Early Wheat Kings Succeed at the Bantam Draft

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April 30, 2013, Brandon, MB, (ISN) –  Kelly McCrimmon became general manager of the Wheat Kings in 1988 and with the assistance of Player Personnel Director Al Macpherson, his team was one of the first to embrace the Western Hockey League’s Bantam Draft.

Thanks to some timely trades and a great eye for talent, the Wheat Kings managed to select six players with first round selections during the first three years of the bantam draft.

After choosing Winnipeg center Bobby “Bulldog” Brown (4th overall) in 1990, the Wheat Kings selected two – Colin Cloutier (2nd overall) and Mike Dubinsky (7th) in ’91 and three more in ’92 including blueliner Wade Redden, who was chosen with the second overall pick.

Joining him that year were defenceman Justin Kurtz (6th) and Joel Korenko (7th).

While Korenko’s stay in Brandon was brief, the other five certainly had significant impact on the Wheat Kings as McCrimmon used the draft as a way to turn the club’s fortunes around to become one of the most successful franchises of the nineties.

A native of Hillmond, Saskatchewan, Redden spent three years in Brandon and was a member of two Memorial Cup teams, including the ’96 team that beat Spokane in the WHL Championship Final. A former WHL Rookie of the Year, Redden scored 27 goals and 126 points in 179 games as a Wheat King, before embarking on what has been a successful National Hockey League career.

Chosen by the New York Islanders with the second selection of the ’95 NHL Entry Draft, Redden was quickly sent to Ottawa where he played with the Senators for eleven seasons. Including stops in New York, St. Louis and Boston, Redden enters this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs having played in 1,023 NHL games, scoring 109 goals and 457 points in the process.

Joining Redden on back to back Memorial Cup teams in the mid-nineties were Kurtz and Brown, two Winnipeg products. The Playoff Most Valuable Player in 1996, Brown spent four seasons in Brandon before going on to play eleven seasons of professional hockey. An undrafted NHL free agent, Brown scored 178 points, including 84 goals in 207 games for the Wheat Kings.

Kurtz meanwhile continues to play, having scored two goals and 10 points in 23 games for the Dresden Ice Lions this past winter. A former member of the American Hockey League’s Manitoba Moose, Kurtz was chosen by the original Winnipeg Jets in the fourth round (84th overall) of the ’95 NHL draft. A 4-year WHL veteran, Kurtz scored 54 goals and 200 points in 240 games as a Wheat King.

Unlike Redden, Brown and Kurtz, Cloutier and Dubinsky were members of just one Memorial Cup squad. Following the ’94-95 season, Cloutier was dealt to Prince George while Dubinsky was moved to the Tri-City Americans in exchange for Dorian Anneck the following year.

A second round draft choice (34th overall) of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Cloutier played three seasons in Brandon, scoring 38 goals and 94 points in 140 games. After playing three years in the Tampa organization, he returned home to Winnipeg where he resides today.

As for Dubinsky, the Sherwood Park, Alberta product spent three and a half years as a Wheat King. A gifted offensive player, the Vancouver Canucks draft choice scored 23 goals and 71 points in 101 games for Brandon as he battled a number of injuries during his career. After finishing his WHL playing days with the Edmonton Ice in 1997, he joined his father in the construction business.

The WHL’s annual Bantam Draft will be held this Thursday, with Brandon holding down the fourth overall selection and three of the first 25. Needless to say, McCrimmon and Macpherson will be hoping that a solid day at the draft table will pave the way for bigger and better things down the road.

Vancouver has the number one pick on Thursday, followed by Regina and Prince George. Moose Jaw follows the Wheat Kings to round out the top five.

The draft is the first opportunity for WHL Clubs to replenish their systems with graduating Bantam-aged players. The order of selection for the first round of the draft is determined through a weighted lottery consisting of the six non-playoff teams. The draft order is based on the inverse overall standings from the regular season.

WHL fans can watch the first round of the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft live online via Webcast. The Draft begins at 9:30AM CST and up to the minute reports can be found at wheatkings.com or by following the WHL club on Facebook and Twitter.