By Tyler Campbell 11/14/19
It’s time to take another look at the 2020 draft-eligible prospects from the Western Hockey League. Quite a bit of movement from my pre-season (pre Hlinka/Gretzky really) rankings. Added to the top 10 are 6 honourable mentions. Why 6 you may ask? The number is 6 because I also include 3 kids out of the AJHL which I’m high on and 1 out of the BCHL. That makes 20. So I’m giving you 20 write-ups for the price of NONE! Can’t beat that deal!
It isn’t a great year for the WHL. Nobody to this point is truly separating from the pack. But, while the league lacks the high-end guys that the OHL does, and the superstar the QMJHL has, it at least matches those leagues, and maybe even surpasses them in depth. I’m not sure we’ll see a WHL kid go in the top 10, maybe not even in the top 15! But from 16 to 50, I believe (at least at this point) we’ll see a big run on Western kids.
So here we go with number one, and at the moment for myself personally, it isn’t all that close of a race for the top spot.
Previous Rank: #1
So if I’m saying off the top “nobody is really separating from the pack”, what then makes Guhle (still) the top guy on my list? Upside. And I’ve maintained this entire time that the upside on Guhle is off the charts. Right now, I see Guhle as a potential Jacob Slavin type. Not a big contributor offensively, but a terrific skater, moves the puck well, and a terrific pure defender (angles, stick, and positioning are all very advanced for a player in his 17 year old season). Added to all that, Guhle has a lot of physicality in his game which a guy like Slavin doesn’t. Not to compare his style to Slavin, but if you’re drafting Guhle I believe that is the type of D-man he can realistically become. If the offensive game comes though (and there are signs that it is developing), the sky is the limit.
Previous Rank: #6
In my pre-season rankings, I had Zary 6th, mostly due to playing it safe. He was the 37th pick in his bantam draft, so he had very little fanfare. However, It’s become pretty clear that he indeed is for real. His 17 year old season nearly matched Kirby Dach‘s, who of course went 3rd overall last season and has stuck with the Blackhawks this season. Comparing the two, Zary has a better 200-foot game. But, Zary isn’t just putting up great numbers, he is also a coach’s dream. A player who can be placed in any role and thrive. The skating isn’t concerning, but it is likely the key area he’ll need to improve as he continues to develop. One other concern to keep an eye on: half of the production thus far has been on the powerplay.
Previous Rank: #2
Sourdif slips a spot in my rankings, and he is off to a slower start than most believed he’d have, but having said this I am still pretty confident in his ability to reclaim one of the top two spots by June on this list. Sourdif has good edge work, a really good first step, but his top-end speed could use a little work, which I wonder if that is just a lack of lower body strength at this point. Someone who looks as though he has the frame to get up to 190-200 lbs currently being only 165, that is very possible. It’s funny, many will tell you his playmaking is better than his numbers suggest. I know that’s what I’ve seen with him, but it has yet to play out that way. What perhaps hurts his assist totals is the poor Giants powerplay which currently sits 19th in the league at 13.8%. Sourdif actually has just one less point 5 on 5 than Connor Zary. Another thing I really like with Sourdif is his willingness to get his nose dirty. Might end up as a winger in the pros, but I do believe as of writing this that he is a true centre.
Previous Rank: #4
Off to a really good start this season and I often talk about the “glut” of wingers in this draft. Jarvis is included in that group. It can also be argued that Sourdif should be too, and I have no problem with that. For me, Sourdif‘s ability to play the middle slightly separates him from those prospects including Jarvis. Listed at 5’10“, and only 172lbs, Jarvis is very willing to engage in the battle and play in the tough areas. I love kids who have a little gamesmanship and Jarvis brings that to the table as well. But his calling card is his blend of speed and skill, and while I wouldn’t go as far as to say both are a elite, both are really high end.
Previous Rank: #5
In the most recent episode of The OilKnight Round Table, we talked about the motor that Ozzie Wiesblatt has which is my favourite quality about the Calgary native. You are getting a max effort every shift from a kid who skates well, isn’t tall but he’s pretty thick, shows no fear of going to all the dirty area’s on the ice, will throw his weight around and will play in your face all game long. Combine that with really good skating ability and a high IQ, and Wiesblatt just feels like a kid who will be a very safe pick for any team that drafts him.
Previous Rank: #7
I’m still not AS high on Neighbours as some are. That’s not to say I don’t like him, I do. But the skating does concern me a little, and he doesn’t get the pass some would for concerning skating from me because he’s already mostly filled out. Hovering around 200lbs, it’s tough to suggest that his lower body strength will improve to gain more power in his stride. It isn’t as though he needs to improve his skating by leaps and bounds to make it, but he needs to improve it quite a bit to become a top-six forward. The IQ though is impressive with Neighbours. He’s an extremely intelligent player, coupled with good hands, and good vision. I won’t lie though, for me it is a concern that everything other than his IQ I just view as good, not great.
Previous Rank: unranked
The WHL rookie is tearing it up right now for the Memorial Cup hosts. Larry Fisher (@LarryFisher_KDC) who watches Kelowna on a nightly basis had this to say on our podcast: “He’s a real offensive catalyst. He thinks attack when he gets the puck, he’s always looking to attack.” One thing I read in the summer prior to his arrival in Kelowna, was that his skating was a concern. But I haven’t seen it being an issue (or if it was, it improved a lot over the summer). One thing I don’t love with Novak is the fact that slightly over half of his production has come on the powerplay (as you can figure out by now, I put a lot of stock into even-strength scoring). But this kid has really impressed thus far and given that he’s still likely getting adjusted to life in North America, his game may only get better from here.
Previous Rank: #3
A bit of a disappointing start for me to McClennon’s season. Not just the 16 points, but half of that production is with the man advantage. And this Ice team is near as bad as last years group was. They don’t have Vegas 1st rounder Peyton Krebs back yet, but Michal Teply, 2021 draft-eligible Carson Lambos is putting up big numbers on the blueline (keep an eye on him for next season, an 03 who is putting up numbers that would have people buzzing if he were an 02 draft-eligible D-man), and I’ve just frankly expected more. Undersized, but has a lot of weight and strength still to be put on. He is never going to cheat you with his compete level, and his speed and skill is as good or better than any of the draft eligibles out of the dub, but it’s just been an underwhelming start. Obviously lots of time for the kid from my neck of the woods to turn it around though.
Previous Rank: unranked
I fully admit it was a mistake to have Schneider as an honourable mention the last time around. I got too caught up in other kids upside and while I don’t like being “hot take guy”, that came off very “hot takey” in hindsight. Not to say that I’m as high on him as most others seem to be, because I’m still not. But I went overboard. Schneider is a very safe pick. Is the offensive production ever going to come? I have my doubts. But he’s a very good skater who makes a great outlet pass. You’d think that would translate to more points (though in fairness, the Wheat Kings have struggled the last few seasons). The guy Schneider reminds me of a lot is Travis Hamonic, who isn’t a point producer in the NHL but was a terrific top four defenceman during his time with the Islanders and able to log all the tough minutes. Right shot, good size, plays a safe and physical game, plays for the Wheat Kings, you can see why the Hamonic comparison would come to mind for me. And like so many of the WHL kids this season, I understand why so many have him higher, but I’m a tough grader on over-agers and believe we should be seeing more out of Schneider. But again, very safe pick here, just not a big upside.
Previous Rank: unranked
The son of former NHL defenceman Jeff Finley. Obviously the size is the first thing you notice about Finley (6’5″, 205 lbs), but his skating ability is terrific for a kid with his size. Finley has been placed in a shutdown role in Spokane so to put up the numbers he has while seeing some very tough minutes is impressive. Add to that only 4 of the points have come with the man advantage, and he is one of the youngest players in the 2020 draft. There is a lot to like with Finley and I could see a lot of teams getting hot and bothered by his upside before we get to late June.
Previous Rank: #9
I don’t know what I can add from my last write up that I don’t want to say about Greig now. But I’ll re-interate that he has a lot of weight still to be put onto that frame, and with the weight could come the strength that he needs. He plays a very understated game. He seems to be a very coachable kid which was evident at the Hlinka. Will he ever become a 1st or 2nd line centre in the NHL? Unlikely. You know who he reminds me of a BIT is Anthony Cirelli in his draft year. A lot of similarities, and obviously if he were to pan out the way Cirelli has it would be a home run of a pick. But that is the upside.
Previous Rank: not ranked
I can’t wait for Corey Pronman to make “Gut-check” jokes when writing about the Silvertips forward this season…A lot to like about Gut. A good skater who is a very responsible 200-foot player. One thing I like about him from a production point of view is again the lack of it coming on the power play as just 3 of his 11 points have come with the man advantage. He’s not tearing it up by any means but putting up very respectable numbers thus far. With any European rookies in the CHL, I give them more time to get adjusted to life in North America. Perhaps he starts to really pop as the season goes on.
Previous Rank: #10
Hunt falls out of my top 10 this time around but is still very much in the discussion. He is nothing flashy, and it’ll be difficult for the Brandon native to get a lot of attention (barring his numbers going way up) leading up to the draft. But he defends very well (stick, angles, positioning are all strong) and moves the puck well too. The skating is a LITTLE concerning. He can make it with how it’s progressing to this point, but he could stand to add an extra gear.
Previous Rank: unranked
A pun lover’s dream. If Simon gives draft junkies any glimmer of hope to be a high pick this season all we are going to hear about is what he has a Knak for…although I’ve heard his name pronounced ck-nak, so perhaps it’s all for not. Regardless, this is a kid who I know has had SPR’s eye for over a year now. He’s had good numbers in the WHL thus far but hasn’t truly impressed to this point to make the jump into my top 10. Again, I have a lot of time for European’s in their first season in the CHL as they need time to adjust to such a massive lifestyle and game change. Knak does appear to have a very good all-around game.
Previous Rank: unranked
The first thing jumps out at you about Puutio is his skating. He’s a right shot D-man who moves the puck really well and has great skating ability so he is someone I’m going to be pretty intrigued by. Again, I look to give European’s playing their first year in the CHL more time to adjust, so he may only be scratching the surface at this point. It’s a rebuilding Swift Current club, so he will get a little bit of a break on his point totals as we move forward as well.
Previous Rank: #8
Truthfully, he only gets an honourable mention because he was on my initial top 10 list. A disappointing start to the season for Seeley, at least for me. I was anticipating a big jump in his game offensively and it simply hasn’t happened for the Yellowknife born, Olds Alberta raised Seeley (had to work that in somewhere to clarify). Still, the skating ability remains, the puck-moving ability remains, he’s not an undersized kid by today’s standards, and therefore he’d be an intriguing kid to take late in the draft at this point. There is a lot of season to go and still a great opportunity for Seeley to rocket up my rankings, but it is imperative he gets going here soon.
What stands out about Benning is his skating ability. Lately, the stats have started to come to go along with that skating ability. His PPG at the moment as a 17 yr old is better than Cale Makar‘s in Makar’s 18 year old season. Another thing to keep in mind is that Benning‘s goal totals at the moment aren’t at the same rate Makar‘s were, and simply put I do not believe Benning is as good as Makar was. But the PPG numbers combined with the skating suggest Benning should be getting more attention than he is. Makar plays highly dynamic where Benning plays more cerebral. A good comparison might be Jared Spurgeon. Not a ton of flash, not always jumping in the play, but extremely intelligent. If I were to have him ranked with the WHL kids, I’d put Benning 4th, but could make the case for him as high as 2nd.
So far this season, Savoie has done nothing to discredit my pre-season ranking of him being 24th on my top 32 overall. Too ambitious? It may have been. I can be guilty of that and am never afraid to say so. But we’re talking about a kid in a quality league putting up 2 points per game, and over a goal per game. He gets overshadowed a bit by his teammate and good friend Michael Benning, but the fact of the matter is both these kids are putting up insanely good numbers in the AJHL right now and at least in the conversation to be a late 1st round pick (which in this draft can also mean that he doesn’t go until 62). He’s a sniper with a terrific shot, but who is also very willing to play in traffic and go to the dirty areas. He has an edge in his game that will serve him well moving forward. If I were to rank him with the WHL kids, I’d likely have Savoie 6th (I guess 7th if both he and Benning were in there).
Edwards isn’t a kid who I’d anticipate going in the top 100 in the draft, and it is probably more likely at this point that he doesn’t get drafted. So why am I discussing him? In my viewings, I see a kid who could really develop in the next few seasons and in my opinion would be worth using a late pick on. Ironically, Edwards grew up with Benning and Savoie in St. Albert (despite being listed from GP). Their bantam AAA team featured these three, Savoie’s younger brother Matthew (who as most of you know has a lot of people pumped for the 2022 draft along with Shane Wright and Brad Lambert), and a total of 12 players who are now playing either in the WHL, BCHL or AJHL (and will move to 13 once Matthew Savoie is eligible for full-time duty with the Winnipeg Ice). Anyway, Edwards is every bit as good of a skater as Benning is. The size will be a concern, and the numbers don’t jump off the page at this point. But he’s a Michigan commit and will not be playing for big blue until the 21-22 season, meaning that a team who potentially drafts Edwards would have up to four seasons to allow him to develop before a decision is needed to be made on him. Talented, going to a great program, and a lot of development time is a recipe for a late-round steal.
Property of the Kelowna Rockets, Bowen passed up the Memorial Cup hosts in favour of heading to North Dakota beginning next fall. I wouldn’t say Bowen is a poor skater, but he lacks power in his stride. Obviously, at 6’2 and only 170lbs, that should come as he puts more weight on his frame. I won’t pretend to know a ton about Bowen, but he has been on my radar all season and I have made a point to check out a few Chilliwack Chiefs games on Hockey TV the last few weeks. He’s a cerebral player. He’s not a player who is going to wow you with a dynamic game. Similar to Ridly Greig in the frame, lack of strength, and intelligent style of play.
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