Last year was my first season really getting into the WHL and following it on a day to day, in depth basis. It was an exciting time, but this year my excitement is ten-fold what it was then. I’ve always had an interest in following prospects in hockey, but that interest has grown leaps and bounds now that I’ve been part of the scouting community the last year and a half.
The WHL is a great place to watch young hockey players grow and mature and this coming season is going to be an exciting one with the 2012 draft approaching. It’s considered one of the deepest drafts in recent years and it should make for great hockey.
With all that being said, I’ve done up a list of some players that I can’t wait to watch during the 2011-2012 WHL season.
Shane McColgan – Kelowna Rockets – The dynamic winger never quite reached his goal of being a high draft pick in the 2011 NHL draft, sliding into the 5th round. That fall, despite the fact that he lit up the WHL playoffs last year with 19 points in 10 games. The Rangers happily grabbed him and he looks to be using that slide as motivation. A strong showing so far this fall in both Rockets and Rangers training camp has me looking for more from McColgan and I think he has more to offer. He’s clearly more mature, bigger and more dynamic this time around and an improvement on his 65 points from last year’s regular season is clearly on the horizon.
Curtis Lazar – Edmonton Oil Kings – The 2nd overall pick in the 2010 WHL bantam draft has great drive and a great skillset for the western league. I expect the 16 year old to be a frontrunner for the WHL’s rookie of the year honour’s when all is said and done after this season. He’s a great skater, plays with grit, has a great shot and isn’t afraid to set up or finish. He simply does it all. With the Oil Kings large group of talented offensive players, the sky is the limit for what the 2013 eligible can do this year and beyond.
Eric Comrie – Tri City Americans – I’m not sure any young WHL goalie has faced the kind of expectations recently that Comrie is set to face this season. That’s because the Americans went out and traded their two headed goaltending monster from last season as Drew Owlsey was sent to Prince George and Chris Driedger headed to Calgary. That leaves the majority of the starts on the 16 year old Comrie. He’s big, he’s athletic and he’s been compared to a young Carey Prince. The entire hockey world should be watching to see how he handles the task.
Griffin Reinhart – Edmonton Oil Kings – Opinions vary on this big and smooth skating blueliner for the Oil Kings. Some see him as a potential Chris Pronger 2.0, others expectations are much lower. The simple fact is that the league hasn’t seen a 16 year old (when he came into the league last year) with Reinhart’s size and skill package in quite some time. The now 17 year old is going to have to go out and prove that his skating will continue to improve and that his offensive totals were not a fluke last season. With a strong season, his future potential might be enough to vault him to the top of the pile in 2012. He’ll be faced with a large number of challenges this season, including facing top offensive groupings game in and game out. Pull up your socks big Griff, it’s sink or swim time.
Alex Forsberg – Prince George Cougars – Now is the time for the 1st overall choice in the 2010 WHL bantam draft to prove his worth. A young Forsberg has faced challenges since his draft day, including dealing with injuries off and on all of last season. The down year offensively has left some people questioning whether the Cougars made the right choice at the 2010 draft. He’s come to camp in Prince George bigger, stronger and looking to compete hard in a top 6 roster spot. I have the Cougars pegged as a darkhorse out west and for that to come true, Forsberg is truly going to have to show that he’s a gamer and that he’s here to play.
Matt Dumba – Red Deer Rebels – Dumba will be one of the most watched draft eligible players of the season this coming year. The explosive rear guard has drawn comparisons to PK Subban and Dion Phaneuf, and it’s all for good reason. He’s fast, he hits hard, he’s got great offensive instincts and he’s a leader. Dumba headlined the blueline for Team Canada this summer at the Ivan Hlinka tournament and it was clear that he is near the top of the pile in regards to prospects. A top 10 spot in the draft could be his for the taking and he will be counted on bigtime in Red Deer, especially if teammate Ryan Nugent-Hopkins sticks with the Edmonton Oilers (which I expect to have happen).
Ayrton Nikkel – Brandon Wheat Kings – Nikkel is a guy that the average junior hockey fan probably doesn’t know, but you should. The defenceman was the centerpiece of the trade that sent star centre Brayden Schenn from Brandon to the Saskatoon Blades last season. He looks to be a rock solid player in the making. The Wheaties defensive situation will hurt Nikkel’s cause, as 7 defenceman are returning from last year’s club. With that being said, this kid is good enough to force them to make room for him. He’s aggressive, hits hard and isn’t afraid to get involved in the offence. If he can find consistent minutes, he will find a big following from hockey media from coast to coast.
Brendan Gallagher – Vancouver Giants – The small and feisty forward finished 8th in WHL scoring last year as an 18 year old with 91 points in 66 games. I’m expecting those numbers to go nowhere but up as he has another year of experience under his belt. The Montreal Canadiens draft pick can compete hard in his own zone and score a highlight reel goal at the other end. Those types of moments make Gallagher one of the top players to watch in the 2011-2012 WHL season.
Hunter Shinkaruk – Medicine Hat Tigers – Many questions surround how the Tigers roster will shape up, but a couple things are certain. The team will be good, again and they will score a ton of goals, again. Once again, a big chunk of that offence will come from young forward Hunter Shinkaruk, who put on a show as part of Team Canada’s entry into the Ivan Hlinka Tournament. The once diminutive forward is also a few inches taller and noticeably stronger than he was at this time last year. Despite being 17 year’s old this season, his draft year isn’t until 2013. He’ll have plenty of time to showcase his skillset, which is surely one you don’t want to miss out on.
Victor Rask – Calgary Hitmen – Calgary was laughably bad last season. They turned that lack of success into a 3rd overall pick in the CHL import draft, where they selected Swedish star Victor Rask. According to various reports, the big Carolina Hurricanes draft pick is committed to staying in North America. With that being said, he’s also AHL eligible. Is he ready for a pro league on this continent? WHL watchers better hope not as this kid is big, skilled and very offensively talented. If he plays with Calgary this year, he will be the driving force for their push for the postseason and he will also be a strong contender for rookie of the year.