At the 2009 NHL Draft the Atlanta Thrashers selected Levko Koper a left wing from Spokane in the WHL. Koper has an early birthdate which has allowed him to play three seasons of junior hockey already. His point total has steadily increased from 5 in 2007 to 26 points in 2008 to 59 in 2009.
The fact that Koper was still available in the 7th and final round this fall was a surprise. After the first round, teams sometimes have very different opinions regarding where a player should be taken. The independent Red Line Report scouting service put both Koper and Bubnick in their second round. Both fell into the late rounds and the Thrashers drafted them both.
The Thrashers organization seemed pleased to be able to land Koper that late in the draft. Thrashers GM Don Waddell:
We had them both rated as 2nd round picks too—later in the 2nd round. To get both guys was great. When you’re drafting that late, you want to find someone that has one outstanding quality and both of these guys do.
Here is what Director of Scouting Dan Marr had to say about him immediately after the Draft concluded:
Koper is one of these high character players like Jarome Iginla where you can put him on the ice with the game on the line. He's a solid two-way player. He’s not going to put up big numbers but he can play along side the guys who do put up the big numbers and feed them the puck. He's a high character player who doesn't mind doing the dirty work.
One year ago Spokane had a long playoff run. They won the WHL playoffs and advanced to the Memorial Cup where the champions of the WHL, OHL and QMJHL compete along with the host city to be crowned champions of the major junior CHL. Certainly Koper would have been noticed by scouts during this long run--even though he was not eligible to be drafted for another year.
When I talked to the Red Line's WHL scout he liked Koper's speed and defensive game but said that his offensive side was very inconsistent from game to game. Koper will be headed back to Spokane this fall and will have an opportunity to further refine his game and develop.
After watching Prospect Camp I think the Thrashers might very well have a late round steal in the making. Koper has very good speed and he shows a willingness to compete hard in both zones. during the 4 on 4 scrimmages he consistently came back hard and made good defensive plays. His offensive skills are probably not sufficient to secure him a scoring line job in the NHL, so his future likely rests on his abilities to kill penalties and work hard as a forechecker and backchecker.
Levko Koper Interview
Bird Watchers Anonymous: Can you talk about the highlights of your junior career, both this last season and the season before when you had quite a run to the Memorial Cup.
Levko Koper: Yes, two years ago we won the WHL Championship and went all the way to the Memorial Cup [where the champs of the WHL, OHL, QMJHL face each other] that was definitely a year to remember. Sometimes it seems like it was more than a year ago. This last year was a step forward for me personally. We lost quite a few guys so we didn't go as far in the playoffs and we had a key injury to one our of defenseman. [editorial note: D Jared Cowan missed most of the year but was drafted in the top 10.] It was an average year--an OK building year for me personally--but not as good for the team.
BWA: I noticed that your point total was nearly double this year did you get more ice?
LK: For sure I got more ice time and more power play time. I try to improve every off season and take I
BWA: This probably isn't news to you but Levko is an unusual first name, is it Croatian?
LK: [laughs good naturedly] Our family is Ukrainian and It is an unique Ukrainian name my parents gave to me.
BWA: I read that you played in the Top Prospects Game, was that a good experience [note: only the very best draft eligible players are invited to this game]
LK: Sure, a huge highlight. I went home for Christmas and got a call from my coach with the news. I was really happy. It is a great honor to play with the best guys in the CHL--all that talent and skill. It is a big event and a big deal. My parents, my brother and a friend were all able to attend in Oshawa.
BWA: Where is your hometown?
LK: in Alberta, it is an 11 hour drive. We only make that Alberta road trip once very two years. When we played in Edmonton my grandpa bought 400 tickets and we had an entire section up there.
BWA: Did you have a good game for all the homeotwn fans?
LK: I hit the post! It was near the end of the trip and we were all pretty tired, but we won the game.
BWA: There are a lot of WHL guys here at Prospect Camp. Do you have any big rivalries with one here.
LK: Actually I've become friends with Kane and Bubnick. We all go hard against each other during the season, but in summer it's OK to get to know each other.
[At this point the battery died on my recorder. I jotted down everything I could remember immediately after but these are not verbatim quotes but a paraphrase of what Levko said.]
BWA: Watching you play in the 4 on 4 scrimmage it seems that you are able to use your speed at both ends of the rink.
LK: Absolutely, I take pride in being a two way player. My coach uses me on the top PK pairing.
BWA: So far at Prospects Camp have learned any one particular thing that you think will help you--or is to more the total experience?
LK: I'd say the overall experience. The speed and skill level are so high here--everyone is really good!
BWA: Can you describe what a Levko Koper goal looks like?
LK: Probably a 2 on 1 where a receive a pass across and finish off.
BWA: I see that you've had a couple of hockey fights, are you trying tomake a bid for Eric Boulton's job?
LK: [laughs] No, I don't think so. I'm willing to drop the gloves when it is necessary, but I wouldn't consider fighting a strength for me.
BWA: Let's talk about the draft. Some people had you ranked much higher. Were you disappointed about being taken in the 7th round?
LK: You never know how it is going to play out. I was watching at home--and I almost wish that I didn't watch. It was certainly frustrating. But now it is over and done and I'm ready to move forward.
BWA: I read that you were passed over entirely in the WHL Bantam draft--but then you were drafted by a NHL team. Does that give you some solace? You're been underestimated before?
LK: Sure. I knew that I was on the border line of being taken in the WHL draft--but the being passed over has probably motivated me a bit.
BWA: Do sports run in your family?
LK: Not that much really. I have a lot of educated people in my family--teachers and engineers.
BWA: Any interests away from the rink?
LK: The usual I guess--hanging out with friends and playing video games.
BWA: Who has helped you along in your career so far?
LK: 'I'd have to say my dad.