The NHL Draft can be both invigorating and excruciating for players waiting to be drafted into the highest echelon of professional hockey.
For Trail Smoke Eaters draft prospect Seth Barton, it’s all of the above, as the NHL Draft gets underway tonight in Dallas, Tex.
“I’m kind of anxious and excited,” said Barton from his home in Kelowna. “Going to Trail last year, I was just looking forward to playing junior hockey, so since it’s all come about, it’s been really exciting to see how it’s all panned out and yes this Friday is a big day, and we’ll see what happens.”
As a BC Major Midget player with the Okanagan Rockets, the dynamic defenceman was passed over as one of the youngest players eligible for the 2017 Draft. But the late-turning 18 year old – whose birthday comes on Aug. 18, a month prior to the NHL Draft cutoff date – began to turn heads with his success in the BCHL and the Trail Smoke Eaters as a second-year draft-eligible player.
“I just came in looking to find my role and get the coaches to trust me in different positions and I think I did that, and exceeded it a little bit, and I think that’s why I was put in the positions I was, and it turned out pretty good.”
Barton grabbed the attention of NHL and college scouts’ at the BCHL-Bauer Showcase in September, where he was named the game’s first star in a 4-2 win over the Powell River Kings. He promptly committed to UMass-Lowell University in early November, and was selected to play for Team Canada West in the World Junior A Challenge along with teammate and Rossland native Ross Armour.
An impressive tournament playing against top Junior A players kicked the Kelowna native’s stock up again, as Canada West won gold, and Barton was invited to play in the Canadian Junior Hockey League’s Top Prospects game in January.
About the same time, Barton was ranked 81st on the NHL Central Scouting’s midterm rankings list after helping his Team West Prospects defeat Team East.
Former Smoke Eater coach and GM Cam Keith committed Barton in midget, and his expectations were surpassed by the six-foot-two, 175-pound defender when he pulled on a Smokies jersey.
“When I saw him play at the Macs Tournament (as a midget),” explained Keith in a January interview. “I thought this is a kid who has pro aspects to his game. You can never predict what’s going to translate from one year to the next, but there are kids who have that quality in their game, and I’ve seen it because I coached pro. Seth went from being a top-end midget player to a top-end Jr. A player in training camp – and that’s something you can’t predict.”
After helping Trail to the BCHL semifinal, Barton was one of three BCHLers invited to the NHL Combine in Buffalo earlier this month, where the world’s top potential draft picks undergo fitness tests and are interviewed by NHL teams as a lead up to today’s NHL Draft.
“It (the Combine) was good to be a part of when you see those big names on TSN, like (Rasmus) Dahlin and (Andre) Svechnikov, and you’re in the elevator with them talking to them,” said Barton. “So I guess the biggest thing to take away from that, there is so many different types of players, so many different types of people, and the NHL teams they’ve done their homework and they know you, so I was just going in to be honest, be myself, and it turned out pretty good.”
While Barton originally committed to play for UMass-Lowell in 2019-20, he decided to get a jump on his university career and will attend this season.
“That changed a little bit at the end of this year, but I’m going into an opportunity that I couldn’t really not take, so it should be good, and a lot of tough work.”
Barton will indeed be missed on Trail’s back end, but the move to the NCAA is a positive step for his career and a chance to build his physique, develop his game, and battle against older players.
“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,” said Smoke Eaters coach and GM Jeff Tambellini. “They’re going to have a project and a couple years to wait for him to develop in school.”
According to the Hockey Writers NHL Draft Profile on Barton, his lack of experience may be a deterrent to taking him in the early rounds, but his raw talent and size leave a lot of scouts and GMs pondering his potential.
“While scouts likely have more confidence in Barton’s upside due to his BCHL success in his second year of draft eligibility, the challenge for them will likely be projecting him when he has no major-junior experience and only the Junior-A Worlds to judge him on in terms of high-level competition,” wrote Hockey Writers’ Ryan Pike.
“He’s committed to U-Mass Lowell, so he’ll have a fairly long developmental runway. He’s a project and he’s still quite raw, but his BCHL success suggests that there’s something there to be developed offensively.”
In a draft loaded with high-end defencemen including fellow BCHL prospects in Penticton Vees Jonny Tychonick, ranked 36th, and Wenatchee Wild’s Slava Demin, ranked 40th, Barton is deemed a later round selection but has teams like the Boston Bruins and Calgary Flames openly interested in his untapped talent and turning him into a big-league asset.
But Barton is keeping his expectations in check, and any probable teams under wraps.
“Expectations for me are really, whatever happens Saturday is going to happen, so I’m going to go with it, and wherever I go, I’m going to be pretty excited to be a part of their organization.”
As for the draft itself, Barton says he’ll watch the opening round with his family on Friday, but will try to avoid the agony of Sunday’s rounds 2-7 selections.
“When Saturday morning comes, you never know, I’ll be out shooting pucks or something, but I won’t be sitting on my phone.”
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.
Trail Smoke Eaters drafted into the NHL include: Travis Gawryletz in the eighth round by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2004, Grant Rollheiser in the sixth round by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2008, and Kale Howarth, the 2017 fifth round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Round 1 of the NHL Draft in Dallas goes today at 4:30 p.m. PT. Rounds 2-7 are scheduled for Saturday starting at 8 a.m.