The Western Hockey League has never had to search too far for top-flight offensive talent. With the 2012-2013 season a couple of weeks away it looks like there will be plenty of red lights going off again this season.
Last year the league leader in scoring was Tri City Americans’ Brendan Shinnimin who put up some pretty gaudy numbers. Shinnimin has moved on this year which leaves the door open for several other talented players to take over the top scoring spot.
Here is a look at the top candidates to lead the league in scoring, listed in no particular order. With the NHL lockout looming there could be some players who end up back in junior that we were not counting on. Because of the uncertainty we are only going to focus on the players we know are going to play in the WHL and are currently on rosters.
Ty Rattie – Portland – If you were a gambler your money would most likely be on Rattie to lead the league this year. You would have good reason to think so too. In his draft year last year Rattie scored 57 goals, added 64 assists for 121 points. Those numbers got him drafted by the St. Louis Blues and he is back to torment WHL defenseman again this year. His chances are helped by playing with one of the more loaded rosters in the league. Portland scores goals, a lot of them, and that may help Rattie end up on top.
Patrick Holland – Tri City – There was some thought that the 20 year-old Holland would end up in the AHL this year but he is in camp with the Americans now. If he stays in Tri-City he could look to add on his 25 goal-109 point season from a year ago. Tri City has some other big scorers that he could be paired with which will help his chances to fight for the league lead in scoring.
Michael St. Croix – Edmonton – St. Croix, the New York Rangers prospect, is coming off of a 45 goal 105 point season for the defending champs and will be back for more this year. The Oil Kings still have a lot of talent which should help St. Croix beef up his numbers. Could a 50 goal season be in store for him?
Brendan Ranford – Kamloops – 20 year-olds often dominate the WHL and it could be Ranford’s turn this year. He scored 40 goals last year and is playing for a good Blazers club that will have a lot of offensive potential. Ranford was a late round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010 after a breakout season of sorts. He is another guy who could push 50 goals this year.
Hunter Shinkaruk – Medicine Hat – After scoring 14 goals as a 16 year old Shinkaruk exploded for 49 goals in his second season with the Tigers. Entering his draft year he could explode even bigger and push the Rattie’s and Holland’s for the league’s top spot. He’s projecting to be a top draft pick this spring and a WHL scoring title may be the first step for him.
Justin Feser – Tri City – Feser put up 37 goals for the Americans last year and is the team captain entering his 20 year-old season. The Americans thrived on big scoring from their over-agers last season and Feser could easily step into Shinnimin’s shoes this year. So far this pre-season he has put the league on notice with six points in his first three preseason games.
Matej Stransky – Saskatoon – Stransky came over in 2010-2011 in the CHL import draft and put up a decent rookie season with 14 goals. Last year he showed that he can get used to North American hockey as he upped his goal total to 39 and chipped in 42 assists. With the Blades hosting the Memorial Cup Stransky could be in for a big year, is it big enough to lead the league?
Tim Bozon – Kamloops – Bozon put in a pretty terrific rookie season in Kamloops with 36 goals for the Blazers. Kamloops should be one of the best teams in the WHL this year and Bozon has some teammates who can rack up numbers, which should help him greatly.
Curtis Lazar – Edmonton – Lazar is entering his draft year for the Oil Kings and seems poised to have a huge year. He scored 20 goals as a 17 year old down the lineup for the Oil Kings last year. This year he should see even more ice time, with bigger and more important minutes and that’s going to translate into big points.
Nic Petan– Portland – As if the Winterhawks need any more scoring they have Petan who is entering his draft year this season. He scored 14 goals as a 17 year-old on a stacked team last year and like Lazar will get more ice time. The Winterhawks will score a ton of goals this year which should benefit guys like Petan. Petan seems ready to go as he played his first two preseason games over the past weekend and notched two goals and an assist.
Sam Rheinhart – Kootenay – Rheinhart is the youngest of the Rheinhart clan and could end up the best. He isn’t draft eligible until 2014 and already has put up impressive numbers. 28 goals as a 16 year old last year is pretty impressive and the sky seems to be the limit. Look for more goals and points and if he doesn’t end up leading the league this year, he could be the odds on favorite to so next season.