That was the word from Valley Wildcats general manager Nick Greenough following the annual Maritime Hockey League entry draft held June 10 in Miramichi, NB.
“We got two of the top three players we wanted,” says Greenough. “So, as a group, we're really pleased with how draft weekend went.”
Valley picked second overall and selected Riley MacInnis with its first round choice. The Truro, Nova Scotia native scored 27 points in 36 games last season as a 15-year-old rookie with the Pictou County Weeks Major Midgets. Greenough says MacInnis is exactly the type of player the organization was looking for.
“We identified Riley a while ago. He plays with a lot of heart and work ethic, and we believe he'll eventually be wearing a letter with us. Riley drove to Miramichi for the draft. He wants to be here, and we want him here.”
The Wildcats selected eight players over the eight rounds and completed several other trades as management continues to overhaul the roster.
In round two, Valley selected Andrew Picot from the Halifax MacDonalds Major Midget program. Greenough says his scouts really liked what they saw from the 17-year-old, whom he describes as a late bloomer who snuck in under the wire.
“Andrew is Junior A ready. He's someone who can step into our line up and play hard,” he said.
Picot had 14 points in only 18 games last season in Halifax; he did not join the midget squad until halfway through the season in December.
The third round saw the Wildcats go local, selecting Nictaux's Robbie Dowell 25th overall. Dowell is a former major bantam Wildcat who scored seven points in his rookie season last year with the major midgets, and Greenough says he's someone they wanted to keep in a Wildcat jersey for years to come.
“We wanted those local players, and we believe Robbie will have a breakout year for the major midgets this season,” he said.
Dowell says he wants to play at the highest possible level.
“I am very proud and thankful to have been drafted by my hometown team. I will be working hard all summer to hopefully crack a spot on the roster,” Dowell said.
Valley selected defenceman Sounthon Thammachack of the Halifax MacDonalds in round four.
The 16-year-old had 23 points, all assists, last season, and Greenough says he brings an edge with his game.
Other draft picks included South Shore Mustangs defenceman Brian Grandy in the fifth round and Cole Harbour Wolfpack goaltender Lucas Fitzpatrick in round six.
Fitzpatrick was selected in the second round of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League draft in 2016 by Quebec, and his rights have since been traded to Shawinigan. He's the younger brother of Sherbrooke Phoenix goaltender and St. Louis Blues prospect Evan Fitzpatrick.
Greenough says the Fitzpatrick pick gives Valley seven goalies on their protected list, which gives the club lots of options.
“If we get two or three of those guys back for training camp, we're in good shape,” says Greenough. “If we get more than that, then we have assets.”
The Wildcats finished the draft with two selections in the eighth round: Pictou County Weeks Major Midgets defenceman Cameron Allaby, and Digby native Kyle Penney, who is currently attending prep school in New Hampshire.
Valley was also involved in seven trades that saw players moved on draft day, including five deals that were completions of deals made at last season's trade deadline.
The Edmonston Blizzard sent Wolfville native Josh MacMillan to the Wildcats. MacMillan played for the Major Midget Wildcats for three seasons before making his junior A debut last season with the former Dieppe Commandos.
The Amherst Ramblers shipped 19-year-old Keenan Wedge-Joudrey to the Wildcats. The Saint John native brings a big body and physical style to the Wildcats, and Greenough says Wedge-Joudrey is looking forward to playing a much bigger role with Valley after receiving limited ice time last season in Amherst.
Valley landed the rights to a pair of players from the Pictou County Weeks Crushers in the form of 18-year-old A.J. Allain from the Dartmouth Major Midget program, and 18-year-old Shaun Miller, who currently plays with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Two trades sent players out of Berwick as the Summerside Western Capitals acquired P.E.I. native Jonathan Larter for future considerations and Donovan Rehill and an eighth round draft pick were sent to the Pictou County Weeks Crushers in exchange for Drew Packman, a conditional fourth round pick in the 2018 draft and future considerations.
Greenough says he believes Packman is another player who will thrive with a chance to play a larger role with the Wildcats.
“We tried to get Drew before in a trade, so we're happy to get him. It's sad to see Rehill go, but he's going to go to St. FX University this year. Education has to be a priority for these guys so we helped with that and worked out a deal with the Crushers.”
Hoping for improved season
Greenough says the draft weekend was another step in making his team harder to play against in the coming seasons.
“We have to wait and see what happens in the Q when they hold training camps,” says Greenough. “We have a lot of guys attending those camps, and we hope they make it and get a chance, but if not, they can play big roles for us. Of course, we're looking to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League for free agents right now as well. We don't want to go through another fire sale like last season again.”
Being shut out of the post-season is not something Greenough wants to see happen again.
“I'm not saying we're going to win a championship right away, but we're building a team that's going to compete every shift, work hard every night, and let other teams know that the Valley's a tough place to come play against.”
Did you know?
At the draft in Miramichi, it was also announced that the Valley Wildcats will host the annual draft weekend in June 2018 at the Kings Mutual Century Centre in Berwick.