Top Shelf Prospects: 2012-13 WHL Preview; East Division

Welcome to today’s edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. My last project was a review of the prospects of all thirty NHL teams. If you missed those you can find a complete listing of my them here. You can also find my extensive NHL Draft preview here.

This past weekend, hockey started across the CHL, and now that the new hockey season is upon us I will be given my thoughts on this coming season. I’ll be breaking it down league by league, and conference by conference. I’ve already gone through the OHL, and the QMJHL; and so today I start with the WHL East Division; home of the 2013 Memorial Cup Hosts.  The Division is loaded with good young defencemen as you can see in our players to watch, and draft prospects to watch categories.

Top Contenders

Saskatoon Blades: The Blades will host this year’s Memorial Cup.  Like most Memorial Cup hosts they have built their lineup with this in mind.  In goal, the returning Andrey Makarov provides the solid netminder that all teams with championship aspirations need.  On defence Duncan Siemens, Dalton Thrower and Darren Dietz are the veteran leaders of a solid group.  The blue line is the strength of this team, and the group is one of the deepest in the WHL.  Up front the Blades have really loaded up for their Memorial Cup year adding Shane McColgan, Brenden Walker and Jessey Astles in offseason moves.  Meanwhile Lukas Sutter, Matej Stransky, and Josh Nicholls who were offensive leaders on last year’s team return.  If there are any holes in this club’s lineup that show themselves early in the season, expect them to be aggressive in addressing them before the WHL’s Trade Deadline.

Prince Albert Raiders:  In a division filled with quality defencemen, the Raiders feature the best collection of scorers.  Mark McNeill the 2011 Chicago Blackhawks’ first round selection leads an attack that also features Mike Winther, and Anthony Bardaro.  The Raiders have also added Leon Draisaitl, a talented import out of Germany.  On the blueline the Raiders feature 2013 draft-eligible defenceman Josh Morrissey who quarterbacks the powerplay and starts the rush for the team.  Harrison Ruopp and Antoine Corbin are veteran leaders who will be important to the team’s defensive play.  The big question with the Raiders comes between the pipes, where newly acquire overager Luke Siemens takes over between the pipes.

Players to Watch:

Duncan Siemens, Defence, Saskatoon Blades: Siemens is a rugged defender who was a bit disappointing last season after being selected 11th overall by the Avalanche in the 2011 draft. At over 6’3 and nearly 200lbs, Siemens has an impressive frame.  He is a rough and tumble customer feared around the league best known for his ability to throw a devastating hit, and to drop the gloves when necessary.  Siemens is an excellent defender who is capable of playing physical, winning battles along the boards, clearing the front of the net, blocking shots, making a good first pass to start the transition game. Siemens is a very good skater, especially for a player his size.  His smooth stride, excellent pivots, and good agility and balance help him to be rarely out of position. With Saskatoon hosting the Memorial Cup this season, Siemens is looking to lead the hosts to junior hockey’s biggest prize.

Dalton Thrower, Defence, Saskatoon Blades: Thrower really showed his worth late in the season last year with Saskatoon, as due to injuries to other Blades blueliners the team was often forced to play with just four regular defencemen.  Thrower 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.  Thrower took this responsibility and really excelled last year. In fact it seemed like the more minutes he was given, the better he played.  Thrower 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 one net. He is also a good passer who can quarterback the powerplay and start the transition game with a good first pass. Thrower is a physical player who loves to throw big hits, and is always at the middle of any scrum.

Morgan Rielly, Defence, Moose Jaw Warriors: The 5th overall pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs will keep Leafs fans glued to Moose Jaw games during the NHL lockout. Morgan Rielly might have the most high end offensive potential of any defenceman in the WHL. Before he suffered a regular season ending knee injury last year he was scoring at a point per game pace for Moose Jaw. Rielly is an absolutely elite skater, his speed is off the charts, and he has great edgework, acceleration, agility and balance. His skating is already at a level that would leave many NHLers in his dust. Rielly loves to carry the puck, and loves to lead his teams rushes from the backend. A frequent sight at Warriors games this year should be Rielly trying an end to end rush. He’s great with the puck on his stick, and has good vision and passing ability. He also has both a great wrist and slap shot and he utilizes these along with his great vision, and ability to make crisp tape to tape passes to be a future elite PP Quarterback. Rielly will look to improve his defensive game this season, and looks to pick his spots to create offense better.

Mark McNeill, Centre, Prince Albert Raiders: A big talented centre, who plays an effective game in both ends of the ice. McNeill is at his best working the puck down low on the cycle game. He has excellent size, and very good puck protection skills which he uses to control the puck below the goal line and then use his excellent vision to create a scoring chance for a teammate, or use his strength to cut to the net and bury the puck with his soft hands in tight. McNeill also has a decent wrist shot and a good release, which he uses to rack up the goals. McNeill also has a well developped defensive game, and can be trusted in all situations in his own end of the rink. McNeill will try to show that he can be a consistent scorer all season long this year, and will be the key to the Prince Albert season.

2013 Draft Prospects to Watch

Josh Morrissey, Defence, Prince Albert Raiders: Morrissey played for team Canada last year at the Under 18 World Championships and really stood out for his excellent two way game. He is a terrific skater, and is extremely mobile which helps him to lead the rush offensively and to contain opposing forwards in his own end of the ice. Morrissey has excellent playmaking skills including puck protection and stickhandling, and very good vision and passing ability. In Prince Albert he will be expected to quarterback the strong Raiders’ powerplay as well as to take on top defensive assignments this season.

Morgan Klimchuk, Left Wing, Regina Pats: Klimchuk is a natural sniper, gifted with a great wrist shot and an excellent one timer. His outstanding release fools and confuses goaltenders as he seems to have the puck in the back of the net before they know it. Klimchuk has good hockey sense and is able to find openings in the defence where he can set up his deadly shot. More than just a one trick pony though, Klimchuk works hard in the corners, often winning board battles despite the fact he is merely average size. He also does extremely well in the cycle game protecting the puck with his soft hands and excellent balance on his skates.

Ryan Pulock, Defence, Brandon Wheat Kings: Pulock was originally selected as a forward in the 2009 WHL Draft, but has made the transition to defence.  As expected the offensive skills in his game are evident, as he scored 19 goals and 60 points in 71 games this season.  He has an absolute rocket of a slapshot and is a feared shooter on the Powerplay.  A natural PP Quarterback, Pulock makes smart crisp passes and sees the ice extremely well. Pulock is an above average skater with good mobility on the blue line. He’s a potential top 10 pick in June’s NHL Entry Draft and the best draft prospect in the division right now.

Eric Roy, Defence, Brandon Wheat Kings: With 11 goals and 53 points of his own last season Eric Roy showed that there is another strong offensive defenceman in Brandon who is also eligible for the 2013 NHL draft. Roy also has a very good shot, but its not quite the rocket of Pulock. As a result his role on the powerplay is more of being the set-up man at the back end. He is poised and cool with the puck and makes great tape to tape passes to set up shots for Pulock or the Brandon forwards. Roy has also shown that he can be a physical presence in the defensive end of the ice.

Dillon Heatherington, Defence, Swift Current Broncos: At 6’3, Dillon Heatherington has the ideal size that NHL teams love in their defensemen. A strong defensive defencemen Heatherington plays a very physical game as he just loves to throw out big hits or be involved in battles along the boards or in front of the net. Heatherington projects as a mean and nasty shutdown defender going forward. He’s even show the willingness to drop the gloves on occassion. As the prototypical big, physical defenceman that NHL teams look at, Heatherington will be in demand next June. If he can show an offensive skill set this season Heatherington could climb up draft boards and may find himself going in the first round of the NHL draft.

As always feel free to leave your comments below and to follow me on Twitter @LastWordBKerr

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