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NA3HL Hockey: WarHawks get their men

WILLMAR - 23 hours after the Minnesota Twins selected prep phenom Royce Lewis with the No. 1 overall pick in the MLB Draft, the Willmar WarHawks were on the clock in their own draft, the North American Tier III Hockey League's draft Tuesday evening.

The WarHawks haven't hit the ice in three months and they're still more than two months away from getting back to the Willmar Civic Center. But Willmar head coach and director of hockey operations Chris Blaisuis has been busy crafting his team for the 2017-2018 season.

Willmar entered the draft with 12 picks in the eight-round draft, including two in the top-10 of the first round and two in the second round.

"I think it went great," Blaisuis said. "We got six of the top seven from our draft board and nine of the top twelve so I'd say we were pretty successful."

Alex Kyrias, the man in charge of announcing the draft via Hockey.tv seemed to agree.

"That is one of those teams that has certainly utilized the draft to their advantage trying to get some picks," Kyrias said during the broadcast. "They have had several players from this past year's first year selected and off to NCAA schools. Congratulations to head coach Chris Blaisuis there in Willmar who has done a fine job and again if you ask anybody at the end of the year in the West division. If you look at the standings, yes, they finished in last place but look at their last eight, 10, 12 regular-season games. They were just giving everyone a hard time, they were beating everybody so I really expect a lot from the WarHawks in this upcoming season."

The WarHawks drafted forward Kyle Ylitalo of Delano High School fourth overall and followed that up by taking defenseman Mitch Andres from Brainerd High School with the 10th overall pick. Ylitalo and Andres were Nos. 1 and 2 on the WarHawks' pre-draft big board.

Ylitalo is a 6-foot-1, 175-pound forward who scored 18 goals with 29 assists (47 points) in 31 games on the way to the Class A state tournament. Willmar acquired the fourth overall pick via trade with College Station for Willmar's first round pick (18th overall), second round pick and fifth round pick. The WarHawks also received College Station's fourth round pick.

"Kyle could be an immediate contributor," Blaisuis said. "He played for a really good Delano team this year and could help us out a lot."

Andres is somewhat of a familiar face in the Willmar area as a Central Lakes Conference competitor. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound defenseman was a dominant force for the Warriors in an 11-1 victory over the Willmar Cardinals last season. He scored a goal and tallied three assists in that game as well.

"He's one of those guys that is a high-end flier," Blaisuis said. "He shoots the puck well and could be top-two or top-three defensemen for us right away."

Andres, however, is one of three guys that could see action the North American Hockey League, a tier II league right above the NA3HL. The NA3HL draft allows teams to draft the rights to a player if that player stays in the NA3HL. If they are drafted by the NAHL, for example, they can remain with that team rather than report to the NA3HL. Andres, as well as second round pick Carter Krogman, a forward from Omaha AAA U18, could play for Brookings who own their rights.

"My job now is to see what they need to do to get to tier II and help them get there," Blaisuis said. "We're committed to their development and that starts now, immediately after the draft is over. If it doesn't work out with the NAHL then they have a place to play here to continue their development."

In the second round, the WarHawks selected Ryan Vlaisavljevich, a 6-foot-4, 195-pound defenseman from the Tampa Bay Juniors in the United States Premier Hockey League. Vlaisavljevich was selected with the 52nd overall pick, the fifth pick in the second round. Prior to his time with the Tampa Bay Juniors, the Woodbury native played with St. Thomas Academy.

"We tried to get Ryan last year but with our move (from Little Falls) last year he was a little unsure so he decided to go to Tampa Bay and that was great for his development," Blaisuis said. "Now he feels more comfortable with us and he's seen what we can do. He's a big body with good reach. He's good at moving the puck and just a solid kid. He would fit nice with the community."

The new draftees could join a number of players that are already rostered with the WarHawks for the upcoming season. Blaiuis said he's looking for a bigger, more aggressive team than last year's inaugural squad. This year could also feature a mixture of veterans and young talent. The roster will take weeks before finally becoming set because some players could decide not to return from last year's squad, others may not be asked back, some have surpassed the age-limit and others might be selected by the NAHL. That's not including potential future trades.

"Last year, I just had to make a team on the fly and it didn't necessarily suit my style of play," Blaisuis said. "But this year I have time to build and craft my team the way that suits my coaching style and the way I want to play. I also looked more towards Minnesota kids (in the draft) because I've spent some time here now. Six of our twelve picks are guys from Minnesota whereas last year I had to just use my network from other states. We could start with 32 or 33 kids this year and that means we'll have depth. We'll have competition for every spot."

Other draft picks:

Third round, 99th overall: Keegan Baumann, forward, Champlin Park High School

Fourth round, 145th overall: Austin Dulitz, forward, Albert Lea High School

Fourth round, 151st overall: Dawson Zemlich, goaltender, Dallas Stars Elite 18U AAA

Fourth round, 159th overall: Brendan Miller, forward, Soo Indians, 18U AAA

Fifth round, 193rd overall: Ryan Lawrence, defenseman, Meijer 18U AAA

Sixth round, 275th overall: Tyler Miknich, forward, Amarillo Bulls NAHL

Sixth round, 280th overall: Ryan Teske, defenseman, Faribault High School

Seventh round, 300th overall: Zach Dombrowski, defenseman, Oakland Junior Grizzlies 18U

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