Draisaitl, Reinhart the cream of the NHL-drafted center crop in the WHL

By Glen Erickson
Leon Draisaitl - Kelowna Rockets

Photo: Kelowna Rockets forward and Edmonton Oilers prospect Leon Draisaitl has played in 13 playoff games for the Rockets, scoring six goals and 13 assists while posting a +9 rating (courtesy of Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)

 

 

There are many different kinds of centers – those who primarily excel offensively and those who contribute in other ways to the success of their respective teams. One of the biggest challenges across major junior hockey is taking into consideration the versatility of many top forwards. It is not uncommon for the best players down the middle to take a few turns on the wing on a regular basis.

Our current ranking of NHL-drafted WHL centers includes one CHL import, two Americans and seven Canadians. Three of the 10 have deep hockey roots as their respective fathers each toiled in the NHL. Eight of 10 are signed to NHL contracts. Four of the skaters remain alive in the WHL post-season. Six played the past regular season in the WHL’s Western Conference.

The criteria remain the same as our ranking of goaltenders, wingers and defensemen. All players ranked have been drafted or signed by NHL teams.

1. Leon Draisaitl (EDM), Kelowna Rockets

The fact that Leon Draisaitl is even playing in the WHL this season still has some WHL followers scratching their heads, especially conspiracy theorists dwelling on how the process evolved between the Edmonton Oilers, Prince Albert Raiders and Kelowna Rockets. Draisaitl was acquired by Kelowna from the Raiders just prior to the WHL trade deadline in January after being sent back to junior hockey by the Oilers.

Draisaitl played 37 NHL games this season on an Oilers team that continues to under-deliver on promises of regular season success. His regular season in the WHL consisted of 32 games, 19 goals, 34 assists and a +14 rating. He has been a dominant force since arriving in Kelowna, a highly-skilled offensive catalyst. He controls and protects the puck with confidence and dictates the play in the attacking zone. In short, Draisaitl has been outstanding.

Penciled in at 6’1” and 210 pounds, Draisaitl in fact seems much bigger than those dimensions. Selected by the Oilers in the first round, third overall at the 2014 NHL Draft, Draisaitl is from Germany.

2. Sam Reinhart (BUF), Kootenay Ice

After being returned to the WHL after nine NHL games with the Buffalo Sabres, Sam Reinhart continued the strong, consistent performance he has put on display throughout his junior hockey career.

Reinhart has excellent vision on the ice, which makes him dangerous as a mover of the puck. There is seldom any hint of panic in his play, testimony to his confidence and maturity. For an offensively gifted player often targeted by opponents, he has tremendous discipline.

Selected by the Sabres in the first round, second overall, at the 2014 NHL Draft, Reinhart scored 19 goals and added 46 assists in 47 games this season. He was also a member of Team Canada, the gold medalists at the 2015 World Junior Championship. While with Kootenay for parts of five seasons, the Reinhart-led Ice never missed qualifying for the WHL playoffs. He finished up the current season with Rochester in the AHL.

3. Nic Petan (WPG), Portland Winterhawks

A dynamic offensive talent, Nic Petan has resided among the WHL scoring leaders for the past three seasons. From Delta, BC, Petan is a skilled and patient puckhandler.

Petan played for Team Canada at both the 2014 and 2015 WJC’s. For his career in junior hockey, he has played 327 (and counting) regular season and playoff games for the Winterhawks. He has been a workhorse, playing regularly on both the power play and penalty killing units. Listed at 5’9” and 173 pounds, Petan has learned how and when to avoid heavy traffic

Selected in the second round, 43rd overall, of the 2013 NHL Draft by the Winnipeg Jets, Petan signed an entry-level contract in December of 2013. He collected 89 points in 54 games during the regular season.

 

4. Brayden Point (TBL), Moose Jaw Warriors

Since bursting onto the WHL scene during the 2012 postseason as a 16-year-old, when he scored seven times and added three assists in 14 games, Brayden Point has been a consistent offensive threat throughout his junior career.

If there is a downside for the 5’10”, 165-pounder, that particular postseason constitutes the Calgary native’s only foray into the WHL playoffs. Despite this, perhaps the culmination of Point’s dogged determination came earlier this season when he landed a spot on the Team Canada roster for the 2015 WJC. A diminutive forward, Point has battled naysayers for much of his career. His performance alongside Canada’s best and the top international junior talent from around the globe solidified his rightful place as one of the WHL’s top prospects.

Selected by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the third round, 79th overall, at the 2014 NHL Draft, Point signed an entry-level contract on March 26th. In 60 games this past season, Point scored 38 goals and added 49 assists to lead the Warriors in scoring.

5. Rourke Chartier (SJS), Kelowna Rockets

Rourke Chartier has quietly gone about his business in Kelowna, putting forward consistent effort at both ends of the rink. The 5’10”, 190-pounder comes from the very successful Saskatoon Contacts midget program.

Chartier burst out of the gate offensively this season, scoring 40 goals in his first 40 games. He was slowed during the second half of the season, going in and out of the lineup with nagging injuries. All told, he scored 48 goals and added 34 assists in 58 games while compiling a +33 rating.

Selected in the fifth round, 149th overall by the San Jose Sharks at the 2014 NHL Draft, Chartier was among he final cuts at Hockey Canada’s selection camp for the 2015 WJC. He was signed by the Sharks on December 31, 2014.

6. Adam Tambellini (NYR), Calgary Hitmen

Adam Tambellini was actually property of the New York Rangers while he was still playing hockey in the NCAA. Since then, he has emerged as one of the WHL’s top centers this season. At 6’3” and 191 pounds, the Edmonton native is an imposing figure in the attacking zone.

Selected in the third round, 65th overall, at the 2013 NHL Draft by the Rangers, Tambellini was actually drafted out of the BCHL. After a brief stint at the University of North Dakota, he returned to Canada to settle in with the Hitmen during the 2013-14 season. He was signed on March 10th.

This past season, Tambellini scored 47 goals and added 39 assists in 71 games. He currently leads the WHL in playoff scoring as Calgary continues to battle through the second round of the post-season. His father, Steve, played in the NHL for parts of 10 seasons.

7. Dominic Turgeon (DET), Portland Winterhawks

Referred to by many scouts as being “pro ready”, Dominic Turgeon provides the Portland Winterhawks with a valuable blend of veteran smarts, physical presence and depth scoring.

The 6’2”, 190-pounder is a versatile forward who can play with effectiveness along the walls as well as down the middle. From Cherry Hills, Colorado, Turgeon is completing his third full season in the WHL. He scored 18 goals and added 25 assists this past season in 67 games.

Selected in the third round, 63rd overall, by the Detroit Red Wings at the 2014 NHL Draft, Turgeon is eligible to return to the WHL next season. His father, Pierre Turgeon, was a prolific scorer who played over 1,400 NHL games.

8. Greg Chase (EDM), Victoria Royals

The past season has been somewhat tumultuous for Greg Chase, who hails from Sherwood Park, AB. He can play a rugged style when needed, and is very capable in the attacking zone.

Prior to this past season, the Edmonton Oilers signed Chase on September 13th, 2014 while at the Young Stars Tournament in Penticton, BC. Then, while scoring at a point per game clip this season through 15 games with the Calgary Hitmen, he was said to have asked to be traded after objecting to team discipline for some on-ice transgressions. In mid-November, Calgary moved Chase to the Victoria Royals in a deal that netted the Hitmen defenseman Keegan Kanzig (CGY).

Selected by the Oilers in the seventh round, 188th overall, at the 2013 NHL Draft, Chase now checks in at 6’ and 190 pounds. In Victoria this season, Chase tallied 18 times and added 26 assists. All told, he accounted for 20 goals and 39 assists in 61 games.

9. Zach Pochiro (STL), Prince George Cougars

Born in St. Louis but raised in Las Vegas, Zach Pochiro returned to the WHL a few weeks into the current campaign after a stint in the minors.

His offensive skills and maturity are the strong suits that compelled the Cougars to make room for him as one of the team’s 20-year-olds. Tall and lanky at 6’2” and 175 pounds, Pochiro is not shy of physical play. As a veteran on a young team in Prince George, Pochiro scored 19 goals and added 23 assists in 41 games, helping the Cats earn a playoff berth.

Selected in the fourth round, 112th overall, by the St. Louis Blues at the 2013 NHL Draft, Pochiro signed an entry-level contract last March.

10. Brandon Baddock (NJD), Edmonton Oil Kings

With a Memorial Cup title under his belt, achieved in a supporting role with the Oil Kings last season, Brandon Baddock emerged as a leader in Edmonton this past season. A much improved skater over last season, Baddock is also recognized across the WHL as a tough customer.

At 6’4” and 215 pounds, the New Jersey Devils could find the Vermillion, Alberta native to be a late round steal of sorts if the power forward can continue to develop. This past season, he scored 19 times and added 21 assists for 40 points in 71 games. Upon the Oil Kings departure from the postseason, Baddock was called up to the Albany Devils of the AHL.

Selected in the sixth round, 161st overall, by the Devils at the 2014 NHL Draft, Baddock is eligible to return to the Oil Kings next season as a 20-year-old. He is not yet signed by New Jersey.

Other notables

Mike Winther (DAL), Lethbridge Hurricanes
Jayce Hawryluk (FLA), Brandon Wheat Kings
John Quenneville (NJ), Brandon Wheat Kings
Reid Duke (MIN), Brandon Wheat Kings
Chase DeLeo (WPG), Portland Winterhawks
Keegan Iverson (NYR), Portland Winterhawks
Connor Bleakley (COL), Red Deer Rebels

Follow Glen Erickson on Twitter via @glenerickson51