Matt Bardsley is not haunted by the ghost of Massimo Rizzo.
The Kamloops Blazers’ general manager, running his first WHL Bantam Draft on Thursday in Red Deer, selected two players with elite potential, both of whom have made verbal commitments to the NCAA Division-1 Michigan Wolverines.
“I’m confident that they are going to want to come and play in Kamloops,” Bardsley said. “Obviously, there is going to be some work to be done there. We’ve had conversations with the players, with the families.”
Kamloops, under former general manager Stu MacGregor, selected forward Massimo Rizzo 15th overall in the 2016 bantam draft, with knowledge he had eyes on playing NCAA hockey.
Rizzo has not played a game for the Blazers and owner Tom Gaglardi suspects he never will.
Bardsley nabbed defenceman Mats Lindgren seventh overall. He is the son of former NHL forward Mats Lindgren.
KTW reached the young D-man by phone.
“I’m very grateful that a great organization like Kamloops selected me,” Lindgren said. “It’s a great organization, a great city. We’re very happy about it.”
Can he confirm he will play for the Blazers?
“Today has just been a crazy day,” Lindgren said. “I’m just trying to digest everything that’s happened.”
Bardsley said Lindgren can be a foundational player.
“Mats Lindgren is an elite-level defenceman,” Bardsley said of the 5-foot-8, 140-pound left shot.
“He’s a dynamic skater, the type of defenceman you build franchises with. Great skater, great vision, loves to get up the ice and can either lead the rush or join the rush.”
Lindgren racked up four goals and 26 points in 27 games this season for Burnaby Winter Club bantam prep.
The Blazers picked twice in the first round for the first time in club history on Thursday, using the 20th overall pick to select 6-foot-1,170-pound centre Connor Levis of Vancouver.
“Connor is a player that is a big body, really good skater, good vision,” Bardsley said of the left-shot forward who is verbally committed to the Wolverines. “He’s a young player with an October birthday, so he’s got a lot of room to grow in all aspects of his game, even physically as he adds strength.
“With him at that pick, we couldn’t pass up on him. He has the potential to be a very elite player.”
Levis had 24 goals and 62 points in 26 games for St. George’s School bantam prep in 2018-2019.
The Levis family was en route to Philadelphia for a hockey tournament and could not be reached before KTW’s press deadline.
Bardsley is confident both players will join the team.
“There is work to be done there, but at the end of the day, they are such elite-level players that we felt that these were the type of guys we want in our organization, so we have to work at it,” Bardsley said.
“I believe that they will be Kamloops Blazers.”
The first goaltender taken on Thursday, Dylan Ernst, went to the Blazers, who selected the Weyburn, Sask., product 28th overall in Round 2.
“He’s a good-sized goaltender that is very athletic and calm in the net,” a Blazers’ press release said. “He has good feet and good hands, with poise in goal.”
Ethan Ernst, a 17-year-old forward, is Dylan’s brother. Ethan plays for the Kelowna Rockets.
“It’s hard enough to watch him in net, let alone playing against his brother,” Bonnie Ernst, the brothers’ mother, said on Twitter.
Kamloops picked six forwards, two rearguards and one goaltender, including five players from B.C. and two each from Saskatchewan and Alberta.
Nash Bamford, a forward from Lacombe, Alta., selected by Kamloops in Round 7, is the son of country music star Gord Bamford.
Kamloops product Mathew Ward, a 5-foot-7 forward, was picked 14th overall by the Swift Current Broncos. Forward Hayden Smith of Kamloops was picked in Round 2, 24th overall, by Saskatoon.
Kolby Hay of Kamloops, a goaltender, was picked 62nd overall by the Edmonton Oil Kings. The Portland Winterhawks snagged forward Carter Streek of Kamloops 80th overall.
Wild Round 1
The 2019 WHL Bantam Draft was held on Thursday in Red Deer.
A flurry of significant trades took place in Round 1.
With the first over selection, the Winnipeg Ice nabbed Carter Savoie, the consensus No. 1 pick.
The 5-foot-9 forward from St. Albert, Alta., has committed to the University of Denver and it is not clear if he will report to any WHL club that picks him.
Winnipeg acquired the rights to 2002-born Carter Savoie, Matthew’s older brother, in a trade with the Regina Pats in April.
The Ice and Saskatoon Blades made a significant trade that was announced shortly after they selected Savoie in Round 1.
Winnipeg acquired 20-year-old forward Reece Harsch and the third overall pick in the 2019 draft in exchange for the ninth and 24th overall picks in 2019 and second- and fifth-round picks in2020.
The Ice then traded the the third overall pick acquired from Saskatoon to Prince George in exchange for the third overall pick in 2019 and a third-round pick in 2020.
Winnipeg nabbed forward Conor Geekie of Strathclair, Man., with the second overall pick. Prince George nabbed defenceman Keaton Dowhaniuk of Sherwood Park, Alta., and forward Koehn Ziemmer of Mayerthorpe, Alta., with the third and fourth selections.
The Kelowna Rockets traded the fifth overall pick to the Brandon Wheat Kings in exchange for the 10th overall pick and the rights to 19-year-old defenceman Sean Comrie, who played this season for the University of Denver.
Brandon selected forward Nate Danielson of Red Deer, Alta., with the fifth overall pick and forward Tyson Zimmer of Russell, Man., with the sixth overall pick.
Kamloops used the seventh pick to select 5-foot-8, 140-pound defenceman Mats Lindgren of North Vancouver, a Burnaby Winter Club product who has a verbal commitment to play for the University of Michigan.
He is the son of former NHLer Mats Lindgren, a Swedish forward who played one season with the Vancouver Canucks.
Forward Jordan Gustafson of Ardrossan, Alta., went to Seattle at eighth overall. The Blades picked forward Brandon Lisowsky of Port Coquitlam ninth overall.
Transaction madness continued when the Rockets acquired defenceman Jake Lee, who will turn 18 in July, 18-year-old forward Dillon Hamaliuk and 18-year-old goaltender Cole Schwebius from the Seattle Thunderbirds in exchange for forward Connor Bruggen-Cate, who will turn 20 in September, and the 10th overall pick and a second-round pick in the 2019 draft.
Kelowna, which missed the 2019 playoffs, is playing host to the 2020 Memorial Cup.
The T-Birds selected D-man Kevin Korchinski of Saskatoon 10th overall.
With the 20th overall pick, the Blazers selected 6-foot-1 forward Connor Levis of Vancouver. Levis has a pre-draft committment to the University of Michigan.
The Class of 2019