2014 Draft Eligibles: WHL Preliminary Top 10

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There are 33 WHL skaters and 2 goaltenders listed on the NHL Central Scouting North American “Ones to Watch” list. On the list, players are classified as A, B, or C skaters respectively. Seven players from the WHL were listed as “A” skaters and all seven of those are on my list including potential number one overall pick Sam Reinhart. According to the WHL’s website, 20% of all players who played in the NHL last season played juniors in the WHL. A total of 33 WHL players were selected in the 2013 NHL Draft, including eight in the first round. 2014 is shaping up to be another banner year for the “Dub” in terms of prospects. I believe as many as 8-10 players could be first round selections come June.

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1. Sam Reinhart (C) Kootenay Ice

The Vancouver native is in his third season with the financially downtrodden Kootenay Ice, but that has not deterred him from being a top prospect for the 2014 NHL Draft. He led the Ice in scoring last season with 35 goals and 85 points and helped them reached the playoffs for the 15th consecutive year. He’s the most talented offensive player in this year’s draft class and he dominates in all facets of the game. His superb hockey intelligence and leadership on the ice stick out to me. His hands and skating are excellent and he’s tough to keep in check on the ice. Reinhart was captain of Team Canada team that won gold at the 2012 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament last summer, and he also wore the “C” for Canada’s at the 2013 IIHF World Under-18 championship that won gold as well.

At the U-18’s, Reinhart posted three goals, seven points and a plus-7 playing on a line with Calgary Flames first rounder Morgan Klimchuk and 2015 draft-eligible phenom Connor McDavid. Sam comes from a good hockey pedigree as his brothers Max and Griffin were taken by the Calgary Flames in the third round of the 2010 draft and fourth overall by the New York Islanders last year respectively. Their father, Paul, was taken 12th overall by the Atlanta Flames in 1979. Barring any injuries or setbacks, I expect Reinhart to be either the number one or two overall selection come June.

2. Leon Draisaitl (LW) Prince Albert Raiders

Nicknamed the “German Gretzky” by many, Leon Draisaitl came to Prince Albert last year and made quite a first impression. He averaged nearly a point-per game last season in his first full year in North America. Draisaitl had 21 goals and 37 assists for 58 points last season. He’s a blend of size and skill. He may not seem that big standing only at 6’2, 178 pounds, but his power comes from his will and determination on the ice. Rarely does he let opponents impose themselves upon him. He has quick hands and good shot, but could still work on his skating. He projects to be a top 2 forward in the NHL and I expect to hear his name called early next June.

3. Jake Virtanen (RW) Calgary Hitmen

I haven’t seen such polarizing opinions on a player like Jake Virtanen for quite along time now. Virtanen was the number one overall selection in the 2011 WHL Bantam Draft, and he finally started come into his own last season in Calgary. He only registered a mere 34 points in 62 games played, but there is no question that Jake possesses incredible skill. He can beat defenders with his skating, and his size at 6’1, 213 pounds makes next to impossible to defend. He has a hard and heavy shot that can beat goalies from the outside, but also has the soft hands to make plays in tight. The knock on Virtanen is that his hockey IQ is just not there yet. He will be a sought after commodity come June because of his size and booming shot, but if there is any player who needs to make an impact this year it’s Virtanen. If he does, he’ll be in consideration to go top 5. If not, he may not see his name called until the second or third round.

4. Haydn Fleury (D) Red Deer Rebels

Haydn Fleury is a gifted two-way defenseman. He’s an excellent skater and uses his speed to jump in on the attack and become a threat offensively. He has great passing skills and cannon for a shot. Fleury can also play the shutdown role effectively when called upon. I love his size at 6’3, 207 pounds. Although, I wish he would show a bit more of a nastier side like former Red Deer Rebel defenders Dion Phaneuf and Matt Dumba. Despite that he should go somewhere in the 10-15 range.

5. Brycen Martin (D) Swift Current Broncos

He’s a bit more of a project than Haydn Fleury and he actually may not be the best defender on his own team. (See No.7 on my list). Despite that, Brycen Martin should be one of top defenseman in all of the WHL this season. He’s a big kid, who is smart with and without the puck. He skates fairly well and can play both the powerplay and penalty kill. He’s a top 60 pick no doubt, but could sneak into the late first round if he has a stellar year.

6. Chase De Leo (C) Portland Winterhawks

Chase De Leo’s first love growing up was actually baseball and not hockey. Not surprising, for a kid who grew up in southern California just outside Los Angeles. De Leo was somewhat forgotten last year in Portland due to the hype surrounding Seth Jones, Ty Rattie, Brenden Leipsic, Nic Petan, Troy Rutkowski, and Oliver Bjorkstrand. De Leo posted 18 goals, 38 assists for 56 points in 71 games played last year and was Portland’s best player in the Memorial Cup last season. He’s spent the last two seasons playing a third-line role for the Winterhawks, but I expect him to take on a bigger role this season alongside talented wingers. De Leo is a gritty, offensively talented centerman, who plays bigger than his frame indicates. He stands at 5’10 and 175 pounds but is an absolute bulldog on the ice. De Leo should go somewhere in the late-first round.

7. Julius Honka (D) Swift Current Broncos

Not much is known about Julius Honka, since he’s beginning his first season in the WHL with Swift Current. The 5’11, 175 pound defender was the 34th overall pick in the 2013 CHL Import Draft. So far, so good for Honka as he currently tied for first in WHL rookie scoring. Honka netted 6 points over his two games, scoring one goal and five assists with a +4 rating earning him WHL player of the week honors. He’s a great skater who has a smooth stride, and possesses outstanding puck handling skills. He plays with grit too. I don’t know exactly where he’ll land for the draft but just remember the name. He could be one of these guys we see who rises throughout the season. He compares to Kimmo Timonen.

8.  Brayden Point (C) Moose Jaw Warriors

The 2012-13 season was Brayden Point’s rookie season in the WHL. In 67 games, he scored 24 goals and dished out 33 assists for 57 points. Not too shabby at all. However, Point needs to show scouts that his small stature won’t be a deterrent at the NHL level. He’s listed as 5’9, 160 points on Moose Jaw’s website, but he’s more like 5’6, 147 pounds if you ask me. In spite of all questions surrounding his size, he should be one the league’s top scorers this upcoming season. He’s a quick skater with good hands. There are some questions about his all-around play though. I feel like Point will fall in the draft due to concerns about his size.

9. Jayce Hawryluk (C) Brandon Wheat Kings

The Roblin, MB native had 18 goals and 25 assists for 43 points in his rookie season with the Wheat Kings. He’s not the biggest guy at 5’10, 190 pounds, but he’s a hard working player who has outstanding hands. He’s gritty, physical, and can be downright nasty. He’s my darkhorse player out of the WHL for this draft.

10. Connor Bleackley (C) Red Deer Rebels

He was the 21st overall selection in the 2011 WHL Bantam Draft and he’s the most skilled forward to come through Red Deer since Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. I really like this kid a lot. He’s a dangerous center who is accomplished in all three zones. He has pretty slick hands, a great shot, and plays with grit. He’s a cross between Ryan O’Reilly and Milan Lucic. He’s a fine talent who has the potential to be a star.

*This list is subject to change as the year progresses.