The WHL staged its inaugural U.S. Prospects Draft Wednesday and the Winnipeg Ice stayed close to home with its two selections.
Winnipeg took right-winger Jayson Shaugabay from Warroad, Minn., with the sixth overall pick in the first round and followed that by choosing centre Beckett Hendrickson of Minnetonka, Minn., 39th overall.
Shaugabay, who is in Grade 9 and the youngest player on the Warroad High School team, had 19 goals and 32 assists for 51 points in 22 games this season.
Drafting college-bound American players is usually a gamble for WHL teams and choosing Shaugabay, who is talented enough to be first-round selection in next month's WHL Bantam Draft, is no different.
"It's pretty cool and exciting to be drafted but my goal is to play college hockey," said the 5-9, 158-pound Shaugabay via telephone. "But I don't know, I might go to the camp and love it and play there but right now, college is my goal."
The Ice would dearly love to persuade him to venture north to play when he is eligible to play full-time for the start of the 2021-22 season.
"He's one of the top players in his age group," said Jake Heisinger, Winnipeg's assistant GM. "Like any good player, he's certainly going to have a number of options but we had some discussions leading up to the draft and in our conversations, he and his representation said he would come to camp and see what everything's about here in Winnipeg. When training camp rolls around, it'll be fun to see him here."
Hendrickson, the 14-year-old son of Minnesota Wild assistant coach Darby Hendrickson, is also on the college track but said he was open to the possibility of major-junior hockey. He's also a friend of Shaugabay's, a fact not lost on the Ice brass.
"I think the Western Hockey League's a great league," said Hendrickson, who is 6-0 and 150 pounds. "I'll definitely look into it. Going to the camp especially will be something great for me to do and check everything out and see how I liked it. If it's something that's meant to be, then obviously I'd choose the WHL path."
Hendrickson had 52 goals and 114 points in 43 games with the Minnetoka Bantam AA Skippers.
Said Heisinger: "We felt it would be good to draft guys with some familiarity with each other that were both good players."
All other American-born players not chosen Wednesday remain eligible to be chosen in the WHL Bantam Draft, slated to be held next month.
PATS LAND NO. 1 PICK
The Regina Pats earned the right to choose first overall at the bantam draft after the league conducted its draft lottery for the six lowest-placed teams Wednesday.
Regina, which had acquired Swift Current's first-round pick in a trade, is expected to select West Vancouver Academy star Connor Bedard. Bedard was granted exceptional player status by Hockey Canada a day earlier and will be eligible to play in the WHL this fall.
The remainder of the top six picks will go like this: 2. Prince George Cougars; 3. Moose Jaw Warriors; 4. Tri-City Americans; 5. Saskatoon Blades; 6. Red Deer Rebels.
Winnipeg, meanwhile, holds the 14th overall selection.
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Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.