Scott Walford doesn’t hesitate when asked about his ambitions in hockey.
“I want to win a Stanley Cup, that’s for sure,” said the defenceman from Coquitlam.
The whole world seems at your feet when you’re only 15 and a first-round bantam draft pick in the Western Hockey League.
Because their record was the fifth best in the WHL last season, the Victoria Royals picked 18th in the 2014 bantam draft and landed Walford, who had 12 goals and 48 points last season in Triple-A bantam for Okanagan Hockey Academy. Despite the late selection, the Royals believe they have a blue-line mainstay for their future.
The Royals’ 2014 bantam draft picks had their first skate with the club Tuesday at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre ahead of rookie camp officially opening on Thursday. Included in the nine-player 2014 bantam class are two Islanders. Ben Berard and Dawson Frank are both five-foot-eight wingers from Duncan and the Tier 1 bantam Cowichan Valley Capitals.
But it’s Walford who is drawing all the attention because much is expected of first-round bantam picks. They are the best hockey players at 15. The trick is in staying that way, which isn’t always a sure thing. Walford is the 10th first-round bantam pick in the eight-year franchise history of the Chilliwack Bruins/Victoria Royals. It is instructional to see who came before.
The Royals’ first-round bantam selections have been defenceman Joe Hicketts, 12th overall in 2011; forward Tyler Soy, eighth overall, and defenceman Chaz Reddekopp, 13th (by trade) in 2012; and forward Dante Hannoun, 11th overall in 2013. As the Chilliwack Bruins, the franchise chose in the first round defenceman Keegan Kanzig in 2010, forward Steven Hodges in 2009, defenceman Mitch Topping in 2008 and forwards Kevin Sundher in 2007 and Ryan Howse in 2006.
Third-overall 2006 bantam pick Howse is now out of hockey, Sundher was traded to Brandon and has played pro in the AHL, Topping was traded to Tri-City and graduated last season as the 20-year-old captain of the Americans, the 20-year-old Hodges was traded to Tri-City last week and has signed an NHL entry-level contract with the Florida Panthers, Kanzig is a Royals defenceman signed by the Calgary Flames, Hicketts’ and Reddekopp’s stories are still being written as Royals’ blue-liners, Soy is a Royals forward who won gold this summer with the Canadian Under-18 team at the Ivan Hlinka tournament in the Czech Republic, and Hannoun hopes to crack the Victoria roster this season as a rookie.
Walford said Hicketts has reached out and discussed things with him.
“I don’t see it [being a first-round bantam pick] so much as pressure,” said Walford, who grew up playing both hockey and lacrosse in Coquitlam.
Once into the fray, bantam draft status will matter little, said the six-foot, 185-pounder.
“First-round or 10th-round pick, no one playing in this league [WHL] cares when you were drafted,” said Walford.
Only where you end up.
And the first skate glide in that quest was taken Tuesday at the Memorial Centre.
“It was nice to get your feet under you and legs moving,” said Walford, who went on Google after the bantam draft to read up on everything he could about the Royals.
“This is a team that reached some big milestones last year [most wins and points in franchise history].”
Limited to five WHL games this regular season, Walford will play midget for the Okanagan Hockey Academy. There appears a solid foundation on which to build.
“I see the ice well and use my skating to advantage in getting around the ice efficiently,” said Walford, about his strengths.
“I can play defence and can contribute offensively.”
He is also a remarkably composed 15-year-old off the ice.
“[Walford] is a great kid … it’s a credit to our guys [Royals’ scouting staff] … they do their homework,” said Royals head coach Dave Lowry.
“[Walford] is what you look for in a player, on and off the ice.”