If the 2017 spring prospects camp is any true indicator, the future of the Neepawa Natives is looking very positive. Around 100 young prospects from across North America hit the ice at the Yellowhead Arena from Mar. 24-26, hoping to make a lasting impression on the management and scouting staff.
The makeup of talent that included about a dozen goaltenders, 25-30 defensemen and around 50 forwards. Natives general manager Myles Cathcart said this was one of the largest camps the MJHL club has held in quite some time. He added that even more impressively, the level of talent on display was also some of the best in recent memory.
“As an organization, we are very pleased with what we saw this past weekend, in terms of talent. It was a good camp. Our [participation] numbers were up and there was a very positive feeling around the rink,” stated Cathcart. “Byron Billett [Director of Player Personnel/Head Scout] and the rest of the scouting team spent so much of the hockey season on the road, evaluating many of these players. As well, the coaching staff and some of the players were running the on-ice portion of the weekend. It was a lot of work to put together, but we were happy with the response.”
Head coach Dustin Howden said a very satisfying part of the camp was seeing the amount of improvement from returning players.
“It was very exciting for the coaching staff to see that improvement. There were so many talented hockey players out there and it was good to see how they progressed. The future is pretty bright,” Howden said. “Byron and Myles have a very good eye for talent. More importantly, they have an eye for character. These young men are the types of people we’d want associated with the franchise. There are many of these players who will receive invites to training camp and we’ll have to make some tough choices come the fall, but we’re very excited.”
Billett, thanked the rest of the scouting staff for putting in hundreds of hours throughout the hockey season to evaluate these players. He also said that seeing the skill set of those prospects out on the ice this past weekend is very encouraging.
As the camp drew to an end a very well received component of the weekend took centre stage, in the form of the exit evaluations. These sessions involve the players sitting down with staff from the club and discussing elements of their play they could work on and suggestions for the best way to improve or refine their game. Cathcart said the response to these player examinations has been very favourable.
“We, as an organization, have been doing this for years. It provides the players some feedback on how they can improve their game. We give them lots of ice time to show their skills. We’re able to see what they can do and offer a through overview of where their game is at. It’s satisfying to see, with some returning players, that they have taken the previous advice to heart and improved that facet of their skill set. We want to make sure that this is a developmental thing and a means for these players to improve, it’s something they want and something they really appreciate,” noted Cathcart.
The next big event on the calendar for the franchise will be the 2017 MJHL Bantam Camp scheduled for June in Winnipeg. Cathcart and Billet noted that some of the draft eligible players from the spring camp have definitely put themselves on the radar and that this is an exciting time for the Neepawa Natives.