Future Considerations’ WHL-based scout Justin Froese gives his thoughts on who from the 2015 NHL Draft class left him impressed, who disappointed and who his sleeper is on draft day.
The 2015 crop from the WHL consisted of an interesting blend of top-end talent, size and depth. While I don’t think there are a ton of guys who project to be top line players, there is a good possibility that many of the bodies we have ranked will be solid professionals.
One of my favourite players this year, from start to finish was Wheat Kings import Ivan Provorov. Another shrewd recruit by Wheat Kings mastermind Kelly McCrimmon, little was known of Provorov as he was selected in the 30th overall in the 2014 CHL Import Draft. In hindsight, this was an undervalued pick in comparison to the impact Provorov has had upon his arrival to the WHL. Provorov helped Brandon turn the page on the loss of former captain and 2013 first rounder Ryan Pulock, surging out of the gate and continually fitting the bill as one of the WHL’s elite defenders.
As a 17 year old, Provorov took the reins on Brandon’s back end and relished the role of a number one defender. Playing in all situations and posting top tier offensive numbers, it didn’t take Provorov long to be noticed and begin rocketing up draft boards. Provorov consistently elevated his flawless two way game to allow him to be one of the best players on the ice, night in and night out. Along the way stellar play by Provorov earned him spots in the Subway Super Series, CHL’s top prospects game and Russia’s entry at the World Junior Championship. Not to mention, averaging over a point per game on route to winning the WHL’s rookie scoring race, Eastern Conference nominee for WHL Defenseman of the Year and a first team Eastern Conference All-star nod as a first year player.
Provorov was crucial to Brandon’s success as they finished first overall in the WHL and marched to the WHL Championship series for the first time in 10 years. As Future Consideration’s final rankings were revealed, Provorov sat in the 6th spot of the overall rankings, head to head with the highly debated top 3 defensemen in the draft. Accolades aside, I was fortunate enough to see Provorov on a nightly basis and verify first hand that he is worthy of the publicity he has received to date.
When diving into the list of underwhelming individuals out of the WHL, I would have to look no further than Provorov’s ex-teammate, Jesse Gabrielle of the Regina Pats. Coming into the year I expected Gabrielle to build on an impressive statistical rookie season by progressing his skill set and adding maturity to his game. As a 16 year old, Gabrielle had made a living by playing an agitator style role, chipping in points in timely situations and beating the ever living tar out of some of the Western League’s bruisers. I felt that even on a deep team that he could be a solid contributor and an active guardian to some of the other prestigious rookies in the lineup.
While his point totals did have a healthy increase in year two, inconsistency crept into his game and his discipline waned. Following the first two months of the season, Gabrielle’s stock began to plummet as the offense went dry for him. Brandon ended up trading him for Calgary Flames prospect Morgan Klimchuk.
With a fresh start, Gabrielle struggled to adjust without the same skill surrounding him. He shows an inability to put up points regularly and be a focal point offensively. In late season viewings I was left unimpressed. Besides a few sequences of glimmering talent he seems disinterested, constantly pissed off and isn’t a contributing factor on most shifts. For a player I had pegged as a middle second rounder at the start of the year with secondary scoring upside, he has fallen a long way. Jesse Gabrielle is ranked 147th in Future Considerations Final Ranking at this point and needs a bit of a revelation to restore my prior hopes for him.
Although he isn’t a sleeper anymore, it’s hard to argue that there was another guy who shattered expectations like Austin Wagner of the Regina Pats. A fringe WHLer in 2013-2014, Wagner was offensively irrelevant and had not been on anyone’s radar coming into his draft season.
Wagner seemingly exploded in year two, showing skill, speed, tenaciousness and two way game that few knew he could possess. Wagner’s point total jumped from a measly 2 to 39 as he became a key component of an upstart Pats club. To temper expectations, I don’t see Wagner projecting to be a bonafide, shoot out the lights guy, but a key role player as a professional. I think Wagner still has some room to grow offensively and needs to polish up his puck skills much more in order to truly evolve his offensive game.
To me, his skating ability and team first mentality is what makes him so special. He is a good foot soldier for John Paddock and goes to war each and every shift. He has the heart of a lion and just screams to me that he is the kind of guy that NHL teams want, especially this time of year when their season is on the line. Character can’t be taught, and its players like Wagner that teams win with. He may have not have joined the elite company in scoring during his sophomore season, but his rise was astronomical throughout the year once scouts recognized his capability. In regards to Future Considerations, he went from the depths of obscurity to a ranking inside of our top 60. He is a player has made a strong case for himself all year and will be a guy who should come off the board early in day two of the draft.