Campbell River’s Brett Stapley, 19, has been taken by the Montreal Canadiens in the latest NHL entry draft.
In the seventh round, the Canadiens used the 190th overall pick to take Stapley, who had spent the last three seasons playing with the Vernon Vipers of the B.C. Hockey League.
“I felt really fortunate and humbled to be drafted by such a historic organization,” he told the Mirror over the phone from Denver, Col. “I just felt super-excited to give my parents a call right away.”
Stapley had been noticed by NHL teams before and had even skated at an Anaheim prospects camp after last year’s draft. He figures he increased his profile after a strong performance with Team Canada West at the World Junior A Championship in Truro, N.S., in December, where he helped to lead the team to a gold medal.
“This year, I somehow got myself on the radar,” he said. “There certainly was interest from Montreal last year, but it wasn’t as serious.”
With Vernon this past year, he put together a strong season, leading the team with 27 goals and finishing second with 59 points. Viper coach Mark Ferner has seen Stapley’s transition from a 16-year-old having to learn the ropes in junior hockey to an NHL prospect.
“There was an adjustment period, but we knew he was a good player,” he said, pointing to Stapley’s talent, competitive spirit and desire to win. “It was just a matter of time.”
Ferner is pleased Stapley is getting the chance to take the next step in the hockey world.
“We thought he was going to have a good chance last year too…. We’re extremely happy for him,” Ferner said. “It’s a great achievement.”
Even though he has been drafted, Stapley is not expecting to jump to the pro ranks yet. In the meantime, he has also lined up an NCAA scholarship to play with the vaunted University of Denver Pioneers program. The Pioneers have produced a number of NHL players including Peter Stastny, Matt Carle and Tyler Bozak, and the school is tied with North Dakota for the second-most number of NCAA hockey championships, behind only Michigan.
Stapley is already taking classes and training in Denver. Stapley knows the competition will be getting a lot tougher, as he will be going up against college hockey players approaching their mid-2os. Another current Pioneer player, Liam Finlay, had also played with Vernon and has given Stapley some inside knowledge about adjusting to the NCAA.
“He just kind of told me how big the step is to play college hockey,” Stapley said. “You’ve just got to get better each day.”
So far, it’s tough, as the players are up for workouts at 6 a.m. every day during the week. On top of that, there is the “Mile High City” effect of playing in the high altitude of Denver, but this early conditioning should help.
“It’s been super-hard so far, but we’re starting to get used to the altitude,” he said. “Our conditioning’s starting to get better.”