick-em, which was held online. The WHL Prospects Draft was for 2007-born players from the four western provinces and select U.S states.
“I am excited by this year’s draft class, and so is the rest of our scouting staff,” Davidson said. “All players selected were well liked by all, and some of them we didn’t expect to be available when they were, so we are very pleased.”
After Hamilton in Round 1, the Hitmen grabbed another d-man with the first of three picks in the second round.
At No. 29, they drafted Wyatt Pisarczyk of the Alberta Elite League’s Airdrie U15 AAA Xtreme. The Xtreme captain had 14 goals and 52 points in 31 AEHL games.
“He’s not a lot different than Reese, other than Wyatt’s a little bit undersized right now, but, boy oh boy, he can skate and think,” Davidson said. “There’s a lot of similarities in their game, and I’ll be honest with you, that’s what we were looking for in some defencemen — we want them to drive some offence from the back-end.”
Then they followed with two more Round 2 selections, both centres at Nos. 43 and 44 respectively — Benjamin Kindel from B.C.’s BWC Academy U15 prep club, and Sawyer Mayers of B.C.’s Thompson U15 AAA Blazers. Kindel collected 47 points, including 12 goals, in 22 games, while Mayers counted 29 points, including 18 goals, in 24 games.
“We see a guy that’s top-six forward that’s going to drive offence for us in Ben — very good vision and a very good stick,” Davidson said. “Sawyer is a little bit of a different dimension — big at 6-foot-2, so he gets involved physically. Good hockey sense and hands, and he has pro upside, as well.
“So those two centremen are an apple and an orange there.”
In the third round — 51st overall — the Hitmen finished off their d-man drafting by taking Hunter Aura, also of the Blazers. He had 12 goals and 29 points as a blue-liner in 29 games.
“Again, he’s got that same kind of package as Reese and Wyatt — heads, hands and feet,” Davidson said. “Captain of his bantam team in Kamloops and manned the power play — a really solid player.”
The WHL franchise used its two fifth-round spots — Nos. 95 and 99 overall — to select Kale Dach, of the AEHL’s Fort Saskatchewan U15 AAA Rangers and Park MacDougall, of B.C.’s South Island U15 AAA Royals. Both are centremen, with Dach piling up 34 goals and 92 points in 34 games, and MacDougall scoring 18 goals and 41 points in 22 games.
“Kale drove a lot of offence, and that’s what we anticipate he’ll do at the junior level, too,” said Davidson of Dach. “He can make plays and finish, and he’s got some tools on the offensive side of the puck. There’s a lot of hockey players in Rounds 4, 5 and 6, and I think Kale is one of the guys who slipped to the fifth round for whatever the reasons were, but we didn’t have a fourth-round pick, so we were glad he was still there in the fifth.
“Same with Parker,” continued Davidson of MacDougall. “Parker’s a little bit different than Kale, though. He’s a little more in-your-face and hard-working — blue-collar player who can drive some offence.”
At No. 117 in the sixth round, the Hitmen went with another centre — Connor Bear of the RINK Winnipeg Hockey Academy, who netted 21 goals and 47 points in 29 games in the CSSHL. He’s a cousin to NHLer Ethan Bear.
“A good solid two-way centre, and he’s got some compete in his game, along with the ability to drive some offence,” Davidson said. “So we’re going to have some competition with this (centre) group as we move forward.”
The first winger chosen by the Hitmen was in Round 7 — 139th overall — in Wyatt Blace, another CSSHL talent. He had 22 goals and 59 points in 30 tilts for the Pacific Coast Hockey Academy U15 prep squad.
“Wyatt played with Noah Fossey, probably the best 08 in British Columbia,” Davidson said. “Wyatt goes up and down and goes to the net and gets to the inside and plays a physical game — gives us a little bit more sandpaper from that position.”
And with their final pick, the Hitmen went with goaltender Austin Kindrat of the Winnipeg U15 AAA Thrashers Blue side. His numbers were a 6-7-3 record to go with a 4.44 goals-against average and a .896 save percentage.
“We really like his compete — he stays square to the puck and is very efficient in his movements in the net,” added Davidson. “In my past experience, we don’t usually jump in on goaltenders very early, and I told Austin that the last guy I was involved with in the eighth round was Carter Hart.”
FIRST FEMALE DRAFTED INTO WHL
Chloe Primerano became the first female ever to be selected in the WHL draft, when the Vancouver Giants chose her in Thursday’s prospect pick-em.
The defender from North Vancouver was drafted 286th overall from B.C.’s BWC Academy Under-15 prep squad, with whom she collected 19 points — including two goals — in 30 games played this past season.
“She is adept at moving the puck and is calm under the pressure of opposing forechecks,” Giants manager of hockey operations Taylor Green said of Primerano, a 13th-round pick, on Twitter. “Her processing speed allows her to consistently make good decisions in all three zones of the rink.”
The 5-foot-8, 134-lb. blue-liner found out via the internet on her way home from school.
“I didn’t really think this was going to happen, so when it happened, it was kind of surreal,” said the 15-year-old Primerano during a FaceTime call on Hockey Night in Canada on Thursday night.
“My favourite player is Duncan Keith, so I’ve definitely modelled my game around him, but definitely modern defenceman like Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes and how they’re so offensive and great skaters, as well.”