April 30 2014 08:15AM
In anticipation of the 2014 NHL Draft, most every site and blog covering an NHL franchise on the internet will post rankings, previews and mock drafts to get its readers geared up for the events that will take place this June in Philly.
We, no different than every site and blog on the internet, are of course doing the same. However, instead of me telling you a bunch of stuff about this draft class that you may or may not choose to believe, I figured it would be more constructive to get the basics from real scouts themselves. We'll still have the regular profiles of top prospects to watch and plenty of other goodies, but throughout the lead up to this years draft, we'll sit down with a scout from every area/league supplying the draft with talent, to get a gauge of what kind of crop we'll see yielded from that particular zone. That means WHL, OHL, QMJHL, USHL/NCAA and Europe will all be covered over the course of the next couple months.
Today, we kick off our Scout Series with a look at the WHL
courtesy of Future Considerations' Head Western Scout, Zenon Herasymiuk.
Christian: The WHL always offers a solid crop of players for the draft, what do you think the strength of this class is as a whole?
Zenon: I would say that the WHL class is pretty solid this year, with the emphasis probably being on grit and character. The Dub' always does, however, a great job of producing high-end talent and this season is no different with big names at the top. As you go down the list however, the ceilings drop considerably. The 2014 group might be a little bit weaker than the past few years, but there is certain a ton variety in the types of players available. Things are very wide open this season and opinions between our scouts vary wildly on some players so it will be interesting to see how things play out at the draft. I would add that it was also a strong year for AJHL and BCHL prospects, which should mean a few more Western boys getting their names called in Philadelphia.
C: How does the 2014 WHL class compare to recent ones? Do you buy the notion that 2014 is a weak draft?
Z: With potentially four WHL players going in the top-10, I would say it is a pretty strong year for the Dub'. The WHL is typically known for developing defenseman, but with players like Reinhart and Draisaitl going at the top, 2014 will likely be remembered for the forwards that the league helped produce. I believe strongly that there are very talented hockey players available in most of the rounds. This draft might not be as strong as 2013 was or 2015 will be, but I can guarantee that good scouting by NHL teams will be rewarded this year as it does with any draft.
C: Speaking of Reinhart and Draisaitl, they've have jostled for position atop the WHL rankings all year, who do you think has the edge?
Z: Reinhart has always been a step ahead in my eyes, but throughout the season Leon Draisaitl has pushed very hard to put himself in the same class. I prefer Sam's game just a little bit more because he plays a consistent and steady style that I think will make him a productive NHL player for many years. Sam also showed that he can raise the pace of his play when he has to, which is something I was hoping to see a little more from in Leon's game. Sam has the smarts and offensive tools to be a big-time producer in the offensive zone, and the maturity and character to play in any role his coach asks of him. Character and hockey sense are two qualities that I hold in high regard when watching players, and Sam Reinhart exhibits both of those qualities at an exceptionally high level for a draft eligible player. (Christian's Note: Although many do, I don't consider Draisaitl to be among the elite of this draft. Would take all of Ekblad, Reinhart, Bennet and Dal Colle ahead of him).
C: After the two big boys, who's your third ranked WHL skater, Virtanen or Fleury?
Z: My third ranked player is Haydn Fleury, but Jake Virtanen's slotted only a hair behind him. They are completely different players, but both blue-chip prospects nonetheless in my opinion. Haydn is just a pro-style defenseman, skates at a high-level, can move the puck and log minutes in all situations. He might not be the most flashy defenseman, but his range and ability to defend on the rush has me confident he can be a 20-minute-a-night guy that you can roll out against opposing teams top lines while also getting a little offense. Virtanen on the other hand is a true momentum changing hockey player. He can do so many things on the ice to bring fans out of their seats. Jake is probably the strongest, fastest, and most lethal sniper in the draft. I wish he played with a little more attention to detail without the puck and was a bit more consistent, but there is no denying he will be a high pick in the draft.
C: The 1st round always holds a lot of weight with fans, but the later rounds often offer solid value as well, who are some potential gems that are currently ranked outside the Top 30?
Z: A couple mid-round prospects made good impressions this season, but none more than Kelowna Rockets forward Justin Kirkland. He is a big forward that has silky smooth hands and the ability to make plays in close quarters. Very good skater and he can really shoot the puck too. Played mostly on the Rockets fourth line throughout the season, but has improved and is starting to produce with more playing time. To me he seems like a perfect project that could develop into a very valuable NHL player. His teammate Rourke Chartier is another personal favorite. One of the top defensive forwards I have seen, Rourke is relentless in his pursuit of the puck and he keeps things simple. He has a picture perfect stride and he is excellent along the walls. His game reminds me of Cody Eakin. I also like the games of a few WHL defenseman such as Nelson Nogier of the Saskatoon Blades, a good stay-at-home player that is mobile and thinks the game well, Edmonton Oil Kings Dysin Mayo, who is a smart player at both ends with a good two way skill set, and Brett Lernout of the Swift Current Broncos, who is hard to play against and isn't afraid to drop the gloves.
C: Who has the biggest surprise been among draft eligibles?
Z: The biggest surprise of the season was Edmonton Oil Kings forward Brett Pollock. After seeing him as a 16 year-old last season I would have never expected him to put up the numbers he did. Pollock is a big forward with good hands and really took big strides forward in every aspect of his game. Equally as surprising was the emergence of Calgary Hitmen defenseman Ben Thomas and Travis Sanheim. Thomas was a player I watched a lot of in both Midget AAA and last year in the AJHL. He was always a good-sized defender that thought the game well and could move the puck, but he was always a lacking the foot speed to be a difference maker. This season Thomas improved his skating immensely which made him a very effective player for the Hitmen and it's looking like he'll be a very solid prospect for an NHL team going forward. Travis Sanheim was also a surprise as a WHL rookie. He caught my eye at Training Camp this year and his confidence just continually improved throughout the season. He is making plays at both ends of the ice and has an enticing package of size and skating ability that will interest NHL teams.
C: Who's the biggest disappointment this year been?
Z: There really weren't too many major disappointments for me this year. I was hoping for a little better of a season from Kamloops Blazers forward Collin Shirley. Starting the year in Kootenay I thought he had the opportunity to be a very solid sleeper after a strong rookie season. He never really got his feet under him early in the season and he was dealt to Kamloops where he never really recovered. Another disappointment, to a lesser extent, was Swift Current Broncos defenseman Brycen Martin. Coming into the year I thought he had the opportunity to become a premier defenseman that could get picked in the middle-half of the first round. While I still like Martin's potential going forward, I was a little disappointed that he wasn't able to elevate his status to a higher level after showing so much promise last year.
C: Who is the most overrated draft eligible in your opinion?
Z: Since the draft is so wide open and rankings have remained pretty fluid throughout the year, it is hard to pinpoint some of the overrated players. Every scout and organization is going to like different guys, so it is really just a matter of personal preference. The two players I have received the most questions about, in terms of why we have them so low, are Nikita Scherbak of the Saskatoon Blades and Aaron Irving of the Edmonton Oil Kings. I think both are solid prospects and I am confident in where we have them ranked, but I guess others disagree. (Christian's Note: You can fit Hitmen defenseman Travis Sanheim into this category as well. Some, namely Craig Button, have him ranked high second and suggested he could go in the 1st. ESPN's Corey Pronman jumped on the Sanheim bandwagon earlier this month as well. Having seen the guy 25+ times this year, I just don't buy the hype).
C: Are there any second or third time eligible's that have made a considerable case this year to finally be picked?
Z: There are certainly a few players that are going to get taken in their second or even third time through. Rinat Valiev and Jaedon Deschaneau of the Kootenay Ice are two guys that come to mind; I'd expect them both to get drafted. Both players had productive seasons with the Ice. We also liked Richard Nejezchleb out of the Brandon Wheat Kings and goalie Austin Lotz from Everett.
C: Let's end this on a personal note, who's your favourite eligible and why?
Z: It'd have to be Red Deer Rebels centre Conner Bleackley. I got a chance to see him the first weekend of the WHL season and have just loved his game ever since. He works hard in all three zones and really pays a lot of attention to the little things. As the season wore on he continued to develop his offensive game and became a legitimate scorer with a lethal wrist shot and good instincts in the offensive zone. I always say that Conner is the type of player you want on the ice in the last minute of a game whether you are up a goal or down a goal. Bleackley wins a ton of draws and isn't afraid to initiate contact in the corners. Not to mention he was also the Captain of the Rebels this season. Conner Bleackley is just a character forward that will do whatever it takes to win.