Manitobans put in work to catch the eye of NHL scouts


Carson Buydens has a scholarship to an Ivy League school in his back pocket, but don’t think for a minute he isn’t fantasizing about a future in pro hockey.

The 18-year-old centre from Gladstone, rated 167th among North American skaters by Central Scouting, could be a mid- to late-round selection at the NHL Draft after a superb debut year with the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s Virden Oil Capitals.

MJHL players rarely get much love on draft day but Buydens could be an exception.

The 6-3, 180-pounder, has the tenacity (a league-leading 75 hits in 54 regular-season games), quick feet and offensive resume (he won league rookie-of-the-year honours after scoring 27 goals and 53 points in 2021-22) to pique the interest of pro talent evaluators.

“I haven’t thought about it too much, but I think if I had the chance to be selected it would be an incredible opportunity and I’d be extremely excited for it,” said Buydens, who has made a verbal commitment to attend Princeton University in 2023-24. “If things don’t go my way… that’s all right. I’ll just move on and keep working.”

Buydens won’t be in Montreal for this week’s two-day draft extravaganza.

Instead, he’ll be in New Jersey at the Princeton University campus, a place he was unable to visit last year during the pandemic and earlier this spring while he was helping his father, Greg, seed wheat and canola fields on their 3,000-acre family farm.

Last month, Buydens was also able to get away from home long enough to attend a training camp with the USHL’s Cedar Rapids RoughRiders.

Cedar Rapids picked him in the first round (eighth overall) of the most recent USHL Entry Draft.

“It was a good first experience to see what that organization was like and be in the town for the first time and it’s a really, really good league,” said Buydens about moving to the USHL this fall. “I’m gonna have to work hard to make that team come September.”

Meanwhile, defenceman Hudson Thornton has parlayed his first full season in the WHL into a good position for the draft, rated 109th by Central Scouting after being slotted in at 211th at mid-season.

<p>JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS files</p><p>Prince George Cougars defenceman Hudson Thornton.</p>


Prince George Cougars defenceman Hudson Thornton.

“I’ve done what I can do (before the draft) and I can’t control what happens now,” said the 18-year-old Winnipegger. “If I get drafted or not, it’s not going to change anything for me. I’m very confident in myself. I’m very confident in what I can do and I’m very confident I’ll play pro hockey one day, regardless of being drafted or not.”

The 5-11, 178-pounder, who joined the Prince George Cougars for six games in 2020-21 after stints with the BCHL’s Chilliwack Chiefs and USHL’s Fargo Force, said he has finally found a home in the WHL.

“It was a really good building year for myself and for my team,” said Thornton, who had 14 goals and 45 points in 65 regular-season games. “… It was really important to get that first full year (after the pandemic-shortened season) under our belts because even a lot of our ‘03(-born players) hadn’t played a full WHL season until this year. Especially to get into the playoffs was so huge.”

Thornton admits he’s far from a polished pro prospect.

He’s spent time in each of the last three summers working with Edmonton-based skating instructor Steve Serdachny and he’s already been tutored this off-season with skills instructor Adam Oates, the former NHLer.

“You can always work on everything and at the next level, you’ve gotta be an elite skater,” said Thornton. “I don’t think I’m quite an elite skater yet but I’ve gotta get there…

“I trust what Steve does. He watches my games. He sees me skate and knows how I move. That’s how I get better.”

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Twitter: @sawa14

Mike Sawatzky