Top 10 NHL draft-eligible WHL prospects for 2011

By Glen Erickson

When National Hockey League teams congregate in Minnesota next June for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, they will have done their homework once again across the Western Hockey League.

Our HF Top 10 ranking contains four defensemen and six forwards. Of these players, nine have been invited to skate at the 2011 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Toronto on January 19. Two players among the group are currently attending the 2011 WJC in Buffalo, New York.

Top 10 at a glance:

1. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, F, Red Deer Rebels
2. Duncan Siemens, D, Saskatoon Blades
3. Ty Rattie, Portland, F, Portland Winterhawks
4. David Musil, D, Vancouver Giants
5. Sven Bartschi, F, Portland Winterhawks
6. Michael St. Croix, F, Edmonton Oil Kings
7. Joe Morrow, D, Portland Winterhawks
8. Myles Bell, D, Regina Pats
9. Colin Jacobs, F, Seattle Thunderbirds
10. Shane McColgan, F, Kelowna Rockets

1. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, F, Red Deer Rebels

The 2009-2010 WHL Rookie of the Year collected 65 points in 67 games last season. Coming off the stick of the then 16-year-old, that production created lofty expectations and this season Nugent-Hopkins has picked up exactly where he finished. Through 34 games, the native of Burnaby, British Columbia has scored 10 goals and 35 assists.

As the Red Deer Rebels continue to improve as a group, Nugent-Hopkins’ offensive production continues to play an important role in the teams’ climb in the WHL standings. The concensus top WHL player available for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, Nugent-Hopkins has also excelled for Hockey Canada teams at international events in recent years.

Although the crafty, creative forward was not able to crack the Team Canada lineup for the 2011 WJC, he is certain to garner another opportunity next year when the tournament will be played in Alberta. In addition to his ever-improving puck skills, the 6′, 170 pound 17-year-old has adjusted well to the physical play and busy WHL schedule.

2. Duncan Siemens, D, Saskatoon Blades

Although he was ranked below Myles Bell of the Regina Pats and Musil by Central Scouting in the WHL preliminary fall rankings, many scouts regard the 6’3, 200 pound Siemens as the top draft eligible defensemen in the league right now.

Siemens appeared in 57 games in his rookie season as the Blades accumulated the best road record in the WHL. As with all elite prospects, expectations are high as the native of Sherwood Park, Alberta competes during his draft year. A steady defensive rearguard, he has improved his transitional play and has already exceeded last season’s offensive production.

Through 35 games with the league-leading Blades, the 18-year-old Siemens has scored three times and added 20 assists while posting a plus-20 rating.

3. Ty Rattie, Portland, F, Portland Winterhawks

The Winterhawks were fast out of the gate this season and they continue to lead the WHL standings. The play of Ty Rattie on the offensive side played a huge role in the team’s quick start. Playing alongside Ryan Johansen (CLB) and rookie Sven Bartschi from Switzerland, Rattie was among the league leaders in scoring through November.

With Bartschi and Johansen busy at the 2011 WJC, Rattie will see an increase in ice time and the opportunity to ensure his stock continues to rise among draft eligible WHLers. Criticized by some for his defensive play early on this season, Rattie is certain to improve in this area as his junior career evolves. But for now, on a very deep Winterhawks’ roster, Rattie is a youngster the organization can afford to look to for offense first.

Through 37 games, the Airdrie, Alberta native has scored 16 goals and 31 assists with a plus-11 rating. He has already surpassed his production from last season, where he collected 37 points in 61 games.

4. David Musil, D, Vancouver Giants

The highly-touted rearguard arrived last season as a 16-year-old in the WHL amid some fanfare and controversy, but when the smoke cleared, the Vancouver Giants rearguard established himself as one of the top defensemen in the western conference.

The 6’3, 205 pound Musil is not going to light it up offensively yet, as he has been focused during his young junior career so far on improving defensive zone play. As is the case with many youngsters that grow quickly physically, Musil has battled and overcome fatigue while adjusting well to the busy WHL schedule. Last season, he appeared in 71 games, collecting seven goals and 25 assists with a plus-33 rating.

Through 30 games this season, Musil has scored four goals and added 13 assists on a Vancouver Giants team that has been less than dominant this season for the first time in many years. A foot injury, deep bone bruise, has kept the 17-year-old out of the Giants lineup of late and may hamper his chances of playing at the 2011 WJC for the Czech Republic.

5. Sven Bartschi, F, Portland Winterhawks

Among imports in the WHL, Bartschi has likely been the brightest draft eligible prospects. He has been blessed with the opportunity to play alongside a group of offensively gifted forwards from day one in Portland. As the WHL’s leading rookie scorer at the half-way mark of the regular season, Bartschi has instilled confidence in what the tiny hockey country of Switzerland has to offer.

Along with Winterhawks’ teammate and fellow countryman Nino Neiderreiter (NYI), the 5’10, 190 pound Bartschi will be busy at the 2011 WJC in Buffalo. The opportunity to compete against many of the world’s elite 18- and 19-year-olds should aid in Bartschi’s development.

Through 36 games this season, the 18-year-old Bartschi has scored 21 goals and 26 assists. For the most part, he skates alongside Ty Rattie and Ryan Johansen.

6. Michael St. Croix, F, Edmonton Oil Kings

Criticized in some quarters early in the season during a supposed slump, St. Croix has spent much of the past 15 games tearing up the entire WHL. As a result, the resurgent Oil Kings are firmly positioned in the middle of the pack among Eastern Conference teams for the first time since their arrival in the WHL as an expansion franchise.

A speedster with soft hands and exceptional puck skills, St. Croix has turned in a determined effort of late. Perhaps considered under-sized in some quarters, the 5’11, 180 pound center brings an offensive flair to the rink that is very similar to what hockey fans in St. Croix’s backyard are seeing from the current group of rookie forwards skating with the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers.

Through 34 games, the Winnipeg, Manitoba native has scored 18 goals and 25 assists, while posting a plus-13 rating. Last season, he collected 46 points in 66 games. Oddly, St. Croix is the only player on our ranking who has not been invited to play in the 2011 Top Prospects Game in January.

7. Joe Morrow, D, Portland Winterhawks

Among a group of drafted defensemen in Portland, Morrow has been able to earn the confidence of head coach Mike Johnston. He has garnered more and more ice time as the season has progressed, a tall order with the likes of Brett Ponich (STL), Troy Rutkowski (COL) and Tyler Aronson (NAS) ahead of him.

As Morrow continues to develop, his ice time in crucial situations will increase. He is projected to play some significant playoff hockey next spring, as the Winterhawks are legitimate WHL championship contenders. The 18-year-old from Sherwood Park, Alberta skates well and has a big shot. At 6’1 and 200 pounds, Morrow is also very capable in the defending zone.

8. Myles Bell, D, Regina Pats

On a team struggling to collect victories, the 6′ 205 pound Bell is a bright light on the backend. Bell, who will celebrate his 18th birthday almost two months after the NHL Entry Draft, was the Pats first selection at the 2008 WHL Bantam Draft. Bell grew up in the Calgary, Alberta area.

Through 25 games, Bell has scored 10 goals and 14 assists, already surpassing his production from last season when he collected 18 points in 61 games. He is an offensively gifted rearguard first, but on a struggling Pats team this season, defensive zone coverage is becoming a priority. Scouts like his size and mobility, although they have yet to see him perform under post-season conditions.

9. Colin Jacobs, F, Seattle Thunderbirds

The contributions of Colin Jacobs this season are a huge reason the Seattle Thunderbirds look to be playoff-bound after missing the post-season a year ago. The 6’2, 205 pound prospect is a native of Coppell, Texas.

Through 33 games, Jacobs has scored 15 goals and 13 assists, surpassing his total of 26 points last season. His minus-five rating shows improvement, although it may be somewhat misleading. Last year the durable, physical forward appeared in all 72 regular season games on a T-Birds team that did not qualify for the playoffs and posted a minus-33 rating.

10. Shane McColgan, F, Kelowna Rockets

The runner-up last season in voting for the WHL Rookie of the Year award, McColgan is one of the many southern California-born players who have flourished at the WHL level in recent years. A speedy forward with a quick release, the durable 5’11 175 pound forward was proficient during his first season in many offensive situations.

This year, it would be fair to suggest the grind has become more difficult for the Kelowna Rockets winger. While he is producing, consistency has become somewhat elusive. McColgan still possesses offensive flair, yet scouts are scrutinizing his play away from the puck.

After a quiet start, McColgan has managed 10 goals and 24 assists in 31 games this season. Last season, as the WHL’s Western Conference nominee for the Rookie of the Year award, McColgan collected 69 points in 71 games.

Other Notables…
Tyler Wotherspoon, D, Portland Winterhawks
Mark McNeill, F, Prince Albert Raiders
Liam Liston, G, Brandon Wheat Kings
Peter Kosterman, D, Calgary Hitmen
Reece Scarlett, D, Swift Current Broncos
Luke Lockhart, C, Seattle Thunderbirds