While the 2012 NHL Entry Draft is the year of the defensemen from a Western Hockey League standpoint, forwards will re-emerge in 2013.
With six blueliners topping the draft boards this season, a pair of forwards are emerging as headliners from the WHL when the attention turns to next year’s draft class.
Perhaps no Western leaguer will get more attention than that of Medicine Hat Tigers forward Hunter Shinkaruk. Shinkaruk, always regarded as a potential first round pick in 2013, has put himself into strong consideration to be one of the first names off the board in 16 months time.
Everything about Shinkaruk’s year has been impressive. He started the season making Canada’s entry at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial as an underager. Taking that momentum into the Tigers’ season, Shinkaruk is currently among the top-10 in points in the WHL and just one of three players who has recorded 40 goals this season.
Shinkaruk has accomplished these gaudy totals with great on-ice instincts in the offensive zone, quick feet and a shot with a release that is second-to-none.
By no means is Shinkaruk in the shadow of teammate Emerson Etem – who became the first player since Pavel Brendl in 1999 to score 50 goals in 50 games – but Shinkaruk’s time to shine will come in his draft year. Whether or not the Calgary, AB. native can handle the load will remain to be seen.
Curtis Lazar will do his best to challenge Shinkaruk as the WHL’s top forward. The forward is enjoying a good start to his major junior career. Lazar hasn’t put up the sparkling totals that his Medicine Hat counterpart has, but that’s due in large part to the role he is playing on an extremely deep Edmonton Oil Kings squad. The Oil Kings could challenge for the Ed Chynoweth Cup this season, which could prove to be an invaluable experience for the six-foot, 190-pound centre to take into his draft season.
Lazar has had some opportunity to showcase his impressive blend of power and skill, though, and has many scouts anticipating a well-rounded impact player with potential captain possibilities down the road.
Scouts have also been excited to see the path Alex Forsberg takes. The five-foot-nine, 170-pound Forsberg isn’t bit in stature, but huge in vision and playmaking ability.
Skating on the last-place Prince George Cougars, the rookie Forsberg has been given ample opportunity to display strong offensive instincts and creativity, both in setting up teammates and putting the puck in the net himself. Unfortunately, he’s also displayed some heavy boots which could keep him out of discussions on who the top WHL forward will be in the 2013 draft.
That isn’t a problem for Morgan Klimchuk of the Regina Pats. The 16-year-old is as shifty as he is quick and has a good set of hands to compliment his feet.
In fact, there isn’t much to not like about the offensive prowess the five-foot-11, 180-pound centre possesses. Defensively, Klimchuk has had a bit of a tough adjustment in the jump to major junior, but the fact he’s focused on improving at both ends of the ice quells the concern, at least a little.
There’s little doubt that Brandon Wheat Kings defenseman Ryan Pulock is the head of the class among WHL blueliners, though.
The six-foot-one, 200-pound Pulock has been head and shoulders the best WHL defenseman eligible for the 2013 draft. Pulock, 17, trails only the 19-year-old Brendon Kichton of the Spokane Chiefs has more points among blueliners in the WHL – an impressive feat to say the least. It’s been a pretty meteoric rise for the seventh round pick drafted as a forward in the 2009 WHL Bantam Draft.
Pulock, already regarded as the top defenseman in Brandon, possesses tremendous vision and a skating stride to get him out of any danger he may find himself in. As his point totals will attest to, the Grandview, MB. product possesses incredible vision from the back end and a cannon of a shot.
Perhaps the only defenseman from the WHL that can rival Pulock is towering teammate Eric Roy.
Much like Pulock, the six-foot-three, 190-pound blueliner has good offensive instincts and is among the top-15 in league scoring among defensemen. His defensive awareness and pension to play with a bit of a physical edge makes Roy an intriguing option in the 2013 draft class.
But the duo of Roy and Pulock isn’t enough to divert attention away from the crop of forwards eligible for the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.