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 B.C. Division Preview
Top Three Contenders (In Order of Projected Finish)
The Rockets have been producing strong blue lines for many years, and this year is no different. With Lucas Johansen, Cal Foote, Devante Stephens, and Gordie Ballhorn all back; there is high end talent and WHL experience on defence. Jonathan Smart could join Foote as 2016 NHL draftees. They also have plenty of scoring punch with Dillon Dube and Nick Merkley lead the offence. Both scored over a point-per-game last season. Tomas Soustal, Kole Lind and Calvin Thurkauf provide support. Michael Herringer takes over as the starting goalie. He looked good when Jackson Whistle was hurt last year.
The Royals lost some serious talent this off-season, but still return a strong team. There is not really a true superstar in Victoria; but they are a strong team from top-to-bottom. Tyler Soy, Jack Walker, Matthew Phillips, and Dante Hannoun had strong offensive seasons last year. They are back and should lead the offence. Griffen Outhouse was one of the best goalies in the league last year, and the Royals will need him to keep that level of play. With Joe Hicketts graduated, the defensive depth is questionable. Chaz Reddekopp should be a good to lead the group, but things are questionable behind him.
Connor Ingram returns, giving Kamloops the type of goaltending that can challenge Victoria for best in the division. Collin Shirley is back as an overager and should again put up points. Deven Sideroff, Matt Revel, and Garrett Pilon provide depth. Dawson Davidson, Ondrej Vala and Joe Gatenby lead the defence.
Players to Watch
Connor Ingram, Goaltender, Kamloops Blazers
Undrafted in the 2015 Draft, Ingram had a big season last year, putting up a .922 save percentage. It was enough to attract attention of NHL teams, and he became a third round pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning. At 6’1″ Ingram is below average sized for a typical goalie prospect, but makes up for it with athleticism. He has very quick legs and takes away the bottom of the net. He needs to continue to work on his glove hand though.
Deven Sideroff, Right Wing, Kamloops Blazers
A third round pick of the Anaheim Ducks in 2015, Sideroff is an industrious forward who keeps his feet moving and has good speed. He forechecks well and works hard along the boards and in front of the net. He keeps the game simple, getting himself open for passes, and getting the puck to the net as often as possible. Sideroff plays a strong defensive game as well, understanding his responsibilities in his own zone.
Dillon Dube, Centre, Kelowna Rockets
Dube is an undersized centre who plays bigger than what his listed height says, getting involved in the forecheck and battling for space in front of the net. He is not afraid to take on bigger opponents, and plays with a non-stop motor. After the whistle, he can be found in the middle of scrums, often working to agitate opponents and get them off their game. Dube isn’t afraid to go to the net, and to battle in the dirty areas of the ice; fighting for pucks in the corners or battling in the front of the net. He is also willing to drive the net both with and without the puck.
Offensively, Dube has the instincts, vision, and passing skill to be a playmaker. Dube sees the ice very well, and can thread a tape-to-tape pass through the smallest of openings. Dube has high-end hockey IQ and almost always seems to make the smart play with the puck on his stick. He uses good stick handling and puck protection in the cycle game to extend plays and wait for his teammates to get open. Dube also has a heavy shot and quick release to be a sniper, and the quick reflexes, and soft hands to bury rebounds or score goals on rebounds in when he does get to the net. He needs to show more consistency though as he can go through stretches where the scoring dries up.
Lucas Johansen, Defence, Kelowna Rockets
Lucas Johansen is a two-way defenceman whose game is based on his smooth skating. Good agility, edge work, and strong pivots give Johansen the ability to change directions, and transition quickly and effectively from offence to defence. His good lateral movement allows him to keep the play in front of him in the defensive end, or to walk the line and open up shooting lanes in the defensive end. Johansen has decent speed and acceleration. He could stand to strengthen his lower body and have a more powerful stride and better balance.
Johansen defends the rush well by keeping defenders in front of him, and forcing them to the outside. He has a quick stick, and poke checks the puck away from attackers. He uses his long stick, and long arms to really cut down on passing and shooting lanes. Johansen is not much of a big hitter, but he is willing to work hard in front of the net and battle for pucks in the corners. Offensively, Johansen is able to add to the attack with a strong first pass setting up the transition game. He also has good poise, and the stick handling ability to avoid fore checkers and skate the puck out of his own end. Johansen has a good sense of when to lead and/or join the rush and when to hang back in his own end.
Nick Merkely, Right Wing/Centre Kelowna Rockets
Despite his samll size, Merkley isn’t afraid to go to the net, and to battle in the dirty areas of the ice; fighting for pucks in the corners or battling in the front of the net. He is also willing to drive the net both with and without the puck. With his excellent balance, and good lower body strength, he is hard to knock off the puck. He’s got excellent offensive skills including superb vision and passing ability. Merkley sees the ice very well, and can thread a tape-to-tape pass through the smallest of openings.
Merkley has high-end hockey IQ and almost always seems to make the smart play with the puck on his stick. He uses good stick handling and puck protection in the cycle game to extend plays and wait for his teammates to get open. While Merkley is more of a playmaker than a goal scorer, he also has an accurate shot and good release. He could stand to shoot the puck more though, as he just doesn’t use that good shot enough. He could stand to add some upper body strength to make his shot harder though, as it is just a bit above average in that department.
Jansen Harkins, Centre, Prince George Cougars
A second round pick of the Winnipeg Jets in 2015, Harkins is a good skater, with solid acceleration and top end speed. He can be dangerous off the rush with the ability to take defenders wide, and the ability to change speeds which can really fool defenders. He has a good first step allowing him to get to loose pucks. Harkins has the agility, and edge work to make quick cuts and avoid defenders. He also has decent balance, and a low centre of gravity allowing him to protect the puck in the cycle game, but could stand to add some muscle and core strength going forward. This added muscle would help him to win more puck battles in the corners.
Harkins vision and passing skills make him a playmaker. With his strong puck protection, he extends plays waiting for a linemate to get open, and then making a quick tape-to-tape pass. He has the hockey sense to get open after moving the puck, and does well on give-and-goes. Harkins has the soft hands, quick release and powerful shot to score goals. He needs to use that shot more though. He sometimes passes up good shooting opportunities. Harkins is a versatile player who can create offense off the rush and in the cycle game, equally. He is willing to fight for loose pucks, but again more strength is needed. At 6’1″ he has the ideal height to play this style of game. Harkins also plays a solid defensive game, and is strong in the face-off circle.
Brad Morrison, Centre, Prince George Cougars
A fourth round pick of the New York Rangers, Morrison is a great skater with a long, fluid stride. He motors all over the ice. Morrison controls the play with strong stick handling skills, and is very dangerous off the rush. He is another excellent passer. His shot could be stronger. Overall though at he is skinny and must add a lot of bulk to his frame.
Sam Ruopp, Defence, Prince George Cougars
A fifth round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2014, Ruopp is a huge defenceman coming in at 6’4″. He plays a physical game, as he’s not afraid to throw hits or battle in the corners or in front of the net. He positions himself well and has an active stick to cut down passing lanes. Ruopp has a hard point shot and is a good passer, but his offensive contributions are limited as he doesn’t have the skating skill in terms of lateral mobility to create a lot of offense. He is also a bit skinny right now and needs to add muscle.
Tyler Benson, Left Wing, Vancouver Giants
A natural goal scorer, Benson can hurt the opposition in a variety of ways. He has a hard and accurate wrist shot with a good release. Benson also has a very good one-timer. He is also willing to stand in front of the net and take punishment to get tip ins and rebounds. Benson does well in protecting the puck in the cycle game. His excellent lower body strength gives him good balance, and he has the frame to protect the puck in battles. He has the stickhandling ability to take the puck off the wall, and get around a defender to create a play, but is not one to make a huge number of fancy moves in transition. Benson does have the ability to be a playmaker as well, with strong tape-to-tape passes and good vision.
Radovan Bondra, Left Wing/Right Wing, Vancouver Giants
A fifth round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks; Bondra is huge at 6’5″ 220 lbs, and uses his size to protect the puck and extend plays on the cycle game. He creates offense by working down low and moving the puck to an open teammate before eventually taking it to the net. His long reach helps him to score in close to the net. He needs to work on making quicker decisions with the puck though. Bondra also uses his size to be an effective player in his own end of the rink.
Chaz Reddekopp, Defence, Victoria Royals
A seventh round pick of the Los Angeles Kings in 2015, Reddekopp is a big, physical defensive defenceman. He has great size and loves to use it to throw thunderous checks, win battles on the boards, and clears the front of the net. He has very good straight line speed, but must work on his pivots and edge work. Overall the skills are there offensively, a good shot, and passing skills, but he is very raw and will need time to develop those skills into effective weapons. He should see more offensive opportunities with Joe Hicketts graduated.
2017 Draft Eligible Players
Cal Foote, Defence, Kelowna Rockets
What do you get when you combine the bloodlines of being the son of Adam Foote, with the junior hockey team with the best reputation for developing young defencemen year after year in the Kelowna Rockets? The answer is Callan Foote. Foote scored eight goals and 36 points in 71 games as a WHL rookie, showing real offensive prowess.
Foote is an excellent skater. He skates well in both directions, and solid pivots and edgework allow him to cover a lot of ice. He isn’t quite as physical as his famous father, but Foote is still willing to play the body. Its more about battling in the corners and clearing the front of the net than throwing big open-ice hits though. Foote has a hard slap shot which he keeps low and puts on net. He also has good poise with the puck on his stick, and the vision to quarterback things from the point on the power play.
2019 Draft Eligible Players
Nolan Foote, Forward, Kelowna Rockets
Unlike his brother, and his father, Nolan Foote is a forward. He has very good size (already 6’2″) and plays a game that is a blend of skill and power. Foote has good stickhandling and puck protection ability. The Rookie has plenty of time to impress over the coming years.