Matt Bardsley entered the hockey business in 1999.
After nearly 20 years of building a reputation with the Portland Winterhawks, he earned the Kamloops Blazers’ general manager position last June.
Bardsley will run his first WHL Bantam Draft in Red Deer on Thursday.
The Blazers’ scouting staff includes holdovers from previous regimes and talent adjudicators brought on board by Bardsley.
GM Stu MacGregor and director of player personnel Matt Recchi were not retained after the 2017-2018 campaign.
When they were in charge, head scout Ken Fox was right-hand man to Recchi, who oversaw all scouting. Bardsley has introduced a different system.
Kamloops has three head scouts — Fox (Saskatchewan/Manitoba), Jason Pashelka (Alberta) and Robbie Sandland (B.C.).
Regional scouts report to head scouts, who report to Bardsley, who has the final say in determining players’ rankings on the team’s draft board.
The buck will stop with Bardsley on Thursday.
Pashelka replaces the Blazers’ former top Alberta scout, Mark Blair, who moved on to the Moose Jaw Warriors.
Sandland and Pashelka are among Bardsley-hired newcomers, who also include regional scouts Kevin Haupt (Alberta), Stephen Zipp (Alberta), Scott Blakeney (B.C./Lower Mainland), Chase Souto (U.S./California) and Mike DeAngelis (U.S./Arizona).
Adding two Alberta-region scouts may have something to do with the Blazers’ recent draft record. Since 2015, Kamloops has drafted 42 players, only six of whom are from Alberta.
“You want to make sure you have coverage,” Bardsley said. “That way you know you’re not missing guys. That was the reason we added some more in that area.”
Bardsley inherited a group that includes regional scouts Rocky Allen (Kootenays/Southern Alberta), Greg Batters (Vancouver Island), RoyEl Caswell (Lower Mainland), Ken Cross (Manitoba), Grant Evans (Lower Mainland), Dennis McKinnon (B.C.), Warren Renden (Alberta) and Mike Leier (Saskatchewan).
The Blazers will pick twice in the first round — seventh and 20th overall — for the first time in the bantam draft’s 29-year history.
Trading either of those picks does not seem likely, as the Blazers want to nab quality players from a crop that lacks depth, according to most in scouting circles.
“We feel we’re going to get two really good players in the first round,” Bardsley said.
There is room for deviation, but the Blazers’ plan for the early rounds is to pick the highest-ranked player remaining on their draft board, regardless of position.
Bardsley and the head scouts met on Monday and Tuesday to work on finalizing the draft board.
“We have discussions and certainly there are debates, with guys fighting for their guys,” Bardsley said. “That’s what you want to see.”
Kamloops has two first-round picks, two fourth-round selections and three seventh-round picks, in addition to its own full draft board.
Teams often select between nine and 12 players at the draft. With 11 picks in the first seven rounds, Kamloops may be done for the day by Round 8 and pass on remaining selections.
The extra first- and fourth-round picks were acquired by MacGregor in a deal in January of 2018 that sent Ondrej Vala and Garrett Pilon to the Everett Silvertips.
Orrin Centazzo and Montana Onyebuchi, both of whom will be 19 next season, and 2002-born prospects Kalen Ukrainetz and Nathanael Hinds also came to Kamloops in that trade.
“Our scouting staff has done a real good job of doing the work, identifying the talent, evaluating the players and doing the research on the character of the players, so I’m real comfortable with where we are with our list,” Bardsley said.
“The draft is the bloodline to your team. It’s critical that you draft well.”
Pashelka, Fox, Sandland and director of hockey operations Tim O’Donovan will join Bardsley at the draft.
Matthew Savoie is widely considered the best player eligible to be selected at this year’s bantam draft.
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.
The Winnipeg Ice, who have the first overall selection, acquired the rights to 2002-born Carter Savoie, Matthew’s older brother, in a trade with the Regina Pats in April.
Carter is also committed to the University of Denver.
“Everyone’s wondering what’s going to happen with the first pick,” Bardsley said. “That’s why you want have your list in order, so that whenever there is a little bit of a curveball, it doesn’t change your thinking. You’re prepared to make your pick.”
Prince George is scheduled to have the second- and fourth-overall picks, with Saskatoon to go third and Kelowna slated to have the fifth selection.
The Rockets, who did not qualify for the 2019 WHL playoffs, won a bid to host the 2020 Memorial Cup.
Kelowna’s owner and general manager, Bruce Hamilton, may be interested in trading the fifth overall pick in exchange for a player who can contribute next season.
Carter Streek, a forward who played last season for Yale Hockey Academy, and Mathew Ward, a forward who toiled for Delta Hockey Academy in 2018-2019, are among Kamloops products expected to be drafted on Thursday.