From The Dub: WHL talent ready for 2014

Zenon Herasymiuk2014 Draft Center

With 2013 well in the rearview, it’s time for a new wave of Western Hockey League talent to face the music on their way to the 2014 NHL Draft.

Headliners like Sam Reinhart and Leon Draisaitl are already poised to catch a lot of attention, but there is no shortage of storylines, and depth, coming out of the west this season.

One player who will have to answer his critics all year long is Victoria Royals defenseman Joe Hicketts.

Hicketts is an exciting and poised defenseman that frequently involves himself on the offensive end of the ice. He skates outstandingly well and plays a scrappy game in his own zone and his smarts and quickness also allow him to make plays and cover up missed assignments. Hicketts is a valuable asset on the power play with a good shot and slick passing skills that make him dangerous at all times.

Despite being one of the smoothest, smartest defenseman in his age group, it is hard to ignore Hicketts’ size. He stands at only 5-foot-8, which leaves a lot of questions as to how his game will translate at the next level.

Sure he does a good job battling at the junior level, but will he be able to do it against men in the NHL? If Hicketts can continue to play his mature offensive game while playing big defensively, he will no doubt give NHL teams a lot to think about.

Collin Shirley of the Kootenay Ice is hoping to make a name for himself playing alongside the top-ranked Reinhart.

Shirley is a power forward with good tools and the smarts to make an impact in the offensive zone while playing a sound defensive game. He also has the ability to fill a variety of roles because of his solid all-around responsibility and effectiveness. The sky’s the limit for Shirley who will get ever chance to put up points in an expanded role with the Ice this season. He will likely kill penalties and be a net-front presence on the power play.

While Shirley projects to be a good young prospect, he will have to quickly define and develop his game, turning himself from a raw prospect, into a distinguished one.

Overall, with his smart all-around game and improving tools, Shirley with certainly give scouts another reason to make the trip to Cranbrook this season.

Another intriguing player hoping to make a splash is Saskatoon Blades defenseman Nelson Nogier.

Nogier is a big defender that plays a shutdown style. He is physical in his own zone and very good asset on the penalty kill as well as close-game situations. For a young player, Nogier’s poise is impressive as he never seems to panic on this ice. One of his most impressive attributes is his mobility which allows him to cover tons of ice and keep up with speedy forwards. Nogier was able to earn some ice-time on a very deep Blades team last year and was even able to showcase his game at junior hockey’s highest level in last year’s Memorial Cup.

Nogier will be given tons of time to display his talents and refine his skills during his draft eligible season on a very young Blades squad. Look for him to carry the load in all situations while stepping up as a leader both on and off the ice.

With the countdown to June’s draft is already well underway and the race up draft charts soon to begin, eligibles will have to come out flying to gain the edge on their peers. I for one can’t wait to see how it all unfolds.