NHL Draft Scout Series: WHL

Courtesy of the Western Hockey League

As we
rapidly approach the 2015 NHL Draft, most every hockey site and blog 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 sunny Florida.

Each of
their writers has read up on the prospects to some extent or even watched a few
in action, but fact is: the draft isn’t most people’s bread and butter – isn’t their
main course, if you will. It’s more of a side dish, ordered once a year.

There are
those, however, who eat up junior hockey all year long and make their name
scouting these draft eligible kids in miserably cold rinks day-in and day-out
as we focus on our local National Hockey League team or whatever else is
notable around the league, September through April (or May, or June depending
on how far your local hockey heroes go in the playoffs).

Absolutely will we be
doing the profiles and the mock drafts and the dissections but – as we
introduced last year – I’ll be interviewing real scouts to get the inside scoops
and expert opinions on the prospects that could be drafted out of their
jurisdictions, at this year’s National Hockey League draft.

That means
WHL, OHL, QMJHL, USHL/NCAA and Europe will all be covered over the course of
the next couple months, in very similar fashion to last year. It was a great
success last season and I’m hoping it’ll be even better now.

Today, we
kick off the 2015 edition of the Scout Series with a look at the WHL courtesy
of Future Considerations’ Head Western Scout, Zenon Herasymiuk.

Christian: Last
draft, the WHL provided a number of high-end prospects from the likes of Sam
Reinhart and Leon Draisaitl, to Haydn Fleury and Jake Virtanen, but 2015 seems
absent the big names. Is it safe to say that although this year’s crop of WHL
draftees will feature many quality prospects, it’s lacking the truly elite
talent?

Zenon: I would agree and
disagree. The 2015 draft crop has more high end talent and depth than 2014 did.
With Mathew Barzal and Ivan Provorov pushing for Top-10 spots, I don’t feel
there is a significant gap between them and guys like Sam Reinhart and Leon
Draisaitl and I would say both Provorov and Barzal are better prospects than
Fleury and Virtanen. With that being said, I do not expect to hear the name of
a WHL player called in the top-5 this year, which I think speaks more to the
talent and depth of the entire 2015 draft class rather than that the lack of a
surefire superstar out of the Western Hockey League. 

C: Many as
the WHL’s top talent in preliminary rankings regarded Matt Barzal for the 2015
Draft, but Ivan Provorov’s exceptional season has pushed him ahead of Barzal in
the eyes of many. Are you of the same opinion?

Z: The battle between
Provorov and Barzal for the top spot in the WHL this year was without a doubt
the most intriguing and debatable story lines to follow this year. Provorov
entered the year ranked as a 2nd rounder by FC and quickly gained attention
playing for the high flying Wheat Kings with his steady and poised all-around
game. Barzal has been a highly regarded prospect since he was the 1st overall
pick in the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft and is just a highlight reel, dynamic centre
with unreal vision. Ultimately, we decided to give Provorov the slight edge in
our final rankings as we feel he is more likely to be a top-line player than
Barzal is. Both players have very bright futures though, and I have no doubts
in my mind that both of these players are top-10 talents. 

C: Provorov’s
defence partner Ryan Pilon was situated in the very rankings spot Provorov
finds himself in now, at the beginning of the season, but doesn’t even hold
down a Top 30 spot in Future Considerations’ most recent rankings. What caused
this substantial plummet?

Z: Ryan Pilon is a big,
smooth skating defenseman that can transition the puck and feather passes
around with ease on the power play. There are a ton of things to like about his
game, but also a couple of flaws which left our scouting team wondering if he
has what it takes to be a pro hockey player. The biggest problem that our WHL
scouting staff unanimously observed was a lack of intensity and desperation on
the ice. We just didn’t feel he showed the desire to be a difference maker
while his defensive game was also inconsistent at times throughout the year.
Ryan Pilon is a very talented young man that will make a team very happy at the
draft, but his game just never seemed to gain any traction with our scouting
staff this season. 

C: The
Calgary Flames are due to make a selection with the 15th overall
pick this June. Are there any WHLers you could see as a fit in Calgary at that
spot?

Z: The one name
that immediately jumps to mind is Nick Merkley of the Kelowna
Rockets. He is edgy forward with phenomenal vision and offensive ability. His
game is kind of similar to that of current Flames forward Sam Bennett in the
sense that Merkley is a little bit smaller, but he plays the game fearlessly
and has a ton of skill. When he gets going off the rush he is hard to contain
with his speed and creativity. I have very little doubt in my mind that
wherever Nick Merkley gets drafted he will become a fan favorite. The
“Fancy Stats” crowd will love how his poise and ability to generate
offense through consistent possession, while the “Old-School” fans
will love how hard and physical he plays while also appreciating his skilled
production. Merkley is also a homegrown Calgary boy, so it seems like a great
fit to me. If the Flames are looking for a bit more size I could see them
showing more interest in a guy like Paul Bittner, who is a two-way forward that
skates like the wind.

C: They say
your scouts go to work in Day 2 of the draft, and it just so happens the Flames
will be making a bunch of selections on Saturday, June 27th, starting with
potentially 3 in the second round. This is regarded as being a very deep draft,
who from the ‘Dub could they take a look at with picks 45, 52 and 53?

Z: The most obvious fit
in this range of the draft would be Parker Wotherspoon of the Tri-City
Americans. He is a little bit raw physically, but he is a heads up player with
transitional smarts and a ton of poise. He doesn’t get a lot of attention as he
isn’t a flashy player, but he certainly has the foundations to be really solid,
all situations defenseman at the NHL level. He of course is the brother of
current Flames defenseman Tyler Wotherspoon. Another player we really like
beginning in this area is Austin Wagner of the Regina Pats. He is a 6’2″
forward with NHL-ready speed. He forechecks like a hound and is just starting
to scratch the surface of his ultimate potential. Wagner’s skating ability
really gives me the feeling that he will not have any trouble playing in the
modern day NHL, which puts a premium speed and skill. Ryan Gropp out of the
Seattle Thunderbirds is another name that we expect to fall in this area of the
draft. He is another big, rangy winger with good wheels. Gropp plays more of an
exterior game, using his hands and speed to penetrate the inside of the ice at
opportunistic moments. He is one of the oldest players eligible, but he still
has a very raw frame to grow into making him a pretty interesting player that
could go anywhere in the 30-90 range. 

C: Moving
on to the 3rd round, the Flames are due to pick at 76 and
83.  Are there any underrated favorites of yours that could make for
real value selections that point in the draft?

Z: At this point in the
draft things get very fluid and unexpected so it is difficult to predict which
players will be available. Keegan Kolesar is a player I think could go in Round
3. He checks off all the boxes on Brian Burke’s list- big, heavy forward that
plays a bull in a china shop type game. Will compete for ice and will drop the
mitts when needed. He also has a hard shot and has shown he can be a very
capable complimentary player. If Red Deer Rebels forward Adam Musil is
available he would be a great pick in this range. He had a pretty pedestrian
offensive season, but he took strides forward in pretty much every other aspect
of his game. He is a penalty killer and big time forechecker. He will get a lot
of big game experience with the Memorial Cup hosts next season and could be a
guy that gets in his groove at a later age. He is the son of former Flame Frank
Musil. One name I wouldn’t mind hearing in this area as a sleeper is Tyler Soy
of the Victoria Royals. He is a smaller centre that plays a cerebral game. He
goes hard to the net and makes his teammates better players through his
positional sense and awareness. We have him ranked a bit lower, but given his
strong play late in the year I wouldn’t be shocked if someone stepped up and
took him earlier than expected. 

C: Who has
been your most pleasant surprise in the WHL this year?

Z: The most pleasant
surprise in the WHL this year was without a doubt Noah Juulsen of the Everett
Silvertips. I was an enormous fan of Juulsen after last summers U18 Ivan Hlinka
Camp and thought he would be my big sleeper this year. His fantastic play this
year quickly killed any chance of him being a sleeper as he took huge strides
forward in all elements of his game and scouts all took notice. He became the
PP Quarterback for the Tips and played a lot of big minutes on the top pairing
with Ben Betker (Oilers prospect). He is very aggressive in the corners and has
some good range in his step. He still has a raw frame we feel he will be a
player that grows a ton and becomes a really nasty player to play against. I
wouldn’t be surprised at all if some team took a chance on him late in the
first round. We have him ranked in the early second. 

C: Who has
been the biggest disappointment?

Z: I say this every
year, but it is always tough to pick a disappointing player when a lot of the
decision depends on your personal expectations for that player. The biggest
disappointment for me this year was goalie Nick McBride of the Prince Albert
Raiders. He was a stud 16 year-old that took the starting job away from 20
year-old Cole Cheveldave late in the year, helping the Raiders sneak into the
playoffs. He showed of ton of poise and quiet crease play which really gave a
calming effect to his teammates on the ice. We thought he had the potential to
be a 2nd or 3rd rounderNone of that game seemed to come with him into this
season and he really struggled for most of the year. He lost the starting job
to Rylan Parenteau and he never seemed to bounce back fully. He is going to
have to put a lot of work in to win the starting job back. He has the size and
the tools to be a really good goalie still, so I am not ready to close the book
completely just yet. 

C: If you
had to choose a most overrated eligible and most underrated eligible, who would
they be?

Z: Another difficult
question to answer without completely knowing how NHL organizations and other
scouting bureau’s feel about every player. One player that I personally believe
is ranked a little bit high is Brandon Carlo of the Tri-City Americans. He is a
towering 6’5″ defenseman that plays a rugged game. He is extremely mobile
and very difficult to beat in battles. The main concern we have of his game is
his ability to transition the puck at the next level. Ultimately this is the
biggest reason why he dropped in our rankings in the second half. Given that
some have him ranked as a Top-20 player, I feel he has been a tad bit
overvalued. 

One player we at FC
feel has been underrated throughout the year is Brad Morrison of the Prince
George Cougars. He is a small, slight of build forward with quick feet and a
propensity to create exciting scoring chances on a regular basis. He appears
very small on the ice because of his hunched over posture, but he uses this as
an advantage to penetrate small gaps in the defense. Morrison isn’t afraid to
try and make things happen and more often than not he does. He is an all-around
intelligent player that works hard and makes the most of every shift. Once he
packs on a bit more weight he will be very tough to handle. We expect a big
surge in points for him next year. 

C: The
drafting of players in their second and third years of eligibility has risen
substantially of late, are there any older prospects you could see worth
spending a draft pick on?
 

Z: I personally have
never been a huge fan of drafting second or third time eligible players, but we
did rank a few from the WHL in our final list. The highest second timer is
Dryden Hunt of the Medicine Hat Tigers. He has a pro-level shot and plays a
well balanced game. Very strong kid that can win space while not needing very
much space to get a hard shot off. He plays well in a cycle game and looks
pretty close to AHL ready. Another prominent name is Adam Helewka of the
Spokane Chiefs. He is a big body forward that netted 44 goals this season.
Another name to watch is Luke Philp of the Kootenay Ice. He is a smaller, slick
forward with great smarts and skill. Tyson Baillie of the Kelowna Rockets, Tim
McGauley and Jordan Papirny of the Brandon Wheat Kings are other re-entry
options. 

C: Lastly,
who’s your personal favorite draft eligible prospect this year and why?

Z: If I had to choose
just one favorite this season it would probably be Nick Merkley from Kelowna. I
remember watching him play as far back as Bantam and had the chance to watch
him many times as a Midget player as well. Seeing all the elements he has added
to his game in addition to high explosive skill has been a treat to watch over
the years. He plays with a ton of heart and is willing to do whatever it takes
to win. Like I said earlier, he will be a fan favorite wherever he goes. A
close second favorite prospect is Jansen Harkins of the Prince George Cougars.
He plays a responsible two-way game and he does all the little things well. He
is another guy that I have gotten to see many times over the years and his game
has changed dramatically. He went from a small, skill guy to a tall, rangy
200-foot hockey player. I am looking forward to seeing both of these players
drafted next month.


Big thanks
to Zenon for taking the time to fill us in on the Western Hockey League and who
the Flames might take a look at from the West. You can follow him on Twitter – and I highly recommend you do – @ZenonHerasymiuk

What are
your thoughts on this year’s crop of draft eligible WHL talent ?

  • Christian Roatis

    I really wouldn’t be upset seeing the Flames draft one of Barzal (not likely though), Merkley or Jaskins in the first round. Pilon played well in the games I saw Brandon play against in the playoffs (especially over Roy, who is much older than him in junior years), but I’ll leave it up to the scouts to figure out the best fit for the 2nd round picks.

    It will be interesting to see if Calgary is willing able to trade up for another 1st round pick in the 20-30 range with the excess in picks they have. The organization has lots of depth in prospects but still could use a couple more top end players, up front but especially on the back end. If trading up allows us to pick up a player like Chabot or Kylington, while addressing a need for another top 6 forward at 15, that would be an excellent draft for the Flames.

  • MattyFranchise

    I’m on board for some Nick Merkley action at #15. I’ve seen him play live (once) and was super impressed. I’ve kept an eye on his stats ever since… He may be smallish in height but weight wise he’s hardly small for his age.

    Same motor as Sam Bennett.

    • The GREAT Walter White

      BT has indicated that is how he plans to draft. I just hope the BPA include 3 defenders with some size and skill and 2 rw with the same and a big center. They are out there.

      • BurningSensation

        I atually don’t care what positions we draft. so long as they stick to BPA.

        If that leaves gaps in our prospect system, so be it, you can always trade to fill those gaps later.

        For example, despite having; Thornton, Marleau, Pavelski, and Couture, on the roster, the Sharks still went after Hertl when he was on the board. Why? BPA.

        If Nick Merkley is there at 15, for Gord’s sake, DRAFT HIM

        • Cofred24

          So if for some reason(I don’t see it happening) the Scouting staff saw the two picks in the second round BPA are both goalies you would be okay with that. Second issue with having an over abundance of C and no D when you try and trade with other teams might they not see your desperation and get the better of the trade.

          My point is while I agree with the general idea of BPA as the cornerstone it must be awefully difficult to split hairs at times and if you are that close on 2 players especially in the mid 50’s and beyond maybe organizational need matters.

        • Cofred24

          BPA is such a subjective concept that it is almost meaningless. That is why draft boards and “expert” prospect rankings are all over the place. Even at the top of the draft there is often a lack of consensus (ex. Seth Jones slipping to 4th overall a few years ago and Drasaitl over Bennett last year).

  • SydScout

    Not 100% convinced by the BPA idea. More keen to understand the combination of needs v BPA-that-doesn’t-fit-needs.

    For example, we have a C we’re big on at #15. But if a D that is ALMOST as good a prospect is still available why not take him?

    Reason being, it seems harder to trade for a D than a forward. So, what good is a cupboard stocked with quality C’s who on the trade market only garner less quality D men?

    All this is under the assumption that D is harder to find on the open market than forwards.

    • SydScout

      Because your positional needs today are not necessarily your position needs in 3-5 years, when you can expect most players in the draft to make an impact in the NHL if they are going to. You take the BPA because you can always trade a surplus to fill a hole. Just because we need wingers on the 2015-16 roster, drafting them in 2015 isn’t likely going to fill that hole right away unless you’re drafting in the top 5. Who cares if you have 6 potential all star centers in the system, you can always trade 1 or 2 of them, and it’s a problem any GM in the NHL would love to have. You can always convert centers to the wing and trade them for defenseman. Not always easy switching wingers to center.

      Look at Calgary right now. Many say we have about 7 potential NHL centers, maybe even more. However, I’d say guys like Granlund and Jooris are better suited as wingers in the NHL and can always play up the middle when injuries pile up. Also never bad to have two guys on the ice who can win faceoffs either.

      • SydScout

        Good points made re the movement of C to wings, although I am not entirely convince on the ability to ‘always trade a surplus to fill a hole’. It’s that part that I wonder about – the value of a top forward v the value of a top D in a trade situation.

        But as further comments outline, it’s splitting hairs given the draft board are all over that place.

  • Franko J

    Merkley checks off plenty of boxes for the Flames. Speed, character, great hockey IQ and what I like the most is compete level. Yeah the issue of size may factor in, but that is why the team has five more picks {potentially} to emphasize “size issues”. Besides in the last week who has been one the most dynamic player in the playoffs and which player was a catalyst in Team Canada’s win in the World’s. Two players who were over looked because of their “size”. I am looking forward to watching him in the Memorial Cup.
    With Hudler’s contract up after next season he might be able to slide in a play the right side beside either Monahan or Bennett.

  • Big Ell

    Julienne seems really solid and it’s a bonus he is a Right shooting D-man while I like the Musil, Kolesar, and Soy ideas for our 2nd and 3rd round picks too, don’t trade them Flames!

  • Cofred24

    I say we should definitely try to take Merkeley instead of Kylington. Yes Kylington is a great all around defenseman but how many of those great all around defenseman do we need? We already have four powerhouses like Giordano, Russell, Brodie, and Wideman, all producing the points we need and the defensive aspect also. Also we have Schlemko andin my opinion I think David Wolf will be in the NHL for most of the year next year. Merkeley is also a Sam Bennett type of player and we could definitely use another one of those exciting and thrilling players.