WHL draft eligibles offer NHL clubs a wide range of skills
The Western Hockey League presents NHL teams with a diverse range of skills headed into the 2017 NHL Draft set to take place in Chicago on June 23rd and 24th.
It starts at the top with consensus first overall pick Nolan Patrick of the Brandon Wheat Kings, an exceptional talent that has remained one step ahead of Halifax Mooseheads star Nico Hischier on NHL Central Scouting Rankings throughout the 2016-17 season.
After leading the Wheat Kings to a WHL title last spring, Patrick has continued to wow scouts and evaluators despite an injury-shortened season that saw him limited to just 33 games. The Winnipeg, Manitoba product scored 20 goals and added 26 assists for 46 points, earning the CHL Sherwin-Williams Top Draft Prospect Award.
Despite the injuries, Patrick rounded out his game as an 18-year-old, catching the attention of NHL clubs in the process.
“He has more than proven over the last three years that he is the real deal and will be an impact NHL player,” said Director of NHL Central Scouting Dan Marr. “The poise, the presence, the attention to detail, the way he processes and executes plays – everything has been far more precise, far more accurate and a lot quicker this season.”
Though the New Jersey Devils could very well make Patrick the league’s first top NHL Draft selection since Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Red Deer Rebels) in 2011, the WHL’s talent pool doesn’t drop off as it produced 12 of the top 30 North American skaters on NHL Central Scouting’s Final Rankings released in mid-April.
A pair of accomplished young forwards follow close behind as Tri-City Americans centreman Michael Rasmussen and Portland Winterhawks pivot Cody Glass were ranked fifth and sixth respectively.
Playing a grind game with an impressive set of skills, the 6-foot-5, 200Ib. Rasmussen is a tough guy to miss. His 32 goals in 50 games were second on the Americans this season.
“I think I’m a hard-working power forward, I like to use my teammates, get to the dirty areas of the ice,” he said in an interview with NHL.com. “The most important thing is improving, so long as I work hard and keep improving things will happen.”
The Surrey, BC native compares his game to that of former Toronto Maple Leafs great Mats Sundin, a big body that had a nose for the net.
“I like the way he played; he had good hands in front of the net, went to tough areas, worked hard and skated really well for a big man,” Rasmussen continued. “If I can be a little bit like him, I think that’ll be good.”
Not as big as Rasmussen physically, Glass makes up for it in heart. The 6-foot-2, 180Ib. Winnipeg native has overcome adversity in the year leading up to draft day. Challenges include being cut from Canada’s National Under-18 team ahead of the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, the loss of his grandmother just days later followed by a concussion in training camp that sidelined him for the entire pre-season.
Once healthy, Glass marked up scoresheets across the WHL, finishing the season with 32 goals and 94 points in 69 games, good for seventh in league scoring.
“The thing I’ve been working on in the past year is my two-way game,” Glass told NHL.com at last week’s NHL Scouting Combine in Buffalo. “That’s something I really take pride in. I’m a two-way playmaker. That’s a huge thing for me.”
Fleet-footed Spokane Chiefs winger Kailer Yamamoto has been on NHL Draft radar all year long as well. The 5-foot-9, 160Ib. hometown product lit the lamp 42 times this season, adding 57 assists for 99 points. He turned aheads during on-ice testing at the 2017 Sherwin-Williams CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Quebec City.
A number of capable WHL blueliners are up for grabs, hoping to follow in the footsteps of other talented names such as Ivan Provorov (Brandon Wheat Kings), Shea Theodore (Seattle Thunderbirds) and Seth Jones (Portland Winterhawks) before them.
A pair of Finnish standouts in Juuso Valimaki (ranked 11th) of the Tri-City Americans and Sherwin-Williams CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game star Henri Jokiharju (ranked 17th) of the Portland Winterhawks join Kelowna Rockets notable Cal Foote (ranked 12th) at the top of the list.
Foote, who is the son of two-time Stanley Cup champion Adam Foote, enjoyed a successful sophomore campaign in the WHL, leading the Rockets in assists (51) and plus/minus rating (plus-39) over 71 games. He represented the WHL in the 2016 CIBC Canada Russia Series.
“You’ve got players like Cal Foote and Juuso Valimaki, they bring different dimensions to the game,” Marr said of the defencemen available to NHL teams later this month. “They play different styles. Even though the numbers are quite similar, it’s just a different package that you get with each player.”
While there’s lots to like on the back end, the WHL also features a pair of high profile names in the crease.
Third ranked North American goaltender Ian Scott of the Prince Albert Raiders and fifth ranked Lethbridge Hurricanes veteran Stuart Skinner have both been widely discussed as top draft targets in goal.
Scott has managed to impress despite playing on a Raiders squad that has struggled in his two seasons with the club. The former ninth overall pick in the 2014 WHL Bantam Draft pushed thoughts of the draft out of his mind this past season and just focused on stopping pucks.
“I can’t think about the draft,” he told Kelly Friesen of Yahoo! Sports back in late October. “It’s something you wait for, but you have to put it to the side and focus on what’s in front of you.
“I trained hard in the off-season and took every opportunity to work on every aspect of my game and improve things like my hand speed, skating and tracking the puck.”
Scott was joined at the Sherwin-Williams CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Quebec City by Skinner, a 6-foot-4, 195Ib. Calgary native who backstopped the Lethbridge Hurricanes to the Eastern Conference Final for the first time since 2008, posting a .916 save percentage in the process.
Still just 18 years-old, Skinner has already played 151 career WHL regular season games, going 74-51-6-5 with a 3.28 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage since 2013-14. He was the Canes’ first round (17th overall) pick in 2013.
WHL talent in Jake Bean (Calgary Hitmen/Carolina Hurricanes), Brett Howden (Moose Jaw Warriors/Tampa Bay Lightning), Lucas Johansen (Kelowna Rockets/Washington Capitals) and Sam Steel (Regina Pats/Anaheim Ducks) were chosen in the first round of the 2016 NHL Draft last June in Buffalo.
High-end names like Patrick, Rasmussen, Glass, Valimaki, Foote and Yamamoto lead the next wave of WHL draft eligibles into the Windy City later this month.
WHL North American Skaters:
North American rank, name, club, position
WHL North American Goaltenders:
North American rank, name, club