For a team that struggled in its own end last season, it makes sense that the Prince George Cougars used their first round pick at the Western Hockey League Bantam Draft to add a blueliner.
But the team’s general manager Dallas Thompson said they weren’t looking specifically to add a defenceman. Jesse Forsberg, a six-foot, 175 lb. native of Waldheim, Sask. just happened to be one of the top players they had their eyes on.
“We thought we were going to go for the best player available,” Thompson said. “We had 11 guys picked in the first round. We picked 11th so we knew that we’d get one of them and it just happened to be a defenceman. We’re very happy with our pick.”
Thompson said Forsberg brings a little bit of everything, from his ability to move the puck up the ice to an accurate shot from the point.
In the 2007-08 season, Forsberg suited up for the Warman Wildcats bantam AA team. The squad won bantam AA provincials in Saskatchewan and went on to represent the province at the Western Canadian Bantam Championship April 3-6 in Airdrie, Alta.
Although his team finished 0-4 to fall short of medal contention, Forsberg put out solid numbers in the tournament with a goal and six assists for seven points in four games.
“I saw Forsberg play four times at the Western Canadians, twice at the (Kamloops International Bantam Ice Hockey) tournament in Kamloops. Our Saskatoon scout, (former Cougars general manager) Daryl Lubiniecki seen him play a lot this year.”
When the 2007-08 Western Hockey League season began, the Cougars didn’t have a first round pick in this year’s bantam draft. The selection belonged to the Moose Jaw Warriors, but the Cougars received it as part of the trade that saw defenceman Ty Wishart and forward Evan Fuller head to the Warriors for forwards Justin Maylan and Brad Riege.
With their second round selection, the Cats went for more offence. They selected Edmonton, Alta. product Caleb Belter with their 25th overall selection. Belter, a six-foot-one, 195 lb. right winger spent the 2007-08 season with the Southgate Lions of the Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League. He posted 37 goals and 31 assists for 68 points in 32 games played.
“Just look at his stats,” Thompson said. “He’s an offensive guy, he’s a good sized guy that skates very well. We hope he can be a guy that can score in our league.”
The Cougars traded away their third round choice, so they had to wait until the fourth round, 69th overall for their next selection. They used that pick to select Shane Pilling, a five-foot-eight, 135 lb. defenceman from Lethbridge, Alta.
In total the Cougars selected nine players – five forwards, three defenceman and a goalie.
The rest of the players added to the team, in order of selection are: goaltender Bryton Udy of Calgary (fifth round, 108th overall), centre Zac Larraza of Scottsdale, Ariz. (sixth round, 113th overall), right winger Brady Goebel of Stony Plain, Alta. (eighth round, 157th overall), left winger Max Fiedler of Kelowna (ninth round, 179th overall), Blaine Thomson of Assiniboia, Sask. (10th round, 214th overall) and Jared Linnell of North Pole, Alaska (10th round, 219th overall).
?Three Prince George minor hockey products, who played together on the Farr Fabricating Bantam AAA Cougars in the 2007-08 season, were selected in the draft.
Two of the players, defenceman Michael King and left winger Mitch Elliot, were selected in the first five rounds. The other player, right winger Clayton Chingee was taken in the ninth round, 188th overall by the Swift Current Broncos.
King was the first of the threesome taken, as his playing rights were picked up by the Kootenay Ice. The Cranbrook-based team used its second round pick, 59th overall to select King.
In a pick that originally belonged to Prince George, the Seattle Thunderbirds made a trade and with their fifth round, 91st overall selection added Elliot.