As the WHL fall camps are set to get under way, TSR’s WHL scouting team would like to give you a sneak peak at the league’s top draft eligible players. In what should be considered a top-notch class of defensemen, any one of these players can either rise or fall on the draft list at the blink of an eye. The draft eligible forwards in the WHL may not have the upside of some of the young defendiers, but any one of them could have a breakout year and prove their value to be much higher than currently thought. This should be the most competitive WHL draft class in a very long time.
1. Ryan Murray, D, Everett Silvertips
Ryan Murray comes into his draft season with two full years of major junior hockey already under his belt. After a 17 year old season that saw Murray finish third on his team in scoring – while also captaining the team – the sky appears to be the limit for the young defenseman. Murray is a dominant player in all three zones, and is mature beyond his years. There are very few weaknesses in his overall game, and if Murray continues his strong overall play, he should almost undoubtedly contend for the #1 spot in the upcoming NHL draft, and may very well be the most NHL ready player available in the 2012 draft.
2. Griffin Reinhart, D, Edmonton Oil Kings
Griffin Reinhart could very well contend with Ryan Murray for the top spot on this list by season’s end. Reinhart has to be considered more of a project than Murray, as he is a raw talent – but the big defenseman certainly has all of the necessary tools at his disposal. With NHL size, Reinhart would benefit most in his expanded role with the Oil Kings this year by using that size to his advantage, and showing that he is capable of being a physical presence. Reinhart is a good skater for a player of his stature, he is also an above average puck mover from the backend, and has a strong shot from the blueline.
3. Matt Dumba, D, Red Deer Rebels
The reigning 2011 WHL Rookie of the Year, Matt Dumba quickly established himself as one of the most promising young blueliners in the league. While playing a reckless style, Dumba notched an impressive 15 goals as a 16 year old defenseman, while also throwing numerous bone crunching checks, and oozing the confidence typically not displayed by such a young player. Dumba will need to work on improving his overall team play – which may require him not stepping out and throwing the big hit – and will also need to fill out a bit before being ready to take the next step. Dumba could potentially be a game breaking type player in the NHL.
4. Morgan Rielly, D, Moose Jaw Warriors
Morgan Rielly will look to continue a recent trend of high blueline selections from the Moose Jaw Warriors. Rielly will set himself apart from bruisers Joel Edmundson and Dylan McIlrath, however, with his high end puck moving skills and well above average skating. Rielly makes strong passes, and seems to jump into the rush out of nowhere to create offensive chances for his team. Rielly will inevitably need to get stronger and prove that he can handle a stronger defensive role on an improving Warriors team if he wants to keep pace with some of the other players on our list.
5. Derrick Pouliot, D, Portland Winterhawks
After being selected first overall in his bantam draft, Derrick Pouliot quickly proved exactly why the rebuilding Portland Winterhawks thought so highly of him. Pouliot had a quietly strong season while playing a depth role with a Hawks team that was stacked on the blueline. Pouliot is an effortless skater with very good puck moving skills, and has above average offensive presence. Pouliot will need to work on his defensive game, as at times the youngster looked a little lost in his own end. Pouliot will surely step into a larger role with a Hawks team that should contend for the WHL Championship for the second year in a row.
6. Troy Bourke, LW, Prince George Cougars
Troy Bourke is the highest rated forward on our preliminary list, after displaying not only strong offensive instincts as a 16 year old, but also an impressive two way game that saw him lead his team in plus/minus with a +15 rating. If Bourke puts up the offensive numbers he’s capable of this year, he could shoot up the draft list very quickly, as his above average hockey and two-way tangibles are certainly attributes that most NHL teams are quickly looking for. Bourke will need to improve his skating and get stronger, but his overall game ceratinly looks to be ready for bigger and better things.
7. Damon Severson, D, Kelowna Rockets
While Damon Severson may not have the offensive upside that the “big 5″ in this draft class have already shown, he definitely makes up for this with his well above average defensive game. Severson has all the tools that should make him an effective shutdown defender with the Kelowna Rockets this season, and should almost certainly show improvement in his offensive numbers as well. The lanky defender will need to add some mass if he would like to play this style at the next level, but should be considered a “safe” player heading into the 2011 season.
8. Brendan Leipsic, C, Portland Winterhawks
On a team stacked with top NHL prospects, diminutive forward Brendan Leipsic not only held his own, but also climbed up the team’s depth chart as the season wore on. Leipsic quietly finished just outside the top-10 in scoring for the Hawks, while displaying surprising confidence and a knack for scoring timely goals. Leipsic will have to continue to improve his offensive game – and should get every opportunity to do so – if he wants to have a real shot at the next level. Depending on who returns to the Hawks forward corps this season, Leipsic could have a legitimate shot at being the league’s highest scoring draft-eligible forward.
9. Dalton Thrower, D, Saskatoon Blades
Dalton Thrower is the type of player every coach loves to have. Simply put, Thrower is the type of player that can be placed in any situation, and will make the best of it. He’s not afraid to sacrifice his body to make or break up a play, and is a willing competitor on a nightly basis. Thrower has solid footwork, but has to be considered a raw prospect that is a few years at best from the NHL. Thrower could stand to improve his offensive skillset, as improvement in the opposing end would only bring his draft stock up higher. Thrower should see a heavier workload this season, as the Saskatoon Blades look replace some key leaders on the backend.
10. Colton Scissons, RW, Kelowna Rockets
Colton Scissons is another player who could see vast improvement on his draft stock by having a big year offensively. After leading a solid Kelowna Rockets team in plus/minus as a 17 year old, there aren’t many questions about Colton’s two way game. Scissons has also shown a willingness to use his body effectively, and is a very good shooter, able to get his shots off quickly. One thing Scissons will have to work on is his skating; if he does that, there’s no reason to think Scissons can’t have a breakout year with the Rockets in 2011.
(in alphabetical order)
Reid Gow, D, Spokane Chiefs
Reid Gow will head into the 2011-12 season with a Spokane Chiefs team that is looking to build upon an impressive 2010-11 season. Gow should see a lot more minutes on a young Chiefs defense corps, and has the potential to step right into that role effortlessly. The somewhat undersized Gow is a smooth, strong skater, able to help his team transition smoothly onto the attack. Gow is an above average passer out of his own zone, and has the instincts to join the rush at just the right time. Gow could benefit most from improving his shot velocity, while maintaining his accuracy and ability to get the puck to the net. Gow will also need to add some bulk to better handle the larger forwards he will likely be tasked with defending on a nightly basis.
Josh Hanson, D, Portland Winterhawks
Hanson was an often overlooked defenseman on a stacked Hawks team this year, but was impressive when he did get the opportunity to suit up. As the eighth defenseman on a team that may very well be stacked with eight future NHL blueliners, the Hanson will undoubtedly need to find a way to earn bigger minutes to improve his draft stock. Hanson is a solid skater, effective on the rush and makes a solid pass out of his own end. He will need to improve defensively, and will also need to get stronger if he wants to make an impact in the WHL this season. With Hanson’s skill level, there’s no doubting that he’s capable of a top-6 role in the league this season.
Brandon Magee, C, Victoria Royals
Brandon Magee is a prospect that we simply couldn’t keep off of this list. Magee simply improved more and more as the season wore on, showing that he could be a surprisingly effective agitator while chipping in with some much needed offense on a fairly weak Chilliwack team. Magee is a “lunch pail” type of player that brings his effort on a nightly basis and doesn’t quit on any play. He plays the game with passion and heart, and has at times shown that he’s capable of putting the puck in the net. Magee will need to work on his filling out his 5’7″ frame to remain effective, as the competition gets tougher at the next level. If Magee can step smoothly into a much larger role with a young Victoria team, this will be a player to watch in 2011-12.
Chandler Stephenson, LW, Regina Pats
Stephenson showed plenty of promise in his first year with the Regina Pats, displaying quick feet and a hard, accurate shot with a quick, deceptive release. Stephenson struggled in his own end at times, and will definitely need to improve defensively, while also stepping up his consistency on a nightly basis. Stephenson has the potential to follow in the footsteps of recent Regina wingers Jordan Eberle and Jordan Weal, both of whom have gone on to become high NHL draft picks, though he is a bit more of a project at this point.
Tags: 2012 NHL Draft, 2012 nhl draft prospects, Brandon Magee, Brendan Leipsic, Chandler Stephenson, Colton Scissons, Dalton Thrower, Damon Severson, Derrick Pouliot, Griffin Reinhart, Josh Hanson, Matt Dumba, Morgan Rielly, Reid Gow, Ryan Murray, Troy Bourke