WHL Top 10 wingers

By Glen Erickson

In the WHL, the veterans generally establish themselves as leaders as their careers progress. Such is the case for the majority of our top 10 wingers, who have collectively improved their skills after being drafted by an NHL team, or in some cases, signed as a free agent.

We have four left-wingers and six right-wingers on our list, but many of these players rotate through all three forward positions at times. Indeed, versatility is also an attribute among this group of WHLers.

1. Kyle Beach, 20 (LW)

Well known across the WHL as a protagonist, Beach has just completed his most productive offensive season with 52 goals and 34 assists in 68 games, along with 186 penalty minutes. Traded from the Lethbridge Hurricanes to the Spokane Chiefs early this season, Beach has become a leader on one of the top teams in the U.S. Division.

Selected 11th overall by the Chicago Blackhawks at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, Beach would appear destined for professional hockey next season. The native of Kelowna, B.C. checks in at 6’3, 210 pounds. He has become a more disciplined player this season, eliminating many of the attitude-associated concerns that dogged him during his formative years in the WHL. In the playoffs he has seven points in six games, six of them goals.

2. Brandon McMillan, 20 (LW)

Perhaps the best skater in the entire WHL, McMillan has enjoyed a career with the Kelowna Rockets that includes a league championship and one trip to the Memorial Cup. The 5’11, 185-pound speedster also played a prominent role with the Canadian Junior team that won a silver medal at the 2010 WJC.

Selected in the third round, 85th overall, by the Anaheim Ducks at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, McMillan should play professional hockey next season. It would not be surprising if Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke finds a way to deal for McMillan, a player he drafted while with the Ducks. McMillan had his best offensive season this year, collecting 25 goals and 42 assists in 55 games. In the playoffs he has seven assists in seven games.

3. Matt Calvert, 20 (LW)

The crafty veteran will benefit from the extra time playing in his hometown with the Brandon Wheat Kings. Brandon is guaranteed a spot in the 2010 Memorial Cup as the host team.

Selected in the fifth round, 127th overall, Calvert is a complete forward who has improved at both ends of the rink. Playing alongside Brayden Schenn (LA) and Scott Glennie (DAL), Calvert has been a significant contributor to the Wheaties success in recent years. This season, Calvert scored 47 goals and added 52 assists in 68 games. He posted a plus-47 rating. The 5’10, 185-pound winger signed with Columbus recently and will turn pro next fall. In the playoffs he has eight points in four games.

4. Brandon Kozun, 20 (RW)
A four-point outing in the final tilt of the regular season enabled Kozun to overtake Jordan Eberle for the WHL scoring title with 107 points on 32 goals and 75 assists in 65 games. Last season, Kozun collected 108 points. The veteran forward has been an offensive spark plug for the Calgary Hitmen since he entered the league.

Selected in the sixth round, 179th overall, by the Los Angeles Kings at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Kozun is a diminutive 5’9 forward who weighs in at 170 pounds. Great hands mean great touch around the net for a player who finds ways to establish position in open ice. His quick release has managed to confound opposition goaltenders. Kozun was a member of the Canadian Junior team that won silver at the 2010 WJC.

5. Ryan Howse, 18 (LW)

As Howse goes, so go the Chilliwack Bruins. Howse, who led the team with 31 goals last season as a 17-year-old, has become the face of the franchise since his arrival as a 16-year-old. After scoring 17 points is his rookie season and 44 points last year, Howse exploded this season with 47 goals and 25 assists while suiting up in all 72 regular-season games for the Bruins. In the playoffs he has six points in six games, five of them goals.

Selected in the third round, 74th overall by the Calgary Flames at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. Howse benefited early in his career from the experience of playing alongside Oscar Moller (LA). The native of Prince George is a fit 5’11, 185-pound, gritty forward with soft hands and a quick release. Howse is a threat to score every time he is on the ice. Likely to return to Chilliwack next season, Howse may eventually find himself traveling just 10 minutes east along the Trans Canada Highway to Abbottsford, where the Flames’ AHL affiliate has set up shop.

6. Carter Ashton, 18 (RW)
Although the past season will go down in the books as disappointing for the native of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Ashton has been signed by the Tampa Bay Lightning. A mid-season trade to from the Lethbridge Hurricanes to the Regina Pats failed to produce the intended results as the Pats failed to earn a post-season berth.

Selected by the Bolts in the first round, 29th overall, at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Ashton is a power forward who stands 6’3 and weighs 205 pounds. He has improved offensively in each of his WHL season, collecting 24 goals and 27 assists in 65 games this season. Ashton is a left-handed forward who plays the off wing.

While he’s playing for the AHL Norfolk Admirals right now, Ashton, who turns 19 on Thursday, will return to junior next season.

7. Linden Vey, 18 (RW)
Selected in the fourth round, 96th overall by the Los Angeles Kings, Vey provides and important veteran presence in Medicine Hat. The 6’, 185-pound forward has suited up for more than 200 WHL games been among the team scoring leaders during the past two seasons.

The native of Wakaw, Saskatchewan has been a consistent offensive producer for the Tigers. After collecting 72 points last year, Vey had 75 this season in one more game. Another durable forward, Vey has missed only one game during the past two seasons.

8. Willie Coetzee, 19 (RW)
Overlooked at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft after his rookie season in the WHL, Coetzee parlayed a free-agent tryout into a contract with the Detroit Red Wings. It was the Red Wings who made Coetzee’s teammate in Red Deer, Landon Ferraro, a second-round pick last year.

The native of Maple Ridge, British Columbia has not missed a regular-season game with the Rebels during the past two seasons. The durable, 5’10, 190-pound winger uses a quick release and high-octane speed to create scoring chances. His production this past season played a huge role in the Rebels earning a post-season berth for the first time in three years. Through 72 games, Coetzee scored 29 goals and 52 assists. In the playoffs he had one goal in four games.

9. Toni Rajala, 19 (RW)

Rajala had a successful transition to North America, playing for the Brandon Wheat Kings, posting 63 points in 60 games. In the playoffs he has one assist in four games. Rajala was a fourth-round pick of the Edmonton Oilers in 2009. He turned 19 yesterday.

10. Tyler Shattock, 20 (RW)
Shattock was traded to the Calgary Hitmen midway through the season and although he didn’t put up quite as many points there as he did in Kamloops, he is having a good playoffs with eight points in seven games. Shattock was a fourth-round pick of the Blues in 2009.

Other Notables: Kellan Tochkin, 19 (VAN) – Everett Silvertips; Prab Rai, 20 (VAN) – Seattle Thunderbirds; Ian Schultz, 20 (STL) – Calgary Hitmen; Levko Koper, 19 (ATL) – Spokane Chiefs; Shane Harper, 21 (PHI) — Everett Silvertips.