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William Whitelaw could be a boom-or-bust gamble in the first round of the 2023 NHL Draft

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Photo credit:courtesy USHL
Ryan Pike
9 months ago
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In every draft class, there’s a player, usually undersized, with potential first-round buzz that doesn’t go as early as some predicted. And then he goes off in his post-draft season and he looks like a bargain. Last year, it was blueliner Lane Hutson.
This year’s Lane Hutson could be USHL forward William Whitelaw, a talented offensive player with boom-or-bust potential in the first round mix.

Scouting report

A February 2005 birthday, Whitelaw is a product of Rosemount, Minnesota. He’s a right shot forward (who can play centre or the wing) listed at 5’9″ and 172 pounds.
Whitelaw spent a few seasons at the prestigious Shattuck St. Mary’s prep school, then headed to the the United States Hockey League after being the first overall pick in their 2021 futures draft. He committed to the University of Wisconsin, then joined the USHL’s Youngstown Phantoms for the 2022-23 season and was the team’s leading scorer en route to a Clark Cup championship.
Over at Dobber Prospects, Evan Pace wrote this scouting report:
Will Whitelaw is a shooter. He gained lots of traction after his breakout performance at the U18s and has been very good in his first full year with Youngstown. However, while there’s a ton to like about Whitelaw’s offensive game, he leaves a lot to be desired when looking at his overall game. He’s undersized, lacks impact in his own end, tries too much at times and has lots of bad giveaways. However, his best moments are incredible and his offensive ceiling ranks among the top in the draft. He’s quick, shifty, and has a ridiculous release and scoring ability. He’s a shot creator and will develop the discipline to take better shots as time goes on. The holes in his game could be exposed at the college level, but good coaching and development will be key.
In Smaht Scouting’s final draft rankings, Josh Tessler provided a detailed rundown of Whitelaw’s game:
I believe that Whitelaw is a top six winger at the NHL level. While he has played center in his youth, if you play him at center in the NHL, you would have to change his puck hunting approach and In my opinion that would be a huge mistake.
I would go with Conor Garland as a player comparison for Whitelaw. Like Garland, Whitelaw is tenacious in his pursuit of the puck in the offensive zone and does a great job with distribution when the pressure is on.
If you draft Whitelaw, you want him to keep developing his physical play in all three zones. He is constantly looking to pounce on attackers for the puck in the offensive zone, but it’s a little bit less prevalent in the neutral and defensive zones. In addition, I’d like to see Whitelaw work on his shot angling and pass to the slot more when pressure closes up on him. If Whitelaw replaces a few of his shots from distance when pressure is present to passes to the slot through tight lanes, his assist totals will go up.
The scouting consensus seems to be that Whitelaw is a talented player that could be really good. But he’s small and has some holes in his game. In short: he could be a good pick-up, but he’s seems like he’ll be a project.

The numbers

In 62 games in the USHL, Whitelaw had 36 goals, 25 assists and 61 points. He also had 90 penalty minutes. He was third in points among under-18 players, 16th overall. He was second in goals among under-18 players, third overall. He was named to the USHL’s second all-rookie team and helped the team win a Clark Cup championship in the playoffs.
He represented the United States at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup. He had four points in four games.

Availability and fit

Whitelaw is incredibly talented offensively. But he’s small and has some holes in his game. He is in no way a “safe” pick in the first round. To be blunt, he’s a gamble. If you’re a team with multiple picks in the first few rounds, he’s a gamble you may be willing to take. But if you’re a team like the Flames that made just three picks in the 2022 NHL Draft and probably feels like they need to nail their first few picks in 2023, Whitelaw just doesn’t seem like he’d scratch that particular itch.
Whitelaw is ranked outside of the first round bunch for many of the prominent public draft rankings. He’s 29th by Daily Faceoff and 30th by FC Hockey, but outside the first round for many others. The rankings consensus seems to be that he’s a borderline first-rounder (but probably goes early in the second round).

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