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Pick by pick: A look at the Moose Jaw Warriors selections in the 2023 WHL Prospects Draft

General manager Jason Ripplinger looks at each of the 10 selections made by the Warriors on Thursday
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It might have been a rather unusual Western Hockey League Prospects Draft for the Moose Jaw Warriors given their lack of middle-round picks, but general manager Jason Ripplinger is still confident he and his scouting staff were able to find some solid future players for the club.

All told, the Warriors would make 10 selections throughout the day Thursday, adding five forwards and five defencemen to their protected roster.

It all began with the team picking a pair of defencemen -- Didsbury’s Aaron Sawatzky 16th overall and Saskatoon’s William Degagne 38th overall -- as Ripplinger continued the strategy of putting together a solid blueline corps.

“With the first two picks you’d like to get a defenceman and a forward, and we took a defenceman with our first pick, but Degagne, we had him in the first round, too, and I wasn’t going to leap over him to get a forward,” Ripplinger said. “So we were really happy with how that worked out. I’ve always been taught and my knowledge is to build from the back end, and the better the D, the more pucks that are out of your end in a hurry.”

A  5-foot-10, 168-pound product of Didsbury, Alta., Sawatzky saw action in 33 games with the Airdrie Xtreme of the Alberta Elite Hockey League last season, putting up 10 goals and 38 points in that span. He then added another goal and eight points in nine playoff games.

The season prior, Sawatzky had six goals and 19 points in 33 games.

“He has lots of upside,” Ripplinger said. “His ability to skate, to carry the puck up ice and move pucks is great, and his ability and hockey sense make him a good all-around player. I wouldn’t say he’s exceptional at all the things he does, but he’s good at most of the things, and as he gets older a mature he’s going to be a hard player to play against.”

Degagne played for the Saskatoon Generals of the Sask AA Hockey League, and as a 5-foot-10, 150-pound rearguard, he put up 13 goals and 35 points in 30 games and then added another two goals and five points in three playoff games.

“We go off our list, that ‘s how it happens, and we were surprised to see him still around,” Ripplinger said. “He’s improved a lot from the beginning of the season and I believe he has a really high ceiling, a lot of growth in his game and that he could be a solid defenceman. He’s smart, he’s skilled and he can skate.”

The Warriors didn’t have to look very far for their third-round pick, as they added Carson Deichert from the Moose Jaw 15U AA Warriors. The 5-foot-7, 135-pound centre had a stellar campaign in the SAAHL, putting up 21 goals and 58 points in 28 games. He was also a point-a-game player at the 18U AAA level, with a goal and four points in four games.

Deichert joins overage forward and 40-goal scorer Atley Calvert as the only Moose Jaw Minor Hockey products on the team.

“He’s a really good player with a lot of skill,” Ripplinger said. “It’s good in a small community when you get a chance to draft a quality player like himself, and it shows that Minor Hockey in Moose Jaw is going in the right direction to develop a player like Carson.”

Moose Jaw went way out west for their fourth-round pick, as they selected North Saanich, B.C. forward Tyson Schamehorn. A 5-foot-11, 155-pound left winger, Schamehorn played for Okanagan Hockey Academy and had 11 goals and 28 points in 26 games. 

“He’s a big power forward who has some skill and come playoff time as he gets older, he’ll be even harder to play against,” Rippllinger said.

That was it for Warriors selections until the eighth round, with Ripplinger estimating it was a two-hour wait before they selected again, where they picked up forward Ben Dnes from the Winnipeg Bruins Gold U15 AAA. At 5-foot-10 and 148 pounds, Dnes had 16 goals and 43 points in 33 games for the Bruins to go along with another three points in three postseason games.

“He’s another two-way, 200-foot player,” Ripplinger said. “He plays hard at both ends of the ice, he’s a dangerous guy to play against and he has some skill around the net. There again, that’s the identity that we want to build, we want some grit but they have to play the game.”

The Warriors stayed in Manitoba for their ninth-round selection, picking up Lac du Bonnet product Benson Hirst. The 5-foot-11, 165-pound defenceman suited up for Pilot Mound Hockey Academy was a point-a-game player, with eight goals and 28 points in 27 games in the regular season before ramping it up with four goals and seven points in four playoff games.

“Benson’s a big solid defenceman, a good puck-moving player who skates pretty good,” Ripplinger said. “He has good ability and is smart and plays with some grit. We have him ranked higher than he went so it was good to see him still there.”

With their second pick in the ninth round, the Warriors added Saskatoon’s Davey Fisher. A teammate of Degagne on the Saskatoon Generals, the 5-foot-10, 160-pound centre had no problem putting up points in the SAAHL with 28 goals and 58 points in 30 games. He also had two goals and three points in three post-season contests.

“He’s an up-and-down winger with some skill,” Ripplinger described. “He has a nose for the net and plays hard with some grit and has decent hands around the net, too, scoring nearly 30 goals last season.”

Moose Jaw made their fourth Saskatchewan-based pick of the draft in the 10th round, taking Nipawin defenceman William Chabot. The 5-foot-9, 168-pound rearguard suited up for Notre Dame U15 Prep and had four goals and 14 points in 26 games before adding another three points in the playoffs.

“He’s really poised and hard to play against, a really good puck mover,” Ripplinger said. “He has some skill and does a lot of things right.”

The Warriors’ final two picks both came out of Alberta, beginning with Riley Thorpe in the 11th round. The St. Albert product played for his hometown Sabres in the U15 AAA loop, and the 5-foot-8, 140-pound centre had 27 goals and 49 points in 33 games. He was just as effective in the playoffs with four goals and eight points in six games and also suited up for three U17 AAA games, picking up a pair of points.

“Probably a player I can honestly say we had no idea why he was still around that late,” Ripplinger said of one of the potential steals of the draft. “We like him, he has good hands, he can score and he can be gamebreaker. He’s going to be a really intriguing player for us, for sure.”

With their final selection in the 12th round, Moose Jaw selected defenceman Dylan Deets from Edge School U15 Prep. A 5-foot-8, 159-pound Calgary product, Deets had four goals and 26 points in 29 games and three points in four playoff games.

“He’s a smaller offensive defenceman who’s really smart and moves the puck and is a great skater,” Ripplinger said. “He’s a very interesting player as well, he could probably play at his size, but if he gets bigger and stronger he could be a really good player in this league.”
Now, it’s just a matter of seeing how the players develop in the coming years.

“Sometimes it’s not even if they grow and get stronger,” Ripplniger said. “It’s whether their hockey sense can adapt to the speed of the game, and we’ll see how that goes with the guys we picked today.”

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