Prospect Watch: WHL
It has been a busy month of November for several WHL squads. From players returning from their NHL teams, to winning streaks being broken, to draft eligibles stealing the show. The Canada vs Russia series also took place which saw the two sides split the series 1-1.
The Seattle Thunderbirds will be an interesting team to watching going forward. Currently sitting third in the U.S. Division with a record of 13 wins 9 losses with two losses outside of regulation. Things are however looking up for last year’s Western Conference winners as they have acquired Mathew Barzal back from the New York Islanders in the past couple weeks. Since, Barzal has managed 11 points in eight games and has significantly helped out defenseman Ethan Bear (who led playoff scoring for WHL defensemen last year) back to near a point-per-game average. Outside of those two the Thunderbirds are getting big contributions from their younger players like Jarret Tyszka and Elijah Brown who has started to produce more goals for Seattle and are becoming key parts of their future.
Matthew Barzal sent back to WHL Seattle. Right move for all parties. Allows him to play, allows #Isles roster flexibility.— Brendan Burke (@brendanmburke) November 9, 2016
A 18 game point streak by the Regina Pats saw the team not lose in regulation until November 19th against the Victoria Royals. One of the top CHL teams (Currently Bidding for 2018 Memorial Cup) have had a hot start to their 2016/17 season. Led by veterans like Connor Hobbs and Adam Brooks who have been producing well for the Pats and have been leaders both on and off the ice. Anaheim first rounder Sam Steel has also had a great start to this season, leading the WHL in scoring through 19 games. A player who impressed a lot of fans and media at the Canada vs Russia game a few weeks ago and has certainly put himself on the bubble for the Canadian World Junior team.
Another interesting team to watch going forward is the Edmonton Oil Kings who have been consistently in the playoffs year after year, find themselves sitting third in the central division and under pressure from other teams. Veteran players like Davis Koch and Aaron Irving have helped the Oil Kings offensively but I still believe they need to either make a move for scoring or take a step back this season. With a young D-core that is highlighted by draft eligible Brayden Gorda, I could see the Oil King’s challenging for the Memorial cup in a couple years with a proper rebuild in place.
The last team I want to highlight is the defending WHL champions in the Brandon Wheat Kings, who currently sit just outside of a division playoff spot. A team who has taken a big hit with the loss of top ranked eligible Nolan Patrick who suffered an upper body injury just six games into the seasons, has relied on scoring from some of their other key players. A player who has caught my eye is undrafted player Ty Lewis who has put up 26 points in 25 games with Brandon and has really stepped up this season as one of their top players. I could see Ty possibly putting himself into contention as a plus-one drafted player this June with how his play has been early on this season.
WHL Draft Eligible Rankings (Courtesy of DubNetwork):
- Nolan Patrick – Although he has only played six games this season the 6’3" power forward is still on top of most draft rankings. A player who brings similarities to Ryan Getzlaf may not live up to the standards of previous #1 picks (Matthews, McDavid, Ekblad) but certainly has the potential to become a top line center on a NHL team.
- Michael Rasmussen – Standing at 6’5", the Tri-City Americans leading scorer has been really impressive through the early goings of this season. A player who possesses solid finishing abilities and offensive instincts has put up 33 points in 27 games this season and has put himself into contention of a top five pick come June.
- Kailer Yamamoto – Another very recognizable name on this list is off to another productive start this season with Spokane. Nearly halfway already to his career high campaign of 71 points in 57 games, the Johnny Gaudreau 2.0 has been clutch this season. Expect him on the United States World Junior team.
- Juuso Valimaki – The second Tri-City American on this list, Valimaki may not be as well known as these other names but should be considered as another top Finnish defenseman for this years draft. A great skater with good puck moving abilities, the 6’2", left-handed defensemen has logged a ton of crucial minutes for Tri-City and isn’t a player who should slip past the first round.
- Cal Foote – One of this years top right-handed defenseman in the draft has slipped a bit on most scouts lists as of late. With an unimpressive WHL vs Russia series I doubt he makes the Canadian World Juniors squad. On the upside he is a big kid with a good first pass and heavy shot from the point, who does a great job creating space for himself and could climb back up those rankings come June.
(Just Outside: Nikita Popugaev, Stelios Mattheos, Cody Glass)
WHL Power Rankings:
- Prince George Cougars
- Regina Pats
- Medicine Hat Tigers
- Everett Silvertips
- Tri City Americans
- Seattle Thunderbirds
- Brandon Wheat Kings
- Victoria Royals
- Moose Jaw Warriors
- Swift Current Broncos
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