Here's a look at Hockey's Future's top 10 prospects from the Western Hockey League, a group that includes a large batch of elite defensemen.
1. Ryan Murray, D, Everett Silvertips
6'1, 195 pounds, Shoots: L
DoB: September 27th, 1993
Ryan Murray burst on to the WHL scene as a 16-year-old, collecting 27 points in 52 games on an Everett Silvertips team that, at the time, included a host of veterans. However, since his rookie season, the 'Tips have moved toward a rebuilding phase of sorts, with Murray and his all around skill set as one of the key components.
While the team has not achieved consistent on-ice success in the past two years, Murray has progressed to become the top-rated defenseman in the WHL for the 2012 Entry Draft. It may be a stretch to suggest he will be the first player selected, though the Edmonton Oilers might benefit by adding an elite young rearguard that could develop within their system.
This past season, Murray suffered an ankle injury on October 19th during a home game against the Brandon Wheat Kings. Ultimately, he was limited to only 46 regular season games, in which he collected nine goals and 22 assists. He added five points in four games as the 'Tips were swept from the playoffs by the Portland Winterhawks.
The native of White City, Saskatchewan has also been prominent on Hockey Canada rosters, participating in Alberta with Team Canada at the 2012 WJC. Murray has garnered high praise in the category of leadership, wearing the "C" in Everett and also with Team Canada at U17 and U18 competitions during the last couple of years.
Murray was added to Team Canada's entry at the 2012 IIHF World Championship in Finland in May, where he did not seem to be out of place. Team Canada is made up primarily of NHL players whose teams have been eliminated from post-season play.
2. Griffin Reinhart, D, Edmonton Oil Kings
6'4, 200 pounds, Shoots: L
DoB: January 24th, 1994
Reinhart's stock has risen steadily throughout the post-season, which included a WHL Championship and a trip to the Memorial Cup. Already considered NHL-ready in terms of size, Reinhart will benefit from coaching that will focus on improving his acceleration and lateral movement. One asset that needs no improvement is his shot, which is among the best in the WHL.
Reinhart participated in the 2012 Top Prospects Game in Kelowna, where he scored once and played solidly in his own end in a 2-1 victory. With the Oil Kings, he played on the backend alongside Mark Pysyk (BUF), Keegan Lowe (CAR) and Martin Gernat (EDM), veterans that have certainly been responsible in part for fast-tracking his development. In 58 games, Reinhart scored 12 goals and added 24 assists, with a plus-23 rating. During the Oil Kings playoff run, he scored two goals and six assists in 20 games, with a plus-14 rating. He also managed a goal and an assist in four Memorial Cup games.
Reinhart comes from excellent hockey genes. Last season, his brothers Max, 19, and Sam, 16, were teammates in Cranbrook, British Columbia as the Kootenay Ice won the WHL Championship and attended the 2011 Memorial Cup. His father is prolific NHL defenseman Paul Reinhart, who played over 700 games during 11 seasons split between the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks.
3. Mathew Dumba, D, Red Deer Rebels
6', 175 pounds, Shoots: R
DoB: July 25th, 1994
Matt Dumba has epitomized the phrase "reckless abandon" at times during his WHL career with the Red Deer Rebels. A physical presence focused on making contact with oncoming opponents, Dumba has become more disciplined as an elite junior, becoming more selective in going for the big hit.
Dumba earned WHL Rookie of the Year honors in his first season out of the Calgary Edge Academy before collecting 20 goals and 37 assists in 69 games this past season. It remains to be seen if the Rebels missing the WHL playoffs impacts Dumba's ranking on draft day. On the Rebels backend in Red Deer, Dumba played with the likes of Alex Petrovic (FLA) and Justin Weller (PHX).
Dumba has also been highly visible through his participation in Hockey Canada programs and he was also included in the 2011 NHL Orientation and Development Camp.
One potential knock against the gritty defenseman is that he may try to do too much on occasion, given his skill set at both ends of the rink. He is an accurate right-handed shooter and a very good mover of the puck. He patrols the blue line with confidence and has ensured that opponents make themselves very aware of his presence. Scouts suggest he has always played bigger than his size.
4. Morgan Rielly, D, Moose Jaw Warriors
6', 195 pounds, Shoots: L
DoB: March 9th, 1994
WHL fans and NHL scouts were treated only to a brief glimpse of Morgan Rielly's abundance of skill this season when he returned to the Moose Jaw Warriors for the Eastern Conference final series against the Edmonton Oil Kings.
The highly-touted rearguard's regular season came to an abrupt conclusion after only 17 games due to a serious knee injury. Surgery was performed and Rielly spent much of the campaign recovering at his home on British Columbia's lower mainland. While in the lineup during the first part of the regular season, Rielly scored three goals and 15 assists, scoring at a point-per-game clip
Entering the season, the Warriors looked to possess the deepest and most-skilled blue line brigade in the WHL with Dylan McIlrath (NYR), Joel Edmundson (STL), Kendall McFaull (WPG), Dallas Erhardt, Travis Brown (2012) and Rielly. With Edmundson suffering a high-aeverenkle sprain at the Blues camp, then Rielly injuring his knee, Moose Jaw was never able to ice its full complement of solid defensemen.
Rielly is an effective puck carrier with very evident offensive skills. To stay so highly ranked, despite an abbreviated season, suggests the 18-year-old is already a special talent.
5. Derrick Pouliot, D, Portland Winterhawks
6', 180 pounds, Shoots: L
DoB: January 16th, 1994
Pouliot has been the beneficiary of playing his first two WHL seasons alongside a high end group of elite defensemen in Portland, including Brett Ponich (STL), Joe Morrow (PIT), William Wrenn (SJ), and Tyler Wotherspoon (CGY).
The native of Weyburn, Saskatchewan has earned the green light from the Winterhawks coaching staff to jump up into the offensive rush virtually at will. He has great speed, which enables him to cover the entire ice with efficiency. He has had significant playoff experience already in his career, appearing in 43 post-season games during the past two years.
After a 30-point performance in his rookie year as a 16-year-old, Pouliot scored 11 goals and 48 assists while playing in all 72 regular season games.
6. Colton Sissons, F, Kelowna Rockets
6'1, 190 pounds, Shoots: R
DoB: November 5th, 1993
Colton Sissons appears to have emerged as the top WHL prospect among forwards, despite a concussion suffered during the second half of the regular season. Sissons, unfortunately, was a non-factor as the Rockets battled hard against the Portland Winterhawks before dropping their first round playoff series.
His first season of junior hockey, at age 15, was spent in the BCHL as a member of the Westside Warriors, a team based just 10 minutes from the city of Kelowna. The North Vancouver native collected 24 points in 69 games that season and was subsequently acquired by the Rockets in a trade with the Saskatoon Blades.
During two seasons in Kelowna, Sissons has established himself as a leader. He is the team captain and a consistent offensive producer. Scouts say they like his play in both ends of the rink. His profile among current prospects has been heightened through his participation at the 2011 NHL Research, Development and Orientation Camp and the 2012 Top Prospects Game in Kelowna. This past season, the North Vancouver, British Columbia native scored 26 goals and added 15 assists in 58 games.
7. Dalton Thrower, D, Saskatoon Blades
6', 185 pounds, Shoots: R
DoB: December 20th, 1993
A late addition to the 2012 Top Prospects Game in Kelowna, Thrower thrust himself into the limelight to some degree during a spirited bout with heavyweight Thomas Wilson of the Plymouth Whalers. Wilson, another highly-touted prospect, had earlier upended Thrower's Saskatoon Blades teammate Lukas Sutter.
As a 16-year-old, Thrower benefitted from the likes of Stefan Elliott (COL) and Duncan Siemens (COL), teammates in Saskatoon that have already been through the NHL Draft experience. In 66 games this past season, Thrower scored 18 goals and added 36 assists, while collecting 103 penalty minutes. His production has steadily increased over three seasons in Saskatoon.
While not considered among the WHL's top group of defensemen when the season got underway, Thrower progressed steadily in prospect rankings due to his solid physical play and offensive skills. The native of North Vancouver, British Columbia is likely to be back in Saskatoon next season, a huge bonus as the Blades will play host to the 2013 Memorial Cup.
8. Mike Winther, F, Prince Albert Raiders
5'11, 175 pounds, Shoots: L
DoB: January 9th, 1994
Mike Winther was the Raiders first round pick, sixth overall, at the 2009 WHL Bantam Draft, chosen based on his penchant to fill the opposition nets. In 71 games last season, Winther scored 32 goals and added 24 assists for a Raiders group that failed to earn a post-season berth.
He was recognized as the WHL Player of the Week for his efforts during a mid-season run where Prince Albert won games over WHL heavyweights the Kootenay Ice, Edmonton Oil Kings, and Moose Jaw Warriors. Alas, the Raiders were unable to sustain their push and faltered during the second half of the season.
Winther played alongside Mark McNeill (CHI) and Kellan Tochkin (VAN) on occasion this past season, supplying valuable specialty teams play. Winther is from Trochu, a small town in central Alberta. He is not physically imposing, but is a thick-bodied forward and a tenacious forechecker.
9. Brett Kulak, D, Vancouver Giants
6'1, 175 pounds, Shoots: L
DoB: January 6th, 1994
Considered a pure skater, Kulak impressed the Giants enough that they made him a ninth round bantam draft pick. The concern for many teams at the time was the fact Kulak checked in at 5'6 and 145 pounds. But fast forward three years and Kulak has inched his way beyond the six-foot mark. Adding on 30 pounds has also been valuable.
Initially Kulak looked to be a stay-at-homer, but his skating prowess has enabled the Giants coaching staff to cut him loose to bring offensive production to the mix. Kulak has spent time on the power play, and while his nine goals and 15 assists are not eye-popping stats, he played in all 72 regular season games and posted a plus-29 rating.
Down the stretch, Kulak was frequently matched against top opponents along with teammates David Musil (EDM), and veterans Neil Manning or Wes Vannieuwenhuizen. Kulak played in the 2012 Top Prospects Game in Kelowna this season.
10. Damon Severson, D, Kelowna Rockets
6'2, 200 pounds, Shoots: R
DoB: August 7th, 1994
While Severson is not frequently mentioned among the top five d-men in the WHL, he is very definitely among the top 10 rearguards. He was not at all out of place at the 2012 Top Prospects Game, despite missing most of the Rockets league play in January with a hand injury suffered against the Brandon Wheat Kings just prior to the Christmas break.
A big, physical, mobile defenseman, Severson employed a risk/reward approach last season. This should be considered an asset, but in some quarters, scouts will suggest his defensive game requires plenty of work. Kelowna was in dire need of offense this past season, which meant that Severson often took it upon himself to create scoring chances. Occasionally, those efforts backfired.
The native of Melville, Saskatchewan has learned from a system in Kelowna that has developed the likes of current NHLers Josh Gorges (MTL), Shea Weber (NAS), Duncan Keith (CHI), Tyler Myers (BUF) and Tyson Barrie (COL). This bodes well for Severson, as scouts are well aware of the Rockets ability to produce solid pro-ready defensemen.
Andrey Makarov, G, Saskatoon Blades
A workhorse last season, including international appearances with Team Russia at 2012 World Junior. Faced plenty of rubber in 54 appearances for Saskatoon.
Troy Bourke, F, Prince George Cougars
One of few bright spots in PG last season. Offensive flair with loads of grit. A determined forward with no fear of physical play.
Branden Troock, F, Seattle Thunderbirds
Big-body with good skating skills. Has overcome serious injuries to become a dominating power forward. Scored game winner at 2012 Top Prospects Game.
Chris Driedger, G, Calgary Hitmen
Perhaps the top draft eligible goaltender in the WHL. Good size at 6'2. Collected 24 wins in 44 appearances.
Tim Bozon, F, Kamloops Blazers
Finalist for WHL Rookie of the Year. Swiss-born forward is gifted offensively. Slight build may concern some NHL teams.
Lukas Sutter, F, Saskatoon Blades
Complete forward with scoring ability and physical presence. Another from the long line of the gritty Sutter crew.
Brendon Leipsic, F, Portland Winterhawks
Speedster may lack size, but puck skills and determination should earn him a serious look.
Chandler Stephenson, Regina Pats
Could be a surprise early pick. Very good skater and offensively skilled. Well-spoken, handles media with expertise.
Henrik Samuelsson, F, Edmonton Oil Kings
Arrived in Edmonton for second half of regular season. At 6'2 and 195 pounds, he's a big, skilled forward who collected 37 points in 45 games, including WHL playoffs. Son of former NHLer Ulf Sammuelsson.
Mitchell Moroz, F, Edmonton Oil Kings
Big, gritty forward creates space for linemates with physical play. Provided valuable depth in Edmonton this past season, en route to a WHL Championship.
Travis Brown, D, Moose Jaw Warriors
A competent rearguard who developed greatly due to the veteran presence on the Warrior's blue line this season. Good size at 6'2, but will have to bulk up. Posted 31 points in 66 games.
Patrik Bartosak, G, Red Deer Rebels
Solid numbers early on, but season-ending shoulder injury limited him to 25 appearances. Import from Czech Republic posted a 2.74 goals against average and .915 save percentage.
Brandon Magee, F, Victoria Royals
Diminutive forward rode mid-season outburst to post 47 points in 65 games. Great speed and a good nose for the net.
Steve Hodges, F, Victoria Royals
Among the top forward prospects in the WHL, Hodges earned more minutes per game after the departure of Kevin Sundher (BUF) to Brandon. Good offensive skills and plenty of grit. Not hesitant to drop the gloves.
Coda Gordon, F, Swift Current Broncos
With 30 goals and 53 points in 66 games, Gordon is a key offensive contributor. Lauded by scouts for his hockey sense, he participated in the 2012 Top Prospects Game. Good size, a determined playmaker, good finish around the goal. A determined individual, Gordon has rebounded from a severe injury, a femur that was broken in three places during 2008.
Nicholas Walters, D, Everett Silvertips
Big, rugged defenseman who took on may comers this season as a pugilist. Puck moving skills improved steadily over the course of the season. Scouts like his size; 6'2 and 195 pounds.
Graham Black, F, Swift Current Broncos
In his first full season, Black collected 50 points in 71 games. At 18 years of age, Black is considered a very good skater, a solid two-way centreman.
Tyrel Seaman, F, Brandon Wheat Kings
Size and physical presence in spades, Seaman is a tough kid from small-town Saskatchewan (Choiceland). The 6'2, 205-pound forward suffered two concussions this season, limiting him to 32 games.
Logan Nelson, F, Victoria Royals
Passed over at last the 2011 NHL Draft, Nelson is the physical power forward who finished second in team scoring with 62 points in 71 games this season.
Kenton Helgesen, D, Calgary Hitmen
Another big, rugged defenseman with the kind of size NHL scouts like. At 6'3 and 185 pounds, he has room to fill out. With 14 points in 58 games as a rookie, along with a plus-seven rating, his junior career is off to a good start.