The Seattle Kraken won’t need to go far to scout NHL prospects. One of the benefits of playing in Seattle is that they will be surrounded by teams from the Western Conference of the Western Hockey League (WHL).
The WHL is a major-junior ice hockey league and is one of three leagues comprising Canada’s highest level of junior hockey, the Canadian Hockey League (CHL). The WHL has 22 teams; 12 play in its Eastern Conference and the remaining 10 play in its Western Conference. The Eastern Conference comprises teams from Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Meanwhile, the Western Conference comprises teams from Oregon, Washington and British Columbia.
Something that all these Western Conference teams have in common is that they are within driving distance of Seattle. In fact, the Seattle Thunderbirds and the Everett Silvertips, both of whom play in Seattle suburbs, may be just a quick bike ride away from the Kraken. Given that NHL teams have a finite amount of scouting resources, it is certainly a major plus for the Kraken to be located so close to so many elite junior hockey teams.
WHL – A Long History of NHL Talent
Since its inception in 1966, the WHL has produced dozens of future NHL prospects. The first such player was Elgin McCann of the Weyburn Red Wings, selected eighth overall in the 1967 NHL Amateur Draft by the Montreal Canadiens.
Though McCann never played in the NHL, future Hockey Hall of Famer and Philadelphia Flyers legend Bobby Clarke came out of the WHL (then known as the WCHL) just two years later. Playing for the Flin Flon Bombers, Clarke averaged over two points a game and led the WCHL in scoring.
In the NHL, Clarke led the Flyers to their only two Stanley Cups (1974 and 1975) in franchise history. Known as the “Broad Street Bullies” these Flyers teams of the 1970s wreaked havoc in the NHL. For most of the decade, Clarke was joined by fellow NHL All-Stars Reggie Leach and Tom Bladon, both of whom also came out of the WHL.
In the years that followed, a long list of future NHL All-Stars and Hockey Hall of Famers made the leap from the WHL. Some of the most notable include Bryan Trottier, Grant Fuhr, Joe Sakic, Mike Modano and Scott Niedermayer.
This past June, Jarome Iginla became the most recent WHL alum to earn a spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Before becoming the greatest Calgary Flames player of all time, Iginla spent three years with the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers. His best season there was in 1995-96 when he notched 136 points in 63 games.
In more recent years, the WHL has continued to send players to the NHL. Located less than 30 miles from Seattle, the Everett Silvertips have produced Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Ryan Murray and Flyers starting goalie Carter Hart.
Meanwhile, the Seattle Thunderbirds have produced NHL All-Stars Mat Barzal and Patrick Marleau of the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins, respectively. Another notable Thunderbird alum is top Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Shea Theodore.
In last year’s NHL Entry Draft, seven WHL players were selected in the first round, including center Kirby Dach who went third overall to the Chicago Blackhawks. Throughout the seven-round draft, four Thunderbirds and two Silvertips were selected. Therefore, it is clear that the WHL will continue to be a premier source of future NHL talent.
How Will This Help the Kraken?
Of course, the WHL is not the only source of NHL players. There’s also the other two leagues of the CHL, Europe, and the NCAA, just to name a few. Furthermore, it’s not like the Kraken will have exclusive scouting access to the WHL’s players.
That being said, given how close these teams are to Seattle, it will be a lot easier for the top front office brass of the Kraken to get a good look at the best of the WHL. When we consider that the Vancouver Canucks have drafted at least one WHL player in each of their past eight drafts, it’s not hard to see how the Kraken will benefit from playing in Seattle.