Without question, the Western Hockey League’s strength is on the back end this year. That fact was further reinforced in the month of February.
Griffin Reinhart is starting to mount his climb up the draft boards. He started his month with a strong showing at the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game. The lumbering defenseman scored a goal and showed scouts his ability to make an impact on both ends of the ice.
One of Reinhart’s best attributes is his vision, which he uses to dissect the opposition on the breakout and to find open teammates on the power play. That, mixed with his size and mobility, is a big reason why he is considered a Top-10 prospect.
Another rearguard that is turning heads is Portland Winterhawks star Derrick Pouliot. While he didn’t find the score sheet in the Top Prospects Game, his puck moving skills were out in full force. The former first-overall Bantam draft pick has an uncanny ability to change the pace of a game with smart, accurate passes, and he uses his top-notch acceleration and skating to start the rush. While Pouliot’s defensive game could use a bit of refining, his offensive skills and smarts will definitely lead to an early calling this June in Pittsburgh.
It seems as though the defenseman factory in Kelowna is pumping out another sleeper in the form of Damon Severson. The likes of Duncan Keith, Shea Weber, and more recently Tyson Barrie have come out of the Rockets program to find success in the professional ranks, and it seems like Severson is next in line to join them. He does all the little things right and is a very effective defender. His big frame and rugged defensive attitude, blended with his improving offensive instincts, will carry the Melville, SK native to the bright lights of the NHL Draft.
There have been a few forwards that are beginning to push their way into the draft discussions as well.
Carter Rigby, Severson’s teammate in Kelowna, is gaining momentum in the latter half of the season. At first, most thought he would be limited to an enforcer role in the WHL, but he has since carved out a role as a solid third-line power forward. Rigby is well built and lays the body early and often. He also has a quick shot and decent offensive smarts that will only get better as he gains more experience at the Major Junior level.
Swift Current Broncos centre Graham Black may be the fastest draft eligible forward around. He has an incredible knack for blowing by defenders to create scoring chances.
Unfortunately the rest of his game needs a lot of work. His offensive creativity and physical game are definitely behind the rest of the 2012 draft class. Based on his pure speed and intensity, he could garner some consideration for a late-round pick.
Unfortunately it hasn’t been all smooth sailing for the WHL’s draft eligible prospects.
Coda Gordon came out of nowhere early in the year and has earned a spot among some of the best prospects.
He was a non-factor in the Top Prospects Game and other players are starting to pass him on the draft boards. His lackluster skating and less than impressive offensive intangibles are starting to show. Gordon isn’t overly physical and his defensive game is average at best. Coming down the home stretch of the season, he will need to finish strong to show scouts that he is still a second round talent.
Edmonton Oil Kings rookie defenseman Cody Corbett has disappointed with his performance as of late.
Although his meteoric rise up the draft charts was a feat in itself, he now has high expectations to live up to. He hasn’t done that so far. Corbett isn’t a flashy defender and he goes about his business undetected for the most part. He has decent skating and pretty good size that has helped him put up outstanding numbers. He needs to do to be worthy of his high draft status.
Playing one of the strongest teams in the WHL may hide some of his flaws. A strong showing in playoffs could work wonders for Corbett and launch him higher than ever expected.
With the playoffs just around the corner, the pressure is on 2012 draft prospects to play their best hockey of the season. Whether they answer the bell or fall short remains to be seen.