Hunt, Helewka the top NHL properties at wing competing in the WHL in 2015-16

By Glen Erickson
Dryden Hunt - Moose Jaw Warriors

Photo: Moose Jaw Warriors forward and Florida Panthers prospect Dryden Hunt has completed his WHL career having posted 249 points in 269 regular season games (courtesy of Derek Leung/Getty Images)

 

 

Many of the WHL’s top players achieve success due in part to their versatility, as most forwards will take a shift from time to time at the center position. But for this article, we are ranking wingers in the Western Hockey League, based on those that have been drafted and/or signed by National Hockey League teams.

All of the players ranked are signed to NHL entry-level contracts. Our list contains nine Canadians and one American. A total of seven play predominantly on the left wing. One was actually drafted as a defenseman. Six have toiled primarily in the WHL’s Western Conference, with our ranking containing a couple undrafted players recently signed as free agents.

1. Dryden Hunt, LW (FLA)

The WHL career of Dryden Hunt has ended as the Moose Jaw Warriors were dispatched by the Brandon Wheat Kings in round two of the WHL playoffs.

All told, Hunt appeared in 296 WHL games, despite missing almost the entire 2012-13 season with an injury. Now 20, Hunt was passed over at the NHL Draft, but the Florida Panthers came calling late this season and the Nelson, B.C. native signed an entry-level deal on March 2nd.

Hunt, who checks in at 6’ and 201 pounds, began his junior career with the Regina Pats, was dealt to the Medicine Hat Tigers at the trade deadline last season, then was moved to Moose Jaw where he appeared in all 72 regular season games as an overage player. He scored 58 goals, a league high, and added 58 assists, finishing four points behind Adam Brooks of the Pats for the WHL scoring title.

2. Adam Helewka, LW, (SJS)

Drafted by the San Jose Sharks while a member of the Spokane Chiefs, Adam Helewka was dealt to the Red Deer Rebels at the WHL trade deadline in January as the Rebels looked to bolster their lineup for the 2016 Memorial Cup.

Helewka is on a roll of late, collecting 19 points in 16 games for the Rebels as they defeated the Calgary Hitmen in round one, the Regina Pats in round two, and are now facing elimination at the hands of the Brandon Wheat Kings.

Although he appeared in only 53 games this season due to injury, 34 of those games with Red Deer, the 6’2, 200-pounder managed to compile 42 goals and 32 assists. Now 20, Helewka is from Burnaby, B.C. A consistent scorer throughout his WHL career, he was selected in the fourth round, 106th overall, at the 2015 NHL Draft. Helewka was signed by the Sharks on March 3rd.

3. Jake DeBrusk, LW, (BOS)

Drafted by the Boston Bruins while a member of the Swift Current Broncos, Jake DeBrusk was dealt to Red Deer near mid-season as the Rebels began to load up for their run as the host team for the 2016 Memorial Cup.

Injured early in the campaign, DeBrusk is said to have returned a bit early from the ailment. A player who appeared in all 72 regular season games last year, he played in 61 this season. Despite the tough times, he tallied 65 points. The 6’1”, 185-pound native of Edmonton appears to have hit his stride, collecting 15 points in 16 WHL playoff games in the Rebels current run.

Selected in the first round, 14th overall at the 2015 NHL Draft, DeBrusk was signed by the Bruins on November 12th.

4. Brett Pollock, LW, (CGY)

Signed by the Dallas Stars within the last year, Brett Pollock found himself part of an NHL trade deadline deal that resulted in his being moved to the Calgary Flames.

Pollock, now 20, has been tremendously durable during his 290-game WHL career. Of note is the 2013-14 season when the Oil Kings won the Memorial Cup, when he appeared in a total of 96 games. Since then, over the course of two seasons, he has missed only two regular season tilts. At 6’3” and 197 pounds, he has the makings of an effective power forward and adds certain depth to the Flames prospect pool.

Selected in the second round, 45th overall by Dallas at the 2015 NHL Draft, Pollock was signed to an NHL entry-level contract by the Stars on Dec. 10th, 2015. He played his entire junior career with the Oil Kings, close to home for the native of Sherwood Park, Alberta.

5. Ryan Gropp, LW, (NYR)

A perfect complement on the wing in Seattle for another signed prospect, Mathew Barzal (NYI), Ryan Gropp has developed into a reliable contributor for the Thunderbirds

Sidelined through the early portion of the WHL playoffs, Gropp returned to action in the second round series against the Everett Silvertips, a series won in five games by Seattle after they had swept the Prince George Cougars in the opening round of the playoffs. Seattle is now facing the Kelowna Rockets, the team that knocked the Thunderbirds out of the playoffs in 2015. Through six playoff games, Gropp has three goals and an assist.

Selected in the second round, 41st overall, at the 2015 NHL Draft, Gropp was signed by the New York Rangers on Dec. 31st, 2015. The 6’2, 195-pounder from Kamloops, B.C. scored 34 goals and added 36 assists in 66 regular season games this season.

6. Keegan Kolesar, RW (CBJ)

Coming off a breakout season offensively for the Thunderbirds, Keegan Kolesar is part of a dynamic forward group that has so far experienced some postseason success. With 30 goals and 31 assists in 64 games, Kolesar has proven to be a versatile, offensively capable power forward as his junior career has progressed.

Selected in the third round, 69th overall, by the Columbus Blue Jackets at the 2015 NHL Draft, Kolesar signed an entry-level contract on December 20th. The Winnipeg native is a load, checking in at a burly 6’1” and 220 pounds. Kolesar has been productive in the postseason, picking up six goals and 11 points for a Thunderbirds squad that is poised to move on to the WHL championship series.

7. Jon Martin, RW, (SJS)

Acquired by Swift Current from the Kootenay Ice just four games into the past season, Jon Martin authored a breakout offensive season with the Broncos and earned an entry-level contract with San Jose. The undrafted veteran forward was most certainly a hot commodity at the WHL trade deadline, but surprisingly was not moved.

Undrafted by an NHL team, Martin was signed as a free agent by the San Jose Sharks on March 2nd. All told, he scored 42 goals and added 32 assists in 70 games, 66 of those points coming with the Broncos, who did not qualify for the WHL playoffs. Now 20, the 6’2”, 218-pounder from Winnipeg has joined the San Jose Barracuda of the AHL.

8. Alex Schoenborn (SJS) RW

A feisty forward and veteran of 241 WHL games, Alex Schoenborn’s career seemingly came to an end with the Portland Winterhawks being ousted from the postseason by the Everett Silvertips. From Minot, North Dakota, Schoenborn checks in at a thick 6’1” and 199 pounds.

Selected in the third round, 72nd overall, by the San Jose Sharks at the 2014 NHL Draft, Schoenborn was signed to an entry-level contract on March 11th. He plied his trade in the WHL among a stable of high-end prospects in Portland such as Nic Petan, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Dominic Turgeon and Chase DeLeo, yet he was able to distinguish himself as a gritty and determined forward. This season, he scored at nearly a point-per-game clip with 27 goals and 30 assists in 67 games. Now 20, he has joined the Allen Americans of the ECHL.

9. Paul Bittner, LW, (CBJ)

High expectations this season were quashed when Paul Bittner began to experience problems with his hip. Surgery ended his season near the midway point, which cost the native of Minnesota the opportunity to try out for Team USA’s entry for the 2016 World Junior Championship in Finland. He appeared in 25 games before being shut down this season, collecting 10 goals and 11 assists.

Selected in the second round, 38th overall, at the 2015 NHL Draft, Bittner was signed by the Blue Jackets on Aug. 20th, 2015. Despite the setback this season, the 6’4”, 205-pounder from Crookston, Minnesota provides the Blue Jackets with system depth among power forwards.

10. Mackenze Stewart, LW, (VAN)

Originally selected as a defenseman from the Prince Albert Raiders, Mackenzie Stewart began the past season with the Utica Comets of the AHL. He was reassigned to the WHL as a 20-year-old, where the Raiders dealt the Calgary native to the Tri-City Americans. He appeared in 36 WHL games this season, and chipped in with five goals and six assists on a team that narrowly missed qualifying for the postseason.

Selected in the seventh round, 186th overall, at the 2014 NHL Draft, Stewart was signed by the Canucks on May 11th, 2015. The Canucks hope to transition the 6’4”, 225-pound Calgary native into a power forward.

Other Notables

Justin Kirkland (NSH) LW, 3 – 62, 2014
Deven Sideroff (ANA) RW, 3 – 84, 2015
Jesse Gabrielle (BOS) LW, 4 – 105, 2015
Chase Lang (MIN) RW, 6 – 167, 2014
Radovan Bondra (CHI) RW, 5 – 151, 2015
Austin Wagner, (LAK) LW, 4 – 99, 2015

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