Thursday, September 20, 2012

25 WHL Players To Watch In 2012-13

Like in years past, this was scheduled to be a 'top 10' players to watch.  But, I started the list and couldn't cut it down any, so I decided to make it a list of 25 players.  Safe to say that proves how excited I am for the start of the season, which kicks off tonight as Edmonton plays host to Kootenay.  

Basically, this list is a grouping of 25 players I can't wait to watch this WHL season.  They range from forwards, to defenceman, to goalies and also include players who have been drafted and players eligible for future NHL drafts.  The WHL is a great league with a ton of talent, so take a look at my list of some players to keep a close eye on this season.

1.  Chris Driedger - The Calgary Hitmen can definitely be considered a contender as we enter the 2012-13 season.  They were solid last year, have a ton of returning players and have the distinction of having one of the top goaltenders in the league in Driedger.  The Sens 2012 NHL Draft pick is poised to put up a solid season after winning the starters role throughout the year last year.  I fully expect him to finish in the top 5-7 in wins this season as well as posting solid peripheral numbers.

2. Curtis Lazar - The Edmonton Oil Kings have a future star on their hands in Curtis Lazar.  He came on strong in the second half last year and was fantastic in the WHL playoffs.  He's in the running as a top 10 pick in the 2013 NHL draft and could end up as the WHL's highest drafted forward when next June roles around.  He definitely sits near the top of this list of 25 in regards to my overall interest level.

3. Colin Smith - The Kamloops Blazers are set to torch the Western Conference in 2012-13.  They're hard working, have depth at every position and have veteran leadership.  Smith fills a number of different roles after translating a strong 2011-12 season into being drafted by the Colorado Avalanche.  Watch for Smith to end up near the top of the WHL's scoring heap come next spring.

4. Ryan Pulock - This 18 year old was just named captain of the Brandon Wheat Kings and he's ready for a massive year.  He might be considered the best offensive defender for the 2013 NHL Draft and I will definitely be looking for him to post around 60+ points in 2012-13, while still maintaining his calm play with and without the puck.  He's got a level head on his shoulders and it's safe to say every NHL team would want this kid as one of their own.

5.  Jamal Watson - The Lethbridge Hurricanes are an up and coming squad in the WHL and one of the guys driving their core forward is Jamal Watson.  He's lightning fast, plays physical and has some interesting offensive skills.  As a 2013 NHL Draft eligible player, he doesn't get enough attention.  I'm expecting a solid year from this underrated, well-rounded package of a player.

6. Mackenzie Skapski - The Kootenay Ice are in an interesting spot entering the year.  They have a ton of young talent, but their inexperience might end up being their downfall.  If they're going to be a successful team, much of that pressure falls on the shoulders of new starting goalie Mackenzie Skapski.  The 1994 takes over for Nathan Lieuwen and I think he's fully capable of a solid year. Now it's up to him to prove it.

7. Hunter Shinkaruk - Many have the newly named Medicine Hat Tigers captain penciled in as the top forward prospect the WHL has to offer for the 2013 NHL Draft. At this point, that's pretty tough to argue considering his point totals the last couple of years.  He's a fantastic player and could be in the running as a top scorer for the 2012-13 season.  But, he also faces some pressure as the Tigers roster lost a ton of talent after last year including Emerson Etem and Tyler Bunz. This is now Hunter's team.

8.  Matej Stransky - The Dallas Stars draft pick led the Blades in scoring last year and is now scheduled to start the year with the Blades two top acquisitions from the summer, Brenden Walker and Shane McColgan.  The chances of Stransky scoring 40 goals this year are high, but those expectations also come with pressure.  Can he repeat his 2011-12 success during such a pressure-filled year?  Time will tell, but I can't wait to see how Stransky handles it.

9. Sam Reinhart - I already touched on the growing pains potentially ahead for the Ice and for them to counter that, Sam Reinhart will need to continue his upward swing.  The kid has been lighting the WHL on fire ever since he first played full time with the Ice during the playoffs in 2010-11.  He's not eligible for the NHL draft until 2014, so he still has a ton of time to dazzle people with well rounded play.  I can't wait to see him play live several times this season.  A truly unique talent.

10.  Patrik Bartosak - The Red Deer Rebels are poised to be one of those middle-ground teams in the WHL's East in 2012-13.  One guy that could elevate them above that is their goaltender Patrik Bartosak.  He entered the WHL as a rookie last year and had a fantastic first half of the season before tweaking his knee and missing the rest of the year.  He's a big, talented goaltender who is one of those many European wild cards the WHL seems to offer this season, especially in goal.

11.  Morgan Klimchuk - The Regina Pats will be driven forward this year by a 20 year old goaltender, atleast one solid veteran on the blueline and a group of talented young forwards.  The showcase talent is definitely Morgan Klimchuk.  He's got wheels, great hands and could end up leading the team in scoring, along with Chandler Stephenson.  He's draft eligible and will be in the mix for the 1st round in 2013.  Keep your eyes on this kid.

12.  Ty Rattie - Predictions are abound for who will win the WHL scoring title in 2012-13.  For my money, Ty Rattie of the Portland Winterhawks is the best bet.  The St. Louis Blues prospect comes in the year bigger, stronger and with another year of experience under his belt.  Him and Michael St. Croix will likely go punch for punch all season and it will be interesting to see who comes out on top of the scoring race.

13.  Victor Rask - The Swedish import now has a full WHL year under his belt and it's time to use that experience to his advantage.  He's a big talented kid that can take over a game when he wants.  Calgary has some depth up front so Rask is poised to put up massive numbers.  The Hurricanes will be watching closely as he could even jump straight to the NHL in 2013-14.

14. Brendan Leipsic - The diminutive forward had a strong playoff and turned that into a nice slot at the NHL draft, getting picked by Nashville.  With the Winterhawks losing some players from last year, the pressure is on Leipsic to up the ante and provide more offence.  He's capable and could end up being considered a steal of the 2012 draft if he keeps up his hard work.

15. Seth Jones - As mentioned, this list varies in interest level for myself.  But it's safe to say Seth Jones sits at the top of it.  He's made the jump to the WHL and is a likely top 2 pick for the 2013 NHL Draft.  He had a strong pre-season with Portland and is poised for a 40+ rookie campaign.  He's my top choice for WHL rookie of the year this year as he's an impressive mix of size and skill. I can't wait to see him on the ice, especially when I get to see him live in October.

16. Michael St. Croix - The kid can flat out score.  He proved that last year.  That will definitely continue this year as the Oil Kings are poised for another run at the Memorial Cup after winning the WHL title last season.  St. Croix is the offensive motor behind the team and could be one guy that has the ability to challenge Ty Rattie for the WHL scoring title.

17. Jake Virtanen - If someone is going to challenge Jones for rookie of the year, I would predict it would be this kid.  The Calgary Hitmen rookie does a little bit of everything and is poised for a strong rookie season after being the 1st overall pick in the WHL bantam draft in 2011.  He's surrounded by talent and will definitely catch your eye when you watch him.  I've seen him play a few times and am very excited to see more of him, especially live.

18.  Morgan Rielly - Nobody got a great look at Morgan Rielly last year, due to his early season knee injury.  Luckily, I had the chance to see him a ton as a 16 year old and a few times before and after his injury last season.  He's a fantastic talent, a Leafs prospect and will need to be stellar this season for the Moose Jaw Warriors to get back into the playoffs.  It's actually kid of funny to say to watch for this kid, because when he's on the ice you can't miss him.  Expect him to be near the top of the league in scoring for WHL blueliners in 2012-13.

19.  Eric Comrie - Comrie is still considered one of the top goalie prospects to come through the WHL in recent years and the Tri-City Americans are among those sharing that mind frame.  He's their go-to guy as a 17 year old and he's a talented kid.  The pressure is on, but he's a hard worker and has a solid team in front of him.  Don't be shocked if he ends up as a top 20 pick at the 2013 NHL Draft.

20. Leon Draisatl - The Prince Albert Raiders were lucky enough to pick this kid 2nd overall in the 2012 CHL Import Draft.  He had a solid pre-season and was very impressive in the two live viewings of him I had in exhibition play.  He's big, he goes to the net and he has finish.  He's a darkhorse for the rookie of the year running and will definitely be a kid to keep an eye on for the 2014 NHL Draft.

21. Shane McColgan - The Saskatoon Blades paid a decent price to bring in McColgan and Jessey Astles last spring and they're going to give him every chance to succeed in 2012-13.  He's going to get top line minutes, likely quarterback a powerplay and will be counted on as a leader.  He's also been considered by some to be arguably the most dynamic and skillful player the Blades have had in the last decade.  These roles come with pressure and it will be interesting to see how he handles it in a Memorial Cup year.

22. Adam Lowry - I had such high hopes for this Jets draft pick in 2011-12.  But a wrist injury slowed his development and forced him to miss time for the Swift Current Broncos.  The Broncos appear to be on the upswing and if that's to continue, Lowry will need to be the driving force as captain.  He's a big body, is physical and has some true offensive talent.  He's one of my favourite players in the league to watch and I look forward to seeing him fully healthy this year.

23. Marek Tvrdon - There is no doubting that this big Slovak is one of the most talented players in the league.  He's coming off a 30+ goal season and I wouldn't be shocked to see him increase that total up near 50.  Vancouver is a darkhorse out West in my mind and he is an offensive leader for them.  He's also very fun to watch.

24. Josh Morrissey - I've been high on Morrissey since I first saw him live a couple seasons ago.  A couple years later and he's in his NHL Draft year and poised to take on a huge role with the Prince Albert Raiders.  He's talented offensively, plays with grit and isn't afraid to be a leader on and off the ice. Watch for him to quarterback the Raiders PP and put up a great offensive season along with being a top 20 pick in the 2013 NHL Draft.

25. Brenden Kichton - Kichton is arguably the best offensive defender the WHL has to offer.  He was 2nd in scoring for blueliners two years ago and 1st in scoring for defenders last year.  I expect him to do that again.  Will it be with the Spokane Chiefs or does he get dealt to a different squad?  That's yet to be determined, but one thing is for sure, this kid is poised to be an elite scorer again in 2012-13.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

My Road To The 2013 Memorial Cup Starts Now

It's not very often that a team you work for gets the distinction of hosting one of the biggest, most prestigious tournaments that junior hockey has to offer.

Lucky for me, that's the case this season and I couldn't be happier about it.  It's going to be very busy, but in the end it's going to be a fantastic event and will be a great opportunity to branch out in my career and learn some new skills.

Along with those things, it will also gives me a great blogging topic to run with all season.  It's almost a way to track progress towards the event, update my thoughts on how the host Saskatoon Blades are doing on the ice and maybe even take a peek or two at teams that could potentially be here next May (crossing fingers for the Halifax Mooseheads).

In the end, the blogging leading up to the Memorial Cup won't be for readership only.  It will be a great way for me to get my thoughts down somewhere and allow me to look back in 2, 5 and 10 years time and re-live the experience, so to speak.

For the first entry, I figured I would touch on how the Blades roster is rounding out.  It's a fairly easy topic and it's something I've been very close to since the Blades were awarded the event almost one year ago.

As the roster sits right now, there are 25 players still hanging around as we approach the start of the 2012-13 season.  The team has played 3 exhibition games, winning two of them and I have had the chance to see them all live.  My goal this year was to not miss one Blades game during the year, including exhibition, so that's on the right path so far.

I've been fairly pleased with how the team has looked.  The acquisition of Brenden Walker looks to be a great one as the kid works his tail off, plays physical and looks to be a great fit with a winger like Matej Stransky on the team's top line.  Shane McColgan and Jessey Astles have looked good so far too, even though McColgan's knee has limited his ice time lately and Astles hasn't been able to find a dance partner through the exhibition season.

When looking at the roster there are basically one forward spot and one defensive spot up for grabs, for now.  I say 'for now', because I think it will be a moot point in about two months because those spots will have been upgraded via trade.  This doesn't necessarily mean certain young players will make the team, then get traded, I just think the club is still 4-5 players away from being a true Memorial Cup contender and those players are likely going to be 18-19 year olds.  I also think the people running the club know this, so it's not like I'm alone in my thinking on that.

At this point of the first post I would like to urge that throughout these pieces I will never leak information or potential roster move information.  I am free to speculate like anybody else, but if I ever hear whispers of things from trusted sources, that stuff will not be put here.

Back on topic.  So what does this team's roster need?  For me, I would ideally like to see another top 2 centre.  Someone with some size.  To have a guy like Lukas Sutter as your 3rd line centre would be damn impressive and that would be the case if you picked up another top centre and played Shane McColgan on the wing.  Looking at the wings, another two players could be used left handed and one right for the 2nd line, one for the 3rd line.  On defence, it's hard to say.  I still think a top 4 guy on the left side would be ideal, preferably a guy known as a very good offensive player.  Another 19 year old guy to log safe minutes as a #5 or #6 would be great too.  In goal, Makarov is one of the best in the league.  Does Alex Moodie thrive as his full-time backup this season?  I think so, but it's up to him to prove it. 

I think when looking at this year as a whole, it's a very different year, for obvious reasons.  The biggest might be the mindset of having to peak at the right time.  There isn't a ton of urgency surrounding the Blades right now and I think that's probably a good thing.  Nobody needs to feel rushed about this situation.  There will be peaks and valleys this season with new players coming and going throughout.  The mindset just has to be simple.  Play hard, play smart, play as a team and be prepared to start peaking come February.  It's a slow uphill climb and having everyone on the same page in that regard will be huge.

None of these concepts are ground breaking stuff, but for a season-long piece like this I guess I have to start somewhere.  My goal is to do a similar piece to this atleast once a month and maybe more than that.  I hope you find it entertaining, interesting and informative.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

10 Storylines I Expect This WHL Season

The 2012-13 Western Hockey League season is exactly one week away today, with the schedule kicking off next Thursday as the Edmonton Oil Kings will raise their 2011-2012 WHL Championship banner before hosting the Kootenay Ice.  It's an exciting time of year for hockey fans, especially with the reality of an upcoming NHL lockout.  There's still hockey to watch, it just might not be the NHL, for now.

As someone who follows the CHL very closely, I'm definitely ready to get the puck dropped.  Along with that, there are going to be a ton of things I am expecting out of the upcoming WHL season.  Here's my list of 10 storylines I expect from the 2012-13 WHL season.

1. The Edmonton Oil Kings will dominate, again - Last year was a special season for the Edmonton Oil Kings. They finished atop the WHL regular season standings with 107 points after going 50-15-3-4 and led the Eastern Conference in goal scoring.  They then went on to win the WHL title after steamrolling through the first three rounds and then beating Portland at home in game 7 of the finals.  Overall they went 16-4 in the playoffs and I expect a similar year out of them this year.  Yes, they lost some great talent after last year but still have a very veteran club with players such as Curtis Lazar, Mitch Moroz, Dylan Wruck, Travis Ewanyk and Henrik Samuelsson poised to play more important roles this year.  They've also still got a fantastic D core led by Griffin Reinhart, Martin Gernat and Keegan Lowe...not to mention the top goalie in the WHL in Laurent Brossoit (more on him later).  Overall, Edmonton has what it takes to dominate the WHL again.  I could see them start a bit slow out of the gate due to the long year last year, but in the end I expect them to be standing atop the WHL's Eastern Conference and likely the WHL as a whole.

2. Ty Rattie will lead the league in scoring - This obviously isn't the most bold of predictions, considering the guy finished 3rd in league scoring last year with 121 points.  But, I still think it's worth putting out there.  Rattie will likely lose some valuable teammates and linemates in 2012-13, including Sven Bartschi, but he's bigger, stronger and improved all over the ice.  Portland is bound to have another strong club this year after some savvy additions and Rattie will lead the offensive charge for them.  I'm expecting him to hit around 120 points again this year, even with him likely missing a month in the middle of the season to play for Canada at the World Juniors.  Watch for guys like Michael St. Croix, Patrick Holland, Brad Ross (if not in the AHL), Colin Smith, Hunter Shinkaruk, Brendan Ranford and Brenden Walker to also be in the hunt for this title. Those guys all have the advantage of likely not missing time to play in the World Juniors, unlike Rattie.

3. Seth Jones will be the highest drafted WHL player and win rookie of the year - The WHL boasts a fantastic class for the 2013 NHL Draft and the head of the class is Seth Jones.  He's a 6'4 D from the Portland Winterhawks and is set to make his WHL debut next week after transferring to the league from the US National Program over the summer. He's a smooth skater, can pass the puck, play defence and play physical.  He's a physical specimen and the son of a former NBA player.  He has all the tools to be a top end prospect and in my mind will be the 2nd player drafted into the NHL next June, behind Nathan MacKinnon of the Halifax Mooseheads.  Other players to contend for top WHL draft slot include Hunter Shinkaruk (Medicine Hat) and Curtis Lazar (Edmonton).  I also thing a solid first year by Jones makes him the favorite to be named WHL rookie of the year.  I would pencil him in for atleast 40 points this year.  There should be some solid competition for this title with guys like Jake Virtanen (Calgary), Brayden Point (Moose Jaw) and Leon Draisaitl (Prince Albert) all expected to have above-average debut seasons in 2012-13.

4. The NHL lockout will create WHL buzz and strong crowd support - An NHL lockout is basically a certainty at this point.  It's definitely not a good thing, but some teams across the Canadian Hockey League will more than likely benefit from not having to contend with the top league in the world stealing their crowds.  That definitely rings true for several WHL cities who have NHL teams that won't be playing.  People will need to get their hockey fix and instead of watching a live NHL game or watching it on TV, they can head to the rink and watch junior hockey.  This seems like a no-brainer to me, but that's coming from someone who would almost rather watch a WHL game than an NHL game, so we'll see how it plays out in the end.  I don't expect an NHL lockout to last too long, maybe into late November, so that will be a good measuring stick to see if WHL crowds drop once the NHL returns.

5. MJ will take a step back; Brandon won't be as bad as some think - The WHL's Eastern Division is going to be fun to watch closely this year.  The Blades host the Memorial Cup, while teams like Prince Albert and Swift Current are looking to bounce back from tough 2011-12 campaigns.  One team that I expect to drop off this year is Moose Jaw. They won the division last year but are arguably the team hit the hardest by turnover for this coming season.  Gone are Cam Braes, James Henry, Kenton Miller, Dylan McIlrath and Quinton Howden. That's a ton of talent.  Sure, they'll have a full healthy season with Morgan Rielly and Joel Edmundson, but they just don't appear to have the talent or depth to be a top 8 team in the conference.  Not only that, but they're also going to be counting on 17 year old goalie Justin Paulic to lead them between the pipes.  On the flip side, I don't think Brandon will be as bad as some are predicting.  They've got arguably one of the top D in the WHL with players like Ryan Pulock, Ryley Miller, Eric Roy, Rene Hunter and Tyler Yaworski set to be anchors for them.  In goal, Corbin Boes is a veteran and poised to have a great year.  Up front they're very young and will be counting on guys like Nick Buonassisi, Tyrel Seaman and Alessio Bertaggia to score.  If they can get some other guys to step up and score, I could see them being a 5th or 6th seed in the West, which is much better than some of the predictions I've read about Brandon.

6. Kamloops and Portland are atop of the food chain out West - They were two of the top 3 teams in the Western Conference last year and I expect them to battle all season for that top ranking.  Kamloops has a very talented and deep club, from their forwards, to their defence, to their goaltending.  They don't have a ton of big names, but they work hard and play their systems well.  I've already touched on Portland's skill and abilities and these two teams could easily end up as the two top teams in the entire league, especially if Edmonton suffers a bit of an early championship hangover.  Kamloops will also be out for a measure of revenge this season, as they fell to Portland in an epic 7-game series in the 2011-2012 playoffs.  They meet in back-to-back games starting on November 11th and those meetings are poised to be considered must-watch.  Regardless of which team ends up higher in the standings, I expect the other one to be second out West.

7. Calgary will be good, but not top 2 - All signs point to Saskatoon and Edmonton leading the way in the Eastern Conference this season, but if any team is going to threaten one of those teams it will be the Calgary Hitmen.  They finished 3rd in the conference last year and I expect them to slot in that spot again this year.  They're a deep club, led by players like Swede Victor Rask, Alex Gogolev, Brooks Macek, Brady Brassart, Greg Chase and goaltender Chris Driedger.  They've also got some solid youngsters that should help augment their core group, with players like Jake Virtanen and Josh Thrower possessing both skill and grit.  They've also got a very underrated blueline.  There's a lot to like and no team should take the Hitmen lightly.  I wouldn't be shocked if they actually ended up in the WHL's Eastern Conference final come next spring if one of Edmonton or Saskatoon stumble in the playoffs.

8. Laurent Brossoit will win top goalie honours - For my money, he's the top goalie in the WHL.  He was 1st in wins last year, 6th in save percentage and 2nd in goals against average in 2011-2012.  He's the backbone of a great team.  He does have some competition in players like Ty Rimmer, Cole Cheveldave and Andrey Makarov, but this Flames prospect is a step ahead of those guys, in my opinion.  I also expect him to be one of Canada's goalies at the World Juniors.  Yes, he's riding a wave after a big season in 2011-12, but he also still has a lot to prove.  He wasn't great in the Memorial Cup last spring, posting an .871 save percentage and 4.04 GAA in the tournament.  He also wasn't great for Canada in the Canada-Russia Challenge earlier this summer.  But, I expect him to be on point this season.  Laurent Brossoit has another big season ahead of him and it will end with more hardware.

9. Expect big things from the WHL at the 2013 NHL Draft - I will call it right now.  I expect atleast 8 WHL players to be taken in the 1st round of the 2013 NHL Draft.  That might not seem like a huge number, but it is when looking at the history of the last few drafts.  Six WHLers were taken in the first round of 2012, five went in 2011, with seven going in 2010.  That 7 is the highest total in the last several years and I expect it to be passed in 2013.  The league possesses a great crop of players for 2013 and it's very balanced at each position.  Top end forwards, defenceman and even an elite goalie prospect highlight the bunch for 2013.  Names to watch include Seth Jones, Curtis Lazar, Hunter Shinkaruk, Josh Morrissey, Ryan Pulock, Eric Comrie, Madison Bowey, Alex Forsberg, Shea Theodore, Morgan Klimchuk, Connor Rankin, Matt Needham and others.  It's a very good group, arguably the best the WHL has had to offer in the last number of years.

10. Alberta Showdown - Lazar vs. Shinkaruk -  This final storyline relates to point 9.  The WHL's top two forward prospects for the 2013 are Curtis Lazar (Edmonton Oil Kings) and Hunter Shinkaruk (Medicine Hat Tigers).  Both are hard-working kids who happen to be fantastic offensive players.  Shinkaruk is better offensively, while Lazar is definitely more well-rounded and physical.  So who will go first in the NHL draft?  I expect it to be a battle all season long.  As it stands right now, I rate Shinkaruk just ahead of Lazar, but it's close.  There is a lot to like about Lazar and in my mind he projects to be similar to a player like Shane Doan at the pro level.  So, it wouldn't be shocking at all to see him drafted ahead of Shinkaruk.  Both will face challenges this year with Lazar needing to up his offensive responsibilities and Shinkaruk needing to prove he can lead a team without Emerson Etem by his side.  Both are up for the challenge and I can't wait to keep track of this battle all season long.

There you have it.  Some storylines that I can't wait to watch in 2012-13.  Let me hear yours.  Either leave them as a comment on this blog or hit me up on Twitter by following @WHLFromAbove.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, September 10, 2012

An Impressive Import: Leon Draisaitl

This past weekend I had a chance to see a very exciting new player on the Prince Albert Raiders roster.

That player is none other than Leon Draisaitl, an impressive 16 year old European who was the 2nd overall pick in the 2012 CHL Import Draft.  In the two games I got to see from him, it's clear why he was the 2nd overall pick in that draft and why he's earned the nickname "The German Gretzky."

Ok, the Gretzky part does go too far, but he still has all the skills to be considered a very top-end prospect.

At the time of the Import Draft, I knew that he was considered a solid offensive player who had good size.  But that's the first thing I noticed about him, the fact that he's clearly grown over the last calendar year.  On his prospect profile at he's listed at 6'0 and 179 pounds.  As it stands right now, he's listed at 6'1, 198 pounds on the WHL's website and actually looks closer to 6'2 on the ice. He definitely knows how to use that size.

Draisaitl needs to work on his skating, as most 16 year old's do, especially without the puck.  His stride is a bit clunky and his acceleration isn't great, but overall his speed is pretty good.  The interesting thing about his skating is that it looks like it improves immensely as soon as he has the puck on his stick.  He puts his head down, skates aggressively and knows where to go with it and what lanes to drive.

To go along with his skating with the puck, he also protects the puck well.  In the offensive zone he's not afraid to put his ass towards the defender and use his long arms to keep the defenders away.  His size also helps him absorb hits.  In one impressive play during the game on Friday night, he carried the puck over the blueline, absorbed a big check, was able to still control the puck, get it to a teammate, then drive the net for a tap-in rebound goal.  He actually scored two goals just minutes apart in the game, both from on top of the crease.

That's arguably the most impressive thing about him.  He's got good hockey sense and is very aggressive in his reads all over the ice.  He gets the puck over the blueline and doesn't mess around.  He simply goes to the net.  It might not be the most electrifying style of game to play, but it's effective and it will get him noticed in a league known for aggressive players.

Another strength of his game from what I saw was his vision.  He made fantastic little plays with the puck that might go unnoticed by the average fan, but clearly weren't missed by me as I paid extra close attention to his game.  As one example he came over the blueline down the left hand side (he's a left hand shot), turned towards the boards when the defender angled him towards the hashmarks, and simply sent a soft backhand saucer pass across the slot to a defenceman pinching down the slot in the backdoor.  It was an effortless play, all done in one smooth motion and was something you simply don't see in the WHL from very many 16 year olds...let alone a kid that's playing his first ever true game in the WHL.

Draisaitl has many positives going for him, a good attitude, good hockey sense, a nose for the net and a fantastic skillset.  I was definitely impressed with him in my first two live viewings of him.  I am looking forward to watching him grow and develop, especially while playing behind/alongside a first round NHL pick in Mark McNeill for Prince Albert.  That's going to be great for him in a ton of different ways.

These were my first two viewings of the German Gretzky, who's not even NHL draft eligible until 2014 and at this point I would hesitate to make a draft pick prediction.  But, they surely won't be my last viewings and I look forward to seeing how else he can impress me over the next couple of seasons.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Keep An Eye On Greg Chase

One of the best things about a new WHL season is the fact that you get to see how 16 year old players transfer to their 17 year old seasons.  In most cases, these players are in their NHL draft season's and getting off on the right foot can go a long way when it comes to how they're perceived throughout the season by scouts, scouting agencies and NHL teams.

 (Photo credit to the Calgary Sun)

One player that I'm excited to keep my eye on is Greg Chase of the Calgary Hitmen.  For those who don't know, he's the nephew of former WHLer and NHLer Kelly Chase and was the 22nd overall pick in the 2010 WHL bantam draft.  I was lucky enough to catch one of his games live when he was a 15 year old and the Hitmen were in Saskatoon.  He didn't put up any points in his 5-game stint as a 15 year old two years ago, but he was still impressive.  He put up 6 penalty minutes and hit everything that moved.  He was involved in the play and it really set the table for him to play a key role in 2011-12 as a 16 year old.

I had the chance to see him a couple times live last year, as well as a small handful of games online.  It's clear he had improved and was playing with confidence last season.  In 60 games with the Hitmen last year he put up 28 points, a +2 rating and 41 penalty minutes. 

I'm not the only one expecting big things from him this coming season.  He's the kind of player you simply notice when he's on the ice.  He's a fairly good skater, has good offensive instincts, thinks the game well and goes out of his way to have a physical presence on the ice.

As mentioned, he also comes from good bloodlines, which can only help his case as the year goes along.  The Hitmen are poised to be a playoff team again this year and I think they should definitely be a top 3 team in the WHL's Eastern Conference.  The Hitmen also play in a market that's a hotspot for scouts, with a big fan base. 

All of these facts add up to one thing. There will be many opportunities for Greg Chase to get the exposure that he deserves.  Make sure you keep an eye on him and don't be shocked if he ends up being selected inside the top 90 of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.