By Tyler Campbell 02/25/2020
The first year that I attempt to focus on just the WHL solely, and I get about the worst possible year to rank their kids! Nobody is pulling away for me in this race and we are splitting hairs with so many of these kids. Guhle vs Schneider, Zary vs Finley, Wiesblatt vs Neighbours, anyone can rank these kids in pretty much any order and I’m not going to put up much of a fight. Which means the guy doing the rankings better put a HECK of a lot of time into research and going over everything with a fine-tooth comb (which is one reason I’m so late in getting this list out). This is what I’ve done, but it’s frustrating because I might look back at this in two weeks and start kicking myself and I don’t just give myself love taps, I kick hard!! It’s crazy.
I won’t be the least bit surprised if there are no WHL kids who go in the top 15 of the draft. All the top kids in this year’s class have noticeable warts. Having said that, I believe there are nine kids as of writing this who could then go in the 15-40 range. You can make a legitimate case for any of the kids I have ranked 1-6 here being the top WHL draft prospect right now and I truly mean this that the gap from 1 all the way down to 14 is very small, so the depth here is just crazy.
I’ve decided to give you a top 20 this time around…just because I’m THAT good of a person. Added to that are 6 honourable mentions, and 4 more kids playing Tier II junior out west to bring the total to 30 players in the rankings this time around. I’m like the Oprah of the WHL. Souprah.
Previous Rank: 1
Kaiden Guhle remains number one for me yet again, though this is getting even tighter. I’ll tell you the one thing that drives me nuts this season though is anyone trying to make the case that Braden Schneider is a better prospect than him. By no measure (in my opinion) is Schneider better than Guhle. They are such similar defencemen, but Guhle is a better skater, not nearly as filled out at this point, just as physical, and a draft year younger. You’re talking about a big, physical, terrific skating defenceman who is miserable to play against in his own zone and moves the puck well.
When you’re looking at his defensive game specifically, there isn’t anything I dislike. Positioning, angling, stick, zone entries, and puck retrievals are all high end for a draft eligible defenceman. He reminds me a lot of two different defencemen: Darnell Nurse and Brent Seabrook. Both guys never put up big offensive numbers in their draft years and yet one was a cornerstone for a three time Cup winner and the other is a 25 year old, top four defenceman, who just got 5.6 million per season. Pretty good company.
If you’re looking at the here and now with Guhle, maybe you’re not as high on him. But I believe his upside is ridiculous. This kid has all the tools (and I consider IQ and work ethic in those tools) to become a terrific defenceman in the show someday.
Previous Rank: 4
The most skilled player to come out of this year’s WHL crop, Seth Jarvis checks in at #2 this time around, barely edged out for 1st by Guhle for me. All season I talked about how Jarvis is in that group of kids who could be ranked anywhere from 3rd to 9th for me, and I had him as the top kid in that group the last time around, but now Jarvis is starting to separate from that group. Skating, IQ, vision, compete are all very solid, but it’s the hands which are perhaps what I like about his game the most.
There are a lot of players which Jarvis reminds me of. A bit of Jordan Eberle, a bit of Brendan Gallagher, a bit of Nik Ehlers, all players who are undersized, but all players who have a different skill set.
Jarvis needs to improve his play away from the puck, but it’s not any worse than most kids his age. He’ll fly the zone quite a bit but that’ll likely be coached out of him in time. He’s not on the top of my list this time around, but if he continues trending how he has of late, I can’t imagine I’d have anyone higher than him the next time around.
Previous Rank: 10
Finley takes a very big jump up my rankings. I’m well aware that many won’t agree with this, and that’s fine. This is how I feel right now, and just hear out my POV on this. Obviously the tool kit stands out. He’s not just 6’5, he’s not just 207 lbs, he’s a good skater who is putting up impressive numbers when you factor in that he’s been seeing a ton of tough minutes in Spokane. His season is actually greatly replicating the season Ryan Johansen had in his draft year, and it took scouts a while that season until they started to really recognize Johansen. Finley is a kid who to me looks like a sure thing to play in the league, but the upside is still there.
Of course, the one guy most noticeable who I’m ranking behind Finley is Connor Zary. When I break down Finley v Zary, I have all the edges other than raw point totals going to Finley. Even strength scoring however, Finley is better PPG (0.78) than Zary (0.76). If Finley were the one playing with Zane Franklin and Orrin Centazzo (shout out to my fellow Marwayne Wildcats…) then would his numbers resemble Zary’s? In my opinion, they’d be as good or better. Is Finley going to make a lot of highlight reels? No. He’s not overly dynamic. Luckily for Finley, I’m not big on players being dynamic. Being intelligent and constantly on the right side of the puck isn’t sexy, but production is production.
Previous Rank: 2
The work ethic and the IQ really stand out when you watch Connor Zary play and as I’ve said before the guy is a coach’s dream. You can put him in any situation and he’s going to thrive. My buddy Larry Fisher compares him with Bo Horvat and it really is a spot-on comparison. I’d say you’re at least getting a Jarret Stoll type with Zary (who was similar to Horvat but simply didn’t sustain the offensive production Horvat has and will). Captain material. He simply does everything very well.
However, that can be viewed as a negative too, as a fellow contributor to the OilKnight.ca pointed out (I won’t say who, but I’ll just say he knows the QMJHL extremely well…) sometimes it’s not so much that they do everything well as it is they don’t do anything great. And that is fair with Zary is he doesn’t do one thing that stands out, and for me, the skating is a bit concerning.
Previous Rank: 9
As you can see, I am coming around on Braden Schneider. Way too tough on him in the summertime, I tend to do that with the kids who have the late birthdays. He’s a safe pick. As I said earlier, he’s very similar to Kaiden Guhle, I just don’t feel as though there is anything Schneider does a lot better, and I believe Guhle has some offensive upside where I’m not sure Schneider has much.
The comparison I’ve used all season though is Travis Hamonic, and no team is going to cry about getting a D-man like that. I like his skating, and he’s not just a physical guy in his own zone. Much like Guhle, good gap control, positioning, and stick. You can really see with Schneider that he takes pride in being that shutdown/throwback defender.
Previous Rank: 5
So if you’re looking at just the skill sets on the dub prospects who I have so closely bunched up (Wiesblatt, Jarvis, Neighbours, McClennon, Sourdif, etc), Ozzie Wiesblatt could be the least skilled of those kids. But on the other hand, he is perhaps the most likely to simply play in the NHL of the group. So how do you rank that?! It’s tricky, and I admit I do have to come up with more of a system to make such issues much easier to figure out.
Wiesblatt, is going to be the type of player who can play in any situation. Right now he’s playing the middle for the Raiders, though I see him as a winger down the line. Good skater, good motor, plays physical, plays a little greasy at times, he’ll be a fan favourite wherever he goes.
Previous Rank: 6
I get why some people love Jake Neighbours as much as they do. That’s never been lost on me. Neighbours plays a pro game, he can play a hard game, and he can play a bit of a greasy game at times too. His IQ is high end. I really worry about the skating though. It’s not that it can’t improve, but it’s much more to do with a theory I have.
Neighbours is already pretty filled out at 5’11 and near 200 lbs. That doesn’t suggest he is going to gain a whole lot more strength. Maybe. I’m not saying he won’t. But I’m more willing to bet on kids making a big improvement in their skating ability who aren’t yet filled out. If he can get his skating to where it needs to be, I love him just as much as everyone else seems to. But I’m just not sure he can.
Previous Rank: 8
Maybe the toughest kid to rank. On one hand, he has exploded offensively after a slow start. He recently went on an 11 game point streak and had 29 points in his last full 18 games played. Why did I say “full”? Because in his last game McClennon suffered a broken collarbone and will be out likely until the end of the WHL regular season, if not longer.
The other thing some would point to in terms of his production was that he took off once Peyton Krebs returned from his Achilles injury. But let’s not pretend McClennon is playing on some offensive juggernaut in Winnipeg where he’s able to live off other’s accomplishments. McClennon is a lot like Kailer Yamamoto, not just in stature but also with his drive and fearlessness on the ice. He plays much bigger than his size. The skating isn’t where Yamamoto’s was at this point though. I personally believe it’s better than some have suggested, but there is no doubt it needs work. Opposite of Neighbours though, McClennon has a lot of weight and strength to pack on still, so it’s possible it could greatly improve as he does.
Previous Rank: 3
A big slide down my rankings for Justin Sourdif, but again, I have to stress that I don’t see anything of a big gap between 1st and 9th, and it’s an even smaller one between 6th and 9th. The thing you have to remember with Sourdif that while the numbers aren’t where many believed they would be for him this season, it is the Vancouver power play that is killing his production more than anything.
So while he’s down at #9 for me at the moment, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to go on a tear at some point and shoot back up into my top 3. It’s that tight. And with Sourdif, the skillset isn’t in question. I do worry though that the drive isn’t there though. He isn’t very assertive with the puck, and he doesn’t bring much in terms of physicality or gamesmanship.
Previous Rank: HM
Ridly Greig is an intriguing prospect for a lot of people. He plays a pro game and he has a lot of growing to do physically so that always will make people wonder where the ceiling is. I like his skating ability and feel as though there is room for that to grow quite a bit in the next few seasons.
Greig has excellent hockey sense, is a decent playmaker, protects the puck well, and plays a solid 200 foot game. He is also willing to play a physical which simply makes him a very complete player. For me, I see him as potentially a terrific two-way centre as a pro.
Previous Rank: HM
Ronan Seeley‘s skating ability is his calling card. You’d think that with a defencemen sub 6’0 and a great skater that he’s a big risk-taker, but he’s playing for the Everett Silvertips who are the stingiest team in the WHL under Dennis Williams and former coach Kevin Constantine.
Don’t let the numbers fool you either, this kid can move the puck very well and has a lot of untapped offensively ability. At this point, I don’t see Seeley going in the top 62 of the draft, but he is a sneaky good prospect who has been a personal favourite of mine. If I’m an NHL team, I’m not looking to reach to get him, but I’d slot him in the 63-124 range (3rd or 4th round) and hope he finds his way to our pick because there is a lot to work with here.
The first thing that stands out with Tristen Robins is his speed. This kid is a burner, but he combines that with a terrific compete level which makes him lethal on the fore-check, on puck retrievals, and on the back-check. He plays the middle for the Blades, but for me personally, I would be drafting Robins as a winger. But hey, if he can play the middle that’s even better!
I do see Robins as a winger in pro hockey and while I question if he’ll have the skill level to produce at a top six level, he sure looks as though he has the speed and work ethic to be an effective top nine winger in the show at least. He’s also one of the OilKnight’s favourite players out of the WHL.
At the start of the year I have to admit, I didn’t like Dylan Garand mainly because of his size. And though the size hasn’t improved, and NHL organizations still prefer bigger netminders, it isn’t as though 6’1 is a size of goaltender which isn’t going to get a look in the league. Plus the season he’s having has now is so damn impressive! His numbers are right there with Team Canada’s Joel Hofer who is playing on a more dominant team in Portland. And it’s not as though Kamloops is some defensive juggernaut, this is a team who has played pretty wide open hockey this season. I love the way Garand moves in net. He’s very technically sound with terrific reflexes. If this kid’s ability to track the puck can catch up to the rest of his game, he will be an NHL goaltender even at this size.
Previous Rank: 7
Before I get to Pavel Novak, what a mess it is in Kelowna this season. As a Western guy and covering the WHL this year as I do, it is humiliating that this team is hosting the Memorial Cup this season. I thought 2013 was bad with the Blades being bounced in the 1st round, but it is nothing compared to what is going on with the Rockets. They are the last franchise I thought I’d ever type something like that about in the WHL.
Ok, Novak. He’s the Rockets leading scorer as of writing this. He’s a very similar prospect to Wiesblatt, McClennon, Sourdif, etc. in that he’s a bit of an undersized guy who can produce. The thing that scares me with Novak is the skating ability isn’t great. He has the skill to succeed, but at the moment I don’t believe his skating is good enough to get him to the next level. If he can get it to where it needs to be, he will be pretty intriguing.
Something that keeps me up at night when ranking kids for their drafts: the late bloomer/overagers. I get so locked in on certain kids that I rarely give consideration to such things! Thankfully, I didn’t miss Alex Cotton‘s incredible 3rd season in the WHL that is getting more and more attention as the year has worn on.
Cotton, moves the puck extremely well, has a great shot, and he showcases good compete. The play in his own zone needs work, but the big concern with him are the boots. His skating is just ok, but the positive with it is that he has improved it quite a bit over the last year. Can it continue to improve? If it can, the team which drafts him will have quite the prospect on their hands.
#16. Christoffer Sedoff
Sedoff is starting to get some love from the scouting community despite playing on a rebuilding Rebels club. He is their horse, chewing up a ridiculous amount of minutes a lot of nights for Brent Sutter’s club. He’s a very smooth skater, good puck mover, and despite not having stats that jump off the page he has displayed some pretty good offensive skills at times. He’s solid in his own zone also with good gap control, a good stick, and a willingness to compete down low and in front of the net. There is a lot to work with here.
Another interesting tidbit is his size. Elite Prospects lists him at 5’11, 159lbs. The WHL‘s site has him at 6’1, 189lbs, a pretty damn big difference! When I’ve seen him, it appears to me like the WHL size is the correct one, at least in terms of height.
#17. Kasper Puutio
A very similar prospect to Sedoff, but in a very different situation (at least he is since his trade to Everett). The skating ability of Puutio, much like his teammate Ronan Seeley, makes him a very intriguing prospect in the middle to late rounds of the draft. He’s very raw at this point both offensively and defensively, but there is a ton of room for growth. He’s a kid who as I already said is a terrific skater, and he moves the puck very well. If he can refine his defensive game, there is no reason he couldn’t be a Jonas Brodin type D-man down the line.
#18. Josh Pillar
When you’re just simply looking at stats, Josh Pillar doesn’t stand out. But this kid has been a favourite of mine all season because of his wheels. I’m a big believer in taking kids later in the draft who have one terrific trait and looking to develop the rest, and Pillar has that in his skating.
Very similar to Tristen Robins who is in his 18 year old season, and Pillar is already out producing what Robins did last season. Also like Robins, he’s playing the middle for Kamloops. If Pillar was playing the wing he’d likely have a lot more freedom offensively, and likely be getting a lot more attention than he has. 31 ES points on the season playing primarily in a
checking role for the Blazers this season. Can you say, sleeper?
#19. Simon Knak
A player who does everything well, but nothing great. Ok size, ok speed, ok hands, ok vision, ok hockey sense, an ok shot, he’s just ok. Now, if Knak has a great work ethic than he is just scratching the surface on what he can become. And what will help him a lot with that development is being a Winterhawk with Mike Johnston as his coach. I’m not sure if Knak has
shown enough to get himself drafted at this point, but he will have a lot more of an opportunity on a Winterhawks team which looks primed for a deep run into the WHL playoffs.
#20. Bryan Thomson
Dylan Garand gets love for the numbers he’s put up this season and the mystery of whether or not he will be just big enough to succeed. Bryan Thomson on the otherhand, has the size and ability but doesn’t have the numbers as he fluctuates above and below a .900 Sv% this season. But the upside is tough to ignore with this kid. I hate comparing him to a former Hurricane (because I worry about it coming off as lazy on my part), but he is very similar to Stuart Skinner when he was 17.
This one is both interesting and fun for me to write. A kid who’s family I know well, I watched a ton of as he was growing up, played on a line with my nephews in their U-16 Midget season, and is tearing it up on the best line in the WHL this season along with Connor Zary and fellow Marwayne Wildcat (once again, shout out to my fellow Wildcats) Zane Franklin. Orrin has always possessed ridiculous skill, and now he seems as though he’s putting it all together and figuring out just how good he can be.
No doubt, he benefits from having Zary and Franklin on his line. But there are some who feel it’s Centazzo who is the offensive catalyst of that trio. If I were a team, I’d give him a close look in the later rounds. I think the higher level of hockey this kid plays, the more he is going to elevate his game. He has the skill to play in the show. Tough to rank at this point for me which is why he is in the HM section, but he’s an intriguing player to keep an eye on.
Last time I said that Gut was a good skater, but I’m not sure that was very accurate as in my viewings since it has been the one thing about his game that has concerned me. He is however a kid who looks to do everything right out on the ice, a very responsible 200-foot player.
Has some high end skill in his game scoring some highlight reel goals this season. But the hockey sense is very questionable. If he can learn to start playing a simpler game and improve his play away from the puck, he might be a player. Just as the case with his teammate Simon Knak, the one thing Hanas has going for him is that his head coach Mike Johnston has one heck
of a track record developing players and Hanas has a skill set Johnston can work with.
Such a difficult kid to rank as he has been out since the 3rd of December (suffered a severe cut to his arm). He’s nothing flashy. Some might even say he’s boring. But he’s effective. Terrific in his own zone with his gap control, angles and stick, he was logging all the tough minutes for a weak Warriors squad. The PPG might look solid at first glance for a defenceman. Obviously having no goals in 23 games isn’t a great sign. But if we’re talking about statistical red flags, the one for me is that of his 11 assists, only two came at even strength, and one of those was a secondary assist on an empty net goal. On top of that, I don’t love the skating ability when I’ve viewed him.
Pederson plays on the top line in Winnipeg with Vegas Golden Knights 1st round pick Peyton Krebs. For what turned out to be a short period of time, Pederson was flanked by both Krebs and Connor McClennon and they were one of the hottest lines in the league before McClennon got hurt. As you can likely guess, it is Pederson’s skating that needs work. His assets are obviously his size, but also he isn’t afraid to use that size which makes him an effective player on the cycle and in front of the net. Finally, Pederson has very good hands too. So there is a lot to work with here, but the skating needs a lot of work.
Hey, what do you know! The night I do the write-up for Prokop is the night he busts out offensively! 1 goal on the season going in, 2 goals in the game! But obviously that is not what Prokop is known for. He’s a throwback type of D-man. A bruiser in his own zone who will throw people around. The skating and the hockey sense are the concerns with him. I think the skating is OK, it’s not great but I think it’s passable, and then the hockey sense is obviously a concern. He’s iffy to get drafted, but it wouldn’t surprise me given the tools he has in his arsenal. You get down to the later stages of the draft and sometimes it isn’t about how good the kids are but much more about how much you’ll have to work with as an organization attempts to
develop a kid.
Michael Benning (AJHL)
I’ve often pointed to the comparison in his numbers to Cale Makar‘s draft year this season (keeping in mind that Makar was in his 18 year old season vs this being Benning’s 17 year old season), so let’s do it again! As of writing this, 1.44 PPG for Benning vs 1.39 PPG for Makar. Now, as mightily impressive as that is for Benning, he’s not Makar. They are obviously very mobile offensive-minded D-men, but Makar was more dynamic than Benning is. Benning is much more of a cerebral player and not the skater Makar was/is (even though Benning is a terrific skater). But let’s look at other recent AJHL comparisons.
Jacob Bernard-Docker (26th overall in 2018) had 41 points in 49 games. Ian Mitchell (57th overall in 2017) had 37 points in 53 games. If we are comparing their games, Mitchell’s most closely resembles Benning’s. And don’t say “yeah, but the teams they played on…” these four played for what are currently the 4 best programs in the AJHL. In a way, they really aren’t even AJHL teams, but rather minor league teams for NCAA programs. Benning is also pretty solid in his own zone. Despite his stature, he does not get pushed around and is willing to battle in all the tough areas. It won’t be his calling card, but he’s not at all a liability in his own zone as the Crusaders lean heavily on him defensively.
The most anticipated game of the year in the AJHL was on January 18th. Sherwood Park vs Brooks. At the time, the top two teams in the CJHL going head to head. A possible preview of the AJHL final. What did Carter Savoie do? Plays his best game of the year. Hattie, plus an assist (all points at even strength), Crusaders win 7-4.
The knock on Savoie is his skating. From the get-go this season I didn’t have the issue with it that most seemed to, and as the season has worn on I feel stronger than ever in the opinion of him being a guy who just simply picks his spots and plays a much more cerebral game than most give him credit for. His skating doesn’t stand out, but it’s fine. He cranks it up when he needs to, and there is plenty of room for improvement. Also, he’s a miserable SOB to play against! He’s not afraid to go after a guy.
Savoie is not overly physical, but he plays in the tough areas and will do what he has to do to create space. He can look lazy at times, but it’s the same type of thing you see out of most goal scorers that they’re always just looking for dead ice. 50 goals in 50 games, near 2 PPG on the season,
the kid has lived up to his hype in the AJHL this season. It’ll be interesting to see what he does in the playoffs.
I’m not liking that my secret player is not being kept a very good secret! Ranked 85th by NHL Central Scouting among North American players, only 15 spots back of Benning. Edwards plays at a quicker pace than Benning and might be a little bit better skater of the two. Edwards can also (as you’d expect), really move the puck well. Despite all this, he really isn’t a big risk taker in my viewings of him. Again I am going to point out as I did last time, he isn’t a kid I’d be looking to take in the top 93 of the draft, but in the later rounds he could be a flat out steal.
Committed to Michigan, but not until the 21-22 season, meaning the team which drafts him would have as much as five seasons to allow him to develop before making a decision on him.
Ethan Bowen (BCHL)
He’s run into injury issues this season, likely are the big reason for his somewhat disappointing season to this point. I still worry about the skating with Bowen, but again I’ll point to how big and gangly he is at this point. There are other kids in the BC league challenging Bowen for top prospect, but all of them seem to also have their warts. At this time I still believe Bowen is the most intriguing of them all, but it’ll be interesting to see where it stands once we’re a round or two into the post-season which starts soon. Heading to North Dakota beginning next fall.
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