St. Stephen – The St. Stephen Aces are about to enter the draft with a stacked deck.

Gearing up for Saturday’s annual Maritime Hockey League’s entry draft, hosted by the Valley Wildcats in Berwick, N.S., the Aces have a hand no other team does.

“We don’t just have the first overall pick, we have three of them,” said Aces head coach Emery Olauson.

“The guy that comes first doesn’t even have to be better than the guy that comes third for us. We can take the best goalie, forward and defenceman at that age right now, if we see a need at all for those positions. We have the ability to draft each one.”

In addition to the first three overall picks in round one, the Aces also have a second round pick, a fourth, sixth, seventh, and eighth round pick.

Leading up to the draft, MHL territorial picks were announced Monday. With no territorial picks, the Aces will receive compensation picks following rounds two and three of the entry draft.

For the Aces, a territorial pick would be a Charlotte County player with at least one year of midget hockey under their belt. At this time, there are no Charlotte County players at that level.

“It’s a science because if they’re going to slide through the draft anyway, our second round pick that we’d get in lieu of that would be a better pick,” Chris Horne, VP of Hockey Operations said.

“We’d get those kids anyway; we’d just sign them as free agents.”

Olauson said heading into the draft, the Aces are looking for player who can make an immediate impact.

“With the No. 1, 2 and 3 pick in the league you’d want those to turn into players that can make an impact now, whether that is a player we select in the draft or trade for,” Olauson said, adding there is a roster freeze-up until draft day.

“So this week we are formulating a plan of what the value of those picks are, and what it would cost a team to trade for one of them.”

As the draft marks the first building blocks of the off-season, Olauson said the goal is to build the team identity around hard workers.

“I think Eric (Neilson, assistant coach) and I agree that the hard work has to be the soul of the team. If we’re picking kids, they’ve got to display to us that they’re going to put some sweat into the jersey and be willing to be do more than what’s been done in the past.”

Olauson explained in the days before the draft, there’s going to be a lot of “moving parts”, with players firming up their commitment to the team.

“It will be the best player available that can make an impact this year at that age.”

Both Olauson and Neilson said they are looking forward to the unique opportunity with their first round picks, something they emphasized as “extremely rare.”

“We have the ability because of the trades last year to change the fortune of this team long-term with this upcoming draft, and we’re going to try to put it in work to make sure that the picks don’t go unused.”

Olauson said though it’s still too early to confirm players for training camp, he said following the draft, he’s hoping to “tap into” players he’s familiar with from the western provinces and U.S that are not draft eligible, but noted the foundation of the team will remain with the returning players.

“There are still returning players that are going to fit the mold of what were looking for.”

Points to note

-Sam McGaw – Olauson said McGaw, a St. Stephen native is on the team’s protected list, with “a strong consideration” to become a member of the Aces. McGaw, who attended Rothesay Netherwood School, has affiliated with the Aces in the past.

– Though not divulging a name, Olauson said he’s looking to bring in a 20-year-old goal-scoring forward who’s going to be “an immediate impact player.” Olauson said the player will give the team word this week.

– Connor MacGregor, an 18-year-old forward from the Charlottetown Islanders midget AAA who nearly made the team last season, will likely be joining the Aces. “We have big plans for Connor MacGregor to come in and be a young, hardworking kid, and give people a reason to get out of their seat this year,” Olauson said.