Medicine Hat, AB – On Thursday the Medicine Hat Tigers and the other 21 WHL clubs will sit together at the Hotel Arts in Calgary, debating the future of hundreds of 14 year old hockey players in Western Canada and the United States.
In this year’s draft the Tigers hold the 5th overall selection after finishing the campaign with 65 points. The Top 5 pick is the clubs highest since 2002 when they selected Mike Gauthier with the 3rd overall pick. Despite Gauthier not suiting up for the Tabbies, the 2002 edition of the draft was crucial to the Tigers success after selecting David Schlemko (4th Round), Gord Baldwin (4th Round), Kris Russell (8th Round) and Darren Helm (9th Round) all with later picks.
The Bantam Draft is a tense time for any 14 year old’s hockey career but it should be noted that some of the NHL greats fans see today were never picked in the annual May draft. For example, Tiger great and Buffalo Sabres forward Tyler Ennis was never chosen but has gone on to an incredible Junior and Professional career thus far.
Current Tiger Mark Rassell came to the Tigers during the 2014-15 season and put up 13 points in 62 games. Last season Rassell’s opportunities continued to grow, playing valuable power play and penalty kill time. His contributions to depth scoring netted the 19 year old career highs in all offensive categories, including 4 game winning goals. Rassell had to earn his spot on the Tigers as the Calgary native knows all too well the feeling of not being taken on draft day,
“I was checking the draft periodically throughout my school day. I had talked to a lot of teams prior to the draft so I was expecting to go eventually. As the rounds went by and my name wasn’t called I was obviously pretty disappointed. After the draft I had many talks with coaches and mentors and I decided to use it as motivation.”
A few weeks went by for Rassell who decided not to let the draft day snub get him down, but at the ripe age of 14 it is difficult to see guys get picked who you played against. However for Rassell his hard work and determination at the Alberta U16 Development Camp got him listed by the Tabbies.
“For me being listed by the Tigers was a big deal. I saw it as being drafted after the draft. I was given an opportunity to come to camp and prove myself against the players who were drafted ahead of me.”
The Western Hockey League has always put an emphasis on the draft not being the only road travelled to get into the league. Being listed and playing hard at all times could get skaters a roster spot, similar to local product Dylan MacPherson who was listed late last season and has blossomed into a late aged prospect (18 years old) for the Tigers. As Rassell has showed this past season, the draft sometimes doesn’t mean much if you prove your worth,
“Once you have your foot in the door in the WHL you begin to realize that the draft does not mean as much as you initially thought. When you’re 14 sitting around a computer screen in early May you believe it’s the make or break point of your career but 5 years later you realize it is just the beginning of establishing who you are as a player. Continuous improvement has always been my motto.”
As Rassell enters his 3rd season with the Tigers, he knows he is relied upon to create more team success and be a leader for a young Tigers squad moving forward. Rassell has always been an influential person and can’t but help leave some important advice for those sitting by their computers Thursday morning, just like he did 5 years ago,
“To the players that get drafted: Congratulations! Enjoy the day, but remember that there are players who went undrafted who will be working as hard as they can to compete with you for roster spots in a few years.
To the players who go undrafted: Welcome to the club! You’ve been given an opportunity to be a great underdog story like Tyler Ennis or Curtis Valk. The bantam draft is not the end of the road; it is just the beginning. Better get to work.”
The draft kicks off Thursday May 5th at 8:30am MT and all updates on all Tigers picks can be followed throughout the day on the Tigers Social Media channels.