Playoff time can be the crucial for prospects in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, and those in the Western Hockey League are not exempt from that.
A strong showing in the postseason can launch a player up the draft boards, while a poor performance could send them tumbling down.
Kamloops Blazers forward Tim Bozon has opted to use the playoffs as a springboard, scoring four goals in a four-game sweep of the Victoria Royals. In the series, Bozon displayed his best attributes: a hard working winger that loves to use his speed and grit to create chances offensively.
He is one of the fastest skaters coming out of the WHL for this year’s draft coupled with an impressive shot, which helped him score 36 goals this year as a rookie. While he plays the game with an edge, many like to see him make better decisions with the puck and bulk up a bit. Making a long playoff run with the Blazers is sure to raise his stock, so keep an eye on Bozon in the next few weeks.
Henrik Samuelsson is another player turning heads.
The first thing one notices when watching Samuelsson play is his solid frame and tough demeanor. He likes to lay checks and create scoring chances off the cycle. Samuelsson has surprisingly good hands and at times it seems like he has the puck on a string. He’s displayed that with two goals and three points in just two games.
Unfortunately, the transition over to North America hasn’t come without some scrutiny. Since he joined the league in January, he has been criticized for his mediocre skating. Samuelsson has also been suspended three times for separate incidents. Although his rugged style is an asset, he will have to show that he can play within the guidelines and stay out of trouble.
Another player surrounded by question marks is Brendan Leipsic.
Leipsic is a player full of skill and desire. He has strong vision and makes pinpoint passes to his teammates. He has shown he can put up solid numbers, even though he has been playing third line minutes for the majority of the season.
Leipsic’s season started on a sour note after he was knocked out of Team Canada’s Ivan Hlinka camp with a concussion. He has since bounced back to put up 58 points in 65 games for the Portland Winterhawks.
The biggest issue surrounding Leipsic is his size. He is generously listed as five-foot-nine, 175-pounds. Despite that, he does battle hard but his lack of overall size and strength hurts him. He should be looked at similarly to Kelowna Rockets forward Shane McColgan who was drafted in the fifth round in 2011.
One player that won’t benefit from a long playoff run is Saskatoon Blades defenseman Dalton Thrower.
Thrower has been one of the steadiest risers throughout the course of the year. He has a package that NHL teams crave, a solid and tough style of play mixed with surprisingly good offensive abilities. Thrower’s skating is very good and he plays the game with a quiet intensity, which makes him a nightmare to play against. In his own zone he likes to throw the body and is frequently knocking pucks away with his good stick. Thrower played big minutes this year for the Blades, often getting over 30 minutes a game. Although he suffered a minor injury late in the year, he has excellent durability which is just another asset that will help him on draft day.
Calgary Hitmen defenseman Jaynen Rissling will also be hanging up the blades early this year after losing out to the Brandon Wheat Kings in five games.
He has all the physical tools that teams look for in prospects, but he just hasn’t been able to put it together yet. Rissling is a pretty good puck mover despite his clumsy stickhandling. He smothers the opposition in his own zone with his huge frame and throws his weight around fairly often. Rissling gets a fair amount of powerplay time and isn’t afraid to drop the gloves to stick up for a teammate.
The main thing holding him back from being an elite prospect is his skating. Rissling struggles when he is paired up against faster forwards and often gets beat wide off the rush. Sometimes his overall size makes up for his foot speed, but that won’t be the case at the next level.
Another cause for concern is Rissling’s decision making. He isprone to cough the puck up and make questionable decisions with his passes which lead to the occasional turnover. Rissling will have to hope that his early departure from the playoffs won’t hurt his draft stock.
While most of the script for the 2012 season has already been written, it will be the final chapters that carry the biggest implications. How the prospects perform under the pressures of playoff hockey will determine if it will be a storybook ending or a nightmare.