Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Blades Make A Move, Grab A Russian Goalie

The Saskatoon Blades swung a deal today to move up 30 spots in the CHL Import draft. They traded the 60th overall pick in the Import Draft and a 3rd rounder in the 2012 Bantam Draft to the Prince George Cougars, in exchange for pick #30 in the Import Draft.

Saskatoon then used that pick to select Russian goaltender Andrey Makarov. Makarov is 18 years old and stands 6'2. He spent last season with Lewiston of the QMJHL. He played in 27 games and posted a 3.37GAA and an .890 save percentage.

He was also draft eligible for the NHL draft, but went unselected.

Well known NHL draft blogger Kirk Luedeke posted an article on Makarov earlier this winter. Check it out. It's a feature he does called "Guys You Should Know".

To make a move like this up in the draft order, you would almost have to guarantee that the Blades have confirmation from Makarov that he will be willing to report to the team and will be happy to fight for minutes with 20 year old Adam Morrison.

If that's the case, this deal could be great for Saskatoon if Makarov is able to step in and provide quality minutes.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Two Blades Meet The NHL Media

A pair of members of the Saskatoon Blades fraternity were unveiled by their new NHL teams today.

In Denver, Colorado defenseman Duncan Siemens took part in an autograph signing with fellow first round pick by the Avalanche Gabriel Landeskog. Landeskog was the 2nd overall selection by Colorado, while Siemens was taken 11th overall.

Siemens will now fly back to Sherwood Park, Alberta for a few days before returning to Denver for rookie camp on July 11th.

Meanwhile, Brayden Schenn was unveiled to the media in Philadelphia after he was acquired from the LA Kings last week. Schenn and Wayne Simmonds were the package as the Flyers traded captain Mike Richards to the Kings.

I expect Schenn to stick on in a third line role in Philly next year. His game truly fits the city and the team's style of play.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

33 WHL Players Chosen In 2011 NHL Draft

A total of 33 Western Hockey League players realized their dream this weekend as they were taken in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

That was second-most among the CHL as the Ontario Hockey League once again led the way with 46 selections.

The WHL was highlighted by the first overall pick in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins who was chosen by Edmonton.

Here's a full list:

1st Round
#1. Edmonton Oilers – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins; Red Deer Rebels
#11. Colorado Avalanche – Duncan Siemens; Saskatoon Blades
#13. Calgary Flames – Sven Bartschi; Portland Winterhawks
#18. Chicago Blackhawks – Mark McNeill; Prince Albert Raiders
#23. Pittsburgh Penguins – Joseph Morrow; Portland Winterhawks

2nd Round
#31. Edmonton Oilers – David Musil; Vancouver Giants
#32. St. Louis Blues – Ty Rattie; Portland Winterhawks
#46. St. Louis Blues – Joel Edmundson; Moose Jaw Warriors
#57. Calgary Flames – Tyler Wotherspoon; Portland Winterhawks

3rd Round
#67. Winnipeg Jets – Adam Lowry; Swift Current Broncos
#73. Carolina Hurricanes – Keegan Lowe; Edmonton Oil Kings
#74. Edmonton Oilers – Travis Ewanyk; Edmonton Oil Kings
#84. Phoenix Coyotes – Harrison Ruopp; Prince Albert Raiders

4th Round
#106. New York Rangers – Michael St. Croix; Edmonton Oil Kings
#107. Buffalo Sabres – Colin Jacobs; Seattle Thunderbirds
#111. Phoenix Coyotes – Kale Kessy; Medicine Hat Tigers
#115. Detroit Red Wings – Marek Tvrdon; Vancouver Giants
#118. Philadelphia Flyers – Marcel Noebels; Seattle Thunderbirds
#119. Winnipeg Jets – Zachary Yuen; Tri-City Americans

5th Round
#125. New York Islanders – John Persson; Red Deer Rebels
#127. New York Islanders – Brenden Kichton; Spokane Chiefs
#134. New York Rangers – Shane McColgan; Kelowna Rockets
#138. Montreal Canadiens – Darren Dietz; Saskatoon Blades
#141. Phoenix Coyotes – Darren Dzuirzynski; Saskatoon Blades
#144. Pittsburgh Penguins - Dominik Uher; Spokane Chiefs

6th Round
#156. Ottawa Senators – Darren Kramer; Spokane Chiefs
#159. New Jersey Devils – Reece Scarlett; Swift Current Broncos
#164. Calgary Flames – Laurent Brossoit; Edmonton Oil Kings
#165. Dallas Stars – Matej Stransky; Saskatoon Blades
#167. Buffalo Sabres – Nathan Lieuwen; Kootenay Ice
#175. Detroit Red Wings – Richard Nedomlel; Swift Current Broncos

7th Round
#186. Ottawa Senators – Jordan Fransoo; Brandon Wheat Kings
#193. Carolina Hurricanes – Brody Sutter; Lethbridge Hurricanes

A total of 4 Saskatoon Blades were chosen, as you can see on the list. A total of three Saskatchewan kids were also drafted during the 7 rounds.

A large of number of highly talented kids were actually undrafted from the WHL.

The biggest shockers to me were:

Myles Bell - Regina Pats - My 8th ranked WHLer

Jesse Forsberg - Prince George Cougars - My 11th ranked WHLer

Andrej Stastny - Vancouver Giants - My 17th ranked WHLer

Brent Benson - Saskatoon Blades - My 20th ranked WHLer

Dylan Wruck - Edmonton Oil Kings - My 21st ranked WHLer

Others inlcude Dylan Willick, Tyler Hansen, Luke Lockhart and Liam Liston.

For a full list of my WHL ranked players visit:

Friday, June 24, 2011

Five WHLers Taken In Round One Of NHL Draft

It was a big night for some big names in Western Canadian hockey.

A total of five WHL players were taken in the first round of the 2011 NHL entry draft, including Ryan Nugent-Hopkins going first overall to Edmonton.

Last year, seven players were taken in round one, with five also being taken in 2009's first round.

As mentioned, the Oilers didn't shock anybody by taking the Red Deer Rebels centre first overall. Nugent-Hopkins was recognized as the consensus number one player on almost all draft boards and he should fit into their system nicely going forward.

Duncan Siemens was the next WHLer off the board as the Colorado Avalanche took the big Saskatoon Blades blueliner at 11th overall. I would like to apologize to my neighbours, because I am a huge Avalanche fan as well as the Blades colour man. I jumped off my couch screaming and yelling when Siemens name was called.

Sven Bartschi was next off the board as the Calgary Flames took the scoring winger 13th overall. I like the player, but I am not a huge fan of who the Flames passed on to grab Bartschi. I think a guy like Mark McNeill would have fit their club alot more.

Speaking of McNeill, he was chosen 18th overall by the Chicago Blackhawks. The PA Raiders centre is a man child and slid a bit in the draft, but will be through the roof with the result. The Raiders list the Blackhawks as McNeill's favorite team, so that's great to see.

Finally, the Pittsburgh Penguins nabbed Joe Morrow of Portland at 23rd overall. He's got solid size and skates almost as good as any defenseman in the WHL. It's a good value pick for them and he should make a solid top 4 defenseman on Sidney Crosby's club.

Overall it was a nice night for the WHL, but I expect more fireworks tomorrow morning when rounds 2-7 get underway. A large number of WHLers are still waiting to have their names called.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

NHL Draft Based On Fantasy Value

The NHL Entry Draft is only a couple of days away and it's time to look at what players you should target when it comes to fantasy hockey. I will mention my top 30 players with a few sleepers to keep an eye on.

Putting together a list like this is tough. On one hand, you want to predict which players will be the best once they arrive on the NHL scene, but it also means you have to be safe with your picks. A guy with a well rounded game might rate a bit higher than a boom or bust potential level-player when it comes to how I would construct this mock ranking.

I also take into consideration where a player is going to play next year or two years from now. If a player is committed to the NCAA, his fantasy values goes down because he will take longer to arrive on the NHL scene and thus he is ranked lower on the list. Defenders aren’t as important to me in fantasy hockey, therefore they are down on the list. Goalies are in a different situation as I tend to value goalies higher than most people when it comes to fantasy hockey.

As mentioned, it’s a tough list to put together, so go ahead and tell me what you think.

1. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Great playmaker, highest offensive potential of any draftable player.
2. Jonathan Huberdeau - Dynamic at both ends of the ice. Can snipe and dish the biscuit.
3. Ryan Strome - Shifty offensive player with a great shot and release.
4. Sean Couturier - Big pivot with good two-way ability.
5. Ryan Murphy - The most explosive defenseman in the draft. Great skater, elite shot.
6. Gabriel Landeskog - Gritty power forward with a good shot.
7. Mika Zibanejad - Big Swede with an offensive touch.
8. Adam Larsson - Will be the first defenseman drafted. Will also QB a PP one day.
9. Matt Puempel - Elite goal scorer. Could be this year's Jeff Skinner.
10. Joel Armia - Big winger with a great shot and scoring ability.

11. Mark McNeill - Big two way center with great playmaking ability.
12. Sven Bartschi - Small winger can fill any role, but has a great offensive touch.
13. Mark Schiefele - Safe offensive center with size and vision.
14. Rocco Grimaldi - Shifty and dynamic scorer, but very small.
15. Dmitrij Jaskin - Big power forward with a great shot. Very slow feet, though.
16. Nicklas Jensen - Big winger is mobile and could be a great top 6 player.
17. Alexander Khoklachev - Shifty and dynamic Russian forward, a tad undersized.
18. Nikita Kucherov - Arguably the most dynamic Russian. "Russian factor" looms large here.
19. Zack Phillips - Can't teach goal scoring, he has it.
20. Tomas Jurco - Flashy and dynamic winger from CHL's top team.

21. John Gibson - Best goalie in the draft. Outstanding mental toughness.
22. JT Miller - Solid two-way center in a Kesler mold.
23. Dougie Hamilton - Big rangy defender plays well at both ends of the ice.
24. Ty Rattie - Great passer and solid two-way player.
25. Brett Ritchie - Big winger with an underrated goal scoring touch.
26. Nathan Beaulieu - Big smooth skating defender with a great shot.
27. Brandon Saad - Good hands, just not enough compete in his game.
28. Vlad Namestnikov - Elite skater and smart defensive player.
29. Joe Morrow - Solid offensive blueliner from the WHL.
30. Stefan Noesen - Big forward with a solid pro-style game.

5 Sleepers to watch:

Victor Rask - Top 5 potential, but worrisome effort levels.
Oscar Klefbom - Big defender that skates well and has a booming shot.
Shane McColgan - Small and explosive WHL forward played hurt all year.
Mario Lucia - The consensus top high school forward available, pro ready shot.
Reid Boucher - Very small, but a great goal scorer. Clutch too.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Victoria "Royals" Officially Announced

Well, the official team name has been announced for the WHL club based in Victoria.

I must say, they are very sharp looking jerseys. I will also admit that I am not necessarily a huge fan of the logo, but it looks like one that could grow on a person.

Here's the link to the website with a photo of the jersey:

I have to say, the color scheme and jersey style also looks alot like the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL. That's fine, there are only so many colors and styles to go around.

Should be fun to see how they do next year, even though they aren't really considered a "new" team.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Do the Avs go "off the board" at 11th overall?

It’s well known that every team has a different draft board. If one team has shown that they have a much different board then others, it’s the Colorado Avalanche. They proved that last year when they grabbed Joey Hishon in round 1, 17th overall. Hishon was considered a mid-2nd round pick according to most at that time.

The Avs have two picks in round 1 at 2nd and 11th overall. There has been much debate over what they do at number 2, but I am also very intrigued to see what they could do at 11th overall come Friday. I figured I would start this up to see what other people might think about who they could be targeting if they decide to go “off the board”. I’ve seen a lot of Duncan Siemens and Sven Bartschi being listed as going to the Avs but I wouldn’t be shocked if the Avs did something a bit more surprising.

It’s an established fact the Avs pick using a Best Player Available (BPA) strategy based off 3 things: Skill, Character and Compete.

Here are a few players I think could be targeted if the Avs decide to go a bit “off the board”.

Daniel Catenacci – FW – OHL – Speed personified. The best wheels in the draft. Likely projects to be a Darren Helm type of player but he really does suit what the Avs seem to be after, speedy players with high character. Is ranked in the late 1st to early 2nd.

Philip Danault – FW – QMJHL – The captain of Victoriaville at the age of 17. A great skater with high end speed. Will go through a wall for his team. Some say he compares to Michael Bournival, a guy who the Avs drafted a couple of years ago before trading him to Montreal for Ryan O’Byrne this year. Is ranked mostly in the mid 2nd.

Nick Cousins – FW – OHL –
Not a big player but he’s very well rounded. Has good hands and battles hard in the corners. Wouldn’t be shocked at all if the Avs were more interested in Cousins then most teams are. Is ranked mostly in the late 2nd and into the 3rd.

Connor Murphy – D – US NTDP – A big right handed defenseman that spent most of the year battling injuries. Is also the son of Gord Murhpy. Has pro size and had a very strong under 18 tournament this April as team USA won gold. Is ranked mostly in the late 1st and early 2nd.

Scott Mayfield – D – USHL – A huge defenseman that skates well and plays with a major edge. Also is a strong passer with some offensive upside hidden behind a very terrible team this past season. Is also a Denver recruit, which might help his cause. Is ranked mostly in the late 1st and early 2nd.

Boone Jenner – FW – OHL – Screams captain and leader at the NHL level. A terrible skating stride but manages to put up offensive totals despite that fact. Has drawn comparisons to the Avs Ryan O’Reilly. I guarantee the Avs have interest in this guy. Is ranked anywhere from the mid 1st to early 2nd.

Lucas Lessio – FW – OHL – A teammate of Jenner who seems to be an all round very solid player. Have heard concerns about his overall hockey sense and “mind” for the game. Has a very intriguing skillset that wouldn’t be missed by Avs scouts in my opinion. Is ranked anywhere from late 1st to early 3rd.

JT Miller – FW - US NTDP – Definitely not a huge “reach” as some of the others listed, but he is an intriguing player ranked later in the 1st round. Has drawn comparisons to a player like Ryan Kesler of Vancouver. Got size, defensive and offensive skills. Is ranked anywhere from mid 1st to early 2nd.

Jamie Oleksiak – D – Northeastern Univ. – A mountain at 6’7 and likely still room to grow. Dominated the combine physically and some of the testers there said he could possibly play at around 275 pounds. Not great either offensively or defensively but is more than competent in the two way game. Some people say he plays like Tyler Myers because of his skating, while he’s also drawn comparisons to an octopus because of his reach. Just like Miller, he’s also not necessarily a big reach at 11th overall. Is ranked anywhere from mid 1st to late 1st.

These are just a few players that I think the Avs could be targeting at 11th overall. With that being said, I still hope they are riding along with the ‘consensus’ and do nab a player like Duncan Siemens, Mark McNeill or someone who might fall like Mika Zibanejad or Ryan Strome.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Blades' Siemens Highlights WHL Invitees To WJHC Camp

Thirteen WHL players in total have been invited to Team Canada's summer World Junior evaluation camp.

Saskatoon Blades defenseman Duncan Siemens is included in the group of 46 players overall. Camp goes August 3rd-7th in Edmonton and Fort McMurray, Alberta.

The other WHL invitees are as follows:

Tyler Bunz - G, Medicine Hat

Joe Morrow - D, Portland

Ryan Murray - D, Everett

Mark Pysyk - D, Edmonton

Brett Connolly - FW, Prince George

Brendan Gallagher - FW, Vancouver

Patrick Holland - FW, Tri City

Quinton Howden - FW, Moose Jaw

Ryan Johansen - FW, Portland

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - FW, Red Deer

Ty Rattie - FW, Portland

Mark Stone - FW, Brandon

The only two WHL players that are included in this list that played in the tourney last year are Brett Connolly and Quinton Howden.

For a full list of the 46 players invited to camp, visit:

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Steve Konowalchuk To Take Over In Seattle?

Rumours started floating this evening that the newest coach in the WHL will be Steve Konowalchuk.

It sounds as if Konowalchuk will be leaving his post as an assistant coach with the Colorado Avalanche to take over as the head coach of the Seattle Thunderbirds. The Thunderbirds have been looking for a new coach since the end of March, when they announced they wouldn't be renewing the contract of Rob Sumner.

Sumner had spent the previous 16 years with Seattle, including the last 7 as the head coach. It's actually shocking that he lasted that long with the club. Clearly this last year was too much to take. They wrapped up the year with a record of 27-35-5-5 and failed to make the playoffs in the tough Western Conference.

For those not familiar with Kono, he has been with the Avalanche since they hired Joe Sacco as their head coach two years ago. Prior to that he spent time with the Washington Capitals and the Avalanche during his NHL career. He had just under 400 points in 790 career games. He was known for his grit and leadership and was a solid defensive player.

I love this move for Seattle. They need someone who has played and played well at the pro level and a guy who is also known for his character. Konowalchuk is surely a guy that will do a great job molding young players.

This also has me wondering, this deal must include some MAJOR job security or an extra title along with head coach because this is technically a step back for Konowalchuk. It's always nice to be a top guy on a hockey club as a coach, but going from the NHL to the WHL is still an interesting choice.

It will be interesting to see if this is in fact the announcement that is made tomorrow by Seattle.

2013 Memorial Cup Down To Three Finalists

The Saskatoon Blades have been announced as one of three finalists for the 2013 Memorial Cup.

The team officially announced their interest in a bid earlier this spring and have been shortlisted as one of the top contenders.

The other two on that short list include the Kelowna Rockets and the Red Deer Rebels. Teams that have fallen by the wayside include Lethbridge and Prince George.

Saskatoon should definitely be looking as the possible frontrunner as the host for such an event due to the ability to host big events in the past. The city is known far and wide as an "event town" and recently hosted the World Junior Hockey Championships, which was considered a booming success.

Another element that will surely be part of the bidding process is looking at potential team strength for the 2012-2013 season.

Saskatoon could still potentially have players like Ryan Olsen, Brent Benson, Josh Nicholls and blueline anchors Duncan Siemens and Dalton Thrower in the mix for a playoff drive in 2013.

Giving up a big chunk of the future in the deadline deal for Brayden Schenn will surely hurt things for now, but there is still enough time to potentially re-group some assets before they would be needed.

The final bid presentations will be made on October 12th at the WHL Board of Governor meeting in Calgary.

15 WHLers invited to Ivan Hlinka Camp

Saskatoon Blades forward Ryan Olsen is among the invitees to the 2011 Ivan Hlinka Team Canada training camp.

Current Blade defender Duncan Siemens took part in the event last summer for Team Canada.

42 players were invited in total, with 15 of them coming from the WHL.

Olsen is a centre that played very well in his rookie season in the WHL. He's got pro size at 6'2 and put together a 14 point season this year along with 39 penalty minutes. He steadily improved his play as the season went along before getting hurt down the stretch and missing a large chunk of the Blades playoff drive.

He plays a mature game and was counted on by the Blades to play a solid defensive role, spending much of the season as a third line centre.

Other WHL invitees are as follows:

Matt Dumba - D, Red Deer

Derrick Pouliot - D, Portland

Ryan Pulock - D, Brandon

Griffin Reinhart - D, Edmonton

Morgan Rielly - D, Moose Jaw

Nicholas Walters - D, Everett

Troy Bourke - FW, Prince George

Brendan Leipsic - FW, Portland

Brandon Magee - FW, Victoria

Connor Rankin - FW, Tri City

Tyrel Seaman - FW, Brandon

Hunter Shinkaruk - FW, Medicine Hat

Chandler Stephenson - FW, Regina

Robert Trzonkowski - FW, Calgary

The camp runs July 30th to August 2nd in Calgary. The actual tournament is scheduled for August 8-13 in Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Steven Stanford Off To UBC

Sorry for the lack of posting. Now that the Canadian junior hockey season has wrapped up, the lack of news from the WHL really can put things at a stand still blog-wise. It was a long season with over 300 posts on my blog, so I think I deserve to take a break while it's nice and get out to enjoy the links! For those who do want to stay in touch with what I am up to, go ahead and follow me on Twitter. You can do so by clicking on the link over on the right side of the page.

There was a bit of Blades and WHL-related news to pass your way late last week. Graduated goaltender Steven Stanford will be continuing his hockey career with the UBC Thunderbirds of the CIS.

It's my understanding that the T-Birds have a goalie currently on their squad that was with them last year and that these two will now be fighting for playing time. I think that's a great spot to be in for a guy like Stanford, who really plays with a competitive edge, despite looking very calm between the pipes.

Despite a tough end to the 2010-2011 season, it can still be considered a successful one for Stanford. He won 40 of his 48 regular season games and posted a 2.78GAA and a .910 save percentage. He was also one of the players that continued to look good as the team melted in front of him in the second round against the Kootenay Ice.

Not every player that takes part in junior hockey has a chance to play pro, let alone make the jump straight there after leaving junior. It's always nice to see a guy like Stanford get a chance to continue his hockey career and also have a great chance to get an education. It also will allow him to keep his options open for hockey down the line. Not a ton of guys go from the CIS on to NHL careers, but it has happened and will continue to happen to certain hard working individuals.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

My Top WHL Draft Eligibles - Part Two

Yesterday I posted the first half of my top WHL players for the NHL draft. If you didn't see it, scroll down to take a look at the players on my list featured 16-25, plus honourable mentions.

This next chunk features my top 15.

Take a look:

#1 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – FW – Red Deer Rebels

- RNH has continued to grow as a player and by the end of this season has found himself to be the consensus top prospect available for the draft. He’s got vision that hasn’t been seen from a player his age in a decade or possibly longer. He’s got elite level passing abilities, a great hockey IQ, a quick release, a goal scoring touch and the ability to play a 200 foot game. His puck protection skills are also excellent as is his stick positioning defensively. He hustles on the backcheck and is always sniffing around to pick the puck from someone’s pocket. He might have a slender frame, but he has the height to support added weight over the course of time. That light weight doesn’t hold him back physically either, as he has been known to engage players physically and not back down if teams come at him. It's nice to see that his weigh-in at the combine listed him at 177 pounds, which is way up from the 164 most people had him pegged at as the Rebels season came to an end. He didn’t kill penalties this year and much of his point production came on the powerplay, those are two areas that could be of some concern. An NHL transition as early as next year could happen, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. His body is the only thing holding him back in that regard because his skill level is high enough and he is good enough at avoiding contact on a regular basis.

NHL comparable: Pavel Datsyuk

Top end potential: 1st line center

Pick prediction: 1st overall

#2 Duncan Siemens – D – Saskatoon Blades

- Siemens provides a unique blend of size, skating ability and toughness to the blueline. At 6’3 and around 200 pounds, he’s also already got pro size. The thing that sets Siemens apart from other blueliners his size is his skating ability. He’s got great top end speed, solid acceleration and good East-West mobility. He’s at his best when he’s jumping into the rush and creating offense by driving lanes. That skating also allows him to be a bit riskier as he can get back into position well. He’s a solid passer and is good starting a team’s transition. He does tend to over think things and can get himself in trouble by holding on to the puck too long in his own zone. Quicker decisions are big for him as he needs to rely more on his instincts. He doesn’t have a great shot and struggled at times on the Blades powerplay this year. His overall puck skills are an area he needs to work on if he wants to provide some offense at the next level. Overall he’s an imposing package that also shows strong leadership abilities. Ranking him ahead of McNeill was a tough call. Personally, I think Siemens has the ability to be a strong top 3 defenseman. To me, that’s more valuable than someone who will be a solid number 2 center.

NHL comparable: Ed Jovanovski

Top end potential: Top 3 defender

Pick prediction: Top 15

#3 Mark McNeill – FW – Prince Albert Raiders

- McNeill came into this season as a guy that was on team’s radars as a player to watch for later in the draft. As the season wore on, it became more apparent that he is a first round talent and a player that teams can build around. He plays centre and logs big minutes. He kills penalties, can quarterback a powerplay and win big draws in a final minute of a game. Already at a man’s size at 6’2 and over 200 pounds, the thing that sets him apart is his vision. He’s an excellent passer and is very smart with how he dishes the puck around the blue ice. He’s very strong on the forecheck and does a ton of damage behind the goal line. McNeill also has great hands around the net in regards to finishing off the play as he had 32 goals on the season. His top end speed is very good although his edge work and first step could use some work to be taken to the next level. I don’t think his skill level is quite good enough to become a solid 1st line centre in the NHL, but he should definitely be a very solid 2nd line guy if he works hard and things go well.

NHL comparable: Ryan Kesler

Top end potential: 2nd line center

Pick prediction: 12-18 overall

#4 Sven Bartschi – FW – Portland Winterhawks

- Bartschi does a little bit of everything, but his best skills are offensive. He’s only 5’10 but he’s not afraid to get greasy to score. When he gets in those prime scoring areas, he’s got a killer shot with a dynamite release. As WHL rookie of the year this season, the 18 year old Swiss sniper scored 34 goals and added 10 more in the playoffs. He’s also a committed defensive player as a winger and had no problem being the first forward on the backcheck on a regular basis. His skating is good, but not elite and I think that’s an area that will need some improvement if he wants to carry his offense to the next level into pro hockey. Size is also a concern but he does enough things well to make up for it. With his array of tools, he is a guy that should be able to slot into an NHL clubs top 6 on the wing.

NHL comparable: Jeff Skinner

Top end potential: Top 6 winger

Pick prediction: Top 20

#5 Joe Morrow – D – Portland Winterhawks

- Morrow is exactly what NHL teams are looking for in today’s NHL. He’s got good size and features arguably the top skating stride of any draft eligible defender from the WHL. That skating allows him to break games open at both ends of the ice. He enjoys jumping into the rush or starting it with a nice quick transition pass. He’s got a good, hard shot, also likely the best of the WHL dman class. If I have one major knock on him, it would be that he takes a bit too long to get it off. Those adjustments will come with time as he learns to make decisions just a half step quicker. On the defensive side of the puck he’s passable, but not spectacular. He uses his great mobility while defending, being able to turn on a dime making it tough to get by him in a one on one situation. Physically, he doesn’t play overly aggressive, but is not afraid to throw a hit. That ability on the defensive side of the puck should be very attractive teams because it truly shows that Morrow could be the best well rounded defenseman to come out of this draft when it’s all said and done.

NHL comparable: Duncan Keith

Top end potential: Top 4 defender

Pick prediction: Top 25

#6 Ty Rattie – FW – Portland Winterhawks

- Rattie is a very well rounded player. He doesn’t do a whole lot to blow you away, but everything he does, he does well. His hockey IQ is likely his best asset as he simply knows how to play his position. His vision is also very good as he is definitely more of a pass-first player. He can find players all over the ice and is very strong working off the side boards on the powerplay. His feet are a bit heavy and he doesn’t have very good speed out of the gate. It would be nice to see him work on his overall skating as it will be greatly necessary for him to excel at the next level. He’s got an ok touch around the net, although shooting the puck more would be of benefit to him. I also like his mental game as he has been in the spotlight for a number of years and continues to impress scouts by adapting and improving his game over time. Rattie is also known to score a clutch goal or two, which also looks good on a resume.

NHL comparable: Patrick Sharp

Top end potential: Top 9 winger

Pick prediction: 20-45 overall

#7 David Musil – D – Vancouver Giants

- Musil plays well for his role. He’s a very solid shut down defender. His skating can be a concern as he definitely is slow to get going and won’t blow you away with top end speed. He makes a strong first pass which should be attractive to teams. His puck control overall could use some work as his hands aren’t his best asset. He has a good shot, but isn’t always in the best position to use it on a regular basis. As mentioned, if he earns an NHL paycheque it will be because of his play in his own zone. He’s a big body that plays physical and uses his reach to his advantage. He is also a very good shot blocker and can eat up a ton of minutes in any situation.

NHL comparable: Robyn Regehr

Top end potential: Top 4 defender

Pick prediction: 20-50 overall

#8 Myles Bell – D – Regina Pats

- When you think about WHL defenders, Bell is the kind of guy that normally doesn’t fit the cookie cutter form. But that’s ok, because he does so many things well. He’s first and foremost an offensive defenseman. He’s got a cannon of a shot and is very good at getting it through. He’s a solid passer when it comes to starting the rush and joins it on a regular basis. Physically he’s not tall, but very sturdy. His skating is ok, but it doesn’t stand out. He also has been known to have lapses defensively and needs to show more commitment to playing in his own end of the rink. If he can get some of those aspects of his game figured out, he could become one of the most well rounded defenders to come out of the 2011 NHL draft. Unfortunately, Bell was involved in a well-publicized car accident this offseason and is currently facing some major physical, mental and legal challenges. His draft stock will definitely take a huge tumble and it’s truly impossible to tell exactly how far.

NHL comparable: Brian Rafalski

Top end potential: Top 4 defender

Pick prediction: 3rd round

#9 Adam Lowry – FW – Swift Current Broncos

- Lowry is a guy that came on strong as the season went along. That, despite his team in Swift Current going down the tubes. He’s a big body at over 6’4 and he is starting to understand how to use that size. He’s very physical along the boards and in the corners. He often wins those battles and doesn’t hesitate to drag the puck to the net. His hands are quite good for someone his size and he has the ability to cash in on pucks around his feet as he battles near the crease. His skating is considered good for his size, but it’s clearly an area he needs to work on and improve on. He’s got leadership abilities and isn’t afraid to stand up for a teammate. He may be seen more as a project than an NHL-ready player and might take a few more years than some guys, but if he has the ability to hit his highest potential, he could be something special. With that being said, he could also be considered a safe pick by some because of his size and his overall commitment to the game already. It will be interesting to see how NHL teams view him, because I think he might have some of the most untapped potential of any forward from the WHL this season.

NHL comparable: Ryan Clowe

Top end potential: Top 9 winger

Pick prediction: 3rd round

#10 Shane McColgan – FW – Kelowna Rockets

- McColgan is a very skilled forward who relies on the ability to think his way around the rink. He’s a very solid player positionally and is very dynamic with the puck. He’s a little inconsistent when it comes to hustling defensively, but battles hard in the corners more often than not. A bit undisciplined, but overall a very solid goal scoring forward with tons of heart. He will suffer from the typical ‘small forward’ stigma come draft day. He’s not tiny, but he’s below average size-wise, despite his massive skill level. One way to do that is his skating, he’s a very good skater and uses his edges well when getting down low and trying to beat defenders. He also really brought his game up to the next level in the WHL playoffs showing his ability to take over games and lead by example.

NHL comparable: Brian Gionta

Top end potential: Top 6 winger

Pick prediction: Late 3rd round

#11 Jesse Forsberg – D – Prince George Cougars

- Jesse Forsberg is the kind of guy you want on your club. He may be slightly undersized for the blueline but he will run through a wall and hit anything that moves. He's got character and leadership abilities and showed that off while playing important minutes for the Prince George Cougars. His offensive numbers have not quite carried over the way some had hoped after being a first round pick in the WHL's bantam draft. With that being said, he is still more than capable of starting the rush and making a nice pass to get his team moving in the right direction. He may not be joining the rush as often as some had hoped as his skating is only OK at this point. It doesn't hold him back, but it's not quite at the level you might want to see it as he tends to have an odd stride with a hunched over style. For teams looking to add a safe and effective defense-first blueliner to their club, Forsberg will be a great choice.

NHL comparable: Brooks Orpik

Top end potential: Top 4 defender

Pick predictiom: Late 3rd round

#12 Michael St. Croix – FW – Edmonton Oil Kings

- St. Croix is one of the most explosive players to come out of the WHL this season. He can break a game open with his slick moves as he comes across the goal line, can find a player sneaking in the back door or can burn the goalie with a quickly released, rocket shot. Those are the good things he does. He tends to play a little too much on the outside of the play from time to time and hasn’t shown enough commitment to get greasy to score. The skill is there and when he does go to the blue ice, he gets rewarded more often than not. As with most players his age, his defensive play has some holes and he would be a much better prospect if he showed more all-round hustle in his game. His play away from the puck raises some concerns because he might end up being a player that’s not quite good enough to be a top 6 forward, but not gritty enough to be a bottom 6 forward. The skill is there for St. Croix and he should get a couple more years to show it off with a high profiled, up and coming roster of prospects with the Edmonton Oil Kings.

NHL comparable: Danny Briere (regular season edition)

Top end potential: Top 6 winger

Pick prediction: 3rd round

#13 Joel Edmundson – D – Moose Jaw Warriors

- Edmundson has something you can’t teach and that’s size. He is very effective defending his area on the ice because of that size and the ability to push players around. He also uses his reach very well, taking away passing lanes and poking pucks away. He’s strong along the boards. He moves well for someone 6’4, but could still use some overall jump in his skating. He is very passive offensively and is an ok, but not great passer. Let’s say his passing is passable. He has a bomb of a shot but takes much too long to unload it. I wouldn’t be shocked if he did score 8-10 goals next season, vastly improving his offensive production, but it won’t be something that ever carries him to the next level of hockey. He’s not afraid to scrap and is an imposing figure on the blueline overall. When picturing a WHL defenseman, Edmundson fits the bill. I know for a fact that many NHL teams and scouting organizations like him much more than I do, so I won’t be shocked to see him go off the board earlier than I would personally take him.

NHL comparable: Ryan O’Byrne

Top end potential: 4th or 5th defender

Pick prediction: Late 2nd round

#14 Reece Scarlett – D – Swift Current Broncos

- Reece Scarlett had the definition of an up and down season for the Swift Current Broncos. The long and smooth skating blueliner was pencilled in as one of the pillars of a very young blueline and showed stretches of brilliance, but his play truly did go down the tubes as the season went along. Scarlett provides very good two way play overall with good puck skills and the ability to lead the rush or start it with a crisp pass. He's a very strong quarterback of the powerplay and does an excellent job getting his shots through. On the defensive side of the puck he is a smart and safe defender who relies on body positioning and excellent stick work to prevent chances against. Toward the end of the year you could see that he was not the same player. He was either mentally or physically fatigued or a combination of the two. He also was jekyll and hyde on the national stage. He had a very strong showing during the CHL top prospects game, but at the end of the year he was exposed while playing for Team Canada at the World Under 18's. I still like his long term potential, even if he is still considered more of a project pick. I would like him to be a bit more aggressive at both ends of the ice, because I think he has the skill level to do that. He's very skinny with room to grow and add weight and muscle to his frame and his foot work and mobility tell me he will have the ability to contribute as a strong two way defender.

NHL comparable: Marc-Edouard Vlasic

Top end potential: Top 4 defender

Pick prediction: Late 3rd round

#15 Travis Ewanyk – FW – Edmonton Oil Kings

- Ewanyk went up against the best in the world from his age group at the world under 18’s for Team Canada, and he excelled. He drew tough assignments as a defensive specialist and team’s seem to have enjoyed what they saw. I did too. Ewanyk has good size for his role as a banger and a crasher and loves to get in players faces. The word pest can be used perfectly here. He is counted on for big draws and isn’t afraid to sacrifice his body to win a game. His hands and overall offense are huge question marks, but if a team drafts him, they aren’t doing so to get a 50 goal scorer. Ultimately, he will be one of the safest picks after the 1st round, but I do question his overall potential. Does he ever become more than a 3rd line centre? I don’t see it, but if that’s what a team needs, this guy would be an excellent choice as early as the late 2nd round.

NHL comparable: Steve Ott

Top end potential: 3rd line center

Pick prediction: Late 2nd round

Friday, June 3, 2011

My Top WHL Draft Eligibles - Part One

Last year, 43 players were selected in the NHL entry draft from the Western Hockey League. Seven of those players were taken in the first round. I’ve had the chance to be very close to the league this year, including seeing over 50 games live as well as dozens of others on TV and on live streams online.

I’ve also had the chance to do some scouting for a few different groups in regards to WHL players and how they look for this year’s draft. With that being said, I have prepared a list of my top 25 draft eligible WHL players. I will also include a few more players to watch.

As for my player comparables, those are not meant to be statistical comparisons. They are simply meant to provide the reader with a view of how a player looks while on the ice and an insight into what that WHLer brings to the table.

Here is part one of my rankings, players ranked 16-25 plus honourable mentions.

#16 Colin Jacobs – FW – Seattle Thunderbirds

- Jacobs could do so much more with the tools that he has. It’s almost like the old saying that he has all the tools and no toolbox. That might be a bit harsh, but it’s not that far off. He’s a big body that moves well and has a number of intriguing offensive weapons. He just doesn’t use it all in the correct way, or often enough. The potential is absolutely there, though. He had a very strong start to the year with a bad Seattle club but as the team soured down the stretch, so did Jacobs’ game. He passes well, can score, moves well for his size and has a ton of versatility in his game. He even saw time on the point on the powerplay for Seattle this season. I’ve seen him dominate a game and score a hattrick, or be totally invisible. Consistency in all areas of his game will be a big thing for teams to address if they take a stab at this big American.

NHL comparable: Nathan Horton

Top end potential: Top 6 forward

Pick prediction: 3rd round

#17 Andrej Stastny – FW – Vancouver Giants

- Stastny was a bit of unknown coming to the WHL this season and arrived on the scene with a bang, registering just under a point per game with the Giants. Speaking of Giants, he is one at 6’4. He moves well for a guy his size, but can look pretty clumsy from time to time. Once he fills out he could be a huge load to handle. When he gets in around the net he’s very dangerous as he possesses great instincts and the ability to either dish the puck or find a way to get it to the back of the net. As an overage player, it’s hard to predict where he could go in the draft, but teams will surely like the overall package that he brings to the table.

NHL comparable: Nik Antropov

Top end potential: #2 or #3 center

Pick prediction: 4th round

#18 Keegan Lowe – D – Edmonton Oil Kings

- One night you see him, the next you don’t. Consistency was a big thing for Lowe this season. On some nights he was the Oil Kings best defender, and sometimes he went totally unnoticed. When he’s on, he has a lot of tools to work with. He’s got above average speed, good skating ability overall, an aggressive mindset offensively and the ability to make smart and effective defensive plays. I like him the most when he is simple and staying smart, chipping pucks off the glass or making a short pass to start the transition game. The offense won’t follow him around but he does have some room for growth in that area of the game. Good bloodlines too, as the son of Oilers president Kevin Lowe.

NHL comparable: Mark Giordano

Top end potential: Top 4 defender

Pick prediction: 4th round

#19 Marcel Noebels – FW – Seattle Thunderbirds

- Noebels has the size that will attract teams, but he sure is still learning how to use it. He was a rookie this year in the WHL after coming from Germany as a 17 year old. He put together strong totals, scoring nearly 30 goals and eating big minutes for the underskilled Thunderbirds. I like his size and his hands, but he has shown that he doesn’t compete hard enough and doesn’t always take a hit to make a play. With some time and more commitment to working on his all around game, he could be a real steal for a team. Currently there are still rumbles out there that he may be heading back to play pro in Germany after this season, but whatever team drafts him will make a decision in that regard and I would be shocked if he didn’t stay in Canadian junior hockey.

NHL comparable: Jussi Jokinen

Top end potential: Top 6 forward

Pick prediction: 5th round

#20 Brent Benson – FW – Saskatoon Blades

- Benson is an intriguing player who might be pretty tough to gauge given his role with the Saskatoon Blades this year. He started the season playing in the top 6 and was eventually bumped down after the team acquired Brayden Schenn. After that deal, his production suffered, but he truly showed he has a strong defensive element to his game. Often times he was matched up against one of the opposition's top two lines and he managed to win a ton of battles on many nights. His offense throughout the season was very hit or miss and overall, it hasn't quite transfered to the WHL level after the Blades drafted him 6th overall in the 2008 bantam draft. He still has good skills, a low and powerful skating stride mixed with good hands and vision. But he doesn't do too many things offensively that stand out to you or make you think he will be a huge offensive contributor at the next level. Much of those skills will be put to the test next year as he will be bumped into possibly a number one centre spot in Saskatoon. His other assets are what will attract NHL teams. He's very gritty and will do anything to get his team in the win column. He blocks shots and is solid in the faceoff dot. All those things while having offensive skills that may eventually make their way to the surface.

NHL comparable: John Madden

Top end potential: 3rd line center

Pick prediction: 4th round

#21 Dylan Wruck – FW – Edmonton Oil Kings

- 5’8 is pretty small. So is 162 pounds. Both of those together are what equals Dylan Wruck. But, the Oil Kings PA announcer calls him the “Wrucking ball” for a reason. He never quits on a play and has a dynamic skillset. He can lead his team to victory at the offensive end of the ice and works hard defensively. He still plays a bit too much on the perimeter for my liking but who can blame him? When it’s all said and done, the size of this guy is still a huge concern for most teams and it should be. It’s not every day that a player this size turns into Tyler Ennis or Marty St. Louis. But, I think he’s atleast worth a gamble in the later rounds.

NHL comparable: Tyler Ennis

Top end potential: 2nd line winger

Pick prediction: 7th round

#22 Tyler Wotherspoon – D – Portland Winterhawks

- Wotherspoon might be one of the better defensive defenseman to come out of the WHL this year. He thinks the game well, is good in coverage and can punish people physically. His biggest flaws are his skating, where he needs a ton of work to grow and one day become a regular at the next level. He is an ok puck mover for someone with his role as he can start a breakout by making a good first pass. His game will never revolve around his offense, but for a team looking to add depth and toughness to their future blueline, this guy is worth a grab.

NHL comparable: Craig Rivet

Top end potential: Bottom pairing blueliner

Pick prediction: 3rd round

#23 Kale Kessy – FW – Medicine Hat Tigers

- As the season wore on, people started to talk about Kessy as a potential Milan Lucic. I like him as a player, but a true comparison to Lucic is a bit of a stretch. He’s not a great skater and doesn’t quite have the hands that Lucic had or has now. He is effective, I will give him that. He loves to hit, he’s good on the boards and is tough to knock off the puck. With that being said, we’ve seen him bobble his fair share of passes and miss open nets. The offensive game isn’t there and I’m not sure it will be. Even if it doesn’t come, he has the size and appropriate skillset to make a living banging and crashing on a team’s third or fourth line.

NHL comparable: Mike Rupp

Top end potential: 3rd line winger

Pick prediction: Early 4th round

#24 Harrison Ruopp – D – Prince Albert Raiders

- Ruopp is a guy that has flown under the radar this season in the WHL. He’s got many assets that NHL teams come to the WHL to find. He’s got good size and plays extra physical. He’s a solid skater with good balance and the ability to defend well one on one or along the boards. He won’t blow anyone away with his offensive skills but he will have his name called on draft day by someone looking for a bit of a project on the blueline.

NHL comparable: Johnny Boychuk

Top end potential: Bottom pairing defender

Pick prediction: 6th round

#25 Matej Stransky – FW – Saskatoon Blades

- Matej (Matty) Stransky is the typical projection pick when it comes to the NHL draft. He's got a ton of intriguing tools, but hasn't quite been able to put them all together. He's got size, he doesn't back down physically, he's got a hard shot, he protects the puck as good as almost anyone in the draft and he has hands and moves to get himself into scoring areas. Those are the good things, but he also has his fair share of warts to his game. His overall skating and speed would only be considered average at this point, he takes a while to get his shots off, he battled consistency issues, his balance is not great and he tends to hang on to the puck too long at times. One thing that will help his cause is the fact that he had a very strong playoff for the Blades. After only 26 points in the regular season in 71 games, he got on the board with 9 points in 10 playoff games including a clutch OT winner in game 6 against the Prince Albert Raiders in game 1. From wire to wire it wasn't a bad season for the 17 year old import who had to make a ton of adjustments coming from the Czech Republic. I think he is a very big project player but if a team has some patience and provides the right guidance or him, he could be a player that is ultimately viewed as a major steal.

NHL comparable: A very poor man's Jaromir Jagr

Top end potential: 2nd-3rd line tweener

Draft prediction: 5th round

Other Draftables To Watch:

Zachary Yuen – D – Tri City Americans – Smooth skater that excels at both ends of the ice.

Marek Hrbas – D – Edmonton Oil Kings – Smaller defender who had a solid rookie season in Edmonton.

Eric Williams – G – Prince Albert Raiders – My top ranked goalie. Very quick and athletic. Reminds me of Quick from the Kings.

Colin Smith – FW – Kamloops Blazers – Gritty and speedy forward who is very solid defensively and offensively.

Laurent Brossoit – G – Edmonton Oil Kings – Nice size and angle work. Tad clumsy and needs work on rebound control.

Darren Dietz – D – Saskatoon Blades – Smooth skater who is as tough as nails. Underrated with big potential.

Dylan Willick – FW – Kamloops Blazers – Grit personified. Does a ton of little things well, but won’t blow you away with any aspect of his game.

Tyler Hansen – D – Kamloops Blazers – Big size but won’t provide a ton of offense. Very nice edge to his game though.

Luke Paulsen – D – Kootenay Ice – Safe and smart defender. Right handed shot is also a nice asset teams will look for.

Luke Lockhart – FW – Seattle Thunderbirds – Undersized, but a nose for the net. Reminds me of Brian Gionta.

Liam Liston – G – Brandon Wheat Kings – Was up and down for the Wheaties this year but carrying a big load this season could mean exponential growth is coming for next year.