This past June, nine Western Hockey League players were selected in the first round of the National Hockey League’s entry draft. The league had just four players taken in the first round, representing a down year in what has traditionally been known as one of the more productive development leagues in the hockey world.
Don’t fret, though: this year’s WHL draft class has rebounded nicely. In my recent Alternate Rankings update, I projected nine WHL players in the first round. The consensus rankings, compiled from the rankings of major hockey people that aren’t me, have seven WHLers in the first 31 players selected. But even as you dip past the first round, there are a lot of strong 2017 NHL Draft prospects to be found west of Ontario.
The Top 20
|1||Nolan Patrick||C||Brandon Wheat Kings||9/19/1998||6’3″||198|
|2||Kailer Yamamoto||C||Spokane Chiefs||9/29/1998||5’8″||159|
|3||Cal Foote||D||Kelowna Rockets||12/13/1998||6’3″||198|
|4||Juuso Valimaki||D||Tri-City Americans||10/6/1998||6’2″||201|
|5||Nikita Popugaev||LW||Moose Jaw Warriors||11/20/1998||6’6||203|
|6||Cale Fleury||D||Kootenay ICE||11/19/1998||6’1″||190|
|7||Michael Rasmussen||C||Tri-City Americans||4/17/1999||6’5″||203|
|8||Stelio Mattheos||C||Brandon Wheat Kings||6/14/1999||6’1″||194|
|9||Kole Lind||RW||Kelowna Rockets||10/16/1998||6’0″||172|
|10||Artyom Minulin||D||Swift Current Broncos||10/1/1998||6’2″||198|
|11||Henri Jokiharju||D||Portland Winterhawks||6/17/1999||5’11”||165|
|12||Cody Glass||C||Portland Winterhawks||4/1/1999||6’1″||168|
|13||Mason Shaw||C||Medicine Hat Tigers||11/3/1998||5’8″||165|
|14||Jake Leschyshyn||C||Regina Pats||3/10/1999||5’11”||181|
|15||Ian Scott||G||Prince Albert Raiders||1/11/1999||6’3″||168|
|16||Lane Zablocki||C||Regina Pats||12/27/1998||6’0″||185|
|17||Tyler Steenbergen||C||Swift Current Broncos||1/7/1998||5’10”||180|
|18||Stuart Skinner||G||Lethbridge Hurricanes||11/1/1998||6’3″||209|
|19||Jaret Anderson-Dolan||C||Spokane Chiefs||9/12/1999||5’11”||181|
|20||Josh Brook||D||Moose Jaw Warriors||6/17/1999||6’2″||185|
- F Aleksi Heponiemi, Swift Current Broncos
- F Morgan Geekie, Tri-City Americans
- F Mark Kastelic, Calgary Hitmen
- G Griffin Outhouse, Victoria Royals
- F Dante Hannoun, Victoria Royals
The WHL has two things in abundance this year: defensemen and centers. The centers tend to play strong 200-foot games, with their offensive upside generally determining their overall value – Nolan Patrick has by far the most in this group. Kailer Yamamoto arguably has a bit more offensive promise right now (and slightly less defensive value), but his overall ceiling isn’t thought to be as strong as Patrick’s.
Among the blueliners, most of the brightest prospects fit into the prototypical WHL mold: around six feet tall, around 200 pounds, and generally playing a smart 200-foot game with some physicality. Again, the exceptions are the story here: Henri Jokiharju is playing a bit more of a finesse-based game than the typical WHL style, not uncommon for an import, but he’s picking up the rest as he goes along. Fellow import Juuso Valimaki has already played a full season in the league and has meshed the offensive game with the physical game rather nicely.
It’s a weak year for goalies, with nobody quite as good as Carter Hart was last season, but Stuart Skinner, Griffin Outhouse and potential second-year eligible Zach Sawchenko should provide some value for mid-to-late round shoppers.
Ryan Pike has covered the Calgary Flames and the NHL Draft extensively since 2010 as a Senior Writer for The Hockey Writers and Senior Contributing Editor of FlamesNation.ca. A member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, he lives in Calgary.