Trail Smoke Eaters defenceman Seth Barton was one of just five Canadian Junior Hockey League (CJHL) products invited to the National Hockey League Scouting Combine this past weekend in Buffalo, N.Y.
The 18-year-old Kelowna native went through a litany of fitness tests and individual interviews with management and scouting staff of NHL clubs. Smoke Eaters assistant coach Jessie Leung spoke to Barton and was able to stream some of his fitness tests online.
“It sounded like he had a pretty busy schedule,” said Leung. “But he has a great outlook on what he was doing, and he said, ‘He just wanted to have fun with it and have a great time.’ It was cool just to chat with him about it and get his perspective on it.”
Barton follows in Smokies forward Kale Howarth’s footsteps. After the Red Deer native attended the Combine last year, he was drafted in the fifth round by the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“Hopefully we make it 3-for-3 next year too,” added Leung.
Four defencemen and one forward from the CJHL were among the 104 participants from across North America and Europe that were invited to take part.
Smoke Eaters coach Jeff Tambellini knows first hand the role the Combine plays in the upcoming NHL Draft and how significant it is for players to make an impression. Tambellini attended the Combine before being drafted in the first round of the 2003 NHL Draft and 27th overall by the Los Angeles Kings.
“It was good for me, because as a college kid I had a full summer to prep and build my body up for it,” said Tambellini. “I definitely had an advantage going in and again it’s just an opportunity to get in front of the people who are actually going to make the pick, and anytime you can go one-on-one with those guys and really explain your personality and how you feel you’re going to fit, and how you’re going to transition your game to the next level, it’s alway a great opportunity and something that really helped me in the draft.”
As for Barton, Tambellini says his six-foot-two frame, his poise and intelligence on the ice should definitely help his cause, but another year in the BCHL followed by more seasoning in the NCAA will work in his favour.
“He’s going to be a prototypical defenceman, a big guy, with a big frame. He’s still a young man, so I think a lot of NHL scouts and executive eyes are going to like the fact that he’s not fully developed. They’re going to have a project and a couple years to wait for him to develop in school.”
In addition to Barton, two other BCHL blueliners invited to the Combine were Jonathan Tychonick of the Penticton Vees and Slava Demin of the Wenatchee Wild.
CJHL Defenceman of the Year and its highest rated draft prospect, Jacob Bernard-Docker of the Okotoks Oilers (AJHL), who was slotted 33rd overall among North American skaters, and forward Jack McBain of the Toronto Jr. Canadiens (OJHL) also attended.
“It’s always a great opportunity for Junior A players to go and get in the same room with all the European guys and CHL players, and really kind of match up, especially strength-testing wise, to see where they’re at.”
The Combine is the last significant step for players heading into the NHL Draft to stand out, and a last chance for teams to evaluate their prospects.
“Really it’s the interviews that make the most impact,” said Tambellini. “They want to see how assertive a player is, how he handles some pressure questions, what it’s like when everybody’s asked him about his future, and when he’s confronted about some of the deficiencies in his game.
“So it’s a great opportunity to really push kids and see who they are, but I think Seth would handle that really well.”
Barton was ranked 94th among North American skaters in the NHL Central Scouting’s final 2018 NHL Draft rankings. The UMass-Lowell commit scored six goals and 33 points in 49 games for the Smoke Eaters, and added 11 points in 16 playoff games.
“He had a great year and he’s a top end prospect,” added Tambellini. “Anyone that’s watched him play can see that he has the potential to be a good pro one day, and he deserves to be there.”
The 2018 NHL Draft goes June 22 and 23 in Dallas, Texas.