Neepawa Natives pleased with MJHL draft results



Several young volunteers from Neepawa Minor Hockey & MJHL Commisioner Kim Davis.

By Eoin Devereux

The Neepawa Banner

The Neepawa Natives are very happy with the results of the 2015 Manitoba Junior Hockey League bantam draft. The club selected seven players during the event, which was held at the Roxy Theatre in Neepawa, on Sunday, June 7.  Among those picks was centre Mackenzie Belinski, who was taken first overall in the draft. 

The 15-year-old from Vista, Manitoba, played last season with the Bantam AAA Yellowhead Chiefs and accumulated 54 points in 31 games. Belinski was also an eighth round selection by the Regina Pats in the 2015 WHL Draft held earlier this spring.

Natives general manager Myles Cathcart said Belinski is the type of player that works really hard on always improving his game and doesn’t coast on his natural talent. 

“He’s a good centre man, wins face-offs and has a very good skill set. Mackenzie is also a strong competitor. He’s the type of player that works really hard and continuously works on improving his skill set,” said Cathcart. “He’s also a local kid, being from the Yellowhead region and I think he should fit nicely into our organization.” 

Director of player personnel and head scout for the Neepawa Natives, Byron Billett, agreed with Cathcart’s assessment and added that Belinski is a quality centre with good speed and an innate ability to move the puck up ice.

In the second round, Neepawa decided to focus some attention to the blue line and selected defenceman Sam Stewart. The 15-year-old recently played with the Winnipeg Hawks. Scouting from suggests that Stewart has good mobility, reads the play quickly and has a strong understanding of the game. 

The third pick for Neepawa was defenceman Ben Hilhorst of Killarney. Hilhorst, who played for the Southwest Cougars in the Winnipeg Bantam AAA league and tabulated 20 points in 31 games last season.

In the fourth round, Neepawa shifted down the draft board from first to fourth and selected forward Lewis Gingrich of the Winnipeg Sharks. The 5’8” forward scored 13 goals and added 16 assists last year for the Sharks in 30 regular season games. Kyle Moore of Dufresne, Manitoba was taken in the fifth round. As a member of the Eastman Selects, Moore was able to accumulate 21 points in 31 games.

The final round of the draft would see the Natives make a pair of selections. The first was goaltender Austin Smyth, who played for the Winnipeg Warriors. In 15 regular season games, Smyth had a goals against average of 1.86 and save percentage of .918 per cent.

With their final pick of the 2015 Draft, Neepawa would take a third defensive prospect in Ryan Sasek.  Sasek was a member of the Winnipeg Warriors bantam team in 2014-2015 and contributed one goal and 15 assists during 31 games.

As part of the MJHL’s auto protect list, the Neepawa Natives acquired the rights to two players, forward Braden Gillies of Neepawa and Jesse Jones of Brookdale.

After the draft had concluded, Cathcart noted the day played out exactly as they had hoped it would.

“When you have a moment to tabulate your lists and all the top players you wanted, [This draft] we got them all. We picked up every individual that was on our radar and that we hoped would be available,” said Cathcart.

The next event of note on ice for the Neepawa Natives is scheduled for July, when the team will hold a summer prospects camp in Brandon at the Sportsplex.