Top Shelf Prospects: 2012-13 WHL Preview; B.C. Division

Welcome to today’s edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. Previously I reviewed the prospects of all thirty NHL teams, and we are now reaching the end of our CHL previews. If you missed any of my previous articles you can find a complete listing of my them here. You can also find my extensive 2012 NHL Draft preview here.

Over the last week I’ve been going through the CHL on a division by division basis.  I’ve finally reached the west coast and its time for our last article, previewing the WHL B.C. Division.  This year should see a return to prominence for the Kamloops Blazers, a storied franchise in the 1990s that has fallen on hard times recently.

Top Contenders

Kamloops Blazers: The Blazers are BACK!  After dominating the WHL in the late 80s and 90s the Blazers fell on hard times.  This division has recently been under the control of the Vancouver Giants and Kelowna Rockets, but last year the Blazers re-took the crown.  Expect more of the same this year, as I think the Blazers are even better this season.  Tim Bozon scored 36 goals and 71 points last season, and has served notice that he’s back looking for more this season scoring a hattrick in the Blazers season opener. His linemates J.C. Lipon and Colin Smith also return, and the we can expect big things from the trio again this season. Jordan DePape, Matt Needham and Dylan Willick are also important offensive contributors.  Last year’s leading scorer Brendan Ranford was not offered a contract by the Philadelphia Flyers, and could also return as an overager.  He played in the Blazers first two games, but is now with the Hamilton Bulldogs on an AHL tryout.  If he returns, the Blazers offence will be among the best in the entire WHL.  In goal the Blazers boast Cole Cheveldave who was one of the best goalies in the league last season.  If he plays to a similar level, they should be set in the crease.  The big question is on defence, as the team is icing a bit of a no name group.  Rookie Jordan Thomson (the 4th overall pick in the 2011 WHL Draft) will be heavily relied upon to play a big role.

Kelowna Rockets: The Rockets have been a defencemen factory over the last decade and this year’s team is once again strong on the blueline.  Veterans Myles Bell and Damon Severson lead this group of defencemen.  While Madison Bowey and Mitch Wheaton look to make an impact in their draft years.  The team has a good goaltending tandem even if neither Jordan Cooke nor Jackson Whistle has been a starter before, both have shown ability as backups.  The big question in Kelowna is goal scoring.  Colton Sissons will be asked to lead the offence, but he’ll need to put up more points than last year if the Rockets want to challenge the Blazers.  Ryan Olsen, acquired in the move that sent Shane McColgan to Saskatoon will also be asked to bring offence as will Tyson Baille going into his second season.  I’m just not sure the Rockets have enough scoring to really contend though.

Players To Watch:

Tim Bozon, Left Wing, Kamloops Blazers: Bozon has come out of the gate flying this year with a hat-trick and a goal of the year candidate in overtime of the first game of the season.  With 36 goals and 71 points in his draft year, Bozon impressed the Montreal Canadiens’ scouts enough to take him in the third round. 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 an excellent 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 excellent speed and agility is also 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 Rockets.  Don’t be surprised if the 2011-12 Western Conference Rookie of the Year adds more hardware to his mantle before leaving the WHL.

Colton Sissons, Right Wing, Kelowna Rockets:  Sissons is the type of player that every coach dreams about. He oozes intangibles. He’s a great all-around player, who plays hard in all three zones, and who never takes a shift off. Sissons will go through a wall if he thinks it will help his team win. He’s that type of heart and soul type guy. The thing is though, all eyes are on him to lead the Rockets in Offense this year and bring more than just secondary scoring, great defence, and intangibles. He does have some offensive skill with a hard and accurate shot. Sissons is also a good playmaker as he uses good vision to set up teammates. Sissons is a decent stickhandler, but he is far more likely to try and bull his way through a defender and take the puck right to the net, than to try to get around him with fancy moves. He is a strong forechecker and his tireless work ethic helps him to win many board battles. The questions are about his skating  His stride is unorthodox.  His top end speed is average, maybe even a hair above average, but its nothing to right home about.  His agility needs work, and he could also stand to develop a quicker first step and better acceleration.

Brett Kulak, Defence, Vancouver Giants: Last season Kulak emerged as a strong two way defender for the Giants.  He seemed to get better and better as the season went on.  This season he’ll be one of the key returning members of the team and will be expected to lead the club that has lost veterans Brendan Gallagher and Jordan Martinook. Kulak’s biggest asset is his tremendous hockey IQ.  Whether it be offensively or defensively he plays such a calm steady game.  His positioning on the ice is outstanding, as is his decision making.  He always seems to pick the right time to join the rush, make a pinch at the blue line, play it safe and hang back, or make the smart pass.  He’s capable of being used in all situations and expect to see him get big minutes this year including lots of time on both special teams units.

Logan Nelson, Centre, Victoria Royals: In his draft year, 2010-11, Nelson played for Des Moines in the  USHL and really struggled. He was a fourth line player with limited ice time and really didn’t stand out and was not drafted in the 2011 NHL Draft. Last year Nelson moved to the WHL, and played a key role for the Victoria Royals and helped the franchise make the  playoffs in their first season on Vancouver Island.  This got him noticed and drafted in the 5th round of the NHL Draft by the Buffalo Sabres.  Nelson is an effective 2 way centre and the team’s number 1 pivot down the stretch, playing in all situations. Nelson is one of those players who is good at everything.  He is an above average skater, has offensive skill to score goals and make plays, is a decent backchecker, has decent size and is willing to play a physical game.  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 be in the fight for one of the final playoff spots in the conference.

2013 Draft Eligible Players to Watch:

Madison Bowey, Defence, Kelowna Rockets: The Rockets have been an NHL defence factory over the last decade or so, and Madison Bowey looks to continue in the tradition.  Bowey is a strong two way player, who relies on his good speed, acceleration and quickness to define his game in all areas of the ice.  He is an excellent puck mover with the ability to rush the puck or to make a strong first pass.  He is also good defensively as he has high hockey IQ, reads the play very well, and cuts down passing and shooting lanes.  Bowey will play a top 4 role for the Rockets this season, and scouts will once again be off to Kelowna to find the next star defenceman in the NHL.

Mitch Wheaton, Defence, Kelowna Rockets: Continuing our theme of the Kelowna defence factory is Mitch Wheaton.  Wheaton is a 6’5″ monster who the Rockets managed to sign despite the fact he was heavily recrutied by several NCAA schools.  Wheaton is a stay at home type who uses his long reach and big body to cut down on passing and shooting lanes.  He is so big and physically strong at his age that he keeps the crease very clear, and wins a ton of board battles.  Wheaton could stand to become more of a big hitter and develop a mean streak if he really wants to shoot up draft boards, but even as it is he’ll be someone that NHL scouts keep a close eye on.

Alex Forsberg, Centre, Prince George Cougars: Sharing a famous surname, Forsberg is not related to either Peter or even Filip Forsberg.  In fact, he’s not even Swedish, as he was born in Saskatchewan.  Still Alex Forsberg was the 1st overall pick in the 2011 WHL Draft.  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.  Last season he put up 15 goals and 40 points in 51 games, and Prince George will be looking for even more out of Forsberg this season.  A big season would help the Cougars make the playoffs and also help Forsberg’s draft stock immensely.

Other Rookies to Watch

Joe Hicketts, Defence, Victoria Royals: Hicketts was the 12th overall pick in the recent WHL draft, and its rare to see a 16 year old defenceman drafted in that area come in and have a big impact in the WHL.  However Hicketts has impressed many with his pre-season play, and that has carried over for the first few games of the regular season.  An impressive skater with great vision and passing ability, Hicketts might be Victoria’s best defenceman already and is someone the team will build around going forward.  He looks like a natural on the power play and he will be someone to keep an eye on before the 2014 NHL draft.

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