WHL 2004 Prospects: Vancouver

By jes-golbez-ursulak

In the young history of the WHL Vancouver Giants franchise, the G-Men have had two of their players picked in the NHL Entry Draft (Adam Courchaine and Marian Havel), one player illegally picked (Robin Kovar), and two free agents signed by NHL teams (Darren Lynch and Tyson Marsh). It’s not a stellar past, but the future looks brighter with super prospect Gilbert Brule set to challenge for a Top 5 spot in 2005, and more hopefuls from the 2004 class.

For this year’s draft there are three hopefuls that hope to hear their names called on draft day. One is a sure-fire pick, one is a ‘maybe’ pick or potential free agent, while the other is an extreme long shot.

Marc Fistric, D
Height: 6’3”
Weight: 225
Shoots: Left
Born: June 1, 1986
CSS Ranking: 19th NA Skater
ISS Ranking: 54

One of the biggest players available on draft day, the 225-pound (or more) Fistric was drafted third overall by the Giants in the 2001 WHL bantam draft, and, after winning the best defenseman award in the Alberta Midget League, his future was bright as he moved up the ranks.

Coming into this season, many saw Marc, the son of former Red Wings draftee Boris Fistric, as a potential first round pick. Fistric had already completed his rookie apprenticeship in the WHL, had played at the Under-18 World Cup, and was poised to become a key figure in the changing fortunes of the young Giants franchise.

As one of the beefier defensemen in the draft, Fistric can simply manhandle opposing forwards at will. Fistric is built like a CFL linebaker, and combined with agile skating ability, he had scouts and hockey executives excited at his potential.

While Fistric did not play poorly this year, he found himself falling lower and lower on draft lists. Why? 12 points in 72 games tells most of the story.

In his rookie campaign, Fistric’s one black mark against him was his unwillingness to use his massive size. He was like the big friendly giant a great deal of the time, and would only start asserting himself when he was angered. As a rookie, he was understandably a bit nervous, but he had the size and strength to overpower most any forward, and he wasn’t using it enough.

Offensively, Fistric had some impressive numbers in the midget and lower levels, and it was thought that he would be able to translate some of those numbers at the WHL level. Fistric has a hard shot, and he’s a pretty capable passer. 30-40 points should have been attainable.

Unfortunately for Fistric, the mean streak showed up, but his offense never showed its face. Fistric showed no sense of creativity in the offensive zone, and that is the main reason why other prospects simply leapfrogged over him. Fistric has quickly become regarded as a one-dimensional defenseman, though he is still a very solid prospect heading into the draft.

Positives:

Power: Fistric showed a lot more assertiveness and aggressiveness during his second season in the WHL. When he is angry, it’s almost as if the Incredible Hulk has laced up skates. Opposing players end up flying all over the place as Fistric simply punishes them in open ice or along the boards. Fistric is incredibly strong, and can overpower most opposing players in any situation.

Defense: Fistric has been compared to former Canucks defenseman Murray Baron, as they play an eerily similar type of game. Fistric is not a naturally nasty guy, but he can keep the front of his net clear of attackers. He has shown a decent ability to block shots with his big frame, and could develop that part of his game into a valuable asset as he gains experience.

Skating: As the old cliché goes, Fistric can skate well for a big man. Fistric has good agility and can carry the puck up the ice with good speed. He is a good skater straight-ahead, and can cover a good chunk of ice fairly efficiently.

Intangibles: Fistric was willing and eager to help out teammates who had been attacked or jumped on. He has shown good leadership skills and is a solid character guy. His willingness to drop the gloves to defend teammates earned him the respect of his teammates, coaches, and fans.

Negatives:

BFG syndrome: Although Fistric was nastier and grouchy last season, he can still be too passive at times. It takes a hit, or a whack from a stick to get him going. His game just isn’t rounded enough to be effective if he isn’t angry or assertive. His father, Boris, piled up gaudy PIM totals in the IHL and juniors, but that same natural aggressive mentality doesn’t seem to have been passed on.

Fistric is fine when he makes the safe play off the glass, or down the ice. When he starts the carrying the puck, which he does fairly well, he just doesn’t have much of an idea what to do with it. Too often, he will turnover the puck or fail to create an offensive chance off of the rush. He could do with a few less Igor Kravchuk-like turnovers. In the offensive zone, he seems reluctant to release his slapshot.

Overall, Fistric is a very good defensive prospect. He may never develop much of an offensive upside, but the size, strength, and skating ability should help him into a good NHL career as a defensive force. His draft stock falling is a failure to live up to lofty expectations, rather than looking at what he does well.

Mitch Bartley
Height: 5’11”
Weight: 200
Shoots: Left
Born: February 1, 1985
CSS Rank: 145 among North American skaters

Mitch Bartley was passed by in 2003, but he has a good chance of being selected this time around after a breakout season, where he won the Giants’ ‘Most Improved’ Award (72GP 31-28-59 points).

Playing mainly on a line with Minnesota draftee Adam Courchaine, Bartley was responsible for doing the grimy plumbing in the corners for the quiet and finesse-oriented Courchaine.

An industrious winger, Bartley is like the Duracell Bunny; He just keeps going and going. He rarely has a shift in which is he isn’t working hard, and he dishes out a lot of hits and creates quite a few turnovers with his energetic style of play. He stands less than 6 feet tall, but is built well and is hard to knock off of his skates.

Positives:

Offense: In a five-foot radius around the opposing goal, Bartley is an asset to his team. He causes havoc by parking his thick body in the crease, where opposing defenders have trouble moving him. Bartley is good at cleaning up the garbage and knocking in loose rebounds; it’s not pretty, but it works. He also creates turnovers with his relentless forechecking, and wins more than his share of battles along the boards. Although not gifted with soft hands, Bartley is capable enough to play on a line with skilled players and not look out of place.

Work Ethic: You can always count on Bartley to give you an honest effort night in and night out. Although hard work alone doesn’t make a player good, it certainly helps make up for his lack of natural skills. If you need a jolt of energy, Bartley is one of the players the Giants have counted on to pick up the team.

Negatives:

Stone Hands: On the rush, or anywhere far from the opposing net, Bartley is not too skilled or overly inventive with the puck. Courchaine gift-wrapped a few chances for Bartley, which players with more skill may have buried. Bartley works well on the power play when he’s parked right in front of the crease, but won’t produce much at the NHL level.

Skating: Bartley has worked to improve his speed, and it’s been a noticeable improvement. While he is strong on his skates, Bartley has only about average top-end speed, and may not be too suitable for a penalty-killing role at the upper levels unless he can improve on this a bit more. Bartley makes up for his lack of speed with his dogged determination and fair anticipation skills.

Bartley doesn’t have significant NHL upside, but he does have enough to become a serviceable fourth liner. Bartley has worked hard on and off the ice to improve his game, and if he doesn’t make the NHL, it won’t be for a lack of effort.

Lukas Pulpan
‘Listed’ Height: 5’9”
Weight: 180
Shoots: Left
Born: June 23, 1985
CSS Rank: Not ranked

The pint-sized defenseman from Plzen, who has the face of a 30-year old, went undrafted in 2003 and came over to the CHL to prove to NHL scouts that he could be a worthy prospect. Pulpan wanted to prove that despite his short stature, he could survive in a big man’s world.

After a nervous start to his WHL career, he quickly adapted his European-trained skills into the Western Canadian environment, and became a serviceable two-way defenseman for the Giants. An excellent passer, Pulpan excelled at jumpstarting the Giants offensive attack and getting the puck to the likes of Brule and Courchaine.

As the year progressed, however, it was obvious that Pulpan’s lack of size was, and is, always going to be a setback for him. Pulpan produced 33 points in 69 games for the Giants; Solid totals, but not the type to make up for his lack of height. Going into the draft, Pulpan is unranked and his chances don’t look good, despite his above-average skills.

Positives:

Transition: Pulpan is very good at getting the puck to his teammates quickly. He can rush the puck up the ice himself, or whip a pass quickly after a turnover. His passing is accurate and timely, and he doesn’t cough up the puck with careless turnovers all too often. On the power play, Pulpan is very much a set-up man, and prefers to make plays, rather than shoot the puck himself. His slapshot is good, but he doesn’t like to take a shot unless it’s the ‘perfect’ situation.

Work Ethic: If only Pulpan were taller (his real height is probably around 5’7”), then he would have no problems with the North American game. He plays an aggressive game, and is not a willing pushover. Although he gets pushed around a lot, he’ll pop right back up as if nothing had happened.

Negatives:

He plays for the Giants, but he certainly isn’t one. It was painfully obvious that Pulpan wasn’t an NHL prospect after he continually was pushed over by larger and even average-sized WHL forwards. The force that was the WHL was just too much for him, and it’s hard to imagine that he could handle the more powerful forwards in higher levels of pro hockey.

Production: Pulpan just didn’t produce the kind of offensive numbers that would help NHL GM’s overlook his size issue. While he is a good passer and set-up man, he doesn’t really create enough offense to put him in the elite category. Pulpan’s contributions happen early in the play, and not often in the lower portion of the ice.

In the end, it seems even Pulpan knows that his NHL chances are pretty slim. He has agreed to a pro contract with his old hometown team of Plzen, and he should have a good pro career back home. He has already been compared to a hometown legend, Jozef Reznicek, another pint-size offensive force in the Czech League. It would be a surprise if Pulpan was picked this weekend, but it’s not an impossibility.

Realistic Projection: Fistric goes in the 2nd round, Bartley goes in the 7th round, and Pulpan goes back to Plzen and obtains ‘hometown hero’ status.