Previewing the 2015 WHL draft class

Dan Stewart2015 Draft Center

A new season is upon us and with that a new group to continue scouting as we head towards their selection day in June.

2015 has been a bookmarked class for a few years now as some high end talent emerged three years ago that had us, and the industry as a whole, excited and looking forward to this season of scouting.

Future Considerations starts the season with a look at who our evaluators we will be watching to start the year and brings you some names in this multi-part look at what the 2015 Draft Class has to offer.

In part three we focus on the draft talent located on Western Hockey League rosters which holds a handful of skilled forwards and impressive blue liners.

Forward Mathew Barzal of the Seattle Thunderbirds is our top WHL prospect for the 2015 draft in the early going as he is a proven dangerous and creative offensive player. He had a very productive offensive season as a WHL rookie last year and is built off that early this season. His blend of elite level quickness, impressive vision and puck skills aid him in being a difference maker.

Barzal is still a bit of a wildcard as he is one of those prospects that has the ability to go either direction in our monthly rankings as the season progresses. He has areas to work on like physicality, he tends to avoid the tough areas, and being more consistent in both his play as well as learning the defensive side of the game but he also has the ability to really be a difference maker, putting his team on his back and carrying them.

Kelowna Rockets centre Nick Merkley is that kid with the non-stop motor but he also has the strong offensive skills to go with it. He is hard on the forecheck, likes to throw his weight around and get his nose dirty, and possesses a hard accurate shot as well as impressive vision as a playmaker. Rarely messed around trying to pull flashy plays, instead everything is streamlined towards the oppositions net with this kid.

The hard working pivot and reigning WHL rookie of the year has really jumped out early production wise helping his Kelowna team to a very impressive record early.

Red Deer Rebels power centre/winger Adam Musil, son of former NHL player Franticek, and brother to David, an Oilers draft pick, has a lot of professional type characteristics that have scouts keeping an eye on the big winger.

Musil is at his best when he has his legs moving. When he does he is hard to handle with his large powerful frame and willingness to utilize that size and his mobility on the forecheck. He might not have the dazzle or flash of a smaller more creative offensive player but he does have the drive and skills to be a contributor on the score sheet. Musil plays a complete 200-foot game and has many pro-type attributes.

Jansen Harkins, a centre with Prince George, whose father Todd and uncle Brett both played professionally and spent time in the NHL, is another prospect to watch this season as he jumped out to a quick start offensively. He displays impressive hockey sense and vision. Plays a strong two-way game and is solid in the faceoff dot.

On defensive side of things the ‘Dub’ is full of talent starting with the Brandon Wheat Kings duo of Ivan Provorov, an import that came from the USHL, and Ryan Pilon, a blue liner who came over from the Lethbridge Hurricanes via trade last year.

Provorov is a smooth skating, two-way defender who gets the puck turned around on the offensive attack quickly. He has good vision, skilled hands and is a patient puck distributor and shows some good defensive ability in his own zone. The average sized Russian blue liner also has a physical side to his game showing up every once in a while.

Pilon on the other hand is that safe, reliable, defense first blue liner who has been piling up points on a very good squad early on. He does make a solid pass but is not as offensively gifted as his stats line early in the season would suggest. Pilon does a good job handling some of the bigger WHL forwards with his physical play and strength as well as the smaller, faster attackers with sound positioning and an active stick. At his best when he keeps it simple and just focuses on keeping his zone clean.

Teammates Brandon Carlo and Parker Wotherspoon of the Tri-City Americans is another talented duo making noise on the back end.

The 6-foot-5 and over two-hundred pound Carlo is a nasty, physical monster who has many pro-type traits NHL teams covet. He skates very well covering a ton of ice with a smooth and efficient stride. His passing game is solid and he has a very effective shot as well. Willing to grab the puck and skate it or follow the play up ice looking to be the one-timer trigger man. Always involved in the play and even the after whistle stuff.

Wotherspoon on the other hand is not a big physical defender at just 6-feet tall and uses his feet and head more than mass to keep attackers at bay. “Everything he does is calm, smooth and with a purpose.” Noted one of our western regional scouts this season. Not a flashy player but effective in all aspects of the game. Willing to rush the puck and makes a strong first pass.

Everett Silvertips defender Noah Juulsen is a solidly-built defender who competes and is a favorite of one of our western league evaluators. He works hard and is involved all over the ice. Not overly offensively minded, although he has been putting up good numbers early, but does make a strong outlet pass and shows the smarts of knowing what each situation calls for.

Two teammates and draft eligible prospects who really have stepped up their games early in their draft season are Swift Current’s duo of centre/winger Glenn Gawdin and winger Jake DeBrusk.

Gawdin has shown off a strong shot release, is hard to contain physically, and works hard in both zones; battling for every puck. One evaluator noted in his report “I really like (Gawdin’s) versatility and his defensive play, with his game reminding me a bit of a Ryan Getzlaf style of player” which is extremely high praise.

DeBrusk, son of former NHL player Louie DeBrusk, is a quick footed, aggressive player who is just starting to understand what he can contribute to his team. The same evaluator on the same night made this comment “Jake just looks like a hockey player. He’s an aggressive guy who attacks the net, showing a nice edge to his game.”

That does it for our initial look at the best of what the Western Junior Hockey League and the entire CHL has to offer. Check back soon for another 2015 NHL Draft article and a look at the talent south of the boarder.

Article by Dan Stewart
FC Director of Scouting