WHL’s top end shows plenty of promise

Special To FC2015 Draft Center

There’s plenty to get excited about if you’re a fan of the Western Hockey League and 2015 NHL Draft.

Though the WHL lacks a true challenger at the top to rival the likes of Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel, there still is plenty of positional talent to be had throughout.

“The 2015 draft class out of the WHL is very good,” scout Zenon Herasymiuk said. “There are several players getting first-round consideration and a bunch more rated in the top 100. There is a good blend of forwards and defense, but it is a weak year for goalies in the Dub, with very few pushing for a spot in our top 210.”

As part of Future Considerations’ coverage leading into the NHL Draft, here’s a look at the best that the WHL has to offer.

No. 6

TEAM: Brandon (WHL)
BORN: January 13, 1997
VITALS: 6’-0” / 200 Lbs
STATS LINE: 60 GP 15 G 46 A 61 PTS 42 PIM

Provorov’s ranking skyrocketed late in the season when he showed consistency in his game, both the offensive and defensive aspects.

He has proven to be extremely reliable on the breakout, effectively using either crisp, accurate passes, or confidently carrying the puck into the neutral zone. He quarterbacks his team’s power play, and is terrific at finding a shooting lane through multiple screens.

“Provorov is an intelligent, efficient, and effective defenseman in all situations,” Herasymiuk said. “His anticipation of developing plays and ability to constantly maneuver the ice with a purpose makes him an elite prospect for the 2015 draft.”

His 15 goals and 61 points in 60 games ranked him fourth amongst defensemen in the Western Hockey League, despite playing fewer games than every other defenseman in front of him. One of the most underrated parts of his game comes in his own end. Provorov, who played in Cedar Rapids of the USHL last season, is great at either using his long stick to poke check the puck or deflect passes, or using his large frame to knock his opponents off the puck with thundering checks.

No. 9

POSITION: Center                                       
TEAM: Seattle (WHL)        
SHOOTS: Right                                                        
BORN: May 26, 1997
VITALS: 6’-0” / 180 Lbs                                        
STATS LINE: 44 GP 12 G 45 A 57 PTS 20 PIM

A knee injury in November may have slowed Barzal, but it couldn’t stop him from becoming one of the draft’s top talents. Though limited to just 44 games, he was very impressive and usually the best player on the ice when he did see action.

Barzal is a pass-first player, averaging just slightly over an assist per game. He has an unbelievable patience and is able to dangle and weave his way through opponents with silky smooth hands. His skating is also phenomenal, along with his top-notch vision and hockey sense.

He has a decent shot as well, showcasing an accurate wrist shot with an amazing release. He was one of Canada’s best players at the World Under-18 Championship, leading the way with nine assists and 12 points in only seven games.

Barzal continues to learn the game, as has been showcased publicly through his love of watching game tapes.

No. 17
TEAM: Kelowna (WHL)
BORN: May 23, 1997
VITALS: 5’-10” / 190 Lbs
STATS LINE: 72 GP 20 G 70 A 90 PTS 79 PIM

Like Barzal, Nick Merkley is a playmaker by nature. His stock rose exponentially in the postseason, and during the Kelowna Rockets run to the Memorial Cup final. Listed at 5-foot-10 and 187 pounds, Merkley isn’t the biggest player on the ice but uses the size as best he can to add physicality to his game.

The best aspect of his game is his excellent vision of the ice to be able to create scoring opportunities when it looks like there’s nothing available. His 70 assists and 90 points in 72 regular season games, and another 22 assists and 27 points in 19 postseason games can attest to that.

“Merkley is one of the hardest working, edgiest players in the entire draft class. Has has a dynamic skill set which compliments his on-ice attitude, making him a difficult player to contain,” Herasymiuk said. “Every time he steps on the ice he makes you take notice.”

Merkley could do well by firing some more shots when he has the chance, but that’s something he’ll improve upon in the next two years he’ll likely spend in the WHL. There is lots of room for improvement in Merkley’s game, whether it’s his skating or his pure skills.

He has a terrific work ethic and is willing to play any role necessary to help his team win. He should be selected around the middle of the first round.

No. 25
TEAM: Prince George (WHL)
BORN: May 23, 1997
VITALS: 6’-1” / 180 Lbs
STATS LINE: 70 GP 20 G 59 A 79 PTS 45 PIM

One of the more complete forwards in the entire draft, Harkins is the definition of a two-way center and is reliable in all situations. He is extremely mature for his age, as is shown in his leadership abilities.

Harkins is able to make quick decisions to find the most efficient play to make in all three zones. He’s a solid skater who uses his 6-foot-1 frame to outwork opponents and win plenty of puck battles. A playmaker first, Harkins also possesses an effective shot, when he gets it off. He is able to play on both the power play and penalty kill with success.

He scored 20 goals and 79 points in 70 games this year, more than doubling his totals from his rookie season. Although he’s not the flashiest player, Harkins may be one of the most underrated prospects available.

No. 27
TEAM: Swift Current (WHL)
BORN: October 17, 1996
VITALS: 6’-0” / 175 Lbs
STATS LINE: 72 GP 42 G 39 A 81 PTS 40 PIM

Debrusk is a highly educated player who always impresses scouts with his ability to find open space on the ice.

He was sixth WHL scoring with 42 goals in 72 games. At 6-foot, 176 pounds, Debrusk he isn’t the biggest or strongest forward, but he plays a very solid two-way game. He has sensational puck skills and understands the game far above average. He’s extremely creative in playmaking, but also possesses an electric snap shot with a release that fools goaltenders more times than not.

“DeBrusk is a skilled player that always knows where to go on the ice,” Herasymiuk said. “He has the speed and hands to break a game open in transition while he seems to deceivingly operate in the offensive zone by finding soft spots around the crease and evading checks on the cycle.”

Debrusk is exceptionally versatile, as he has experience playing all three forward positions, and is capable of playing the power play and penalty kill as well. Durable, he hasn’t missed a single game in his two WHL seasons, either.

Article by Devin Slawson