With another junior season just around the corner, a new group of draft eligible prospects are ready to take the stage in hope of being drafted in New Jersey next June.
Simply put, the 2013 crop is a special one. The Western Hockey League is always a consistent producer of NHL talent. This year will be no different.
And it’s as intriguing as ever.
No player has faced as much adversity as Alex Forsberg of the Prince George Cougars. After being drafted first overall in the 2010 Bantam Draft, Forsberg has seen mixed success in the league. His stat line has always been good, but the small forward has struggled with inconsistency and injury.
There is no denying his elite vision and offensive skill, but Forsberg lacks the skating and size to be a dominant player. At times he shies away from the physical play and spends too much time on the perimeter, hurting his overall value as a prospect. If he can prove he can stay healthy while continuing to produce, however, it will be hard to not take notice.
Forsberg’s unique skill is one that will certainly lead to a calling in the NHL Draft, but how high he is able to vault himself up draft boards will be determined in the coming months.
Another small forward making noise is Regina Pats standout Morgan Klimchuk. Klimchuk had a solid rookie campaign last season fueled by his outstanding shot, playmaking skills and top-notch agility. His good hockey sense is best displayed through his creativity on the power play and his ability to find open ice in the offensive zone.
Although he is one of the best young offensive talents in the league, Klimchuk has struggled in the corners, losing too many battles down low. The five-foot-11 forward could also improve on his defensive zone coverage and overall skating speed.
It will be interesting to see how he fares without former league all-star Jordan Weal in the lineup as he is sure to receive more attention from top pairing defenseman. Klimchuk has been successful at all levels, and I fully expect him to continue trending up this season.
Simply put, Kelowna Rockets defenseman Madison Bowey is one of the most intriguing prospects out of the WHL this year. After flirting with the college route and falling to the second round of the Bantam Draft, Bowey took the league by storm last year. He has the complete package of size, smarts, physical play, and offensive skills. Bowey is an aggressive defender that uses both his size and strength to shut down the opposition.
His offensive skill set is bit raw but he has shown flashes of brilliance in his ability to read plays and move the puck up ice under pressure. Kelowna has been known to produce excellent defenseman in the past and Bowey will look to follow in the footsteps of other Rockets greats.
There is little doubt that Hunter Shinkaruk is the most explosive and dynamic draft eligible prospect in the WHL this season. After scoring 49 goals in his sophomore season, Shinkaruk is poised to become one of the best forwards in the league – period.
In addition to his outstanding shot and vision, his creativeness and hockey sense make Shinkaruk almost unstoppable. He is fearless, and despite his small stature, takes the puck wide and engages in battles below the goal line. Shinkaruk possesses an offensive package that few players across the planet can boast. If he can continue to produce and work on his defensive play, he could threaten Seth Jones as the top draft eligible in the league.
One player flying under the radar is Kayle Doetzel of the Red Deer Rebels. After being slowed by an injury in his first year, it seems as though he is ready to burst onto the scene in an expanded role with the Rebels.
He went almost unnoticed through his rookie year, but after a strong offseason he made Team Canada’s Ivan Hlinka squad and played a two-way role for the gold medalists. He has size and smarts, and while he doesn’t throw huge body checks like teammate Mathew Dumba, he does use his body effectively.
Doetzel is versatile enough to play both the penalty kill and the power play and should push his way into more draft discussions with more ice time and more confidence.
How he, and his fellow 2013’s from the Western Hockey League, handles the pressure of playing in his draft season remains to be seen.