Kings’ Ahac, Cougars’ Gauthier, Moberg catch draf t fever
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 dubnetwork.ca.
“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.