Breaking Down the 2023 NL U18 Draft

Posted on June 14, 2023

During one of the busiest weekends in VHG history (2 travel teams, the QMJHL Draft and U18 Female Team Atlantic being released), the NL U18 ‘city draft’ took place. We haven’t covered it yet, so here we go!

Photo Credit – EastCan Photography

Draft Overview

After 2 years of the Pinnacle Growlers having very strong drafts, the Blizzard roared back in 2023 with a tremendous draft of their own.

Both teams had a position of need, and that position was in goal. The Blizzard graduated Josh ‘Shaggy’ Hillier (an ’05), and Baie Comeau 7th round selection Carter Arnold could be gonzo in September. On the other side of town, the Growlers lost Jack Barrington to College Bourget (CDN Prep) and graduated the reliable Clay Ryan.

While we don’t know who was selected in each round, we can surmise that the Blizzard – knowing that the Growlers also needed goaltending – selected a goaltender with their first pick. But I don’t think that the Blizzard expected to land both Will Morgan AND Ty Combden in this class. Morgan – the Hitmen by-product – finished the U15AAA regular season with a 1.92 GAA and a 9-3-1 record across 13 regular season starts. Morgan was equally as good in the Provincials, especially in the finals vs the Thunder where he put up a shutout. Ty Combden put himself on QMJHL and Junior ‘A’ draft radars at the 2023 Beast of the East tournament in Moncton, where he routinely stood on his head for Team NL and played in all 4 round robin games. While Combden’s GAA at that tournament was high, you had to be at the games to understand that number can be deceiving. Combden was exceptional in every game, and his GAA was a victim of strong opposition.

Blizzard Draft – By the Numbers

Forwards selected – 15

Defence Selected – 8

Goalies Selected – 3

Intriguing Duo – The Blizzard managed to scoop up Jordy Flynn in this class; Flynn led the Hitmen in goals with 22, and brought his goal-scoring stick to Atlantics where he registered 4 tucks in 4 games. Flynn loves to score, and loves to celebrate when he scores; his energy will be contagious for the blue and white tops in 2023-24.

Nathan Crane has always had the size, and has developed in the skating department in 2023. Crane has some offensive touch and loves to run people over – could Crane be a left-handed Jabez Seymour this season for the Blizzard? Seymour landed in Baie Comeau with the 18th overall selection on Saturday. If Crane keeps getting better, maybe he hears his name called early in next years QMJHL Draft.

Sleeper Pick – Gavin Connors. Connors did not play U15AAA last year, but had a dominant U15AA season with the DJHL Privateers and has hands, size and skating ability. Lets wait and see. Honourable sleeper mention here to Noah Boutcher – coach Brewer and co could potentially mould this kid into a nice U18 power forward.

Growlers Draft – By the Numbers

Forwards Selected – 13

Defence Selected – 7

Goalies Selected – 6

Intriguing Duo – In the second half of the U15AAA season, Taitt Dobbin was routinely putting up POG efforts. Dobbin is a smaller guy, but the Growlers have had tremendous success with smaller guys in recent years (ahem, Matty Butler). Dobbin is smart, shifty and moves the puck well… much like the recent Charlottetown Islanders QMJHL signing at that age.

Lets not overthink this – Nathan Pilgrim is one of the top defenceman in this draft, and with numerous players from last years Provincial championship team departing (graduating Mason Dawe, Liam Hodder; Ryan Dawe being a fairly high QMJHL pick), the Growlers need guys who can play on opening day. Pilgrim has the game to crack the Growlers line-up – and be a regular minutes guy – in 2023-24.

Sleeper Pick – Aaron Davis. The Growlers drafted 6 goaltenders in this class, and the situation has a ‘let’s see who wins the job(s) at main camp’ feel to it. Enter the tall netminder from the St. Paul’s Pythons/DJHL Centurions who has played well in virtually every game that I watched him play in 2022-23. You could make a case to put every goaltender from the Growlers name down here as a sleeper pick – only 1 played U15AAA in 2022-23, but all of them have something that I like and – if Liam Ryan stays home – could make things very interesting this season.

So Who Won the Draft?

You’ll never really know who won the draft until this time in 2025. On paper – in June of ’23 – I think the Blizzard had a great draft. They landed 2 starting goalies from U15AAA a year ago, and locked up some dynamic forwards who likely contribute ASAP. The Blizz likely get their 3 ’07 defenceman from last year back, and still have ’06s like Devin Down and Mal Marner in their pipeline so defence probably isn’t as big of a priority this season (BUT have some guys in this class that will be intriguing D prospects for 2024-25 and beyond; you have to consider this in a draft). You also have to consider that some players that are drafted may head off the island to hone their skills.

Max Sheppard and Lucas Rose were both selected in the U18 Draft

The Growlers landed some intriguing prospects this weekend too. JD Trainor is a big boy who scored 20 for the Thunder in 2022-23. One could make a case that Brandon Philpott is the most all-around forward in this class. Liam Nash had an award-winning season for the Hitmen, too.

Look forward to watching in September!