Layton Ahac is not a gambling man but he likes his odds of winning in Las Vegas.
Apparently, so do the Golden Knights.
They valued the hockey abilities of the 18-year-old Prince George Spruce King defenceman high enough to pick him in the third round, 86th overall in the NHL draft Saturday in Vancouver.
"That was just so much fun, I'm going to remember that for the rest of my life and I'm excited to get going in Vegas tomorrow," said Ahac, from his home in North Vancouver, where he was packing his bags for a week-long trip to Nevada for the Golden Knights' development camp.
"You never know where you're going to go until you get picked so you're just trying to stay with it and not worry about it too much and just soak it in. But it's pretty hard to do that. It's just complete relief, so much joy and excitement and your mind is rushing, it's just a great feeling."
Ahac was the first of three players from Prince George junior teams to hit the jackpot at the draft. The Winnipeg Jets picked Spruce Kings goalie Logan Neaton in the fifth round (144th overall), while the Chicago Blackhawks used their final pick in the seventh round (194th overall) to select Prince George Cougars defenceman Cole Moberg.
Ahac knew he had the Golden Knights interested after attending the NHL combine in Buffalo a couple weeks ago.
"I worked unbelievably hard to be here," said Ahac. "I want to make this a career, I want to make a living from this game. Every single day I came to the gym or to the rink with that attitude. It's paid off so far but the work doesn't stop. There's still so much work that has to be put in, it's a step in the right direction but I'm not at the finish line yet, this is just the start of a new chapter."
Ahac, after a four-goal 32-point season with the Kings, has a scholarship at Ohio State University lined up and he will head to Columbus Aug. 12 to begin his studies as an economics major. Drafted 66th overall by the Seattle Thunderbirds in the 2017 WHL bantam draft, he turned down a chance to sign with T-birds and instead joined the Spruce Kings two seasons ago. The Kings then put together the two finest seasons of their 23-year B.C. Hockey League history. They were league finalists in 2018 and BCHL champions/national finalists this past season.
"(Coming to Prince George) shaped me into who I am today, I gained so much experience and wisdom and it helped my game and my confidence, it was just a great two years,"Ahac said.
After meeting the Golden Knights staff and going through media interviews, Ahac was just returning to the suite at Rogers Arena where his parents, Karen and Al, and sister Danika were waiting for him when he glanced up at the draft board and saw his teammate Neaton's name lit up beside the Jets logo.
"I was so pumped for him, I sent him a message right way, it was so exciting," said Ahac. "Good for him, he deserves it for sure."
Neaton, who lives in Brighton, Mich., near Detroit, did not attend the draft and was on a family vacation in northern Kentucky when he got the phone call from Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff.
"Its pretty surreal right now, it's something I''ve dreamed about since I was a little kid," said Neaton, who will fly to Winnipeg on Sunday for the Jets' development camp. "It's something I've always wanted to accomplish but at the end of the day it's just the start. I've got to develop a lot more accomplish a lot more."
Neaton knows Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck, who like Neaton rose through the Michigan high school ranks to the NHL. They share the same goalie coach in Michigan and both are UMass-Lowell college hockey recruits.
"I did an interview with (the Jets) and I can't say enough good things about their organization," said Neaton, who will study business in college this fall. "I've known Hellebuyck a little bit and he's said phenomenal things about them and how they develop kids and how they develop goalies specifically. I knew if I was going to go it would most likely be to Winnipeg. I was pretty happy to get that phone call."
Neaton joined the Kings last summer from Anchorage of the North American Hockey League and set a Kings' record with 32 wins and a 1.92 goals against average, and his stock rose in the playoffs when he backed the Kings to a 16-1 record and their first Fred Page Cup championship. Neaton played all six games of the Doyle Cup Pacific championships series win over Brooks and played every minute of the Canadian Junior A Championship in Brooks, which ended in a 4-3 loss to the host Bandits in the final.
As a 20-year-old, this was Neaton's third year of draft eligibility.
"Going into my original draft year I wasn't even close to on the radar and even last year it wasn't close to a possibility but coming into this year I knew we had enough of a run to maybe get attention," he said. "It wasn't something I set out do coming into the year. I just wanted to be successful and bring as many wins as I could to Prince George. I definitely think I had the best team in junior hockey in front of me, they made my job pretty easy."
Neaton was taken just after the Jets selected Chilliwack Chiefs centre Harrison Blaisdell in the fourth round with their 134th overall pick. Spruce Kings coach Adam Maglio makes his offseason home in Vancouver and was at the draft to see Ahac and Neaton picked.
"It's pretty incredible - two really good players but also two really good kids," said Maglio. "They're two of the hardest workers we've seen come through our program and it's well deserved. The sky's the limit for both players."
Ahac was identified early as a potential draft pick. That brought NHL scouts out to watch the Kings play, which Maglio says helped Neaton get noticed.
"At the end of the day, Layton helped Logan," said Maglio. "Once teams come and watch a team they see other guys who catch their eye and start tracking them and it funnels through the lineup. All the press and good attention on the program is going to pay off for future players."
Moberg lives in North Vancouver and was not far from the draft proceedings Saturday but chose to stay home and watch it on TV. Chicago picked him as the eighth player in the seventh round and that prolonged the suspense with just 23 players left to select before it all wrapped up.
"It's close, but I didn't want to be sitting there the whole time if I didn't get drafted, so I stayed home and watched it here," Moberg said. "I just tried not to worry about it. I wasn't drafted in the bantam draft so I kind of know what it's like to not get drafted. Once my name was called it was a pretty happy house."
It wasn't a total surprise Moberg ended up on the 'Hawks' list. They flew him and 29 other players to Chicago for testing a couple weeks ago at their training facility. He also had interviews with Edmonton, Vancouver and Florida prior to the draft.
The Cougars didn't make the playoffs but Moberg distinguished himself in his second WHL season as their top-scoring defenceman with 13 goals and 40 points.
"Honestly, I don't think it's really sunk in yet, I'm so happy to be able to go to such an exceptional organization," said Moberg. "To be going to an Original Six team, I can't even put it into words right now."
Cougars goalie Taylor Gauthier, the seventh-ranked North American goalie, left his home in Calgary to attend the draft but did not get picked. Moberg vowed he would return to Prince George as one of the leaders of a Cougar young defence and will do whatever it takes to set Gauthier up for a successful season that will make him an obvious choice for the draft in 2020.
"I was shocked when I didn't see his name called, it's a hard feeling" said Moberg. "With me and him being the talk of being drafted I wanted us both to go. I'm happy I got drafted but it's kind of bitter he's not going."
Said Neaton: "He's a phenomenal goalie and phenomenal human. I've gotten to know him a little bit and he's going to be fine. He's still got a couple years of eligibility and he's going to end up getting drafted, it's just a matter of when. He's got a bright future."
n Eight BCHL players were drafted and the Victoria Grizzlies had three of them - C Alex Newhook (first round, 16th overall, Colorado), LW Alexander Campbell (third round, 65th overall, Nashville) and D Carter Berger (fourth round, 106th overall, Florida). Chiefs RW Kevin Wall went in the sixth round, 181st overall, to Carolina and the Hurricanes also picked Penticton Vees C Massimo Rizzo in the seventh round, 216th overall.
n The WHL had 28 players selected. That list included seven first-rounders - Kirby Dach, Saskatoon Blades (third overall, Chicago), D Bowen Byram, Vancouver Giants (fourth, Colorado), F Dylan Cozens, Lethbridge Hurricanes (seventh, Buffalo), F Peyton Krebs, Kootenay Ice (17th, Vegas), D Lassi Thomson, Kelowna Rockets (19th, Ottawa), F Nolan Foote, Kelowna (27th, Tampa Bay) and Brayden Tracey, Moose Jaw Warriors (29th, Anaheim Ducks). Sixteen WHL forwards, eight defencemen and four goalies were picked.
Layton Ahac is not a gambling man but he likes his odds of winning in Las Vegas.