Every year we like to acknowledge players that aren’t highly-touted blue-chip prospects; lesser- known players who we feel have a good chance to surprise on draft day. These players have been largely forgotten or were never known to begin with. In most cases, these guys don’t get the headlines or if they do, it is for the wrong reasons. These players should end up as mid-to-late round picks with legitimate hopes of one day reaching the NHL.
Since that time, Sundher had a very solid season improving upon a 61 point campaign with 76 points while improving his all-around game. Rutkowski kept up his offensive production (and playing time) playing on a very talented and crowded blueline. Madaisky was quietly leading a very inexperienced Kamloops team before tragically having his neck broken by a dangerous hit in early February. Brandon Davidson has improved his all-around game and become one of the best defensemen in the WHL. Despite being a 6th rounder, he is a sure-fire bet to receive an NHL contract once he completes his WHL career. After not even being listed by NHL Central Scouting last season, Cody Beach has taken tremendous strides this season by improving upon his 14 point draft-eligible season with just short of a point-per-game production while also amassing the 2nd most penalty minutes in the WHL. Not to mention that he is literally one of the league’s biggest pests as a 6’6 agitator/fighter.
While we could make a case for many players, we try to keep the list down to around 5 players each year. This year we’ve selected six. This year, we’ve mostly selected high risk/high reward players, while some are projects. They might be bigger gambles than last year’s picks, but could also become impact players if they ever reach their potential.
Without further ado, here is the 2011 WHL Sleepers list:
G Laurent Brossoit – Edmonton (WHL)
DOB: Mar. 23/93 | Catches: L | Height: 6.03 | Weight: 202 lbs
Brossoit is a guy that has all the athletic qualities to be a quality NHL goalie. He is big, strong, quick, and agile. He has a long reach and is able to extend his body to take up a good portion of the net. Playing for an Edmonton team that was woeful in its own end didn’t help him statistically as he faced numerous high difficulty scoring chances on a nightly basis, but Brossoit was able to put up respectable numbers considering that fact.
Whether Brossoit is able to put all of his physical tools together and become a dominant NHL goaltender is another matter. His weakness is that he can be susceptible to letting in soft goals when he loses his mental focus. He can be inspiring his teammates with a breakaway save one minute and then letting in a back-breaking goal on a seemingly harmless-looking shot the next. The gamble on Brossoit is whether he can overcome that mental consistency issue needed to play goal at the pro level. His boom/bust potential makes him an excellent sleeper candidate.
Pros: Speed, Size, Athletic ability
Cons: Consistency, Mental Fortitude
Skillset comparison: Roberto Luongo
LD Alex Roach – Calgary (WHL)
DOB: Apr. 19/93 | Shoots: L | Height: 6.04 | Weight: 227 lbs
On a team full of young defenders hoping to impress, first year player Alex Roach outshone fellow prospects Peter Kosterman and Jaynen Rissling among others this season. While Roach doesn’t have the greatest offensive capabilities, he has a heavy slapshot and makes an adequate first pass. Roach is able to cover a large amount of ice with his great reach although his skating and mobility could stand improvement.
While these comments don’t paint a picture of someone you’d expect to have an NHL career, Roach’s improvement as the season progressed combined with his fantastic physical attributes (his excellent toughness, size and strength make him very difficult to play against) make him a worthwhile project pick that could one day provide much sought after physical play, grit, toughness, and fighting ability to an NHL team.
Pros: Shot, Physical play, Size/Strength
Cons: Agility, mobility, limited offensive upside
Skillset comparison: Matt Greene
LD Brenden Kichton – Spokane (WHL)
DOB: Jun. 18/92 | Shoots: L | Height: 5.11 | Weight: 185 lbs
Brenden Kichton had an exceptional season in the Western Hockey League, finishing among the top scoring defensemen in the league, including 23 goals (2nd), 58 assists (1st, 7th among all skaters), and 81 points (t-1st). He also finished third in the entire league with a +55 rating, a full 11 points higher than his defense partner, Jared Cowen (Ott, 2009).
The right hand shooting Kichton was overlooked in last year’s draft, mainly because he was buried a bit on the depth chart behind talented defenders Jared Spurgeon and Stefan Ulmer, both also right side defenders. Had Kichton had this kind of production in his draft year, one has to wonder how early he could have gone.
Kichton is an excellent skater, a great passer, and has terrific hockey sense, deftly able to join the rush and create chances. He’s also a very underrated player in his own end, with strong lateral play and good decision making. His shot could use some work, though he does seem to be able to get it through traffic more often than not. It’s definitely not a weakness.
Pros: Skating, hockey sense, passing
Cons: Size, passed over in last year’s draft
Skillset comparison: poor man’s Dan Boyle
RW Matej Stransky – Saskatoon (WHL)
DOB: Jul. 11/93 | Shoots: R | Height: 6.02 | Weight: 195 lbs
Stransky is a guy that we’ve been high on all season. While he surely won’t be a Top 100 pick as we’ve suggested in our Top 100 list, Stransky is a guy that should command some attention in the late rounds despite only putting up 26 points in 71 games this past year. Coming over from the Czech Republic, Stransky has fit right in to the North American game. He has a big body and isn’t afraid to go into the corners. His lower body strength makes him hard to knock off the puck. He plays well along the boards and he is able to make plays in tight quarters. He is creative with the puck displaying very good hands and finishing ability from in close. He plays the game like a skilled grinder and that makes him easy to slot up and down the lineup.
With Stransky getting adjusted to the WHL this year and the Blades acquiring veteran forwards like Brayden Schenn and Jake Trask, Stransky was pushed down the deep depth chart, hurting his ice-time and production. With the graduation of players above him of the depth chart this year, Stransky will be given ample opportunity to shine in a more prominent role for the Blades this year.
Stransky is still very raw and needs to improve his consistency, but could be worth the wait as a plug and play winger in the NHL.
Pros: good hands, ability to make skilled plays in traffic
Cons: skating, consistency
Skillset comparison: Tomas Kopecky
LW Marek Tvrdon – Vancouver (WHL)
DOB: Jan. 31/93 | Shoots: L | Height: 6.02 | Weight: 210 lbs
Size, strength, and skill in traffic. Tvrdon uses all those attributes to protect the puck and to drive past opponents towards the goal. Each of those skills was on display for a mere dozen games this year before Tvrdon hurt his shoulder and was lost for the season. In those 12 games, Tvrdon scored 6 goals and added another 5 assists for 11 points.
Was Tvrdon just on a hot streak to start the season and could he have kept up the pace for the rest of the season? Or was Tvrdon just scratching the surface while still getting adjusted to the WHL style of play? We’re guessing he’s somewhere in the middle of those statements, but likely closer to the latter than the former.
There is risk involved in drafting Tvrdon as he did miss so much time this year and it remains to be seen how he and his shoulder will stand up to a long grinding WHL season. His skating isn’t poor as he is strong on his feet, but especially since Tvrdon is dangerous off the cycle, we would like to see a better first step from him.
Despite the negatives, we feel that Tvrdon has very good upside and is worth the risk as he has a big frame, is strong on his skates and has found success by releasing a good hard wrister from in tight.
Pros: size, strength, shot
Cons: acceleration, injury history, still somewhat unknown
Skillset comparison: Eric Fehr
RD Myles Bell – Regina (WHL)
DOB: Aug. 19/93 | Shoots: R | Height: 6.00 | Weight: 202 lbs
If it weren’t for a terrible off-ice incident last month, Bell’s fortunes on draft day could have been drastically different. He is a highly-skilled offensive defender capable of running a NHL powerplay with his big shot and a good passing ability. Combine his skills with his physical presence and there was a realistic possibility that he could have heard his named called on Day 1 of the draft as a late 1st rounder. Now with potential physical, psychological, and legal obstacles in front of him, Bell’s stock is sure to slide. How far remains to be determined, but with Bell being one of the youngest players available in this year’s draft, and with the talent he possesses, some team will surely take a chance on him given he is a high risk/high reward player with no prior history of this sort of thing.
Pros: Heavy Shot, good puck movement and offensive abilities, physical play, among youngest draft-eligible players
Cons: Defensive play, off-ice issues
Skillset comparison: similar style to Drew Doughty although very much a poor man’s version