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 will start our division previews today and make our way around the country.
You can check out all of this year’s Top Shelf Prospects articles here.
2016-17 WHL East Division Preview
Top Three Contenders (In Order of Projected Finish)
After an awful 2014-15 season, no one expected the Lethbridge Hurricanes to do much last year. Instead a surprising year from a top line of Brayden Burke, Giorgio Estephan, and Tyler Wong led to a strong season. The emergence of goaltender Stuart Spencer, as well as defenceman Andrew Nielsen controlling the power play helped lead the Hurricanes to a shocking first place finish. Unfortunately they would fall in the first round.
The good news is the Hurricanes have a ton of returning players. Up front they get back the entire top line, Egor Babenko, and 2017 draft eligible Jordy Bellerive. They did lose Nielsen on the backend. The Hurricanes hope that newly acquired Brennan Menell can fill the void. Kord Pankewicz and Brady Reagan were also added via trade. The Hurricanes also get former second overall pick Calen Addison in this year. They will bring the 16-year-old along slowly. Spencer is also in his draft year, and projects as the top goalie in next year’s draft.
The Hitmen will be led by Jake Bean, who might be the most dynamic defenceman in the league. Expect him to play close to 30 minutes a night and drive Calgary’s offence. He’ll be joined on the blueline by Michael Zipp, and Jayden Gordon. Vladislav Yeryomenko was added in the import draft. Jakob Stukel, Jordy Stallard, and Carsen Twarynski return, but the team lost three of their top six forwards. Washington draftee Beck Malenstyn and Jets draftee Matteo Gennaro will be asked to step up and fill part of that void. There continues to be a battle in the crease to see who will get the majority of starts.
Medicine Hat Tigers
Chad Butcher, Mason Shaw, Matthew Bradley, Steve Owre, and Max Gerlach all return and give the Tigers real depth up front. John Dahlstrom was added in the import draft, and the Chicago Blackhawks prospect gives them even more fire power. David Quenneville leads the defence group. Its a bit of a question mark behind him. The group includes Clayton Kirichenko, Ty Schultz, and Brad Forres; who are experienced WHL players, but must become difference makers if the Tigers are going to challenge for the top of the division. 19-year-old Kristians Rubins was added in the import draft. Nick Schneider will carry the load in net, and was solid last year.
Players to Watch
Jake Bean, Defence, Calgary Hitmen
Jake Bean has great puck control and combines with elite skating skill to elude forecheckers and move the puck into good areas to start the rush. In that way he can lead the rush himself, or can make a strong pass to get the transition game going. He shows poise with the puck in the offensive zone, and he walks the line well in the offensive zone opening up passing and shooting lanes. His slap shot is hard and accurate, while his wrist shot features a quick release and he uses it effectively to get pucks on net quickly and through heavy traffic. He has very good vision and passing skills, able to thread the needle to set up his teammates for good scoring opportunities. Bean might be the most dynamic offensive blueliner in the 2016 draft.
Anatoli Yelizarov, Defence, Edmonton Oil Kings
Yelizarov came to the Oil Kings out of the import draft last year. He was given big minutes as a 17-year-old. He played important matchups against the other team’s top lines, and was given a lot of penalty kill time as well. His positioning is solid and he uses a quick stick to cut down passing and shooting lanes. While he doesn’t put up a lot of offence, he can start the transition game with a good first pass.
Brayden Burke, Left Wing, Lethbridge Hurricanes
Burke broke out last year, putting up 27 goals and 109 points to lead the way for the Hurricanes. He’s a bit undersized, listed at just 5’10” and 165 pounds. He has a decent shot and good release, but Burke is more of a playmaker than a sniper. Burke is a very good stickhandler. He shows poise with the puck and really slows the game down, reading what is happening in front of him, and can feather passes through tight openings to his teammates.
Giorgio Estephan, Centre Lethbridge Hurricanes
Drafted in the sixth round of the 2015 NHL draft by the Buffalo Sabres, Estephan is a talented centre with decent size. He is a very good stick handler with the soft hands to finish plays in close to the net, and the vision and passing skills to set up teammates. He has a strong shot, and a good release, and can score from further out as well. Estephan is willing to play a physical game, and gets to the dirty areas of the ice in the offensive zone. Defensively he must be more consistent on the back check and more responsible.
Matthew Bradley, Centre, Medicine Hat Tigers
Taken by the Montreal Canadiens in the fifth round of the 2015 NHL Draft, Bradley is a good skater, with a quick first step and excellent acceleration that help him win races to loose pucks. He has a high hockey IQ which he uses to find open space in the offensive zone, and read the play and cause turnovers in the defensive zone. He is good on face-offs and relentless on the forecheck, forcing turnovers and creating offense. Bradley protects the puck well on the cycle. He has a decent shot with a good release.
David Quenneville, Defence, Medicine Hat Tigers
The brother of New Jersey prospect John Quenneville, and cousin of Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville; David Quenneville is an offensive defenceman. He is a very good stickhandler, who shows a lot of poise and controls the puck at the blue line. He has good lateral mobility and is able to open up passing and shooting lanes. Quenneville also has a hard slap shot, which he keeps low for teammates to tip, or to capitalize on rebounds. Quenneville does need to work on his defensive game. He could improve his positioning and on being more physical in his own end.
Adam Musil, Centre, Red Deer Rebels
A fourth round pick of the St. Louis Blues in 2015, the son of Frantisek Musil, and brother of Oilers prospect David Musil, Adam breaks with family tradition and is a centre instead of a defenceman. He has excellent size, and plays a strong two-way game. The Rebels used him as a checking line centre last year and he took key minutes against top opposition. His best asset is his ability to control the puck down low on the cycle. He has very good stickhandling and puck protection skills, and the ability to grind plays out along the wall. Musil can also finish in close to goal with soft hands, or further out with a hard shot. The big concern here is his skating ability. He must get a lot faster before going pro.
Michael Spacek, Centre, Red Deer Rebels
Spacek was a fourth round pick of the Winnipeg Jets in 2015. He joined Red Deer after being selected in last year’s import draft, and put up 54 points in 61 games. Spacek is a decent skater with good acceleration and agility. He controls the puck well, slowing things down and looking for openings. He has very good hockey sense and makes smart plays. Spacek also reads the defence well, and can sneak into openings when he doesn’t have the puck.
2017 Draft Eligible Players
Mark Kastelic, Centre, Calgary Hitmen
Kastelic has excellent size at 6’3″ and 205 pounds. He uses that size to good use, playing a power game. Kastelic gets in quickly on the forecheck and pressures opposing defenders creating turnovers and turning them into scoring chances. He has the strength to win battles on the boards, as well as to work the front of the net both with and without the puck. He could be in line for more ice time this year and big improvements in his offensive numbers.
Vladislav Yeryomenko, Defence, Calgary Hitmen
An import from Belarus, Hitmen general manager Mike Moore has high hopes for the young blue liner. “He’s a smooth-skating, puck-moving, skilled defenceman that sees the ice well,” Moore said told the Calgary Sun. “He’s only going to be 17 years old coming into the year but I certainly think he has the ability and skill to be a PP guy.”
Brayden Gorda, Defence, Edmonton Oil Kings
Last year, Gorda took on a big role with the Oil Kings at just 16-years-old. He mostly played on the third pair last year. However, he did spend some time getting top four minutes. He was paired with Aaron Irving when injuries hit. This included playing their during the Oil Kings playoff series with Brandon. He should get even bigger minutes this year. Gorda shows good mobility for his size (he’s already 6’2″) as well as the willingness to compete in the defensive end of the ice. He clears the crease as well as battling hard in the corners. He needs to work on his puckhandling, but makes a good first pass out of the zone.
Cale Fleury, Defence, Kootenay Ice
A late 1998 birthday, Fleury enters his third WHL season. He is the younger brother of Carolina Hurricanes prospect Haydn Fleury. He is a good skater and this helps him to cover a lot of ice and play a two-way game. Fleury put up 25 points last year, but the point total does not tell the whole story. He could have scored even more if he wasn’t playing on a rebuilding Kootenay team. A weak forward group meant that a number of the good chances he created weren’t capitalized on. Fleury also has a hard slap shot. He is good defensively, as he maintains good positioning as well as playing a physical game.
Jordy Bellerive, Centre, Lethbridge Hurricanes
The second overall pick in the 2014 WHL Draft, Bellerive had an excellent rookie season, putting up 36 points in 65 games. Bellerive is undersized. He is also a lightning quick skater, who has the soft hands to take advantage of that speed on the rush. Bellerive also has great vision and is at his best as a playmaker. He has the skill to make passes to teammates through tight openings. Bellerive does not use it enough, but he has a hard shot with a quick release.
Stuart Skinner, Goalie, Lethbridge Hurricanes
Skinner took the reigns for the Hurricanes in 2014-15, as a 16-year-old, and had one of the most impressive seasons for a goalie that age since Carey Price was in Tri-City, despite not having much help in front of him. He had an even more impressive season last year, backstopping a team that most picked as bottom feeders to a division title. At 6’4″ tall, he has great size, and takes full advantage coming well out to cut down his angles. He also has solid technique for such a young goalie. Skinner’s quick legs take away the bottom of the net. His rebound control is better than what is typically seen in most young goalies. He had a .920 save percentage, and even scored a goal.
Mason Shaw, Centre, Medicine Hat Tigers
Another late 1998 who is entering his third WHL season, Shaw put up 60 points in 67 games last year. He also played for Team Canada at the Under-18s, putting up seven points in seven games. Shaw is also undersized, at just 5’9″ tall. He doesn’t let that stop him as he goes to the front of the net and creates issues for goaltenders. Shaw is a good skater, with excellent acceleration. He is also a good stickhandler, who protects the puck and creates opportunities for linemates.
Austin Pratt, Centre, Red Deer Rebels
At 6’3″ and 209 pounds Pratt has excellent size. He did not get a lot of ice time last year. The Rebels used Pratt in a bottom line role. He showed an ability to grind in the corners, and to control the puck down low. This year he will get more ice time. If he shows off more of his skill game, he can quickly rise up draft boards.
2018 Draft Eligible Players
Calen Addison, Defence, Lethbridge Hurricanes
The second overall pick in the 2015 WHL draft, Addison will join the Hurricanes full time this year. General manager Peter Anholt told the team’s official site, “He’s a real special player. He’s not very big, but he plays the game big and he skates so, so well. His first three strides are powerful. He’s an elite player and we believe he’s going to have a really good career, not only with us but going forward at whatever level that might be.”