As we grow deeper into the Western Hockey League season, some prominent names have held strong while and a few fresh faces are beginning to demand attention.
One player creeping into the picture is Kelowna Rockets defenseman Jesse Lees. After an injury riddled rookie season, Lees is starting to gain confidence at the Major Junior level and he is starting to show some major potential as well. He is an averaged sized defenseman with extremely high hockey IQ and good puck skills.
Lees is a cerebral defender, constantly surveying the ice before making calculated decisions. He is a power play quarterback and a passer first, but also has the ability to walk the line and get a quick wrister on net. His mixture of high-end puck moving skills and natural read and react ability make him a very intriguing prospect.
Lees’ bread and butter is his role as a puck moving defenseman and unfortunately he does struggle at times in the defensive zone. He throws his weight around, but with little effectiveness and he often ends up on the losing side of physical altercations. He is able to keep good gaps off the rush but in general he needs to take more control in the defensive zone, which in turn will lead to more opportunities to show off his offensive skill set.
While Lees faces an uphill battle to climb up the draft rankings, his teammate Madison Bowey has lived up to his already impressive resume so far this year.
Bowey is one of the more unique prospects in this draft class. He brings a lot of different skills to the table, and he is rarely missed when he is on the ice. One of the strongest components to his game is his skating ability. Bowey is able to generate tons of speed very quickly, and stay at top speed with his quick crossovers and pivots. He is extremely strong and balanced, which allows him to assert himself physically, even against the biggest of attackers.
Bowey plays an extremely high-energy game, always moving his feet and springing to attack. He is always leading them rush from the backend and is not hesitant to join in on the fun offensively. In the defensive zone he is a pest, taking away time and space from his opposition, forcing them into quick decisions.
While Bowey’s physical traits are impeccable, he has room to improve in the mental side of the game. At times you would like to seem play a bit more reserved and under control. He is also prone to turn over the puck with dangerous passes through the neutral zone.
Despite his warts, it will be tough for a team to looks past Bowey’s one-of-a-kind package.
Another name that has seemingly come out of nowhere is Calgary Hitmen forward Zane Jones.
After going undrafted last year as a role player for the Victoria Royals, Jones has flourished in a top-six role in Calgary. He is a big power forward type that consistently finds success in the high traffic areas of the ice. Jones is often found around the net where he is fighting for position with opposing defenders and causing havoc for the goalie.
Jones’ biggest asset is his size, which he uses to win battles in the corners and protect the puck. He makes himself an intimidating physical presence and is willing to drop the gloves if necessary. It is evident that Jones knows his role and doesn’t try to play a game that he shouldn’t. He sticks to the basics and gets the job done, night in, night out.
The biggest thing working against Jones at this point is his skating ability. He possesses good balance and strength, but lacks the speed and agility that would make him a premier threat. He is able to get the puck to his linemates, but then by the time he gets to full speed, he is too far out of the play to make a difference. Another area he needs to improve is his decision making. After winning battles for the puck he often throws the puck away before taking the time to make a good play.
Nevertheless if Jones is able to limit his mistakes, and continue to do the little things right, he will surely inch his way up draft boards.
Mason Geertsen is a player who may reap the benefits of a change of scenery and an increased role with a new team.
Geertsen was one of the main components the Vancouver Giants acquired when they dealt all-star defenseman David Musil to Edmonton. He is a beast of a defenseman, gifted with natural size and reach. Geertsen’s strength is in his own zone where he is able to cover tons of ice not only with his size, but with an active stick and good positioning. He is a penalty killer that logs a lot of minutes and is frequently sacrificing his body to block shots. Geertsen imposes his will in the corners, laying big checks against the boards, and eating up forwards on the cycle.
Unfortunately, Geertsen provides little value outside of his own zone. He isn’t the most fleet of foot and he’s not exactly a wizard with the puck. He is going to need to be better at taking and dishing out passes, as well as providing more of a threat with his shot from the point. Geertsen’s size hides a few of the flaws he has mentally, but he will need to react to plays quicker as he progresses as a prospect.
If depth players like Geertsen can continue to raise their games, the 2013 NHL Draft class is sure to go down as one of the deepest in recent memory.