2013-14 WHL Preview: BC Division
Welcome back to Top Shelf Prospects. We continue previewing the CHL for the 2013-14 season, going East to West across the country. We move on to the BC Division today. I apologize for the delay as I moved and have been without internet for the past week. As always you can check out the previous Top Shelf Prospects articles here.
Kelowna Rockets: Last year the Kelowna Rockets dominated the division, picking up 52 wins, and this year they return a very strong defence. 2012 New Jersey pick Damon Severson returns to lead the blueline and is joined by Washington Capitals pick, Madison Bowey and Detroit prospect, Mitchell Wheaton as the defenceman factory just keeps churning. Jesse Lees, and MacKenzie Johnston provide depth. In Jordan Cooke and Jackson Whistle, the Rockets return both goalies from last year, and this squad can really protect their end of the rink. Upfront the team can score as well, with Jets prospect Ryan Olsen, Flyers prospect Tyrell Goulbourne, Devils prospect Myles Bell, Tyson Baillie and Rourke Chartier all returning.
Victoria Royals: The Royals have been slowly building since moving to the provincial capital from Chiliwack. While I don’t think they can take the division, they should be the second best team behind the Rockets this year. They will have strong goaltending once again with both Patrik Polivka and Coleman Vollrath returning. The defence features Flames prospect Keegan Kanzig leading the way with Brett Cote, and 2014 draft eligible Joe Hicketts providing support. Up front Brandon Magee, Ben Walker, Austin Carroll, Panthers prospect Steven Hodges and Sabres prospect Logan Nelson provide the scoring.
Players to Watch
Damon Severson, Defence, Kelowna Rockets: After being drafed late in the second round by the New Jersey Devils in 2012, Severson took his game to another level last year. He plays big minutes and in all situations and is a force at both ends. Severson has ideal NHL size (though he needs to add muscle). He is a fluid skater with a great first step and very good acceleration. He reaches his top speed quickly, and this helps him to shake off forecheckers in the defensive zone. However, he is more quick than fast, as his top end skating speed is only slightly above average. He does have good mobility, as he is agile and makes good pivots and changes of direction. This allows him to cover a lot of ice. Severson has a great point shot, including a very hard one-timer. His passing is good and crisp, especially in starting the transition game. Severson’s biggest strength was once his defensive game. The revelation of an offensive game may have raised his ceiling as he truly is a two-way defender now. That doesn’t change the fact that his defensive game is superb. He is a great shot blocker. While not usually a big hitter, Severson is physical in battling hard along the boards and working to keep the front of the net clear. His agility and mobility allows him to keep plays to the outside and in front of him. His strong hockey sense allows him to diagnose plays and anticipate plays and shut them down before they get started.
Dalton Thrower, Defence, Vancouver Giants: Last year was a tough year for the Habs second round pick from the 2012 Draft as he battled injury and performed below expectations for the Memorial Cup Champion Saskatoon Blades. As a result he’s been sent back to the WHL (instead of playing in the AHL) for an overage season. He’s been traded to Vancouver, and the Giants hope that Thrower can bounce back and provide a young team with experience and solid play on the blue line. Thrower needs to get back to what he was doing in 2011-12 when he was playing over 30 minutes per game, in all situations, with tough matchups at even-strength, top power play unit time, and penalty killing work. At his best he is a hard-nosed physical player, who enjoys playing a style of “old-time” hockey. Thrower is dangerous on the powerplay as he has a cannon of a shot, and is excellent at keeping his one timer low and on net. Healso has a good release on an accurate, hard wrist shot. Thrower is a good passer who can quarterback the powerplay and start the transition game with a good first pass. He is a physical player who loves to throw big hits, and is always at the middle of any scrum. If he can get back to that level of play he can be an intriguing trade chip for Vancouver at the deadline, as they continue rebuilding this year.
Timothe Bozon, Left Wing, Kamloops Blazers: Bozon has struggled with just 1 goal and point so far this year, as he adjusts to life as the number one offensive threat on his team. Without JC Lipon, Brendan Ranford, and Colin Smith the Blazers lost a lot of offence, and Bozon who was the team’s second leading scorer needs to do it on his own now. While he likely will not match the 91 points he had last year, he is simply too talented to continue to struggle as he has, and should start scoring soon. Bozon is a natural goal scorer with an excellent wrist shot and a quick, deceptive release. Bozon is also a talented playmaker, and he uses his good stickhandling, vision, and ability to thread passes through small openings to set up teammates. He’s is a good skater and a hard worker who gets in quickly on the forecheck and is effective in doing so. He has a bit of grit and physicality to his game, but isn’t what I would call a “power forward”, however he’s not soft either. His speed and agility is most apparent when he beats defenders wide on the rush. Bozon also has a solid defensive game and he can be used in all situations by the Blazers. Don’t be surprised if he becomes trade bait as he’s likely playing his final year in the WHL and Kamloops is rebuilding.
Logan Nelson, Centre, Victoria Royals: Back for an overage season, Nelson just keeps improving. A Sabres draft pick in 2012, Nelson is an effective two-way centre and the team’s number 1 pivot last season, playing in all situations whether it be providing offence on the powerplay, matching against other team’s top lines, or killing penalties. Nelson is one of those players who is good at everything. He is an above average skater with good quickness and agility and has offensive skill to score goals and make plays. He is a decent backchecker, has decent size and is willing to play a physical game in all three zones. However Nelson does not possess any elite skills that blow you away either. What he does have is a great work ethic, and a desire to continue to improve. This season Nelson will be a key face, and be relied upon as a major contributor on a Royals team that will look to take the next step.
Alex Forsberg, Centre, Prince Albert Cougars: All eyes are on the returning Alex Forsberg, no relation to Filip or Peter, in fact he’s a Saskatchewan native. At this time last year he looked like a top prospect for the 2013 NHL draft. However it was a tough season, and after a dispute with Cougars coaching and management he quit on the team in January, returning to play Junior A hockey in Saskatchewan. This issue meant that the former 1st overall pick in the WHL went undrafted in the NHL draft. After unsuccessful attempts to trade Forsberg, management and the player have apparently worked out their differences and he is back in the fold this year. At his best, Forsberg is a very smart centre with a high hockey IQ. He seems to always make the smart play in the offensive zone. He is extremely talented with the puck on his stick and has a wide array of nifty moves and dangles to help him beat opponents one on one. He also has excellent vision and the ability to thread the puck through the eye of a needle. An all around offensive force, Forsberg also has a hard wrist shot and quick release. He’ll look to produce this year and get himself back into the equation as a 2014 NHL Draft re-entry. His issues with management will be something to monitor as well.
Draft Eligible Prospects to Watch
Tyson Baillie, Right Wing, Kelowna Rockets: He’s an undersized right wing, listed at just 5’10” but Baillie has the skill to be an effective player for Kelowna. He is an extremely good skater, with an excellent first step and great agility. Add to this some good stickhandling skills and he can give defenders fits off the rush. Despite his size, he’s not afraid to get his nose dirty as he goes to the front of the net and fights for pucks in the corners. He also has great vision and passing ability. Due to his late birthday, he is playing his third year in the WHL before being drafted to the NHL, and with a good season for a high profile team in Kelowna, he can find himselft in the late first or early second round, even despite the lack of size. Its up to him to produce the numbers though.
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