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.
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.
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.
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.
kick off the 2015 edition of the Scout Series with a look at the WHL courtesy
of Future Considerations’ Head Western Scout, Zenon Herasymiuk.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
your thoughts on this year’s crop of draft eligible WHL talent ?