WHL Report – Top 5 Draft Eligible Defenders (January 2019)

by Joel Henderson on January 17, 2019
  • Feature Story
  • WHL Report – Top 5 Draft Eligible Defenders (January 2019)

The WHL is full of draft-eligible talent in 2018-19 but especially with five particular defensemen. 

 

2018 saw four defensemen selected in the top two rounds…

Ty Smith (17th – Spokane) – Devils

Alexander Alexeyev (31st – Red Deer) – Capitals

Jett Woo – (37th Moose Jaw) – Canucks

Calen Addison – (53rd – Lethbridge) – Pittsburgh

 

…and then none until the fifth round.

 

At this point, there are five WHL defensemen who make a strong case to be taken in the top half of the 2019 NHL draft. There may be others along the way as the season moves into the second half, but let’s focus on these gents.

 

Bowen Byram (Vancouver Giants) 6’1 192lbs 

He began the 2018-19 season with 17 points (7g-10a) in 23 games with seven of those on the PP.

 

Why should my team draft him?

  1. He’s such a versatile skater. He can walk a blueline easily or sneak back door.
  2. His power skating matched with his slapshot make him a force on the man-advantage. He can gain the zone, get the puck back on a one-timer, and make teams look silly.
  3. Due to his size and improvement defensively, his floor is quite high.

 

Why should a team leave him alone?

  1. He does still have defensive lapses and misses coverages at times.
  2. His strides are powerful but his agility and acceleration could improve.

 

Jake Lee (Seattle Thunderbirds) 6’2 216lbs

He began the 2018-19 season with 15 points (1g 14a) in 20 games and since has seen his offensive deployment taken away. He currently sits with 19 points in 40 games. He was taken off the PP once other players came back from injury.

 

Why should my team draft him?

  1. He’s sneaky good. His gap control, stick work, and edgework makes him the best defender in this draft class from the WHL.
  2. He’s described as a defensive-defenseman by some but there is a large potential for offensive output. He often makes a controlled pass to exit the zone but can certainly stroll with the puck.
  3. His skating is tremendous (except his backwards skating, which is ok). Strong acceleration and lateral movement mean even with mistakes, he’s back in position very fast.

Why should a team leave him alone?

  1. He hasn’t been able to use his shot as much in the last while. Will need to continue to work on that side of things. At this moment, he prioritizes the defensive side but will have more opportunities to begin the rush moving forward.
  2. They shouldn’t. I imagine he will go higher than most anticipate and people will think “WHAT?? WHY??”

 

Matthew Robertson (Edmonton Oil Kings) 6’3.5 198lbs

He began the 2018-19 season with 14 points (3g-11a) in 20 games and currently sits with 21 points in 32 games.

 

Why should my team draft him?

  1. He’s a powerful skater which means he can take the puck end-to-end on a rush or show his fluid motion through the zones.
  2. He has a strong hockey IQ especially when reading situations to jump in the rush or remain steady. This allows him to play in all situations on the ice.
  3. He is the best example of a pure two-way defenseman in this class.

 

Why should my team leave him alone?

  1. Not sure about his ceiling based upon his skating agility. His strides are powerful which means it is tough to knock him off the puck but the negative impact is defending against agile forwards at the NHL level.
  2. He most likely won’t be the top PP quarterback at the NHL level. His passes are strong and crisp but his shot could use work too. Some teams target that type of upside in the first round.

 

Lassi Thomson (Kelowna Rockets) 6’0 187lbs

He began the 2018-19 season scoring 19 points (7g-12a) in 25 games with 10 of those coming on the PP. He is mostly utilized in offensive situations for Kelowna, allowing him to show off his creativity at high speed.

 

Why should my team draft him?

  1. He is the most dynamic draft eligible defenseman from the WHL.
  2. He is a high volume shooter and loves to direct pucks to the net however he can.
  3. He has a high wind up slapper which can be a fantastic PP weapon.

 

Why should my team leave him alone?

  1. High offensive upside. Low defensive awareness and positioning.
  2. His decision making can be suspect at times too. His creativity leads to turnovers based teammates not expecting poor passes.

 

Kaeden Korczak (Kelowna Rockets) 6’3 188lbs

He began the 2018-19 season with 14 points (2g-12a) in 25 games with only three of those being PP points. He currently sits with 19 points in 42 games.

 

Why should my team draft him?

  1. He has such a strong sense of defensive awareness.
  2. His mobility allows him to be used in all situations.
  3. His situational reads are quite possibly his best quality.

 

Why should my team avoid him?

  1. He has no truly elite skills besides his situational reads. This means that his upside could be limited due to needing strong improvement in most areas to make the NHL.
  2. His acceleration needs work which is a big part of adapting to the pro level.

 

And… if you want something to debate?

This is how I currently have them ranked:

  1. Byram
  2. Lee
  3. Robertson
  4. Thompson
  5. Korczak

I guarantee most of you disagree with me, and it’s because of Jake Lee. Easily the most underrated WHL prospect in the 2019 WHL draft right now. (ducks for cover)

 

If you’re wanting an update on the top WHL draft eligible prospects, you can find that in Cam’s ramblings hereeeeeeeeee

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Win NOW. Win NOW. Win NOW.

You can find the list of all WHL transactions here but WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN???

 

Well, here’s what the strongest teams in the WHL did to bolster their rosters.

 

  1. Prince Albert (38-5-0-1) – made multiple trades to add depth. Acquired 20yo Dante Hannoun from Victoria. Pure offence.
  2. Everett Silvertips (33-9-1-1) – Added two big top-9 pieces. Top scoring Seattle forward 20 yo Zach Andrusiak (39 in 34) and big body scoring winger Robbie Holmes (16 in 24) from Regina.
  3. Portland (26-12-3-2) – Grabbed G Joel Hofer from Swift Current for every draft pick imaginable as well as the rights to draft eligible forward Bobby Brink (not sure why they did this).
  4. Edmonton (24-14-4-4) – Grabbed Josh Williams from Med Hat. They are preparing for next season.
  5. Medicine Hat (24-16-2-2) – Got 18yo Brett Kemp from Edmonton (39 in 40). He is a better player today for Medicine Hat. They didn’t ticker much beyond that.
  6. Vancouver (27-12-2-0) – Acquired a couple of players in Jaden Joseph and Dallas Hines who can help them push a little bit forward. Vancouver is most likely looking towards next year as well, especially is Bowen Byram returns for another year.

 

Until next time.

 

Joel Henderson @dathockeydoe  WHL/Calgary Flames prospects.