2018-19 WHL U.S. Division Preview

Welcome back to Top Shelf Prospects. It’s that time again, major junior hockey is back and we’re here to preview the new season for you. All three leagues are kicking off this week. With that in mind, we continue our division previews today as we make our way around the country.

You can check out all of this year’s Top Shelf Prospects articles here.

Check Out the WHL East DivisionWHL Central Division, and WHL B.C. Division Previews here.

2018-19 WHL U.S. Division

Top Three Contenders in Predicted Order of Finish

Spokane Chiefs

Spokane will be led by a pair of superstars. Centre Jaret Anderson-Dolan put up 91 points last year and should once again be one of the top scorers in the league. Meanwhile, Ty Smith leads the blue line and put up 73 points in 69 games. They are both good defensively as well. Jake McGrew, Riley Woods, Ethan McIndoe, Eli Zummack, provide offensive depth and Adam Beckman is an intriguing rookie. The defence also includes Filip Kral, Nolan Reid, and Jeff Faith. There are some questions in goal as Dawson Weatherill and Bailey Brkin split the net. This may be a weak spot, but the Chiefs are so good in other areas that if things look shaky in goal, they will sacrifice future assets for an upgrade.

Portland Winterhawks

This prediction is based on the proposition that the team could get Cody Glass back from the Vegas Golden Knights and Henri Jokiharju from the Chicago Blackhawks. Both could make their NHL clubs to start the season, but the real test will come as they get closer to nine games played. If either one or both does not return, it could be an issue. The team got good news when the San Jose Sharks returned Joachim Blichfield for an overage season. Ryan Hughes, Lane Gilliss, Jake Gricus, and rookie Seth Jarvis add offensive depth. The defence also features Brendan de Jong, Jared Freadrich, and Matthew Quigley. Shane Farkas takes over as starting goalie.

Everett Silvertips

The Silvertips rode the goaltending of Carter Hart to the division title last year. Hart is now gone and while he cannot be fully replaced, the Silvertips have another strong goalie in Dustin Wolf. He is protected by a good defence corps led by Wyatte Wylie, Jacob Christiansen, and Sahvan Khaira. The Silvertips lost plenty of offensive firepower. They will look to Connor Dewar and Riley Sutter to become offensive leaders. Sean Richards provides overage leadership and scoring depth.


Players to Watch

Connor Dewar, Left Wing, Everett Silvertips

A Minnesota Wild draftee, Dewar is an undersized forward who is willing to play a gritty game. He gets involved in battles along the boards and is willing to get to the front of the net to make plays. Dewar is also strong in the defensive end, supporting his teammates in defending the cycle down low and providing effective backpressure against the rush. He scores goals with a strong wrist shot and a quick release. Dewar is a good skater. He has a quick first step and good speed. His agility and edgework help him to weave through traffic both with and without the puck.

Riley Sutter, Centre, Everett Silvertips

A third-round pick of the Washington Capitals, Sutter plays a north-south style of game. He is quick to get in on the forecheck and punishes opposing defencemen if he gets the chance. Sutter’s relentless pressure along the boards creates turnovers which he then translates into offensive opportunities. He uses his body to protect the puck in the cycle game and keeps it moving with quick passes to the open man. While he’s not creative in terms of his stickhandling, he can be creative with his passes, fitting the puck through tight areas and leading to scoring opportunities for his teammates.

Sutter is more of a goal scorer than a playmaker though. His wrist shot and one-timer are both particularly heavy and accurate. He could work on having a bit quicker of a release though. Sutter does most of his damage in close to the net. He creates havoc at the top of the crease. Sutter has the soft, quick hands to pounce on rebounds and put them in the back of the net. He is also good at tip-ins and burying passes in tight.

Joachim Blichfield, Right Wing, Portland Winterhawks

Blichfeld put up 24 goals and 56 points in 56 games for the Portland Winterhawks last season. He is not the flashiest player, but Blichfeld plays a very smart game. He finds openings in the defence and gets set up for his shot. His wrist shot is heavy and accurate, but he could work on getting an even quicker release. At 6’2″ he has the size to get to the front of the net and provide screens and pounce on rebounds. Most of Blichfeld’s assists come through good puck control on the cycle game and keeping possession in the offensive zone.

Cody Glass, Centre, Portland Winterhawks

Glass has good hands, with the ability to stick handle in tight spaces and make moves one-on-one. He protects the puck extremely well down low, extending plays and keeping possession. He shields the puck well, using his body to keep defenders away, while also having the good balance to fight through checks. Glass is good in board battles, and could be even better as he adds some muscle to his frame. He also has the passing skills and vision to make his linemates better and put up points. Glass is a creative playmaker, finding a way to get the puck to a teammate, even when there doesn’t appear to be much of a lane to do so. He can make those passes on both his forehand and backhand and through tight spaces.

He also has a decent wrist shot and good release. Glass’ quick hands help him to finish plays in tight to the net. What really sets him apart offensively though is his hockey IQ.  He is almost always in the right spot or making the correct play with the puck. He puts the puck into good areas, allowing a teammate to get it and make a play. Glass then finds an opening, and looks for a soft spot in the defence to get open for a return pass.

Henri Jokiharju, Right Defence, Portland Winterhawks

Jokiharju is a solid puck handler. He leads the rush or joins as a trailer. He also has the poise to quarterback play from the blue line. Jokiharju makes smart passes including the long stretch pass as well as a cross-ice pass to set up a teammate. Jokiharju possesses excellent vision, the smarts to see plays developing as well as the skill to fit the puck through tight openings. He opens passing lanes through his excellent lateral mobility and puck poise. Jokiharju showed an increased willingness to shoot last season and goals followed. He improved his shot, adding power. He has a knack for getting it through traffic and on the net. Jokiharju also makes use of a good wrist shot, sneaking down from the point to the top of the circles. It is accurate and has a quick release.

Jokiharju has very good positioning and gap control. He keeps his man to the outside and away from the dangerous areas of the ice. His good lateral agility makes him very hard to beat in one-on-one situations. An active stick helps him to cut down passing and shooting lanes. Jokiharju is aggressive physically despite his small frame. He battles hard in the corners and in front of the net, and is also willing to throw big hits. Over the last year, Jokiharju has really started to bulk up. This will help him to play this aggressive style at the NHL level. That said, there is still room to continue to fill out his frame.

Jarret Tyszka, Left Defence, Seattle Thunderbirds

Montreal Canadiens draftee, Tyszka improved defensively last season. His positioning and gap control make him tough to beat in one-on-one situations. While Tyszka is not the type to look for huge hits, he is willing to play physical. He battles hard in the corners and clears the front of the net effectively. Tyszka will need to get stronger to play this way at higher levels. He also has good positioning and an active stick that cuts down passing lanes. Tyszka is not afraid to put his body out there to block shots. He also shows some offensive skill, more as a shooter than playmaker. He is a good skater and moves the puck effectively.

Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Centre, Spokane Chiefs

A Los Angeles Kings prospect, Anderson-Dolan is a very good skater. He has an outstanding first step, and great acceleration as well as top-end speed. Anderson can beat defensemen one-on-one. Once he gets a step on a defender, he cuts to the inside, drops his shoulder and drives the net. He has the strength and balance in his lower body to fight through checks. He is hard to knock off the puck. Anderson-Dolan also has very good edgework and agility. He can make quick cuts and changes of direction. Anderson-Dolan also uses his excellent skating to get in quickly on the forecheck, pressuring defenders into mistakes and creating turnovers. Once he does get a turnover, he uses his strength on the puck to protect the puck down low, and extend possession. More a goal scorer than a playmaker, Anderson-Dolan still shows some decent vision and passing skill.

Anderson’s dogged determination is also an asset around the net. He scores goals in tight to the goalie by using his soft hands after driving the net, or by knocking in rebounds, or a short one-timer on a quick pass. His wrist shot is also a weapon from further out as he has surprising power, and a quick release.

Ty Smith, Left Defence, Spokane Chiefs

A New Jersey Devils first-round pick, Smith is a very good stick handler. He can lead the rush, but also has the poise to control the puck at the blue line and quarterback the play. He has excellent vision and reads the play extremely well. Smith is patient and poised. He makes smart passes to teammates, giving them good scoring chances. He also works well as a trailer, reading the play and finding the open ice to create an offensive threat. Smith almost always seems to make the right play with the puck. Smith is a very good passer and can set things up on the rush or from the point on the power play.

He also has a good wrist shot with an outstanding release. He has improved his slap shot this season and gets good power on his one-timer. Smith is also good at getting his shot on net, despite the traffic, finding shooting lanes. He keeps his shot low and allows his teammates to get screens, tip-ins, and rebounds.

His defensive game is based on smart positioning and a quick stick, but he is undersized. Smith must continue to get stronger, to be better in front of the net and in the corners. He is willing to battle forwards but could use more muscle. Smith is good at getting the puck out of his own end quickly. Once there is a loose puck, he can get to it quickly and either skate it out of danger or make a good first pass to start the transition game. Smith’s best defensive attribute is his skating.

Kyle Olson, Right Wing, Tri-City Americans

An Anaheim Ducks pick, Olson is a smaller player, but he certainly does not play like it. He is very physical, throwing himself into hits with reckless abandon; and playing like a pest in scrums in front of the net and along the boards. He gets to the front of the net where he can finish plays with soft hands. Olson also has a very good wrist shot, with great accuracy and a quick release. He works hard in his own end and plays a good two-way game.

Michael Rasmussen, Centre, Tri-City Americans

It is likely that Rasmussen makes the Detroit Red Wings to start the NHL season, especially following Henrik Zetterberg‘s retirement. There is still the possibility though, that he could return to the team if he doesn’t look ready after nine NHL games.

Rasmussen’s long reach makes it very hard to get the puck off of him, and he has the slick hands to control it in tight areas or make plays in close to the goalie. This, along with his strength on the puck allows him to extend plays in the cycle game, waiting for teammates to get open. His vision is very good, as is his ability to pass the puck through tight spaces. If Rasmussen is put on a line with at least one other forward who can work this style, he will be able to maintain possession and control the puck down low for long periods of time. When scoring chances present themselves he can take advantage by making a good pass.

Rasmussen can also establish body position in front of the net and uses his size as an effective screen. Rasmussen has the talent to bang in rebounds and tip-in shots. He also has a very heavy wrist shot, with good accuracy and an excellent release. When he does not have the puck, Rasmussen is relentless in his forechecking and puck pursuit. He uses his size and strength to effectively lean on opposing players, and win battles for loose pucks in the corner.


2019 NHL Draft Prospects to Watch

Dustin Wolf, Goaltender, Everett Silvertips

Wolf looked great in Hart’s absence for the World Juniors last year. In 20 games he had a .928 save percentage. He was also extremely impressive in the U.S. net at the Hlinka-Gretzky cup. Wolf could compete to be the top goalie drafted in the 2019 NHL Draft. Wolf has a strong technique. He comes out of the net and challenges shooters. His quick reflexes and strong legs take away the bottom of the net. Wolf also tracks the puck well and moves side to side quickly. A quick glove hand takes away the top of the net.

Wolf is also strong handling the puck. He can act as a third defenceman, starting the breakout and transition for the team. He even makes the long pass if the opposing team gets caught on a line change.

Clay Hanus, Left Defence, Portland Winterhawks

Hanus played limited minutes and put up just six points as a WHL rookie. The smooth-skating defender should have a bigger role this year. He has very good speed in both directions. He also has good agility, edgework, pivots. This helps Hanus to play a two-way game. He moves the puck through the neutral zone and starts the transition game. He also has good gap-control and is strong in one-on-one situations.

Dillon Hamaliuk, Left Wing, Seattle Thunderbirds

Hamaliuk put up 15 goals and 39 points as a WHL rookie. He could really break out in his draft year. Hamaliuk has good size at 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds. He is a powerful skater, who uses his size and stride to fight through checks and get to the front of the net. A power forward in the making, Hamaliuk forechecks hard and creates turnovers. Hamaliuk also has a good wrist shot and release. He uses his frame to create havoc in front of the net.

Jake Lee, Right Defence, Seattle Thunderbirds

Lee put up four goals and 10 points as a rookie. He plays a two-way game with strong work in the defensive zone for a 16-year-old and should only get better. Lee is already 6-foot-1 and is willing to use his size to play a physical game, winning battles on the boards and in front of the net. He also has a strong shot and should be able to put up more goals if he gets more minutes and opportunity on the power play. Lee sees the ice well. He starts the transition game with a good first pass. He also showed that he can quarterback the play at the point if given more of an opportunity.

Sasha Mutala, Right Wing, Tri-City Americans

The sixth overall pick in the 2016 WHL Draft, Mutala put up 11 goals and 26 points as a rookie. He was also a star at the international level, with five goals and eight points in five games at the Under-17 World Hockey Challenge, and two goals and four points in helping Canada to win the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup. Mutala has soft hands and creates passing lanes through quick changes in his stick angle. He can feather a pass through tight lanes, both on the forehand and backhand. Mutala sees the ice well and can set up his teammates. He also has a powerful and accurate wrist shot with a very good release. His skating is decent but could be even better with a bit of a longer stride.


2020 NHL Draft Prospects to Watch

Seth Jarvis, Right Wing, Portland Winterhawks

The undersized winger was the 11th overall pick in the 2017 WHL Draft. Jarvis doesn’t let his size get in the way and is willing to get to the front of the net. A pure sniper, he can score in a variety of ways with a good arsenal of a wrist shot, snapshot, one-timer and backhand. Jarvis shows good speed and excellent edgework and agility. He could make an immediate impact as a secondary scorer for the Winterhawks this year.

Jack Finley, Centre, Spokane Chiefs

The sixth overall pick in the 2017 WHL Draft, Finley is already 6-foot-4 and 207 pounds as a 16-year-old. His father Jeff Finley played defence for the St. Louis Blues. Finley is a strong two-way player. He creates offence by using his frame to win battles, get to the net, and punish opposing defenders on the forecheck. With the puck, he shows good vision and the hockey IQ to make smart plays. He is also willing to backcheck and support the defence in playing against the cycle.


Check Out the WHL East DivisionWHL Central Division, and WHL B.C. Division Previews here.


Main Photo: KELOWNA, CANADA – JANUARY 4: Jaret Anderson-Dolan #11 of the Spokane Chiefs skates with the puck against the Kelowna Rockets on January 4, 2017 at Prospera Place in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)