This is the 2015 edition of my annual WHL player rankings for the NHL Draft. I have previously done this with the 2012, 2013 and 2014 NHL Drafts.
In saying that, I must note that this is far and away my biggest effort yet.
Not only does this ranking include more players than I’ve ever listed before, but it is also far more detailed than any previous piece I have ever written related to the draft or even otherwise. It is comfortably over 75,000 words (a novel is classified as having a minimum of 40,000 words) and the reports below are extremely detailed, as you will see in a second.
Hundreds – if not thousands – of hours have gone into this project over the course of this season, beginning with my first official reports in August of 2014. I have taken extreme pride in my rankings this year as I can safely say this past year has been my most productive when it comes to analyzing players and the game of hockey in general. The year included the most live views I’ve ever put into one season. Along with that increase in live viewings and subsequent reports to my scouting director with Future Considerations, I’ve also poured over hours and hours of video to compliment my database of notes. While I fully admit online or TV viewings can’t replace live ones (hence why I only rank WHL players and not the full draft class each year) I still think those added hours watching as many games and players as possible is extremely important. Along with that, while I did more traveling to watch live games than ever before, I must note that my budget isn’t the same as that of an NHL scout. I would love to travel more and take in a greater amount of live games if given those resources, as it would do nothing but help my overall knowledge base and subsequent final product.
In the end, I am extremely proud of this final product and hope people find it both interesting and useful.
Before we get to the reports, there are a few other things I would like to outline so please bear with me.
For starters, I have some general thoughts on the WHL class for 2015.
I think this is an intriguing crop of WHL players for the 2015 NHL Draft. While this group does not include a sure-fire top 3 or even top 5 calibre player like in year’s past (Reinhart, Draisaitl, Jones, or Nugent-Hopkins to name a few from the past couple years), the 1st round still grades at a fairly high level with as many as 7 or 8 WHL players having the chance to go in the first 30 selections, in my opinion. Taking that a half step further, I see some very good talent from the WHL within the first couple of rounds this year with a bit of a potential drop-off in the middle of the 3rd round or so. After that point, things open up a bit more with all the prospects ranked in that range having more noticeable flaws or red flags. In the end, I like the overall depth from the WHL for this draft more than the past couple years, even though it may lack true franchise players at the top. There are definitely plenty of very intriguing project-type guys who can be had in rounds 5 through 7, based on how I see things.
I would likely deem roughly 40 players from the WHL to be “draftable” this season based on my evaluations. In recent years an essential average of 35 WHL players have been selected in each NHL Draft, so I obviously feel this western crop is somewhat better than an average year. In the end, I don’t think we’ll see 40+ WHL players drafted in 2015 but if we don’t see 33-35 I will be fairly surprised.
Now, with that in mind, I have ranked a lot of players below. I mean a lot. Much more than 40 or even 50. The vast majority of the players listed below won’t be drafted in the 2015 NHL Draft. So why include them? For me, this project is more than just analyzing the top 40 WHL players for the 2015 NHL Draft. I took it as a challenge to go above and beyond that, to outline which of league’s players had the most pro potential overall. I continue to want to work in the game as an amateur scout for an NHL team, fully understanding that working at the CHL level is often the stepping stone to that goal. What better way of showing I am capable of that than to analyze and project well over 100 of the league’s players at a microscopic level? I’ve spent hundreds of hours analyzing these players, so why not publish those findings? That’s the motivation here.
Now, obviously I am not projecting all of the players listed in this piece as having NHL potential. Surely they all don’t and that is usually outlined in their profiles below. But, I still see many (if not all) of them as having some form of professional potential whether that be in the ECHL, AHL or in Europe. Please keep that in mind as you read the piece, once again noting that this is as much of a professional-potential depth chart as much as it is a specific 2015 NHL Draft ranking. And once again, that’s what this piece is about…”potential”. It’s not about simply ranking who are the best players currently. It’s about projecting them out as 22-25+ year olds.
Speaking of how I see things, how do I form my ranking? What do I look for in a player regarding future projection?
At the end of the day, this ranking is based on how I see these player’s regarding their future professional potential. But, it’s not simply based off which player’s have the highest pro potential, per say, rather combining that with other factors such as their likelihood of reaching that potential, pro-readiness and overall risk involved in the selection. Surely the highest potential is the main thing to look for, but it’s not always the only thing to look for.
Essentially, I treat this list as if I were drafting for an actual NHL franchise. Following my full year’s analysis of the players and weighing all factors, which ones would I want to form my future roster if given the power to make those selections?
Along those lines, I do have a very detailed way of analyzing players. My personal scouting philosophy has been published on this blog before. It can be found here. I highly recommend you check that out before looking at my list below. It provides great context into what I want to see in a prospect and in-turn, how I end up forming my personal ranking. It covers everything from hockey sense, technical skills, physical traits and character to offensive production, production trends and overall usage within their team’s lineup during the season. It’s extremely detailed and gives good insight into me as a scout.
To take that a step further, I should also point out that I have created my own formula for ranking players. This formula turns a player’s scouting report data into a numerical form. I then combine that number with the player’s on-ice production data from the season. The numbers are combined in such a way to give me a ranking that revolves around not only the player’s skills but also how productive they were on the ice. It’s been found to be rather successful when analyzing drafts in the past and it has been used to help form the 2015 NHL Draft ranking which you will find below.
Several of my player ranking formula pieces from the past have also been published on this blog. They can be found here and once again, I recommend you check them out if you get the time. Like I said, they have proven to be quite interesting regarding ranking and projecting players from the past three NHL Drafts.
It is worth noting that this formula does not include goalies. The goalies must be placed into the final ranking manually, based on how I see their overall long-term value relative to the skaters who were ranked with the help of my formula.
Now, more toward the task at hand…
This draft ranking project includes all players eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft who spent the past season in the WHL. That includes players born in the first part of 1997, plus ones born in 1996 and 1995. Down below, no star beside a player’s name means they are in their first year of NHL Draft eligibility. One star (*) means they’re in their second year, with two stars (**) meaning they’re in their third and final year of NHL Draft eligibility.
I have broken the ranking – which mentions more than 170 players – into four categories:
Top 100 – These are my top-ranked WHL players regarding my thoughts on their future pro potential. They are in order – obviously – from 1 through 100.
101-150 – These guys are my “honourable mentions” that just failed to crack my top 100. They are not necessarily in any specific order, per say, or else I would have just done a top 150. When it comes down to ranking 100+ players things get tricky, let alone adding another 50+ more.
150+ – These guys are 20 unranked players that still deserved some form of a mention. They each get two lines that briefly breaks down their playing style and some strengths and weaknesses.
Lacking Views – These are players that may have deserved to be mentioned among my top 170 but I couldn’t justify putting them in there due to a general lack of views or a general lack of feel for their game and subsequent future projection. Quite simply, I don’t float opinions out there on guys I haven’t seen enough of. That’s not fair to the reader and certainly not fair to the players who are being discussed.
The stats listed in the bio for each player are from the 2014-15 regular season only, no pre-season or playoffs are included. Each player’s height and weight information was pulled from NHL Central Scouting’s finals ranking. If a player was not listed by Central Scouting I simply used their WHL player page information instead.
If a player played multiple positions throughout the season, that information is indicated at the top of their bio with their more common position being listed first. As some of you may know, I tracked the lines for each WHL team all season and that really gave me great insight into not only which players played which positions (relative to what their player bio says online) but also general insight into how they were used on a game to game basis. The information and knowledge gained from the painstaking process has proven to be quite invaluable for me in the big scheme of things.
The Player Analysis for each player can include a number of things. It may include things such as my thoughts on their strengths/weaknesses, style of play, opinions on their future pro potential, some statistical information from this season or past seasons (a huge thank you to CHLstats.com!), bantam draft or import draft imformation, thoughts on where they might get picked in the draft relative to where I would pick them in the draft, plus player style comparisons for some players. The player comparisons are not meant to be taken as gospel. In most cases, they are 90% meant as a style comparison and 10% meant as a “future potential” comparison. Saying a player reminds me of a guy like Jamie Benn doesn’t mean I think this prospect will one day lead the NHL in scoring. Like I said, it’s 90% style and 10% projection in most cases.
If you made it all the way through the intro, you’ve done well so far and I assure you that the best is yet to come.
Thanks for reading and as always, don’t ever hesitate to provide me with some feedback either here, on Twitter or via email. Any feedback or questions are both accepted and greatly appreciated.
If you would like a copy of this document, feel free to shoot me an email (email@example.com) and I will send a pdf your way.
With all of that out of the way, here we go, my final WHL Player Rankings for the 2015 NHL Draft, beginning with a standout member of the Seattle Thunderbirds…
With all of that out of the way, here we go, my final WHL Player Rankings for the 2015 NHL Draft, beginning with a standout member of the Seattle Thunderbirds…
#1 Mathew Barzal
Team: Seattle Thunderbirds
Player Analysis: Mathew Barzal is a game-breaking playmaker for the Seattle Thunderbirds…has no issue beating the opposition in a number of different ways offensively…features well above-average acceleration and top-end speed…possesses dynamic edge work which allows him to change direction quickly and go east-west at the drop of a hat…carries the puck with speed, poise and confidence…will take advantage of soft gaps if a defence gives it to him but will beat you wide if you try to play him too tight…would categorize him as an elusive player who subsequently doesn’t take a lot of physical contact…is tough to handle on the cycle due to his high-end stickhandling ability and slippery nature…protects the puck well when in tight areas and along the wall but could definitely use a few more notches of strength to his upper body…will be even tougher to slow down once he adds more weight and power to his lower body as well…can make plays at top speed but also has the ability to slow the game down…makes the players around him better with absolutely elite-level passing ability and vision…I’ve said his vision may be second to only Connor McDavid in this draft… can make adept plays both on the forehand and backhand including the ability to elevate pucks and land them in tight spots, adding a unique element to just how hard he is to stop in the playmaking game…has extremely good hands and the ability to stick-handle in tight spaces…as I’ve alluded to, he’s definitely a playmaker more than a scorer…despite being more of a passer he still possesses a hard shot with a snappy release…would be a guy that needs to shoot the puck more as he tends to try and make that extra pass from time to time instead of wiring it…when he does shoot, he’s dangerous and if he can put more pucks on net I wouldn’t doubt he has 30 goal potential at the NHL level during his peak years…wouldn’t list hockey sense as any form of a concern especially on the offensive side of the puck…a smart player positionally and is comfortable being the number one guy for a WHL franchise…plays with a good motor and doesn’t take many shifts off…seems to be somewhat inconsistent in his desire to always go to tough areas and to drive hard lanes consistently but it’s a small complaint and I don’t see it holding him back much going forward…I wouldn’t call him a physical player and he doesn’t have a ton of feistiness to his game…like most players his age he must continue to work on his defensive game, although he has a strong set of instincts away from the puck…his noted motor also transfers fairly well to the defensive side of the puck, as do his stick skills…is a bit of a puck thief…has been used in penalty killing situations as a member of the Thunderbirds and should maintain that ability as he climbs the pro hockey ladder…has been the Thunderbirds number one centre for the past two seasons and obviously the key pillar on their powerplay…his most common linemate in the second part of the season in 2014-15 was Roberts Lipsbergs as they played 22 of Seattle’s final 27 regular season games together…he also spent plenty of time with Ryan Gropp on his left side…he missed over two and a half months of action during the middle of the year with a broken kneecap after injuring it while wrestling with a teammate…offensive numbers weren’t jaw-dropping before his injury but ended up posting very good numbers down the stretch for Seattle…he led all first-year draft-eligible WHL forwards in points-per-game (1.29) and even-strength points-per game (0.77)…he either scored or assisted on 42.54% of all Seattle Thunderbird regular season goals, the highest mark of any first-year draft-eligible WHL forward relative to their own team…he finished 3rd among first-year draft-eligible WHL forwards in primary assists with 26 while finishing 7th in total points despite missing a big chunk of the year with injury…followed up a good second part of the season with a monster showing at the World Under-18 Championships where he was widely considered Canada’s best forward…was my top ranked player from the WHL from the very start of the season until now, despite his rather slow offensive start and his injury issue…I came close to ranking Ivan Provorov ahead of him in these final rankings but his ability to elevate his game another full notch at the Under-18’s helped solidify his standing as my top guy this year…his playing style reminds me of a combination of Claude Giroux and Matt Duchene, taking Duchene’s skating ability and Giroux’s vision and skill…is the former 1st overall selection in the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft…overall I see Barzal as a potential solid number two centre at the NHL level with his lack of defensive value, size and strength holding him back from reaching that true number one status…I think he will be an electric offensive guy but might need to be sheltered away from bigger lines at that next level, stopping me from classifying him as that “true #1” type of centre…I like his offensive ceiling more than any other WHL player in this draft, quite easily…I expect him to come off the board sometime in the 6-9 range come June’s draft with the New Jersey Devils at 6th overall being a likely landing spot if I had to narrow it down even further…
#2 Ivan Provorov
Team: Brandon Wheat Kings
Player Analysis: Ivan Provorov is a steady and smart two-way defenceman for the Brandon Wheat Kings…possesses a smooth, composed and powerful skating stride…can accelerate away from a forecheck or into an offensive lane due to the strength of his first few steps…could stand to add a bit more pure top speed as he slowly gets closer to playing in the NHL, although he’s surely not a slow skater by any means…displays strong edgework as he appears to be fairly light on his feet…oozes hockey sense and plays with a remarkably high level of poise…never seems to be flustered by physical contact or by the pressure of a forecheck…executes crisp, accurate and well-timed outlet passes…passes the puck harder than most players at this level with his long stick possessing a high amount of whip to it…can add some touch to his passes, softening them when necessary…has the ability and composure to reverse the play or circle back in his own zone if he doesn’t like what he sees in front of him when attempting to exit the zone…is more of a puck-mover than puck-rusher but has the ability to rush it when the situation calls for it…seemed to lack some “wow factor” for much of the year but dispelled that with a few big plays in the second half of the season…carries his right elbow very high towards the sky when carrying the puck providing a unique look…that look is mainly due to the fact that he plays with a 4-inch extension on his stick, which greatly aids him on either side of the biscuit…possesses a very hard wrist shot with a quick release…excels at getting wristers on net through traffic thanks to footwork at the offensive line and the ability to subsequently change shooting angles…his shooting game also features an absolute bomb of a one-timer and that element of his game will make him a 15-20 goal threat at the NHL level…can quarterback a powerplay quite comfortably, showcasing the ability to be a threat as a passer, shooter or a guy that sneaks in the backdoor…understands offensive spacing and how players need to be positioned in order to dissect a penalty killing unit…is a composed defender…keeps tight gaps due to his high level of skating ability…displays excellent stick work which is a great compliment to his tight gap control…understands hip and shoulder angles when it comes to defending on the rush or on the cycle…very rarely puts himself in a bad position with an over-aggressive play on the defensive side of the puck…plays regular penalty killing minutes along with his time on the PP…isn’t a killer physically on a game to game basis but can lower the boom when he wants to…doesn’t look like a big kid but is surprisingly thick, strong and sturdy…regularly catches players off guard when they attempt to play physical with him…has very few weaknesses in his game and would be considered an extremely well-rounded player who can play in any situation…spent basically 95% of the season on the Wheat Kings top defensive pairing with fellow draft-eligible defender Ryan Pilon…looks to be one of the more NHL-ready players in this years draft class, not just from the WHL…it wouldn’t shock me if he had a strong showing in training camp and stuck in the NHL next year, although I think in the long-term it would make the most sense for him to spend another year in the WHL with Brandon…after a dynamite regular season I noticed a decent drop-off in his play as the postseason went on, citing potential injury or just general fatigue…was the WHL’s Eastern Conference Defenceman Of The Year this season, losing the league title to Shea Theodore of the Seattle Thunderbirds…featured very consistent production offensively this year as he didn’t have one month all regular season where he was under a point-per-game…led all first-year draft-eligible WHL defencemen in goals, points, points-per-game and even-strength points-per-game (0.47 ES PPG)…his 17 primary assists during the regular season were good for T-2nd among all first-year draft-eligible WHL defenders, trailing only Noah Juulsen’s 21…was involved in 21.63% of all Brandon’s regular season goals, the 3rd highest percentage of any first-year draft-eligible WHL defender…scored 5.32% of all Brandon’s regular season goals, the 2nd best mark among first-year draft-eligible defencemen, trailing only Ethan Bear of Seattle (6.34%)…has spent the last several years in North America playing in the USHL and midget in Wilkes-Barre…played for Russia at this year’s World Juniors and during the Subway Super Series…speaks very good English due to his extensive time spent in North America…was the 30th overall selection by Brandon in the 2014 CHL Import Draft… overall, Provorov reminds me a lot of a player like Mark Giordano as their frames are remarkably similar, are both well-rounded, can shoot it, pass it, play physical and are understated leaders when compared to some of their peers…I project him to be a solid #2 (top pairing) defender at his NHL peak, but not quite up to the level of being a true top defenceman…despite that classification, he will be a guy that should excel in every situation you put him in, including having the ability to quarterback your top powerplay unit and see borderline top penalty killing minutes…I expect him to come off the board within the first 8 or 9 selections of the 2015 NHL Draft, maybe even as high as 7th overall to the Philadelphia Flyers…
#3 Nick Merkley
Team: Kelowna Rockets
Player Analysis: Nick Merkley is a hard-driving playmaker for the Kelowna Rockets…possesses a strong lower-body with sharp edges that allow him to really drive and power his way around the ice…has the agility to go east-west when the situation calls for it thanks to immensely advanced inside edges…that edgework allows him to shimmy and shake when he needs to, opening up a defenders hips and giving Merkley that half step needed to get around his man off the rush…straight line speed is good but not great, having room to improve as he gets stronger thanks to his understanding of edgework…has a remarkable set of hands with the ability to handle the puck and make plays at absolute top speed…has an understanding of offensive spacing and timing in regards to his passing…has a definite playmaking lean to his game and has the ability to execute tough passes while making them look easy…despite his driving offensive style and tempo, he doesn’t rush decisions with the puck and is fine to keep the biscuit to wait for a lane to open…is also great at making subtle moves with his head or stick to open up a small passing lane…protects the puck well considering his lack of size and length…does have a tendency to be a bit too fancy with the puck at times, resulting in unnecessary turnovers or missed medium-percentage chances…owns an above-average shot with a good release but can be accused of passing up shots from time to time…possesses strong offensive hockey sense and knows how to find space around the opposing net…his hard-driving and darting style sometimes leads to him taking big hits, even though he can take them as he’s built like a brick shithouse with a thick frame and low centre of gravity…his firm frame and strong skating base make him extremely tough to knock off the puck when he has it, making him a dangerous player off the cycle…despite his lack of height he likes to play to contact including throwing the odd bone-rattling check of his own…I don’t think you will ever confuse him with being a defensive specialist currently…defensive play would be an area that can use some work on his end but it’s not a super big weakness relative to other prospects in this draft thanks to his well above-average hockey sense…is willing to come back and defend his house when necessary and his up-tempo style translates fairly well off the puck…spent nearly the entire season alongside Rourke Chartier and Tyrell Goulbourne on Kelowna’s top line (48 of their final 62 regular season games) while also playing the powerplay…offensive production sputtered a bit while Chartier was away at World Junior Camp, which was a bit of a concern…despite being listed as a centre he spent the vast majority of the year playing right-wing…the 2013-14 WHL Rookie Of The Year…his brother Jay is a forward for the Swift Current Broncos… was an alternate captain and had 4 assists in 5 games at the 2014 Ivan Hlinka tournament…had a 1.47 PPG rate up until December 31st with that number falling to 1.00 PPG from that point until the end of the regular season…he led all first-year draft-eligible WHL forwards in primary assists with 45, and total points with 90…was 2nd to only Mathew Barzal in points-per-game among first-year draft-eligible WHL forwards…he either scored or assisted on 29.8% of all Kelowna Rocket regular season goals, the 4th highest mark of any first-year draft-eligible WHL forward…collected half of his assists on the powerplay…was his 0.64 even-strength PPG rate was T-6th among first-year draft-eligible WHL forwards…his 20 goals were good enough to be T-8th among all first-year draft-eligible WHL forwards…was the 9th overall pick in the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft by the Kelowna Rockets…overall I see Merkley as a legit top 15-20 talent despite his lack of an ideal frame and despite the fact that his offensive production was aided by the powerplay and great teammates…while I admit my 4th-ranked player Harkins has a more well-rounded game and would be a “safer” pick in the traditional sense, Merkley’s pure upside wins out on this list…he’s one of the better pure offensive player’s in the draft, has the grit and oomph to go with it while also possessing very few overall weaknesses…ultimately I think he probably projects more as a winger but the fact that he’s done both at the WHL level leaves his future NHL team with some options there…his look on the ice reminds me a lot of a guy like Bryan Little (although Little has more of a shoot-first mentality) and I wouldn’t be shocked if the two ended up having similar offensive totals once their careers are over…I think Merkley projects as a top 6 scorer who won’t be guilty of taking many shifts off and will come off the board sometime within the top 20 or 25 picks come June’s draft…
#4 Jansen Harkins
Team: Prince George Cougars
Player Analysis: Jansen Harkins is a smart playmaking centre for the Prince George Cougars…biggest strength is the way he thinks the game and subsequently sees the ice…displays an extremely mature understanding of how to make a difference in all zones…very strong positionally…his hockey smarts and length really show well in the defensive game giving him value as a potential top-end two-way centre at the next level…his hockey sense is matched by his willingness to work hard in all three zones…a blue collar type of forward although he could develop a bit more grit to his game regarding being tough to play against…could also stand to be stronger on his stick during 1 on 1 battles…excels when it comes to offensive timing, arriving at the right spots at the right times…ends up around the net very often, showing versatility in how he arrives there…is long and lean with his extensive reach helping aid him in playmaking…protects the puck well during the playmaking game and takes advantage of his long arms when it comes to putting pucks around or through defenders or under their sticks…is comfortable playing on his backhand…picks his spots when it comes to shooting but could probably stand to put more pucks on net…shot would be classified as only ok for me at this point…doesn’t seem to have the release or the power in his shot to beat goalies from overly deep distances as things stand right now…is definitely a pass-first player in the big scheme of things…skating is only slightly above average right now, despite decent fundamentals…has a long stride and a look like he has big feet and skinny legs, leading to a lack of immediate speed out of the gate…top speed is passable once he gets the engine running at full steam and it is surely good in open ice…footwork is a little clumsy and needs to be refined in tighter spaces…skating fundamentals aren’t a huge negative but he needs to improve his lower body co-ordination and edgework especially as he gets taller and heavier…currently lacks that separation gear that you like to see…with that being said, I think his skating would have stuck out far more at the World Under-18’s than it did, had it been a bigger concern…his father Todd played in the NHL and was listed at 6’3 so more growth should be expected…is the kind of player that really grows on you the more you watch him as you start to see the smart little subtleties he brings to the table…was used as the Cougars top centre this season while also being a key player on both the powerplay and penalty kill…spent 14 of their final 15 regular season games on a line with Chase Witala and Zach Pochiro…also had Brad Morrison on his wing fairly frequently this season…set a franchise record for assists this season with 59…would classify him as a bit more of a project than some of the other guys in the draft just due to the amount of height and weight that could still be on the way for him, mixed with his rather unrefined look at times…put up 6 points in 5 games at the Ivan Hlinka tournament in 2014 while also captaining Team Pacific at the World Under 17’s…can be seen as fairly raw but definitely had a strong year considering an apparent lack of pure offensive depth with the Cougars this year…showed a nice uptick in production as the year wore on with 1.05 PPG up until December 31st and a 1.17 PPG rate after that point…finished 2nd in primary assists among first-year draft-eligible forwards with 35, trailing only Nick Merkley who had 45…finished 2nd in points among all first-year draft-eligible WHL forwards, once again trailing only Merkley…had the 3rd best PPG rate among that same group of forwards, trailing Merkley and Mathew Barzal…registered 0.74 even-strength points-per-game this year, the 2nd highest mark of any first-year draft-eligible WHL forward…either scored or assisted on 36.24% of all Cougars goals during the regular season, the 3rd best mark among first-year draft-eligible WHL forwards this year…was T-8th in goals among all first-year draft-eligible WHL forwards with 20, with 16 of those coming at even-strength….was recognized as the Prince George Cougars MVP for the 2014-15 season…was the 2nd overall pick behind Mathew Barzal in the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft by the Prince George Cougars…his style of play regarding his skating, sense, defensive responsibility, playmaking lean and mature attitude remind me a lot of Paul Stastny…while I don’t think he has as high of offensive potential as the 3rd-ranked Nick Merkley does, I think he has more 200-foot tools, projects to play centre 100% (unlike Merkley) and has a more appealing frame…the 3-4 position on this list was one I went back and forth on frequently down the stretch this year, ending up as one of my toughest decisions overall…I think Harkins projects to be a complete second line centre who can play in any situation without hurting you, even though he might take 3-4 years to reach an NHL team’s bottom 6…I expect him to come off the board some time between the 15th and 25th selections in June and will offer a bucket full of value if for some wild reason he falls out of the 1st round…
#5 Jake DeBrusk
Team: Swift Current Broncos
Player Analysis: Jake DeBrusk is a pure goal-scoring winger for the Swift Current Broncos…owns a slightly hunched over skating stride, oddly similar to Montreal Canadiens 1st round pick Nikita Scherbak…skating has shown nice progression over the past calendar year…isn’t a super dynamic player but owns above-average top speed and fairly strong edges…despite good speed his acceleration is a tad clunky with his feet seeming a bit heavy at times, although I wouldn’t call it a major concern…clearly his biggest strength is his offensive hockey sense…owns elite-level offensive timing and finishing skill…arrives at the right spots at the right times…reads the play and is able to turn that into fantastic offensive spacing choices…is an absolute killer around the net and goes to the cage with immense regularity…is able to find loose pucks around the blue ice and finish plays off unlike any WHL player in this draft class...is strong on his stick around the net and couples that with fantastic body positioning around the crease…the way he finishes around the net reminds me a lot of guys like Brendan Gallagher and Joe Pavelski as they read the play well while also having both the desire and the skill to finish plays under duress…his wrist shot is hard and accurate with a very sharp release…has shown the ability to get his shot away off the rush while in mid-stride but can also lower his shoulder and drive it to the net…compliments his goal-scoring ability with smart playmaking skills…executes smart little chip plays when exiting his own zone…have seen him make some very impressive passes this year including touch passes in tight spots or saucing on the backhand…plays with smarts and his head up which often translates into smart little give and go plays when he’s given too much space…has seen time on the half-wall on the powerplay, allowing him to use his vision and shot to create offence…I have also seen him spend time in front of the net on the PP or down in the right corner so he can create on his forehand…owns some strong defensive instincts but play away from the puck remains a work in progress…have seen him watch the puck in his own zone at times and not be aware enough as would be ideal, but he did show strong improvement as the year went along…seems to do a lot of swooping around the defensive zone and would benefit for doing more stopping and starting…hockey sense translates defensively into the form of smart plays with his stick both in lifting opponents sticks and in unique stick angles to take away passing lanes…was trusted with more penalty killing time as the year went along but wasn’t on that unit in all viewings…defensive miscues are not for a lack of effort…owns a great motor and works hard…physical play exists but isn’t a huge part of his game but I have seen him connect on some big hits…had one viewing where he went to smoke a player but ended up getting the worst of it and landed hard on his ass, but it didn’t stop his motor the rest of the game and he continued to attack the opposition…his game has a lot of layers to it as he just does a lot of smart little things that can sometimes go unnoticed…is the rare player that has spent time at all three forward positions over the last couple of years but I like him best on the wing instead of the middle…was most commonly playing with either Glenn Gawdin or Colby Cave as his centreman this season…like with most of the top players on the Broncos the last few years, DeBrusk was given a mountain of minutes this year by head coach Mark Lamb…took a high and hard hit in game 3 of the playoffs this year, missing game 4 of the Broncos sweep at the hands of Regina…DeBrusk is the son of former NHL tough guy Louie DeBrusk…with that in mind I think he has more growth yet to come…just “looks” like a hockey player…a late 1996-born player…was remarkably consistent this season not only in my viewings but in his production…produced at over a point per game rate until Christmas but increased that to 1.24 PPG from January 1st up until the end of the year…led all first-time draft-eligible WHL forwards in goals with 42…finished 3rd among first-time draft-eligible WHL forwards in total regular season points…finished 4th among first-time draft-eligible WHL forwards in regular season points-per-game…was 6th among first-time draft-eligible WHL forwards in primary assists with 20…was involved in 36.45% of all Swift Current Broncos goals in the regular season, the 2nd highest mark of any first-time draft-eligible WHL forward trailing only Mathew Barzal…scored 18.69% of the Swift Current Broncos regular season goals, which was the highest mark of any first-time draft-eligible WHL forward…his mark of 0.68 even-strength PPG was the 4th best of any first-time draft-eligible WHL forward…his 26 even-strength goals in the regular season were tied for 1st among all first-time draft-eligible WHL forwards with Ryan Gropp also scoring 26 for Seattle…DeBrusk was only a 7th round selection of the Swift Current Broncos at the 2011 WHL Bantam Draft due to having a fairly small stature at the time…overall I see DeBrusk as a potential 1st round selection that I’m sure some teams have ranked as a top 20 guy…for me, he projects as a top 6 scoring winger with 30+ goal potential, but he will need to up his defensive intensity to carve out a bottom 6 role at the NHL level if his offence doesn’t translate fully…I expect DeBrusk to come off the board somewhere in the 25 to 35 range come draft day…
#6 Noah Juulsen
Team: Everett Silvertips
Player Analysis: Noah Juulsen is an engaging two-way blueliner for the Everett Silvertips…would not consider him to be an elite skater but he gets around well for his size, age and role…keeps his feet low as he uses his edges to push around the ice…has good speed but it will only improve as his base gets stronger…footwork is quite good and it allows him to have good east-west mobility when defending against the rush…above-average stride and skating allows him to manage his gaps well against the rush, too…possesses very good balance on his skates and that aids him greatly in the physical game…don’t see him being a major puck-rushing blueliner going forward so his skating shouldn’t need to get to an elite level for him to find pro success…handles an outlet pass well consistently…viewings showed some inconsistency with the completion of the tougher breakout passes but I don’t see it as a major area of concern overall…shows a willingness to delay and take a hit in order to execute an outlet while facing a forecheck…have also seen him use creative bounce passes off the walls to execute an outlet against pressure…was a regular powerplay contributor all season but I’m not sure I see him as a guy who will carve up the opposition with his passing game at that next level…receives a puck fairly well but his hands overall will need to be an area he shows improvement in…shoots the puck extremely hard and does a good job at getting it off…his shot is definitely the best aspect of his offensive game…has the potential to be a good trigger man on an NHL powerplay…his shot is heavy and the rebounds it creates generate 2nd and 3rd shot opportunities…is a physically mean player away from the puck…plays an aggressive style and has a willingness to lower the shoulder and make hits…doesn’t run around to lay the body but is a calculated body checker…really drives his shoulder through the opposition when hitting…isn’t an overly chippy or nasty player, aside from his willingness to throw powerful hits regularly…with that in mind he will be a scary piece of work once he gets up over 200 pounds…despite being listed at only 174 pounds he already strikes me as being a big and thick kid, obviously aided by his elite-level balance on his skates…his strong gap control and physical edge offer good compliments to his stick work, which is also an area of strength…does a good job taking away time and space in the defensive zone…does tend to go to his knees and stomach a bit much for my liking when defending around his crease, but he’s not alone in that regarding the entire Silvertips defensive group…competes hard away from the puck and doesn’t seem to take many shifts off…makes very good decisions both with and without the puck and projects well as a two-way defender given his fairly raw body and on-ice skillset…along with being a regular on the powerplay he was also a consistent penalty killer…played on the Silvertips top defensive pairing all season…was paired with Ben Betker for 60 of their games during the season based on my line tracking project…was a steady riser for me all year, starting by being ranked 20th on this list for me in October and ending up at 7 here at year-end…won the Everett Silvertips Most Dedicated Player Award this season due to his commitment to improvement both on and off the ice…while being an all-situation minute-muncher, he also showed arguably the most offensive progression of any draft-eligible blueliner in the WHL when compared to last season (he had only 10 points in 2013-14)…led all first-year draft-eligible WHL defenceman in primary assists this year with 21, four more than Ivan Provorov, Ryan Pilon and Brendan Guhle…was 4th in goals, 3rd in points, 3rd in PPG and 3rd in even-strength PPG (0.38) among first-year draft-eligible WHL blueliners…either scored or assisted on 23.01% of Everett’s goals during the regular season, the highest percentage among all first-year draft-eligible WHL defenders…he scored 4.42% of their goals, the 5th best mark among that same group of blueliners…was a 4th round pick of the Everett Silvertips in the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft…overall I think Juulsen is a player that some teams could have ranked as high as the late 1st round…ultimately I expect him to come off the board some time in the 2nd round, likely before pick 45…my player ranking formula shows him as a definite late-1st round calibre prospect if this were any other draft in the past 3-4 years…for me he projects as an above-average middle-pairing blueliner at the NHL level and a guy who will be able to play in any situation while being a threat to score as many as 15 goals due to his high-end slapshot…
#7 Paul Bittner
Team: Portland Winterhawks
Player Analysis: Paul Bittner is a big and rangy winger for the Portland Winterhawks… skates quite well for a player of his size, showing good growth in that area over the past two seasons…his stride is long but could use a bit more power in the way he uses his edges, especially in acceleration…footwork is still a bit clunky, especially his first few steps …skating fundamentals are quite good, though, when looking at the full picture…at full speed his stride has good length to it and his top speed is well above average for a player of his stature…possesses a fantastic shot…has a quick release with his wrister, also possessing that heavy quality that teams like to see…understands shooting lanes and angles and how to get in the proper shooting position against tight gaps or good sticks…isn’t shy about going to the front of the net to use his length to obstruct the goalies sight lines…is good at finishing plays from in tight despite his long limbs…while he has a shooters lean to his game he’s not afraid to make plays…his long arms help him find open lanes to dish the puck…passes the puck quick and doesn’t seem to over-think things when he has it on his tape…his arm length and lanky lower body also allows him to protect the puck well along the walls…is fantastic on the cycle and can generate chances in this manner…is strong on the rush but seems more like a set up and cycle type of offensive producer when projecting his game at the next level…felt that his hockey sense and positioning were standout features for him as a 16 year old but they haven’t been as prevalent or impressive the last couple of years…still plays a fairly complete game and isn’t afraid to block shots or do the little things defensively…defensively he could still stand to play with plenty more fire and assertiveness…doesn’t throw his weight around as much as one might expect or want to see from someone who is 6’4…have seen him take some big runs at smaller players but doesn’t always engage with guys closer to his weight class…has all the tools to take over a game but continues to leave me wanting a bit more, especially in the physicality department…isn’t your typical 6’4 power winger but still understands how to use his size and reach to his advantage although that consistency is a definite area of concern regarding his overall game…sitting at 204 pounds this year, I think his NHL playing weight will be somewhere around 215 or 220…will be extremely important that he maintains his quickness as he adds weight…is a late-1996 for the draft…spent much of the season alongside Nic Petan and Oliver Bjorkstrand on Portland’s top line, including 27 of their final 28 regular season games…was also a fixture on the powerplay with some penalty killing mixed in too…had a slow offensive start to this season but had a very productive second half as he had 0.82 PPG before December 31st and 1.33 PPG from January 1st until the end of the season…finished 2nd in regular season goals among first-time draft-eligible WHL forwards, trailing only Jake DeBrusk…his 71 regular season points were 4th best among all first-time draft-eligible WHL forwards while his point-per-game rate was 5th best…his even-strength points-per-game rate of 0.71 was 3rd best among all first-year draft-eligible WHL forwards while his 23 even-strength goals were also 3rd best among that group…finished 5th in primary assists among first-time draft-eligible WHL forwards with 21…was involved in 26.24% of all Winterhawks goals this season, good for 8th best among first-time draft-eligible WHL forwards…scored 12.93% of all Winterhawks goals this year, the 3rd highest percentage of any first-time draft-eligible WHL forward…he was never drafted into the WHL but was rather listed by Portland while playing high school hockey in Minnesota…overall I think he projects as a top 6 winger in the NHL, possessing a similar playing style to Max Pacioretty if all things go perfectly in his development…his length, size and decent smarts will allow him to be a solid bottom 6 winger if he doesn’t ever reach his top 6 potential…if his potential doesn’t get reached, his ceiling could end up more like an Eric Fehr style of player rather than a Pacioretty… I expect him to come off the board within the top 25 picks come June’s draft, possibly even ahead of guys like Merkley, Harkins and DeBrusk, despite me rating those three forwards higher and me having Bittner more as an early 2nd round type…
#8 Brandon Carlo
Team: Tri-City Americans
Player Analysis: Brandon Carlo is a towering and surprisingly smooth-skating blueliner for the Tri-City Americans…is a very good skater for someone in a 6’5 and nearly 200 pound frame…owns a powerful stride with decent footwork and strong side to side mobility…uses his impressive skating ability and range to cover a lot of ground defensively, possessing fairly good gap control in 1 on 1’s…is an imposing player with an impressive wingspan…has an edge to his game, does a lot of talking and uses his stick behind the play…isn’t overly physical on a shift to shift basis but will hit to hurt when necessary…could stand to increase the overall mean in his game as he has the size to handle himself when challenged…seems to pride himself in how he patrols his own zone…not afraid to use his mobility to get up the ice and help push the pace, although it’s not a consistent staple within his game…passes the puck hard and accurately…possesses a very hard slap shot when he gets it away…owns a hard wrister but his release could still use a bit of zip…has competent footwork while manning the offensive line, allowing himself to get open for shooting opportunities…while he has some raw tools offensively none of them are high-end and all need further refining if he wants to be any form of an offensive NHLer…puck management (handling it and receiving passes) are rather inconsistent but do exist at times…his stats do not reflect a potential 1st round selection, something that I expect him to be despite me ranking him more as a mid-2nd…his size and length give him a major advantage at this level so it’s important to remember that part of his game will be neutralized somewhat at the next level…his combination of size and mobility leads me to believe that he is more NHL-ready than a lot of players in this draft class…his skating style and size reminds me an awful lot of Colorado blueliner Erik Johnson, even though I don’t see him having that same offensive upside that Johnson does…saw time in the Americans top 4 all season, but rarely played alongside fellow draft-eligible defender Parker Wotherspoon…most consistent partners this season included Dylan Coghlan and Tyler Morrison…he was also counted on to play top penalty killing minutes while also seeing some time on a second powerplay unit at times…was a member of Team USA at this year’s World Juniors…is a late-1996 born player…was T-10th in points among first-year draft-eligible WHL defenders this year, also finishing 10th among that group in PPG rate…either scored or assisted on 15.05% of all Tri-City goals during the regular season, the 8th highest such mark among all first-year draft-eligible WHL defencemen…was a 10th round selection by the Tri-City Americans at the 2011 WHL Bantam Draft…overall I think with peak progression Carlo will be a 25-30 point blueliner in the NHL who kills penalties and plays with a bit of an edge, fitting in as an above-average #4 type on a playoff squad…if his offensive game fails to progress to that level, he will likely end up more as a bottom-pairing banger who can still anchor a penalty kill and handle a basic outlet…he was inside my top 5 WHL players for the entire season until I combined his on-ice production numbers with his scouting report via my ranking formula, which subsequently dropped him several spots…for me, while I rank him more as a middle of the 2nd round type of guy, I feel he is a very legit threat to be picked in the 20-30 range of the 1st round…while his offensive upside may not be as high as some of the guys ranked behind him on this list, I would classify him as one of the more safe selections from the WHL this year, in the classic use of that word…that “safe” classification is an area which helps give him that one spot edge over his teammate from Tri-City Parker Wotherspoon in this ranking…
#9 Parker Wotherspoon
Team: Tri-City Americans
Player Analysis: Parker Wotherspoon is a smooth-skating blueliner for the Tri-City Americans…owns an extremely powerful and composed stride…wouldn’t consider him to be an “effortless” skater, but it is close…his strong edges allow for quick acceleration and power, which in turn generate above-average top speed…owns good hip and foot action which aids him greatly in defending against the rush…backwards stride isn’t quite as powerful or dynamic as his forward stride and would be an area needing to show some growth to excel similarly at the next level…passes the puck hard and accurately on a consistent basis…does seem to force pucks into bad spots from time to time and does skate himself into trouble here and there…essentially, he could clean up some of his decision-making processes when the puck is on his tape…uses his good skating stride to push the pace and get up into the rush…receives a pass very well and can receive and shoot in the same motion…wrist shot is hard…is more of a puck mover than puck shooter but his shot is quite good especially due to his release…plays a rather smart and composed style on defence…strong stride aids him in his gap control…good footwork and stick placement allows him to excel both while defending the rush and the cycle…picks his spots well when it comes to when he engages physically…isn’t a crushing physical player but has shown a temper at times this year and isn’t afraid to drop the gloves when things get overly heated…I do wish he was a bit bigger as added length and mass would help add that extra dimension to his game, including making him harder to play against in general…overall consistency to his game, especially on the defensive side of the puck, is an area to improve…his game can be a tad “vanilla” at times, but I think that is partially due to just how well-rounded he is with no pure standout traits aside from his skating stride…was a regular both on the powerplay and penalty kill for the Americans this season…spent nearly the entire second half of the season on a defensive pairing with Justin Hamonic…his older (and larger) brother Tyler was a 2nd round pick of the Calgary Flames in 2011…a guy like Trevor Daley is probably not a bad comparable for Wotherspoon, at least style-wise…showed remarkable offensive consistency through the year by putting up 21 points in his first 36 games and 21 points in his next 36 games as he dressed in every one of the Americans 72 regular season games…finished T-6th among all first-year draft-eligible WHL defenceman in goals with 9 and also in primary assists with 15…his 42 points were 4th best among all first-year draft-eligible WHL defenders, as was his PPG rate…pushed the pace for his team, either scoring or assisting on 22.58% of all Americans goals during the regular season, the 2nd best percentage of any first-year draft-eligible WHL defenceman…scored 4.84% of their goals, trailing only Ethan Bear and Ivan Provorov in that area relative to each player’s own team…his even-strength PPG rate of 0.35 was 4th best among all first-year draft-eligible WHL defenders…was a 1st round pick, 21st overall, by the Tri-City Americans at the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft…overall I think that at his peak Wotherspoon projects as a middle pairing defender at the NHL level who shouldn’t be a liability in one particular area of the game…if his game doesn’t fully bloom to that level, he would be an ideal #6 style of defender due to his ability to move the puck and not be a complete liability on defence…all season I have felt I have valued him more than many of the “consensus” rankings out there so I’ll be intrigued to see when his name gets called…I expect him to come off the board some time before the middle of the 3rd round even though I likely value him more as a top 50 type of guy…
#10 Ryan Gropp
Team: Seattle Thunderbirds
Player Analysis: Ryan Gropp is a big goal scoring winger for the Seattle Thunderbirds…possesses a very good skating stride, especially for someone with his frame…has a driving stride with plenty of power in his legs…owns a very explosive first few strides aided by sharp and crisp edgework…is comfortable carrying the puck with speed and can often catch the defence standing still as he burns down the wing…is at his most effective when he gets a step on the opposition, lowers his shoulder and takes the puck to the crease off the rush…speed is balanced well by his ability to make smart give and go plays, keeping defenders guessing…when he’s on, the puck tends to follow him around the ice…possesses an NHL-ready shot…shot is heavy, hard and accurate…releases the puck in the blink of an eye…his elite shot allows him to score from distance, including using it as a weapon while playing the half-wall on the powerplay…has shown the ability to find holes in the offensive zone and get into a good shooting position…is definitely more of a shooter than passer but playmaking isn’t an area of weakness…sees the ice well and has solid offensive instincts in general…isn’t a bruising player but will get his nose dirty and work defensively…finishes his checks in a fairly consistent fashion…won’t go out of his way to throw his weight around but is good in that area when he decides to make contact…don’t think he will ever be a shutdown guy at the next level but he plays with a mature and smart approach defensively…fairly strong on his stick along the walls…is very much a north-south style of player who blasts up and down the wing and fires pucks on net…feel that his game is a tad one-dimensional in that sense, but the dimension is good considering both his speed and shot are NHL-ready traits…could stand to up his overall intensity level from time to time, an area that would absolutely be his biggest knock…have had concerns about his ability and actual willingness to truly “take over a game”…his increased production with Mathew Barzal out of the lineup was a big positive sign in that regard, though, as his totals increased by roughly 0.20 PPG during that 9-10 week stretch with Barzal out of the lineup with his knee injury…do also have a bit of concern with his lack of increasing production in the second half of the season (0.89 PPG before Jan. 1, 0.84 PPG after Jan. 1) although his 8 points in 6 playoff games did help ease that concern a bit…the fact that he’s nearly a year older than some prospects in this class is also a bit of a red flag considering his overall production trends…showed a minor increase in offensive production from last year to this season but nothing jaw-dropping, which is another slight concern…along with being a fixture on the powerplay he was also a regular on the penalty kill during my viewings…at even-strength he spent much of the season on Mathew Barzal’s left wing, but down the stretch he spent 12 of the Thunderbirds final 24 games on a line with Scott Eansor and Keegan Kolesar…his style really reminds me a lot of James Neal as they are both big guys who can skate and really wire a puck…was originally committed to attend the University of North Dakota but opted to leave the Penticton Vees to join the Thunderbirds in October 2013…is a late-1996 born player…his 30 goals were the 3rd highest mark among first-year draft-eligible WHL forwards while his 58 points were 6th best…he scored 26 goals at even-strength during the regular season, tied for best (with Jake DeBrusk) of any first-year draft-eligible WHL forward…his point-per-game rate was the 7th highest mark among all first-year draft-eligible WHL forwards…he scored 14.71% of all Thunderbirds goals this season, which was the 2nd best mark of any first-year draft-eligible WHL forward, trailing only DeBrusk…either scored or assisted on 28.43% of all Seattle’s goals this year, the 5th highest mark of any first-year draft-eligible WHL forward…his even-strength PPG rate of 0.66 was 5th best among first-year draft-eligible WHL forwards…was the 6th overall pick at the 2011 WHL Bantam Draft by Seattle…overall at his peak projection I see Gropp as a scoring top 6 winger and a guy who has the skillset to be a 25 or 30 goal scorer at the NHL level despite the general concerns mentioned…with that being said, I also consider him to be a good prospect because I feel he could be molded into a serviceable bottom 6 guy on a great team, while still possessing decent scoring tools in that role…I expect him to come off the board starting sometime in the late 2nd round and be gone by the time the draft reaches pick 75 or 80…