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Pick by pick: Warriors’ Ripplinger looks back on 2022 WHL Prospects Draft

Moose Jaw selects defenceman Connor Schmidt 14th overall, select eight 2007-born players
Connor Schmidt
The Moose Jaw Warriors made Okanagan Hockey Academy defenceman Connor Schmidt their top pick in the 2022 Western Hockey League Prospects Draft.

The Moose Jaw Warriors took a bit of a balanced approach to the 2022 Western Hockey League Prospects Draft.

A bit of size in the early going, some smaller players with skill in the middle rounds and a few projects to close things down.

All in all, Warriors general manager Jason Ripplinger felt he and his crew of scouts were able to stick to their list as much as possible, landing many of the players they had their eyes on when things started Thursday morning.

“I think it went well,” Ripplinger said. “You’re always happy on this day, but we seemed to be getting a lot of the guys who were ranked high on our list so we’re excited about that.”

Leading the way first and foremost was defenceman Connor Schmidt from Okanagan Hockey Academy U15 Prep, who the Warriors selected with the 14th overall pick in the first round.

Schmidt, 5-foot-10 and 163 pounds, had a stellar campaign in 2021-22, scoring 13 goals and 32 points in 30 games while putting up 50 penalty minutes for his Canadian Sport School Hockey League squad. 

When he was called up to the U16 team, Schmidt added another three assists in five games before adding another four assists in five games with Alberta Grey in the Youth Cups Tournament. In other words, even though he’s a defenceman, when Schmidt touches the ice, points follow.

“He’s a really good defenceman who can be explosive,” Ripplinger said. “He plays the game fast and makes a good first pass, he can defend and contribute to the offence and I think down the road with him and [2021 first-round pick Marek] Howell they’ll be a good one-two punch there… Schmidt could be a special player and if he develops like we think he will, he’ll be a 1-2 defenceman in the WHL.”

Folks who watched the Warriors series with the Winnipeg Ice will recognize the last name of Moose Jaw’s second-round pick, 25th overall, and for good reason -- Max Finley is the younger brother of Winnipeg standout Jack Finley.

The 6-foot-0, 170-pound forward had 31 goals and 51 points in 26 games with Rink Hockey Academy in his hometown of Kelowna, while also showing some edge with 75 penalty minutes.

“He reminds me of Atley Calvert in that he plays hard, he goes to all the dirty areas and plays a tough game,” Ripplinger said. “His brother plays for the Winnipeg and another brother [Mason] plays for Calgary, so it’s a hockey family and we know he’s going to be a good character kid.”

With their second second-round pick, 36th overall, the Warriors added 6-foot-4, 176-pound forward Noah Degenstein from Edge School U15 Prep. Like the players selected ahead of him, Degenstein has an offensive touch with eight goals and 30 points in 30 games with Edge last season.

“He’s a big guy, a real power-forward kind of player,” Ripplinger said. “His feet are always moving, he works hard and he can play a physical at times. He’ll be a hard player to play against.”

The Warriors selected their lone goaltender of the draft in the third round, 59th overall, and there’s no question Okanagan Hockey Academy’s Jonah Tonhauser can fill the net at 6-foot-5, 195 pounds at only 14 years old.

He had a 3.80 goals against average and .876 save percentage in 18 CSSHL U15 games.

“He’s a big goalie, he’s very athletic and moves very well,” Ripplinger said. “Obviously he’s hard to score on and you have to make sure you get a good shot on him. He’s a big body, he’s got the pro body, and now he has to work hard to get to the WHL.”

The Warriors selected Landen McFadden from OHA Edmonton Prep in the fourth round, 80th overall, and like Schmidt, offence just seems to follow him. McFadden had 27 goals and 49 points in 30 games this season with the U15s, added another goal and four points in three games with the U16s and four goals and seven points in five YouthCups games as Schmidt’s teammate.

“He’s a bit of a smaller player compared to a lot of the guys we drafted, but he’s a goal scorer who likes to score goals, that’s what he does,” Ripplinger said. “So we’re looking forward to him coming in the future and scoring goals for us.”

The Warriors didn’t have another pick until the eighth round, 162nd overall, where they selected 5-foot-7, 132-pound Austin Wentz from the Lloydminster U15 AAA Bobcats. Wentz scored nine goals and 22 points in 29 games in the AEHL U15 league.

“He has lots of speed, an energy player who works hard and a smart player who sees the ice well and makes plays,” Ripplinger said. “He’s another character guy coming in and has a lot of potential as well.”

With their eighth-round pick, 168th overall, the Warriors selected 5-foot-8, 150-pound Preston Baerwald from the Saskatoon U15 AA Bandits. Baerwald had 24 goals and 49 points in 28 games and added another five goals and 12 points in nine playoff games. 

“He’s a smaller guy who’s really skilled and can score, too,” Ripplinger said. “He’ll play for the [SMAAAHL Saskatoon] Blazers this year and we expect him to develop and score at that level.

Finally, the Warriors completed their day by selecting 6-foot-3, 188-pound defenceman Jonah Vanderhorst from the Winnipeg Wild U15 AAA Gold. Vanderhorst had 15 goals and 24 points in 24 games with Winnipeg this season.

“He’s a big guy with a heavy shot who’s in the top-40 in Manitoba, so hopefully he can make the top-20 for the Winter Games,” Ripplinger said. “He’s a project, but he has a lot of upside and can become a pretty good player.”