NHL Draft Scout Series: WHL

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.

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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.

  • SydScout

    Hate to post first on something that’s probably of zero interest, but is nathan walker of the Hershey Bears still eligible? He’s about the only shot we’ll have in my lifetime of getting an Aussie into the nhl. Missed out in the past couple of years.

      • T&A4Flames

        Regarding the upcoming entry draft, there would appear to be two scenarios at play:

        Scenario #1 Main View
        FLA Ekblad
        BUF Reinhart
        EDM Bennett
        CAL Draisaitl

        Scenario #2 Alternate View
        FLA Reinhart
        BUF Bennett
        EDM Ekblad
        CAL Draisaitl

        After MacKinnon’s success this year this may spur FLA to shy away from Ekblad and pick Reinhart instead. This would then impact the rest of the top 4 draft ordering.

        For the Flames both scenarios would seem to point to Draisaitl being the most likely BPA to draft.

        Therefore rough odds would likely be:
        65% Draisaitl
        30% Bennett
        5% Ekblad

        As Conroy recently stated he’d be very happy to get Draisaitl as he compares well with Anze Kopitar of LA. This would also solidify strength down the middle with two bigger bodies with Monahan at 6’2″ 205lbs (when mature) and 6’1″ 220lbs, followed by Backlund at 6’0″ 200lbs.

        By comparison EDM will be 1-2″ shorter and 20lbs lighter for their top 3 Centres assuming they draft Bennett.

        • T&A4Flames

          Another knock I hear on Bennet was his ability to add strength/ weight. scouts were concerned that with his body structure and primarily his shoulders that he would be able to bulk up enough to support his style of play which could affect his ability to have a long effective career.

        • T&A4Flames

          Just in regards to your scenario #2, I’m not convinced that EDM would take Ekblad over Draisaitl. depends on if they have a trade inplace for either a D or a C

  • McRib

    “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”

    I guess I agree with Craig Button/Corey Pronman love Sanheim’s game think he should easily be a late first rounder would love to see us take him with our second pick. I have Hitmen season tickets and this kids mobility for size just screams NHLer for me, he is so good at getting to loose pucks. Reminds me of Madison Bowey last season where offense was a work in progress, but with those wheels he is going to produce once development comes along.

    Sanheim was easily Canada’s best two-way defenseman for me at U18s from the last four games I saw on TV for Canada with 5 assists. It’s funny when you compare him to a guy like Roland McKeown I would take Sanheim in a heartbeat over McKeown in the late first, early second. Roland McKeown does absolutley nothing for me offensively (Top Prospects, U18s, 3 Games in Kingston). Everytime I watch him I think how does he have 43 points this season then I remember…. Sam Bennett. IMO, Sam Bennett has made that team in Kingston man I hope he falls….

  • T&A4Flames

    I HAvent been big on Draisaitl all year but his skill set, IMO is more needed than Bennet. Bennet seems like more of a shooter, like Monahan whereas Draisaitl seems more of a playmaker/passer.

    I think people are putting too much stock in the Bennet comparisonsons to Gilmour and Toews.

    I know I will take a lot of trashes for this but I still think trading down with a team like ANA would be worthwhile. Looking at their prospects and organization, I think they would love to have a chance to draft a highly rated C and who knows when they would get a chance at that again.

    We would get at least their 2 1sts but I think we could pry a RW from them as well, Noesen or Rakell. Then we could draft either Virtanen or Fleury with (OTT) pick and then perhaps either Pastrnak or Mckeown with (ANA) pick or possibly even Bleackely (he sounds like a Bennet type player as well).

    We would get a very good, pretty much NHL ready prospect that we need (RW) as well as a very good pick at #10 that we can develop.

    Next year, I believe is a potential strong C draft year again and I would expect to get another high pick again next draft to get that 2nd top 6 C to move forward with.

      • T&A4Flames

        Why? ANA would not only be asking for a team to drop 6 spots but to move out of the consensus top 5 picks. I’m not saying we wouldn’t have to add, maybe we would, but I dont see this being unrealistic at all. As with all trades there would have to be an element of deperation from ANA but that’s why I said, they would have possibly their 1 and only chance to draft a top C prospect without having to move one of their big core players. They are really going to need a top C prospect soon.

    • Bean-counting cowboy

      I have to disagree. “I think they would love to have a chance to draft a highly rated C and who knows when they would get a chance at that again.”

      Isn’t that what we have been looking for since Niewy left? How many years without a top rated C did we go? This is the highest this franchise has EVER drafted. If Bennett or Reinhart are there, you take them ALL DAY LONG.

      Bennett has received higher rankings from some services than Reinhart and there is no clear consensus who is better. One of them may fall – could be a disaster for the franchise if we trade down on that pick as the rest of the field tapers off from the top 4/5 this year.

      • T&A4Flames

        It comes down to personal opinion. I certainly wouldnt be upset with either of those guys , but like I said, I just dont feel strongly about either guy.

        It may be moot anyway if Ekblad or Reinhart fall.

        • McRib

          The great debate always comes down to best available player versus need, I believe we need to pick the BAP in round one and probably the first of our 2 second rounders then we can look at other needs, I would be interested in seeing if we could trade and get another pick 10-15 and see is we can get either Tuch or Fluery.

          • T&A4Flames


            Win-win with Bennett or Draisaitl with our #4 pick.

            Trade up to pick Fleury or Tuch for another win either way.

            Fleury gets another Top 3 defender with excellent skating & first pass skills.

            Tuch gets us a Top 6 6’3″ power RW to go along with Poirier and his grit and speed.

            In 2 years the depth board for the right side looks like Poirier, Tuch, VanBrabant (6’3″, good skating), Ferland/McG/Westgarth (all 6′-6’4″). Overall size and scoring punch increased by 50% over this past year.

  • BurningSensation

    Assuming the top of the draft runs some order of Reinhart/Ekblad, there is a strong chance that Calgary could land Bennett. Oilers scouts/brass haven’t been shy about how much they like Draisatl’s size and two-way skillset to the point there is a question as to whether they might actually prefer Draisatl even over Reinhart.

    If Ekblad and Reinhart go 1-2 or 2-1, look for Edmonton to get the big German and for Calgary to select Bennett.

    • T&A4Flames

      Personally I’m fine if it was Bennett or Draisaitl..both have differents strengths and will turn in to fine players.

      From what I’ve seen/read Bennett is fast, skilled, has a wicked wrister, and brings grit/tenaciousness. Draisaitl brings bigger size, good vision & playmaking, an excellent shot and strength & quickness to play down-low and on the boards.

      Agree Oilers brass have publicly supported taking Draisaitl. However also very interesting that fan support for taking Bennett instead of Draisaitl is running about 3:1 on Oilers Nation and elsewhere.

      The fit for either from a Flames perspective is good..we get speed on the rush or additional size down the middle. However the fit for the Oilers is difficult for Bennett given he represents more of the same of what they’ve already got in RNH and Gagner. From that perspective Draisaitl is a much better choice.

      Am looking forward to seeing how much the Oilers brass caves to public opinion on draft day..and what that says moving forward for the management of the team. Either way they’re in a pickle and in a bit of a no-win situation regardless of what they do…and loving it..:)

    • T&A4Flames

      My exact thoughts on how I see it going down as well. If Buffalo takes Bennett instead, then Reinhart falls to us.

      Hard to say which player will be better since there’s no clear consensus from the scouts, but IMO you win with players like Bennett.

      In fact, I think hs skill set is actually overlooked or underrated at times due to the amount of character, grit and 2-way play he brings to the table. Whereas a guy like Reinhart, the offence is all anyone focuses on.

  • Byron Bader

    Anybody got a link of the Oilers saying anything about how much they value Draisaitl? Seems to mostly be “the Oilers value him because they should because he’s a big center and fits a need”.

  • T&A4Flames

    If Bennett, Reinhart and Ekblad are gone by 4, I would take Virtanen. You can’t teach speed and might be the best skater in the draft, you can work on the other parts of his game. Do not like Leon’s skating.

  • T&A4Flames

    I’ve seen Fleury play a few times now and each time he stands out because of his exceptional tools… size and skating and bears oh my!

    and then I actually start looking at what he’s doing with and without the puck and start thinking that maybe this kid doesn’t have the toolbox, so to speak.

    will be interesting to see how this statement stands up over time but here goes: i’d prefer Sanheim over Fleury.

  • T&A4Flames

    I’m actually excited abou the 2nd and 3rd rounds for us this year. I think there are some pretty decent Dmen available. Mckeown could slip to our 1st 2nd round, but I also like Jack Glover. Sanheim and Thomas in the 3rd round would be nice.