With few glaring holes to fill, and a roster already near capacity, the NAHL draft was slower than usual for the Bismarck Bobcats on Tuesday.
Already with 31 players on their protected list, the Bobcats made just two selections in the draft, including one with a recent history with the team.
Goaltender Ryan Ullan was selected with the 19th overall pick. A former top pro prospect, Ullan had double hip replacement surgery one year ago, but is on the mend and could be back in a Bobcats sweater next season. Ullan played 27 games for the Bobcats in the 2017-18 season, posting a 2.49 goals-against average. Last season, Ullan suited up for the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL, the top junior league in the country.
John Roberts, the Bobcats' all-everything goalie from the past few seasons, is off to NCAA Division I hockey at Northern Michigan. If Ullan ends up in Bismarck, he'll compete with returner Atticus Kelly and possibly Andrew Miller, who was one of four Bobcats recently selected in the USHL draft.
"We're very familiar with Ryan as a player and person and know he'll fit in here with our group really well," Roth said. "We feel very confident Ryan and Atticus could lead our bunch. (Ryan) still has to go through the Green Bay process. We don't really know what their situation is, but we're very confident if he does come back he'll be a big piece of our hockey team."
The Bobcats are projected to have upwards of 17 or 18 players returning off last season's squad, which ranked eighth in the 24-team NAHL with 73 points, and set a franchise record with points in 16 straight games at one point.
Roth and head coach and general manager Layne Sedevie, who was out of town scouting on Tuesday, have already inked 11 players to tenders. High-impact players typically come via the tender route, where the draft is more for filling specific holes or needs a team may have. Free agents can still be signed, with Roth saying significant players can be unearthed in the coming weeks and months.
"There are a number of players that will not get drafted today that are going to play big roles on hockey teams this season," Roth said. "It's up to us as a staff to find them, get them out to Main Camp (July 12-14 at Wachter Arena) and get them in a Bobcats sweater."
The Bobcats' other draft pick was forward Dominic Canic from the Bozeman Icedogs of the NA3HL. Canic averaged over two points per game last season. Roth said Canic, who has international experience playing with Croatia in the World Juniors, will have the opportunity to win a roster spot.
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"This is the first year we've only had two picks. It certainly was a different situation for us," he said. "Our board usually has between 80 and 100 players on it. We still had that many with what our scouting staff was able to do, but we discussed five or six players closely."
Along with Miller, forwards Austin Jouppi (Des Moines Buccaneers), Century High grad Kirklan Irey (Sioux City Musketeers), Ryan Taylor (Sioux City) and Blaine Warnert (Des Moines) were selected in the USHL draft in May. All four could still return to the Bobcats next season.
"We'll allow the process to play out and if they do end up coming back to Bismarck they'll be big pieces to our team and guys we'll rely on to play heavy minutes," Roth said.
Star forward Adam Stacho faces a similar decision. Committed to D-I American International College, Stacho could etch his name into the Bobcats' record book in a number of categories, if he were to return. He totaled 51 points last season.
"Our hopes are we do get him back. With everything he's done for this organization he's probably one of the best forwards to put on the Bobcats sweater," Roth said.
Stacho figures to have plenty of high-end help. Team captain Jacob Marti will return. Marti had 25 points despite missing nearly 20 games due to injury. The Bobcats also return six defensemen that logged major minutes last season.
Come fall, everybody will be chasing Robertson Cup champion Aberdeen, who the Bobcats played to nearly a draw in 2018-19 (5-7-2). The Wings followed their 97-point regular season by winning the NAHL crown.
"It was nice to see the Robertson Cup stay in the Central Division," Roth said. "Hats off to Aberdeen. Through 60 games and the playoffs they proved they were the team to beat and a very deserving champion."