Heading into the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft, the Prince George management and scouting staff had identified three US-born players that they felt would one day play a huge part in the Cougars on-ice success. When the dust had settled on May 4th in Calgary, the Cougars were all smiles. Of their 12 selections that day, three were American-born. Todd Harkins and his staff had gone three-for-three, selecting their three targeted players: Zach Michaelis (Round 4), Mitch Kohner (Round 10) and Kannon Flageolle (Round 11).
Selecting three US-born players was an unprecedented move by the Cats. In their entire Bantam Draft history, the Cougars had only ever selected a maximum of two. Almost always they were late round selections. Sleeper picks, if you will. But that mindset has changed in a big way due in large part to the Cougars recent string of improvement and success along with the familiarity and confidence that both GM Todd Harkins and his brother Don Harkins (The Cougars US Director of Scouting) have with the United States and the intricacies that go into persuading top US talent to choose the Canadian Hockey League.
With their second fourth round pick (88th Overall), the Cougars very enthusiastically announced the name of Elk River, Minnesota native Zach Michaelis. Michaelis was the only the fourth US-born player to hear his name called on draft day, and is the earliest American player to be selected by the Cougars in the WHL Bantam Draft in 14 years.
“We couldn’t wait any longer. We felt so strongly about Zach’s pro-hockey upside that we had to pick him when we did. After we drafted him our entire table was ecstatic. I felt right then and there that we got the biggest steal of the 2017 WHL Draft,” recalls Cougars General Manager, Todd Harkins referring to Draft Day in Calgary. “Zach is such a dynamic talent who we feel can be a star in the Western Hockey League.”
“He compares himself to Zach Parise and that’s a darn good comparison,” adds Cougars US Scouting Director, Don Harkins. “He’s got a high motor with tremendous speed making him very difficult to defend. We’re thrilled to have him as a part of our 2017 draft class and look forward to having at Training Camp and hopefully having him become a Prince George Cougar one day.”
Michaelis (who turns 15 today) scored 64 goals while adding 72 assists in 58 games playing Bantam hockey in Elk River, MN. He was the captain of his team and was a Player of the Year Finalist.
— PG Cougars (@PGCougars) May 4, 2017
Fast forward a few hours and later to Round 10. The Cougars sensed an opportunity to snag their second targeted US-born player, and ended up pulling off a trade with the Prince Albert Raiders to do so. It cost the Cougars a 10th round selection in 2018, but it allowed them to trade up a few spots in the draft to select rugged forward Mitch Kohner from Beaumont, MN.
“He plays with a high energy level. He’s got great speed and is a very physical, irritating type of player who’s very good on the fort-check,” said Don Harkins. “We went into the draft knowing what kind of players we wanted. We wanted to get faster and we wanted to get more skilled. We hit both by adding Zach and Mitch.”
By his own admission, the NHL player that Mitch Kohner identifies most with: Andrew Shaw – Super pest for the Montreal Canadiens. Kohner had four goals and four assists along with 25 penalty minutes playing with Lakeville North Varsity’s high-school team.
Proud and honored to get drafted by a great organization @PGCougars excited for what the future holds
— Mitchell Kohner (@mitchkohner) May 4, 2017
When it came time for Round 11, the Cats to add one more US-born player to the fold in the form of Littleton, Colorado’s Kannon Flageolle.
“He was the back-bone of the Colorado Rampage. He’s a big reason why they finished as the champions of their division in the Tier 1 Elite league last year. You can never have enough goaltending depth and that definitely played into our decision to make that selection,” comments Don Harkins.
— Kannon Flageolle (@KFlageolle) May 4, 2017
The next big step is to get all three of the 2017 US-born draftees to Prince George and to show them first-hand what life in Northern British Columbia is all about. All three players have committed to attend 2017 Training Camp and watching all three compete marks just one of the many intriguing storylines heading into the 2017-18 Cougars season.
Dustin Byfuglien (Roseau, MN), Parker Stanfield (Orange County, CA), Sena Acolatse (Hayward, CA), Colin Jacobs (Coppell, TX), and Zach Pochiro (Las Vegas, NV) are some of the notable US-born alumni of the Cougars (since 2005) to have gone on to play professional hockey. Years from now it’s not unrealistic to think that names like Zach Michaelis, Mitch Kohner and Kannon Flageolle won’t be household names in pro-hockey circles.
“It’s taken years of hard work, but the Prince George Cougars have become a destination team in the Western Hockey League,” adds GM Todd Harkins. “We are excited about the future direction of the Prince George Cougars at all positions and we are going to continue to work tirelessly around the clock to develop not only great hockey players, but great people.”
DON HARKINS AUDIO: