WHL well represented in Calgary Flames junior prospect pool

By Kent Wilson
Photo: Among the goal-scoring leaders in the WHL, Ryan Howse has done a great deal to raise his profile over the past couple months. (Photo courtesy of the WHL

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With Greg Nemisz, and T.J. Brodie graduating to the professional ranks this year, the Flames entire junior prospect ranks currently resides in the WHL. The Flames have always recruited heavily from the western portion of the Canadian Hockey League under Sutter and arguably many of their best draft choices during his tenure have been come from the WHL, including Dion Phaneuf and Dustin Boyd.

The current crop is a lot of solid, if unspectacular, middle-tier prospects. The increasingly interesting sniper Ryan Howse is probably the most intriguing amongst them.

WHL

Ryan Howse, LW, Chilliwack Bruins
Acquired: 3rd round (74th overall) in 2009
July 6, 1991. Ht: 5’11, Wt: 195 lbs.

Only two players (Philadelphia Flyers prospect Brendan Ranford and Montreal Canadiens prospect Brendan Gallagher) have managed more goals than Howse’s 18 thus far in the early going. The Flames third rounder is also seventh overall in terms of WHL scoring, with an impressive 32 points in 22 games. Howse began the season on a tear, scoring at a goal-per-game pace through his first dozen contests. The goals have slowed down since, but he’s begun adding assists to the stats sheet in the mean time.

Howse is leading the Chilliwack Bruins in scoring for the third season in a row. Although relatively small at 5’11, He is agile and crafty with the puck. He’s got an excellent nose for the net and has a knack for getting shots off in tight spaces and through traffic. Originally considered a flawed, one-dimensional player in his draft year owing to a lackluster defensive game and soft play, Howse has been determined to round out his play since being selected by the Flames in 2009. He added penalty killing to his repertoire last season and was relatively successful at it as evidenced by his seven short-handed points.

There remain some barriers to Howse becoming an impact player at the next level. His size will no doubt impact him as a pro, although he is rather stocky at 195 pounds. In addition, Howse is more a pure sniper than an all around offensive forward, and therefore seems to have limited on-ice vision and puck distribution skills. It’s much more difficult to “do it by yourself” beyond junior, so Howse will have to develop a greater ability to use his linemates, as well as continue to work on his defensive game.

Caveats aside, Howse is probably the Flames most exciting forward prospect outside of the pro ranks currently. His goal scoring numbers are heady and enticing for an organization somewhat lacking in terms of high-end offensive difference makers.

Max Reinhart, C, Kootenay Ice
Acquired: 3rd round (64th overall) in 2010
Feb. 4, 1992. Ht: 6’0, Wt: 170 lbs.

Pejoratively known as “not Kirill Kabanov” in some quarters, Max Reinhart has got off to a decent enough start for the Kootenay Ice this season. The two-way center’s 17 points is good for fourth on the Ice in scoring behind 20-year olds Kevin King (26 points), Matt Fraser (21 points) and Steele Boomer (19 points). The only other 18-year old within spitting distance of Reinhart on the club is Christian Magnus with 12 points.

Not overly big or gifted in any one area, Reinhart has good vision and hockey sense, which is probably his biggest strength. The son of former Flame Paul Reinhart, Maxwell has grown up with his fathers coaching and words or wisdom which has inculcated a firm understanding of the game. Reinhart will need to continue to think the game at a high level in order to make waves going forward. At just 18-years old, he’s several years away from making push to join the big club and will need to really work on adding mass to his six foot frame in order to take on bigger players at the next level.

Patrick Holland, RW, Tri-City Americans
Acquired: 7th round (193rd overall) in 2010
Jan. 7, 1992. Ht: 6’0, Wt: 175 lbs.

Perhaps the most surprising of the Flames prospects this season is seventh rounder Patrick Holland. A rookie in 2009-10 with the Americans, Holland’s 16 goals and 36 points were well behind other 17-year olds on Tri-City, including Jordan Messier (47 points), Justin Feser (73 points), and Detroit Red Wings draft pick Brooks Macek (73 points).

This season, however, Holland has burst out of the gates with 10 goals and 24 points in just 23 games. Only 19-year old Adam Hughson has more (29 points) so far. Holland also has the third best plus/minus rating on the club with a plus five.

The knocks on Holland when he was drafted was a lack of physical strength and a poor work ethic in the defensive end. However, his strengths of offensive creativity and high hockey IQ seem to be carrying him thus far in the early going of his sophomore WHL season.

The early returns on Holland are good and if he can keep scoring at a point-per-game pace, the Flames may have a late round steal on their hands.

Spencer Bennett, LW, Portland Winterhawks
Acquired: 5th round (141st overall) in 2009
Oct. 31, 1990. Ht: 6’03, Wt: 185 lbs.

A tall, lanky winger with a heavy shot, Spencer Bennett has never really been able to take a solid step forward like Howse and Holland. A 19 goal, 41 point getter for Portland last year, Bennett has garnered nine goals and 16 points in 25 games so far this season, good for seventh on the team.

Bennett’s most obvious strength is his powerful shot, which is both hard and sneaky fast with a trigger release. He is, however, tentative when it comes to the physical stuff (especially for a taller player) and his skating is merely average. He’s a power-play presence in juniors owing to his ability to man the point or get shots off from the slot, but he’ll have problems doing any damage as a pro if he doesn’t either get rougher or faster.

Joey Leach, D, Kootenay Ice
Acquired: 3rd round (73rd overall) in 2010
Jan. 29, 1992. Ht: 6’04, Wt: 184 lbs.

A big body defender and team mate to Max Reinhart, Leach also has the attitude to go with his size, fre
quently punishing attacking forwards along the boards. More defensively oriented, Leach projects as a shut-down defensemen at the next level, although his three goals and 12 points so far this year rank second amongst Kootenay blueliners.

Beyond relatively average offensive skills, Leach’s main deficiency is his average to-below average mobility, which is often a challenge for bigger guys. He will also need to add some mass to his rather lanky frame. An interesting comparable for Leach is current Flame Cory Sarich, who had a very similar scouting report and stats line in his draft year back in 1995-96 (five goals, 23 points). Sarich, a second round pick of the Sabres at the time, went on to manage six goals and 33 points in his 18-year old season and then five goals and 29 points in 33 games as a 19-year old. A similar progression for Leach would be encouraging.