After sitting on the sidelines for much of the first five rounds of the last two WHL prospects drafts, the Kelowna Rockets will be relevant again when the annual draft of bantam age players begins Thursday morning.
Barring any last-minute wheeling and dealing, the Rockets will have seven selections within the top 95. That includes one in the second round (29th), and two in each of the third, fourth and fifth rounds, four of those as a result of previous trades. Conditions placed on a fourth round pick as part of the Colton Dach trade to Seattle have been met meaning the Rockets have the 76th pick from that deal.
Their first round pick was sent to Seattle as part of a deal that brought Matthew Wedman to the Rockets prior to the ill-fated 2020 Memorial Cup.
It's the final pick the Rockets will lose as a result of deals made during the 2019-2020 season.
Kelowna Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton says his scouting staff is excited for the opportunity to make multiple selections in the top half of the draft.
"We are really confident we'll refill the cupboard a little bit because it's in need of it," said Hamilton.
"To the credit of our scouts, we've had a number of young men we've picked in the last three or four years find a way to get here."
Hamilton says all indications point to a strong 2023 bantam crop particularly out of Alberta and Saskatchewan.
He says the Rockets should get some quality players through the first five rounds of the draft.
And, while Hamilton says there is a need for a top end defenceman the team will continue to draft best available and not position when their turn comes around.
"If you fall into the trap of picking by position you are going to get into trouble. You would obviously like to get a goalie somewhere and you have to remember somewhere along the line you have to fill that spot.
"Our guys historically as you are well aware have been pretty fond of defencemen and that will be a priority that we find a good young defenceman and any skill we can get we'll be going after."
The Rockets head into the draft with six rostered players entering their overage season, however Gabriel Szturc should be ready to turn pro depending on his status after the NHL draft while defenceman Noah Dorey will likely be moved at some point after he was sent home after asking for a trade at the deadline.
Hamilton doesn't expect to move any of his overage players prior to the draft, nor does he expect to move any of his picks in order to move up or acquire a player.
The Rockets also own the seventh and 26th picks in Wednesday's U.S.-only prospects draft.
That draft is open to players who reside in one of the 22 Western-most states.
Over the first three years of the U.S. draft, the Rockets have only had one player, last year's first round pick defenceman Jackson Gillespie sign a standard WHL contract.
Hamilton says the team has put a lot more time and energy into that draft because it can be more difficult to convince American players to come north than Canadian born players.
"We've paid a lot more attention to this because (assistant GM Curtis Hamilton) was in a position to put more time into that.
"He really focused on that after Christmas and I think he has done a real good job of putting together a list and communicated with most of the families for sure.
"We also did a little more work this year one researching players and questionnaires that we haven't really done before, so we've amped up the analytics side of it."
Players taken in this week's draft will, for the most part, play midget hockey next season.
They won't be eligible to play full time in the Western Hockey League until the 2024-2025 season.