A lot can change in a year when it comes to where players are rated for the NHL Entry Draft.
Leading up to the 2003-04 WHL season, Kelowna Rockets defenseman Mike Card was considered to be one of the top blueline prospects for the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. Meanwhile a province over in Alberta, a former BCHL forward named Andrew Ladd was considered an afterthought coming into training camp for the Calgary Hitmen. Yet in the end, Ladd went fourth overall, whereas Card went in the eighth round.
With that in mind, treading carefully, we take a look at top WHL players eligible for the 2005 draft.
1. Gilbert Brule
Weight: 180 lbs
Team: Vancouver Giants
Forever in the shadow of QMJHL wunderkind, Sidney Crosby, Gilbert Brule is beginning to make a name for himself out West as the leading candidate to go second overall in the tightly packed top-end of the 2005 draft. When talking about Brule, it may be best to ask what skills and attributes he doesn’t have.
A player with such incredible intangibles yet such a high level of skill, Brule is fit to play anywhere on the ice, at any time of the game, and in any situation. A good skater with the ability to turn on the jets when he’s got the puck, Brule is mobile with or without the puck, and often the fastest player on the ice. Fantastic creativity combined with his skating can create a breathtaking combination, either getting around a defender or making an incredible deke on the goaltender.
Perhaps the greatest attribute Brule does have in his repertoire is his incredible shot. At times when watching Brule, you wonder if he has attached a sniper’s scope onto his stick that nobody else can see. Accurate anywhere on the ice, Brule’s shot is the kind that current NHL veterans wish they had. His slap shot is exceptionally fast, and his wrist shot is powerful. He can score from anywhere in the offensive zone.
What truly separates him from his Eastern counterpart in Crosby is Brule’s physical game. Though not big, he is very well conditioned and commits himself to staying in peak physical condition all throughout the year. While not a punishing hitter, Brule makes effective hits all over the ice, and often involves himself physically. He has a bit of a mean side to him, at times walking the thin line of fair play and dirty pool.
2. Chris Durand
Weight: 185 lbs
Team: Seattle Thunderbirds
While perhaps not on many top 5 lists of 2005 draft eligible prospects at the moment, Chris Durand is still very likely to be selected in the first round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. An all-out offensive talent, Durand scored an impressive 43 points in 60 WHL games in the 2003-04 season as a 16-year-old.
Like most young players, Durand could use some work away from the puck, but he is a dynamo with it. An incredible playmaker, he seems to anticipate good scoring opportunities before they happen and has a knack of getting the puck on his teammates’ sticks. Combine that with some mind-blowing stickhandling creativity, and Durand is a defenseman’s worst nightmare.
He’s also got a very good shot, but he could stand to use it a bit more. It’s very quick, and it seems to surprise goaltenders, but he is tentative at times in using it.
The Thunderbirds are expecting Durand to take a big step next year, and it’s likely he will be a fixture on their power play all year long. With a good season, it would not be unreasonable to suggest that Durand will be the top 10 of the 2005 draft when all is said and done.
3. Devin Setoguchi
Position: Right Wing
Weight: 180 lbs
Team: Saskatoon Blades
Like Mike Green before him in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, Devin Setoguchi could have a great season yet still be ranked low by scouts. An otherwise great prospect, Setoguchi plays for one of the worst WHL teams of all time in Saskatoon, a team that only won seven games in 2003-04. It could be a long, uphill battle for recognition for Setoguchi, but he has the talent and gumption to earn any accolades he may receive. To his credit, he has shown great character in not being miserable about the situation he is in, and rather just plays hard for the team in hopes to change some of those losses into wins next year.
Gifted with some great skating, Setoguchi takes advantage of his wheels well by attacking the offensive zone in the scoring areas of the ice, rather than skating around the perimeter. A strong upper body for his age allows him to fend off defensemen well in the corners and in the slow, and is at his best around the net.
A very bright player, Setoguchi enjoys creating effective passing plays where one might think there wasn’t a pass to be made, or taking shots at the net to keep the goaltender on his toes. As well, he is very, very good on the penalty kill, utilizing his great anticipation and skating to pick up loose pucks or lift sticks at opportune times.
There are some questions about his overall offensive game, and it could see him slip to the second round. However, if he can continue to develop offensively, and he can put up numbers on that woeful Saskatoon team, there is great potential for Setoguchi to be taken in the upper half of the first round at the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.
4. Mike Gauthier
Weight: 185 lbs
Team: Prince Albert Raiders
Taken only two picks behind Gilbert Brule at the 2002 WHL Bantam Draft, Prince Albert Raiders defenseman Mike Gauthier has been closely scouted for several years now. Playing 52 games during his rookie season in 2003-04, Gauthier played as the No. 6 defenseman on the squad, a spot that few 16-year-old rookies get. Much more will be expected of him in 2004-05, and Gauthier has the tools to deliver.
Very tall, but not completely filled out, Gauthier has a great deal of skill to go along with his size. A solid skater with or without the puck, he is at his best when he’s moving the puck out of his own end. A good first pass and good instincts in his own zone make getting the puck out of the zone his bread and butter.
On the downside, Gauthier lacks a powerful shot from the blueline, and it’s unlikely he amounts to anything offensively. Furthermore, while he has the size, he is often not as mean or as punishing as one might hope. Not a soft player by any means, he lacks that surly edge you would like in a defenseman with the physical potential that he has.
That said, Gauthier has the tools most NHL General Managers look for in a defenseman: size, smarts, and mobility. Likely to play in the top 4 for the Prince Albert Raiders next year, Gauthier will have more than enough of an opportunity to assert himself in 2004-05 enough to be considered another potential first round selection for the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.
5. Carey Price
Weight: 210 lbs
Team: Tri-City Americans
Yet another top 10 pick in the 2002 WHL Bantam Draft, selected seventh overall by the Tri-City Americans, Carey Price is an impressive combination of size and ability between the pipes.
Price’s great size covers a lot of the net, giving little for shooters to look for. While he is sometimes out of position, a good goaltender coach could teach him a lot here. Very good at reading plays, Price moves laterally well both on his feet and in the butterfly, though at time overcommits on plays. His glove hand is tremendous, and his puckhandling is a strong point.
While Price was always considered a fine prospect, it was his play at the recent U-18 tournament in the Czech Republic that built up his status as a potential first rounder at the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. Winning four out of the four games he started, Price was the best goaltender in the tournament, backstopping Team Canada to the gold medal.
Brendan Mikkelson – Impressive two-way defenseman out of the Portland Winter Hawks was a key member of Team Canada’s U-18 gold medal winning group.
Nick Drazenovic – This Prince George Cougars centerman has great speed and playmaking abilities, but needs to get smarter without the puck.
Ray Macias – The Long Beach, California native has shown great offensive upside from the blueline for the Kamloops Blazers.
Adam Hobson – A very quick centerman with great stick skills and a strong shot, Hobson could be a big surprise in 2004-05. He plays for the Spokane Chiefs.