Plenty of value in WHL sleepers

Cody Nickolet2015 Draft Center

It’s no longer a secret that NHL organizations need to find value at the draft. The salary cap continues to be an ever-present force on day-to-day dealings in the league and having young, cost-controlled talent is an absolute must for any potential Cup-winning club.

That value on the draft board often comes in the form of a sleeper pick, a player who ends up being an astute selection when re-evaluating the draft a few years down the line.

While there is no doubt that the 2015 NHL Draft is packed with talent at the top in the form of Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel and countless others, the scouts at Future Considerations feel the Western Hockey League offers up strong depth at every position. With that depth comes plenty of players who might not be getting the recognition they deserve now that we’re into the stretch run of the season.

The rebuilding Regina Pats have been given a shot in the arm by second-year forward Austin Wagner. The product of Calgary, AB only had a pair of points last year in 42 games. Fast-forward one year later and his growth has been absolutely astronomical.

The speedy winger is quickly approaching 20 goals and 40 points on the year while also showing the ability to kill penalties and bring a physical edge. And the word speedy doesn’t really do Wagner justice. His pure speed is NHL-ready now. Combine that elite speed with his 6-foot-2 frame and a great wrist shot and you have a game-changing player who is remarkably similar to someone like Erik Cole.

NHL teams should consider snapping him up within the top 75 selections come draft day. While he may not seem like a prototypical sleeper given that he could be end up as a second round pick, the scouts at Future Considerations are adamant that Wagner’s stock continues to rise in an impressive fashion.

Scouts are constantly on the lookout for players who show steady progression.

Like with Wagner, that has also been the case with Brad Morrison of the Prince George Cougars. The former 7th overall selection in the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft currently sits with exactly twice as many points as he posted during the 2013-14 season, posting 20 goals and 42 points in 55 games.

While listed as a center, he has also spent time on the wing this season — giving head coach Mark Holick a versatile weapon for his top-6 forward group. Morrison’s game revolves around speed as everything he does, he does with pace. He has break-away speed, lightning-quick hands and the ability to process the game at that same speed. It’s also worth noting that Morrison doesn’t play a perimeter game. He drives lanes and goes to tough areas. In doing that he also avoids contact while showing a unique ability to create plays despite immense traffic. The former 97-goal man in bantam might be generously listed at 5-foot-11 but the scouts at Future Considerations like the pure offensive upside Morrison brings to the table.

After highlighting two forwards the attention shifts to the back end with blueliner Michael Zipp of the Calgary Hitmen.

When it comes to the draft, teams are always looking for players who play that ‘pro style’ game and Zipp can definitely be included in that category. The late-1996 is a big strong kid, listed at 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds. His skating won’t leave you breathless but it has shown steady improvement during his time in the WHL.

And while his footwork and speed both could use some fine-tuning, he has good power in his lower body and uses a long stride to maintain gap control defensively. His physical play is another noted strength while his play on the offensive side of the puck continues to show signs of growth. His choices with the puck on zone exits are often, quick, compact and accurate. He brings a hard shot to the table, an obviously large factor in his 8 goals on the year. Our scouts have noted that he could tend to be a bit more aggressive offensively, but that will come as he continues to get more comfortable with the puck and nets the subsequent production. While Zipp won’t ever be the most flashy guy on the ice surface, our scouts think he offers strong value in the back half of the 2015 NHL Draft.

While the three names listed above could be classified as sleepers, don’t forget to check out the names at the top of the class with our midterm top 100 for 2015. Find it HERE.