Natives pleased with draft results


By Eoin Devereux

Neepawa Banner & Press

If unprepared, the time between picks during the Manitoba Junior Hockey League Bantam Draft can be extremely stressful for teams. Fortunately for the Neepawa Natives, that’s something they didn’t have to deal with, as they walked away from the event feeling optimistic about the future of the club.

Director of player personnel/head scout Byron Billett and the other half-dozen members of the scouting staff spent countless hours in arenas across the prairies over the winter. Natives general manager Myles Cathcart said that all that time and effort culminated in those few hours at the draft table on Sunday, June 3.

“The scouting staff led by Byron Billett performed an incredible job, ensuring we were all prepared for the draft day,” said Cathcart. “Their hard work throughout the season was impressive. A lot of games are covered with detailed reports.”

That attention to detail allowed the club to use their first selection on a high caliber threat from the blue-line, in the form of Kyle Melo of the Eastman Selects. The 15-year-old from Lorette, produced 40 points (23 goals - 17 assists) in just 34 games. Cathcart noted that Melo should make a solid addition to the defensive core in the future.

“[Melo] is a high end skilled defenseman. He has great vision on the ice and we believe he has a strong future in the game of hockey.” stated Cathcart.

Byron Billett agreed with Cathcart’s assessment, noting that Melo’s exceptional offensive skills are complimented quite well by his defensive prowess. Billett added Melo’s speed and sound decision making under pressure will enable him to make a quick transition to junior hockey.

The second selection was a little closer to home, as Briley Wood of Rivers was picked up with the 14th  pick. The forward put in an excellent season for the Yellowhead Chiefs, producing 49 points (27G - 22A) in 36 games. Cathcart said that the upside for Wood is extremely positive.

“[Wood] has a high skill set with a quick release. He has a scoring touch around the net and plays a good all-around game.”

With their third pick, 25th overall, Neepawa picked Aiden Litke of Winnipeg. The forward played last year at Rink H.A. Nationals Bantam Prep. Billet was complimentary of Litke’s physical style of play and his willingness to battle for puck possession throughout the ice.  He also stressed that Litke’s 200 foot game is an asset to any team in all three zones of the ice.

The other players selected by Neepawa included Cameron Hibbert of Winnipeg (36th), Aiden Dufault of Narol, MB (47th) and Cody Gudnason of Killarney (60th). Cathcart said that the club is very much looking forward to seeing them, along with the other future prospects at the upcoming development camp in Brandon scheduled for July 9-10 at the Sportsplex.