Kings’ Ahac, Cougars’ Gau­thier, Moberg catch draf t fever

The Prince George Citizen - - Sports - Ted CLARKE Cit­i­zen staff [email protected]­i­t­i­

Prince Ge­orge Spruce Kings de­fence­man Lay­ton Ahac won’t have far to travel to hear his name called at the NHL draft in Van­cou­ver.

He lives in North Van­cou­ver, just across the Bur­rard In­let from Rogers Arena, where all 31 NHL teams will re­con­vene at 10 a.m. this morn­ing af­ter they made their first-round picks Fri­day night.

Pro­jected as a sec­ond- or thir­dround pick, Ahac, the 66th ranked North Amer­i­can skater avail­able in the draft, plans to be there in per­son. He wouldn’t miss it for the world.

The same could be said about Prince Ge­orge Cougars goalie Tay­lor Gau­thier of Calgary, an­other safe bet to be se­lected in the draft. Both re­al­ize how much the draft pro­ceed­ings to­day could shape their hockey fu­tures and they’ve had this day marked on their cal­en­dars for months.

“We couldn’t be hap­pier or more proud of a player on our team,” said Spruce Kings gen­eral man­ager Mike Hawes.

“Not only is Lay­ton a tremen­dous player, some­one who’s de­sire to be a good player is sec­ond to none, but he’s a very pre­pared and fo­cused young man. As a 16- and 17-year old player on our team he ex­em­pli­fied be­hav­iours of a 19 or 20 year old.

“He al­ways showed he’s way more ma­ture than his age and we saw that down the stretch, es­pe­cially in our play­off run this year. The min­utes he played and the guys he played up against was ex­cel­lent. To be hon­est I can’t re­mem­ber ever see­ing Lay­ton ever have a poor shift. Some­one’s go­ing to get a real good player in the draft on Satur­day.”

If Ahac is taken he will be­came the third Spruce King ever to be cho­sen in the NHL draft. De­fence­man Brad Fast (third round, 84th over­all, Carolina) and left winger Ju­jhar Khaira (third round, 63rd over­all, 2012), were the other Spruce Kings who made the NHL list.

Adam Maglio coached Ahac for the du­ra­tion of his two-sea­son BCHL ca­reer with the Spruce Kings and watched him do all the right things needed to at­tract the in­ter­est of Ohio State, who re­cruited him for next sea­son.

“It means a lot to our or­ga­ni­za­tion to have Lay­ton as an NHL draft pick,” said Maglio, who is at­tend­ing the draft at Rogers Arena with as­sis­tant coach Alex Evin and Kings pres­i­dent Rick Tur­geon.

“He ex­em­pli­fied ev­ery­thing we value in our play­ers both on and off the ice. He is very de­serv­ing and put in a tremen­dous amount of work to get to where he is. We look for­ward to fol­low­ing his path­way and ca­reer.”

Gau­thier is the sev­enth-ranked North Amer­i­can goal­tender avail­able and like Ahac is con­sid­ered a B prospect (sec­ond or third round). He was a work­horse in goal for the Cougars this past sea­son, play­ing 55 of 68 games, and his num­bers – 3.25 goals-against av­er­age, .899 save per­cent­age – re­flect the last-place team’s strug­gles. A year ago he back­stopped Canada’s un­der-18 team to the gold medal at the Hlinka Gret­zky Cup in Ed­mon­ton. He re­mained on Hockey Canada’s radar and in April helped the Nats to a fourth-place fin­ish at the IIHF world un­der-18 cham­pi­onship in Swe­den.

“He is the most ath­letic goalie in this draft class by a wide mar­gin,” wrote Corey Pron­man, the se­nior NHL prospects writer for The Ath­letic. “He has game-steal­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties and is a reg­u­lar on the high­light reel. His side-to-side move­ments are elite, he’s a right glove who can snag for-sure goals out of the air and over­all he can make tough saves con­sis­tently.”

Gau­thier has been with the Cougars or­ga­ni­za­tion since May 2016, when they chose him as the first goalie taken in the WHL ban­tam draft.

“Com­pet­i­tive­ness, he loves to bat­tle and loves to com­pete,” said Cougars goalie coach Tay­lor Dak­ers, on dub­net­

“His ath­leti­cism – he is a flex­i­ble guy and can make a lot of saves guys just can’t phys­i­cally do.

“His con­di­tion­ing is great. He’s got a real good sense for the game, he can read a lot of shots. He makes saves based on know­ing where the puck is sup­posed to be.”

De­fence­man Josh An­der­son (third round, 71st over­all, Colorado) was the most re­cently-drafted Cougar, taken in 2016.

Of­fen­sive-minded de­fence­man Cole Moberg turned in a strong sopho­more WHL sea­son with the Cougars and could also join­ing a NHL team to­day.

The 17-year-old led all de­fence­man on his team with 13 goals and 40 points and he fin­ished the sea­son with seven points in the last eight games.

His pow­er­ful skat­ing stride and tough po­si­tional play in the de­fen­sive end earned him the des­ig­na­tion as the 136th-ranked North Amer­i­can skater.

Moberg lives in North Van­cou­ver and he will also at­tend the draft, know­ing there’s a chance he will be a late-round pick.

“It would mean a lot, It’s where I grew up and grew up play­ing hockey,” said Moberg, on the Cougars web­site.

“To have one of the goals I set out for my­self hap­pen where it all started for me, it would be ex­cep­tional.”

• Saka­toon Blades cen­tre Kirby Dach was the first WHL player picked in draft, cho­sen third over­all by the Chicago Black­hawks, fol­lowed by Van­cou­ver Gi­ants de­fence­man Bowen Byram, who went fourth over­all to the Colorado Avalanche.

• Vic­to­ria Griz­zlies for­ward Alex Ne­whook, a na­tive of St. John’s, Nfld., was the first B.C. Hockey League player se­lected, cho­sen 16th over­all by the Colorado Avalanche. Ne­whook is the high­est BCHL pick since 2017, when the Avalanche se­lected Pen­tic­ton Vees for­ward Tyson Jost 10th over­all.

• Hawes said he’s fielded sev­eral calls re­cently from NHL scouts in­ter­ested in 19-year-old Kings goalie Lo­gan Neaton and 17-yearold de­fence­man Nick Bochen. Neaton is mov­ing on to col­lege hockey next sea­son with the UMass-Low­ell River Hawks, while Bochen has com­mit­ted to the Univer­sity of Michi­gan Wolver­ines for 2020-21.


Prince Ge­orge Spruce Kings de­fender Lay­ton Ahac speeds past reach­ing Salmon Arm Sil­ver­backs for­ward Lo­gan Shaw last Oc­to­ber at Rolling Mix Con­crete Arena.

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