Share this story...
Latest News

U.S. Prospect Draft yields center and defenseman for Thunderbirds

Mekai Sanders is the only American on the Seattle roster but they drafted two more during Wednesday's U.S. Draft. (Brian Liesse/T-Birds)

Seattle Thunderbirds general manager Bil La Forge used Facetime and social distancing with his staff Wednesday to take part in the WHL’s first-ever U.S. Prospects Draft. LaForge selected offense and defense with his two picks.

With the eighth overall pick, Seattle chose Landon Dauner from Fargo, North Dakota and followed by selecting defenseman Drew Mackie from Alaska with the 37th pick, in the second round.

“We had both of these guys rated as first-round talents,” La Forge said. “When the first round came up these were the two guys we were discussing and to get Drew in the second round was a massive steal.”

Dauner is a 5-foot-11 center who played in 48 games with the North Dakota Freeze last season where he scored 20 goals and 23 assists for 43 points.

La Forge says that Dauner has good size and is a competitive player.

“He makes people around him better and really skates,” La Forge added. “A lot of good things about him, he reminds me of (Seattle 2019 first-round pick Jordan Gustofson). He seemed really excited about being part of our program. He was a kid that Mark (Romas) had identified back in September and we followed him very closely all year. We’re happy to get a player of that magnitude.”

In the second round, the Thunderbirds took the defenseman, Mackie.

Mackie played with Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Minnesota, one of the top programs in the country, last season where he posted 11 goals and 33 assists in 58 games. If he were to sign with the Thunderbirds he would give them another young, offensive player on the blueline along with 2019 first-round pick Kevin Korchinkski, second-rounder Dustin Penner and newly signed Jeremy Hanzel.

“Can play in every situation, kills penalties and on the power play,” La Forge said. “Moves really well, great hips and I think he’s a player that will continue to grow…He comes from a hockey family and we think he’s a guy who could be a real lynchpin on the back end for us, for years to come if he chooses this route.”

Choosing the WHL route is the key to both of these players helping the Thunderbirds.

Neither player is eligible to play full time in the WHL until the 2021-2022 season and will choose between the WHL and pursuing a college route playing in the NCAA. Now that they’ve been drafted, La Forge and company will have to recruit them to choose the league and Seattle.

“They’re both extremely open to the option and committing to training camp to meet our staff and development team and I think that’s all we can ask,” La Forge said. “I want to make sure that they understand that I know that they have options and we think we’re a great option and we want to put that forward to them. Are they slam dunks to sign? No, I don’t think either of them are but I think we have a good swing in both cases.”

Wednesday’s draft was part of a push by the WHL to recruit more American-born players into the league.

The first part of this initiative was the U.S. Challenge Cup that was held at the accesso ShoWare Center in February. It gave the league a chance to showcase a WHL facility and get players in front of scouts from all 22 of its teams.

Of the 44 players selected, 20 came from programs that appeared at the Cup.

“I think the Challenge Cup was a success because look at how many of those kids put themselves in a position to get drafted,” La Forge said. “I think the Challenge Cup proved that it provided the platform for these kids that they were looking for. Every kid I talked to that played in the tournament was excited by the league, the facilities here in Seattle and how they were treated. It’s now up to every team to do their best in recruiting.”

WHL teams are still able to draft American players in April’s Bantam Draft.

On Wednesday, nine different states had players picked, including two from Washington State. California had 18 players selected followed by Minnesota with 12 and Texas with five.