Mission accomplished for the Prince George Cougars who set out to ‘get bigger’ in the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft. The Cougars made nine picks including: five forwards, three defenceman and a goaltender. Of the nine players selected by the Cougars, five are from B.C., two are from the United States and one each are from Alberta and Saskatchewan.

With the eighth overall pick in the draft, the Cougars started their day by selecting forward Jackson Leppard (North Vancouver, B.C.).

The 6’1”, 180 pound left winger scored 37 goals and added 48 assists for 75 points in 51 games this season with the North Shore Winter Club and won a gold medal at the 2014 and 2015 Western Canadian Bantam AAA Championships. He was one of just three 2000-born players on the roster in 2014.

“Jackson Leppard competes every single second that he’s on the ice,” said Prince George Cougars General Manager Todd Harkins, moments after Leppard had been selected. “He’s got tremendous character, comes from a great family and he wants to follow his dream to the NHL.”

Harkins has been following Leppard’s progress ever since he was six-years-old when he started hockey in Whistler and adds, “He’s a terrific skater with a big time shot who can beat you in many ways: he can go around you, through you, above you or below you, and we know that he’ll be a key factor in our success down the road. We are thrilled to welcome Jackson and the entire Leppard family to the Prince George Cougars family.”

“It was a huge thrill and I’m very honored to be selected by the Prince George Cougars,” said Leppard moments after being selected. “I’ll be training hard in the gym all summer doing whatever I can to be at my best for my first training camp.”

In round two, the Cougars went with a defenceman that Todd Harkins is more than familiar with. With their second round selection (28th overall) in the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft, the Cougars picked defenceman Jonas Harkins (North Vancouver, B.C.).

Harkins checks in a 6’2”, weighs 190 pounds and spent the 2014-15 with the North Shore Winter Club and played a big part in their 2015 Western Canadian Bantam AAA Championship run. During the 2014-15 season, Harkins scored three goals, added nine assists and 22 penalty minutes. He was also named an all-star at the B.C. Cup, which took place in April in Salmon Arm. His older brother Jansen has already played two seasons with the Prince George Cougars.

“Jonas brings a physicality that is unrivaled in this draft,” said Prince George Cougars Scouting Director, Bob Simmonds. “He competes hard, dominates the defensive zone and has one of the latest birthdays in the draft. Our fans are going to love his style of play, especially when he throws his first thundering body check.”

The Cougars picked another North Shore Winter Club alumnus in round three. With their third round selection (65th overall from Brandon for Peter Quenneville) the Prince George Cougars grabbed right winger Tyler Ho (North Vancouver, B.C.).

Ho stands 5’11”, weighs 185 pounds and was a strong contributor to the North Shore Winter Club’s 2015 Western Canadian Bantam AAA Championship. In 64 games, Ho scored 30 goals and added 57 assists for 87 points. He added 37 penalty minutes.

“We like everything about Tyler Ho’s game,” said Prince George Cougars Scouting Director, Bob Simmonds. “He’s a very skilled forward with a hard, accurate shot and he does not back down from physical play.”

The Cougars did not have a pick in the fourth round (traded to Tri-City for Mrkonjic) or fifth round (traded to Moose Jaw for Fiddler).

The next Cougars draft pick came in the sixth round, and they further bolstered their blueline with another big body.

With their sixth round selection (113th overall) the Prince George Cougars announced the selection of defenceman Reid Perepeluk (Yorkton, SK).

The 6’2”, 205 pound Perepeluk played last season with the Yorkton Bantam AA Terriers. In 26 games he scored 28 goals, added 12 assists and also contributed 48 penalty minutes. In nine playoff games, he added three goals and four assists along with 10 penalty minutes. In 2013-14 he helped lead his team to a Saskatchewan Bantam AA championship.

“Reid Perepeluk is one of the strongest skaters in the 2015 Bantam Draft,” said Prince George Cougars Saskatchewan scout Jason Gordon. “He’s got a powerful shot, is aggressive in all three zones and will be a ‘game-changer’ for our organization.”

In round seven the Cougars went back to B.C. With their seventh round pick (138th Overall) in the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft, the Prince George Cougars drafted forward Liam Ryan (New Westminster, B.C.).

The 6’0, 160 pound forward played with the Burnaby Winter Club in 2014-15, and plays a strong two-way game that was impossible for Cougars scouts to ignore.

“Liam competes hard, has great speed and is very tough to play against,” said Prince George Cougars traveling scout, Trevor Sprague. “He’s got a great scoring touch, but is also very tough to play against in his own zone.”

In round eight, the Cougars headed south of the border. With their eighth round selection (160th overall) in the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft, the Cougars selected goaltender Isaiah DiLaura (Lakeville, MN).

The 6’1”, 175 pound netminder is the first US-born player and the first goaltender selected by the Prince George Cougars In the 2015 draft.

“He’s super athletic, tracks pucks well, and uses his size effectively,” said Prince George Cougars US Director of Scouting, Bill Horton who coached DiLaura’s Bantam AA team during the 2014-15 season. “Having coached him before, I know his character. He’s a good person to be around.”

Next up was a trip to Kitimat, B.C. With their ninth round selection (182nd overall) the Cougars drafted defenceman Zach Minaker (Kitimat, B.C.).

Minaker is 5’11”, 186 pounds and spent last season with the Okanagan Hockey Academy’s Bantam Prep Team.

In 18 games this season, Minaker managed three assists and added 14 penalty minutes.

“He’s a good, smooth skating defenceman that plays solid defensively and makes a good first pass,” said Prince George Cougars General Manager Todd Harkins. “He makes very smart decisions and is very reliable on the back-end.”

With their final two picks in the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft, the Prince George Cougars selected forward Issac Saniga (Spruce Grove, AB) in the 10th round (204th overall) and forward Colin Schmidt (Maple Grove, MN) in the 11th round (226th overall).

Saniga is 5’7”, 167 pounds and has loads of potential offensive upside.

“He’s very dynamic offensively,” said Prince George Cougars Scouting Director, Bob Simmonds. “He competes hard, creates scoring chances, and is very skilled with the puck.”

In the next round, the Cougars went south again, and selected power forward Colin Schmidt.

Schmidt stands 6’4”, and weighs 200 pounds and received rave reviews from Cougars US Scouting Director Bill Horton who said, “He’s going to be a very good power forward. He’s got a great skill-set, but also plays the body and has an edge to his game.”

“I feel like we got all of the players that we zeroed in on in specific rounds. Actually we got a lot of guys that we had rated higher than when we got them which is a positive,” said Harkins at the end of the draft. “We wanted kids who love to compete, who can skate and who play with an edge who want to become NHL players. All of the players we drafted have that desire and we’re really happy with that.”

Harkins adds, “I’m so proud of my staff who stuck with me throughout the entire season keeping me informed, and especially over the last day here making sure we got the right players.”