Almost a quarter of the way into the season, here’s an update as to how 5 of the most touted NHL Draft eligible defensemen have been fairing.
Ryan Murray – Everett
Murray has had far from a perfect start to his draft eligible season, as the 18-year-old defenseman seeks to live up to the lofty hype. Part of it has to do with being on a weak Everett team which consequentially is asking him to do almost everything on ice, and partially feeling the pressure to succeed despite his team. Ryan Murray is still a top notch talent but he is having a tough time with gaining any team success, which in a draft year, is almost as important as individual success; especially from a potential top 5 pick.
To top off Murray’s problems he has been sidelined by a high ankle sprain that will keep him out until December. He’s either going to have to get a mulligan from the scouts and bypass his team’s performance or find some success outside of his Everett team. I still think he is the best draft eligible player coming out of the WHL this year, but that lead is starting to shrink daily. Murray may need a break and find a way to get on the Team Canada U20 team. His own hockey skills and vision are still top notch, but people may start to question his ability to lead this Everett team.
Mathew Dumba – Red Deer
Mathew Dumba’s play seems to be right on schedule. He is third on his team in points and leads his team in defensemen scoring. He is still playing with reckless abandon which may be a positive or negative pending on one’s viewpoint. He continues to bring big hits and bombs from the point, he is starting to add a puck carrying/jumping into the play type feature this year that should gain some additional recognition from NHL scouts. Red Deer is a middle of the pack team, but a team that is very good defensively where Dumba can thrive. Dumba is the type of player you love or hate depending on what one’s hockey philosophy is. Should be interesting to see how he and his team continues to play as the season progresses.
Morgan Rielly – Moose Jaw
Rielly is probably the player out of the group who has bolstered his stock the most so far this season. He is 2nd on his team in points on a Moose Jaw team that struggles to score goals. Rielly’s ability to dash and deal from the backend will make him very attractive on draft day. Moose Jaw, much like Red Deer, is a team that struggles to score but is very good defensively, something that Rielly helps out with his puck possession skills. Coming into the season there was probably a gap between Rielly and the likes of Dumba and Murray, but that gap is closing rapidly with Rielly’s strong play.
Griffin Reinhart – Edmonton
Reinhart had a slow start to the year, but has picked up his play over the last 7 games. Initially, there was concern that his skating took a hit over the summer, but he seems to be back in stride now. He’ll never be the most graceful skater, but he needs to be able to get around enough to make a play, and he is back to doing that now. He was hit for a 5 game suspension early in October on a knee on knee type play. It allowed him to gather himself and play like he can and should. Any team looking for a 6’5” 210 lbs Dman that can do a little bit of everything will look the way of Reinhart come draft day.
Derrick Pouliot – Portland
Pouliot’s play, much like the entire Portland team, has been very uneven to date. Pouliot started off the year real hot offensively, while his teammate, Joe Morrow was trying to make the Pittsburgh Penguins. But as Morrow was sent back to Portland, Pouliot’s offensive play was hindered and his ice time was reduced somewhat. Portland is just finishing up an Eastern swing through the WHL, where they have gone 2-4 to this point of the trip. Very inconsistent, coming from a team that was pegged to be the WHL representative at the Memorial Cup. The team that drafts Pouliot will be getting a bit of a project, as he seems to struggle with confidence and runs hot and cold from game to game. However, he does hold a skillset that will make him valuable at both ends of the ice.