Welcome back to Top Shelf Prospects. The major junior hockey season is several weeks old and we’re here to take a look around the Western Hockey League. Today, we bring you our 2019-20 WHL U.S. Division Players to Watch.
You can check out all of this year’s Top Shelf Prospects articles here.
2019-20 WHL U.S. Division
Players to Watch
Dustin Wolf, Goaltender, Everett Silvertips
Drafted by the Calgary Flames, Wolf has a strong technique. He comes out of the net and challenges shooters. At just 6’0″, Wolf is small compared to what teams are looking for in a modern goaltender, but his ability to get to the top of the crease helps him to take up as much space as possible. His quick reflexes and strong legs take away the bottom of the net. Wolf also tracks the puck well and moves side-to-side exceptionally quick. He also gets in and out of the butterfly well, getting up and down quickly.
He is very athletic and can make incredible saves at times. A quick glove hand takes away the top of the net, while he also uses his blocker effectively. His rebound control is advanced for his age, though like most young goaltenders it can continue to improve. He keeps his body square to the shooter. This is true even when he gives up a rebound, as he is always in the right position to minimize the amount of net the opponent can see and make the next save.
Gianni Fairbrother, Defence, Everett Silvertips
Drafted by the Montreal Canadiens, Fairbrother scored 10 goals and 36 points in 64 games last season. He plays a simple but effective game in his own end of the ice, angling attackers to the outside, cutting down passing and shooting lanes, and working to win battles in the corners and in front of the net. Fairbrother has the skating and stickhandling skills to move the puck out of his own end and make plays in the neutral zone. He generates effective zone entries, gaining control at the opponent’s blue line. He also has a good slap shot and can play the point on the power play.
Reece Newkirk, Centre, Portland Winterhawks
Drafted by the New York Islanders, Newkirk scored 23 goals and 59 points in 68 games last season. He already has ten points in nine games this season. Newkirk is more of a playmaker than a goal scorer. He has quick hands and can make plays with the puck, opening up passing lanes and then finding teammates to create scoring chances. He is also a strong skater, able to create in transition and protect the puck down low. When Newkirk does shoot, he fires off an accurate wrist shot with a decent release. A hard worker, Newkirk plays in the dirty areas of the ice in all three zones.
Henrik Rybinski, Centre/Left Wing, Seattle Thunderbirds
Drafted by the Florida Panthers, Rybinski had 35 points in 33 games for Seattle after his mid-season trade from Medicine Hat last season. Rybinski is a good skater and pairs this with excellent stickhandling. He is able to make plays in transition while moving at top speed. His quick stick allows him to open up passing lanes and create opportunities for teammates. He also has a quick release on his shot but could stand to add some muscle and put a bit more power on that shot. Rybinski has started slow, picking up just four assists in his first seven games this season.
Adam Beckman, Left Wing, Spokane Chiefs
Drafted by the Minnesota Wild, Beckman is a sniper at the WHL level who put up 32 goals last season. He has a hard and accurate wrist shot with an excellent release. He also has a very good one-timer. Beckman can do it all as a scorer, as he is also able to get to the front of the net and score in tight with his soft hands and good coordination. Beckman’s skating stride is a bit choppy and he will need to improve his speed going forward. He also needs to bulk up and add muscle to his frame.
Ty Smith, Defence, Spokane Chiefs
A New Jersey Devils first-round pick in 2018, 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.
Sasha Mutala, Right Wing, Tri-City Americans
The sixth overall pick in the 2016 WHL Draft, Mutala was selected by the Colorado Avalanche in the NHL Draft. He had 41 points in 65 games last year but already has 11 points in just seven games this season. 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.
Kyle Olson, Right Wing, Tri-City Americans
An overager who did not sign with the Anaheim Ducks after being drafted in 2017, 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.
2020 NHL Draft Prospects to Watch
Ronan Seeley, Defence, Everett Silvertips
An undersized defender, Seeley was the 20th overall pick in the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft. He makes up for his lack of size with excellent skating and stickhandling ability. Seeley can skate the puck past forecheckers and get it out of danger in his own end, starting the transition game. He can lead the rush through the neutral zone or join in as a trailer and still get back defensively. Seeley has good vision and is a good passer, both in starting the transition and in quarterbacking the play at the blue line. He had just nine points as a 16-year-old on a strong team but should be given more ice time and responsibility this season.
Seth Jarvis, Centre/Right Wing, Portland Winterhawks
The undersized forward 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 and battle along the boards. 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 put up 16 goals and 39 points last season and has three goals and 10 points in nine games to start this season.
Simon Knak, Right Wing, Portland Winterhawks
Drafted in the first round, 40th overall in this summer’s CHL Import Draft, the Swiss forward has three goals and 10 points in nine games this season. Knak comes in at 6-foot-1 and 187 pounds. Knak is a strong skater with a good first step and strong acceleration. He gets up and down the wing effectively, using his body to get involved in the play in all three zones. He is especially dangerous off the rush, using his speed to get behind the defence. Knak has a good wrist shot and also has the vision and passing skill to be a playmaker off the wing.
Simon Kubicek, Defence, Seattle Thunderbirds
The Czech defender was taken in the 2018 Import Draft and put up nine goals and 28 points in 61 games with the Thunderbirds last season. Coming in at 6-foot-2 and 194 pounds, he has the size to play an effective two-way game. Kubicek shows good skating ability for his size. He has a very good shot and can play the point on the power play. He shows a real knack for getting his shot on the net through traffic. Kubicek is also physical in the defensive end, battling in front of the net and along the boards.
Jack Finley, Centre, Spokane Chiefs
The sixth overall pick in the 2017 WHL Draft, Finley is already 6-foot-5 and 207 pounds as a 17-year-old. His father Jeff Finley played defence for the St. Louis Blues. He put up nine goals and 19 points in limited ice time last season but has started strong with six points in eight games this year. 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.
Jan Cikhart, Left Wing, Tri-City Americans
Drafted 31st overall in this summer’s CHL Import Draft, Cikhart has put up four points in his first eight WHL games. At 6-foot-3 and 187 pounds, Cikhart has excellent size. The Czech winger is willing to use his size to play a physical game on the forecheck and get to the front of the net both with and without the puck. He also has a strong wrist shot and a good release. Expect him to provide more offence as he adjusts to playing a North American game.
2019-20 WHL U.S. Division Main Photo: KELOWNA, BC – MARCH 03: Ty Smith #24 of the Spokane Chiefs passes the puck against the Kelowna Rockets at Prospera Place on March 3, 2018 in Kelowna, Canada. (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)