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In modern day draft history, the Western Hockey League has produced some outstanding NHL players. Traditionally known as the go-to league when seeking out franchise defensemen, the NHL has welcomed familiar names like Dion Phaneuf, Brent Seabrook, Shea Weber, Mike Green, Cody Franson, Karl Alzner, Luke Schenn, Tyler Myers, Luca Sbisa, and Travis Hamonic from the Western Hockey League. In addition, up-and-coming players in Jared Cowen, Duncan Siemens, Joseph Morrow and 2012 NHL draftees Ryan Murray, Griffin Reinhart, Morgan Rielly, Mathew Dumba and Derrick Pouliot come with massive defensive potential. While the WHL continues to pump out valuable top defensemen, the 20-team league has been privileged to feature star talent at the forward position as well. Evander Kane, Brayden Schenn, Ryan Johansen, Nino Niederreiter, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Sven Baertschi are all young forwards that have honed their skills in the Western Hockey League and all went on to be selected in the opening round of the annual NHL Entry Draft.
The WHL is one of the best developmental junior leagues in the world and scouts continue to travel vast distances across the prairies and mountainous landscape in search of the next top star player. Ryan Murray, selected 2nd overall in 2012, was one of 32 players drafted out of the Western Hockey League last year, and the first of six first round selections that featured Islanders’ Griffin Reinhart (4th), Maple Leafs’ Morgan Rielly (5th), Wild’s Mathew Dumba (7th), Penguins’ Derrick Pouliot (8th) and Coyotes’ Henrik Samuelsson (27th). Looking towards the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, the Western Hockey League features the top-ranked prospect available in defenseman Seth Jones of the Portland Winterhawks. With the assistance of Cody Nickolet (@WHLFromAbove), WHL radio colourman, who observes these players on a regular basis, the following list breaks down the Top 10 WHL Players available for the upcoming 2013 NHL Entry Draft:
1. Seth Jones, D (Portland Winterhawks)Skating in an already pro-size body, Seth Jones oozes the elite hockey sense, astute defensive awareness and confident poise that few defenders currently playing in the National Hockey League even own. Described by Nickolet as the “unquestionable number one ranked WHL player for the draft”, Jones is also considered the top ranked player in the entire draft class by virtually every major scouting agency. The rangy blue liner has revved up his offensive production as he nears a point-per-game pace and really has no glaring weakness in his game. Seth Jones may be the most complete defenseman to come along in modern day draft history and he is a player that projects perfectly to the NHL game and that makes him all that more attractive to scouts as the number overall selection.
2. Hunter Shinkaruk, LW (Medicine Hat Tigers)
“The WHL prospect with likely the highest offensive upside in the draft”, states Nickolet, as he mentions his offensive skillset and compete level as admirable qualities in Hunter Shinkaruk. He is a talented winger that plays a dynamic offensive game with an ability to dance around opposing defenders, release a dangerously accurate shot at the drop of a hat or use his advanced on-ice vision to feed a streaking teammate.
3. Ryan Pulock, D (Brandon Wheat Kings)
Among the top scoring defensemen in the WHL, Ryan Pulock was not able to surpass his impressive offensive totals from last year but his defensive game has improved in his third year of major junior hockey. Pulock plays on a struggling Brandon Wheat Kings team which will not make playoffs and that limits scouts to just regular season action to gauge this hard-shooting defenseman’s potential. Pulock owns top 10 potential but after a few ups and downs this season and the fact that he is among one of the oldest players available, Pulock could slip a bit in the draft.
4, Josh Morrissey, D (Prince Albert Raiders)
NIckolet has Morrissey ranked as his 5th best WHL player but based on strong gut feelings, I feel as though Morrissey’s potential gives him the edge over borderline first round prospect Curtis Lazar (Nickolet’s 4th ranked WHL player). As Cody Nickolet explains, “[Morrissey’s] stock has slid a bit for me since the start of the year but I still think he is a future top 3 defender.” The Raiders’ leader in defensive scoring, Morrissey projects as a solid puck moving defenseman that can skate in defensive shut down situations, an area he has greatly improved during his draft year.
5. Madison Bowey, D (Kelowna Rockets)
Flawless skater with four-way mobility rarely observed in defensemen, Bowey uses his feetwork to create offensive chances as well as defend the opposition. He can skate the puck out of trouble and maintains good defensive positioning in the Rockets’ zone with his capability of jumping into the rush and easily getting back due to his quick feet. Bowey’s ability to make smart decisions and execute a clean first pass makes him an attractive selection inside the first round.
Nicolas Petan, C (Portland Winterhawks)
The Portland Winterhawks have become one of the top factories for producing NHL talent. After losing Sven Baertschi and Ty Rattie to the professional leagues, Portland Winterhawk sophomore Nic Petan has stepped up large. Competing relentlessly in a 5-foot-9 and sub 170-pound frame, Nic Petan has thrashed the WHL scoresheets racking up 45 goals and 111 points with just a few games remaining in the regular season of his draft year. Legitimate concerns surround Petan’s smaller stature and how his game will translate to the big leagues but with several promising smaller players experiencing current success in the NHL, a team with a middle to late first round selection may roll the dice early in the first round on this offensively dynamic forward.
7. Morgan Klimchuk, LW (Regina Pats)
Klimchuk is a hard-working winger that battles to get to the scoring areas and once he is there, he rarely misses. Regina’s scoring winger is not an overly dynamic forward but his strong hockey intelligence allows him to read the ice well as a scorer and a solid playmaker as well. As primarily a shooter, Klimchuk owns a quick release and good accuracy but his ability to cover the ice using his feet is an underrated attribute as his scoring chances usually increase when the left winger is moving his feet. Klimchuk projects as a late first or early second round selection for the upcoming draft.
8. Curtis Lazar, C (Edmonton Oil Kings)
Lazar’s biggest criticism as a prospect is his limited offensive potential. NHL teams find it difficult to warrant the use of a first round selection on a player that projects merely as a “shutdown defensive forward, especially in a draft class littered with forwards owning intriguing offensive upsides. In saying that, Lazar was spectacular in the Edmonton Oil Kings’ 2012 WHL Championship run and his ability to step-up under pressure shows great character and a winning attitude and that attribute alone, could see him drafted very high.
9. Shea Theodore, D (Seattle Thunderbirds)
There seems to be a similar trend coming with WHL blue liners as most of the draft eligible defensemen are very good skaters. Seattle’s Shea Theodore is no different. His offensive style of game stems from his advanced skating ability. A defenseman who exemplifies smooth four-way ability, Theodore packages his quick feet with a deadly accurate point shot that makes him a true powerplay threat. As the WHL regular season approaches an end, Shea Theodore sits amongst the defensive scoring leaders in both goals (18) and points (48).
10. Dillon Heatherington, D (Swift Current Broncos)
Ranked ahead of Madison Bowey, Shea Theodore and Nicolas Petan on his personal list, Nickolet’s high praise of Broncos’ defenseman Dillon Heatherington was quickly noted by me as I personally had the former three players ahead of Heatherington. Nickolet emphasized Heatherington’s large sized frame, great skating ability and two-way versatility as his best attributes and claimed, “Heatherington could be a top two defenseman [at the NHL level] if he hits his top ceiling.” However, the WHL radio colourman admitted, “Heatherington will more likely be a 30th to 45th selection but I like him more than most people.”
The Next 10….
11. Eric Comrie, G (Tri-City Americans)
12. Mirco Muller, D (Everett Silvertips)
13. Tristan Jarry, G (Edmonton Oil Kings)
14. Oliver Bjorkstrand, RW (Portland Winterhawks)
15. Eric Roy, D (Brandon Wheat Kings)
16. Mitchell Wheaton, D (Kelowna Rockets)
17. Kayle Doetzel, D (Red Deer Rebels)
18. Mason Geertsen, D (Vancouver Giants)
19. Greg Chase, C (Calgary Hitmen)
20. Jackson Houck, RW (Vancouver Giants)
The Next Best…
Myles Bell, LW/D (Kelowna Rockets)
Jared Hauf, D (Seattle Thunderbirds)
Spenser Jensen, D (Medicine Hat Tigers)
Tyler Lewington, D (Medicine Hat Tigers)
JC Lipon, RW (Kamloops Blazers)
Roberts Lipsbergs, LW (Seattle Thunderbirds)
Marc McNulty, D (Prince George Cougars)
Connor Rankin, C (Tri-City Americans)
Ty Stanton, D (Medicine Hat Tigers)
Cole Ully, LW (Kamloops Blazers)
Interesting Player to Watch: Alex Forsberg, C (formerly on the Prince George Cougars)
Previous Draft Watch 2013 Articles:
Draft Watch 2013: Top 10 QMJHL Players