While the WHL didn’t get to boast of having the first overall pick at this year's NHL Draft, there was a heavy dose of WHL talent drafted in the first round. Five of the six WHL-bred first round picks were defensemen, and they were snapped up in a hurry. Of those six first round picks this year, five were selected within the top eight selections.
The Edmonton Oilers had the first overall pick for the third straight season and there was some debate leading up to the draft that the team just might go slightly off the board and take defenseman Ryan Murray of the Everett Silvertips, given the bounty of young and talented forwards that team has assembled. However, when they passed on Murray and took forward Nail Yakupov, general manager Scott Howson and the Columbus Blue Jackets were more than pleased to scoop up the talented, all-around defenseman.
Murray may lack in the flash and pizzazz department, but that doesn’t diminish his talent in the slightest. He is a complete, two-way defenseman with elite level hockey sense who can be trusted to play major minutes in every situation. Don’t expect him to ever light up the scoreboard, but in his three years with the Silvertips, he has gradually become more confident with the puck on his stick.
It was a busy season for Murray as he not only represented Canada at the World Junior Championship, but also was selected to play for Canada at the 2012 IIHF World Championship, which is quite a feat considering he hadn’t even been drafted yet. That just shows you how mature he is, both as a person and a player. Don’t be surprised if he’s suiting up for the Blue Jackets this fall.
With the fourth overall pick, the New York Islanders selected towering rearguard Griffin Reinhart of the Edmonton Oil Kings. Reinhart started the season a little slowly, but he picked up plenty of steam in the second-half of the regular season and playoffs. He played a big part in helping the Oil Kings capture the WHL Championship. Reinhart is already blessed with NHL size and strength, and can quarterback a power-play with his pulverizing shot. The Islanders haven’t had a defenseman of this calibre in their organization in a long time and will no doubt expect him to eventually help supplement the wealth of offensively gifted forwards the team already has.
The Toronto Maple Leafs snagged slick-skating defenseman Morgan Rielly of the Moose Jaw Warriors with the fifth pick. Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke said Reilly was the highest rated player on their draft board of the entire draft class. His season was rudely interrupted by a torn ACL suffered in November, but he was able to rehab the injury in time to suit up for the Warriors in the WHL Eastern Conference Final against the Oil Kings. Arguably the most fleet-of-foot rearguard available in this year’s draft, Reilly gives the Maple Leafs a different dimension compared to other defenseman in the organization.
Not surprisingly, the run on WHL defenseman continued when the Minnesota Wild drafted Mathew Dumba of the Red Deer Rebels with the sixth overall pick. Dumba is the type of player that lifts you out of your seats with dynamic end-to-end rushes, a hellacious shooting arsenal and thunderous open-ice body-checks. He’s a little undersized, but he sure doesn’t play like it. The Wild have a supremely talented group of prospects coming up the ranks, a cupboard that is the envy of a lot of NHL teams. It won’t be too long before Dumba makes his mark in Minnesota.
The Pittsburgh Penguins continued to load up their blue line for the future when they selected offensive-minded Derrick Pouliot of the Portland Winterhawks. Pouliot went perhaps a little higher than expected with the eighth selection of the first round after the Pens acquired the pick from the Carolina Hurricanes in the Jordan Staal trade. Having drafted fellow Winterhawks defender Joe Morrow in the first round last year, you can bet the Penguins had a good read on Pouliot.
The last WHL prospect to be drafted in the first round was another member of the Oil Kings, forward Henrik Samuelsson, who joins the Phoenix Coyotes organization. He arrived in Edmonton mid-way through the season after starting the year playing in Sweden under the watchful eye of his dad, former NHL defenseman Ulf Samuelsson. He felt it would be best for his development to play in North America in an effort to boost his draft stock. The move absolutely helped Samuelsson in that regard as he was able to attract plenty of attention in the WHL playoffs and Memorial Cup with his combination of size, physicality and skill.
There were a couple second round choices from the WHL that were a bit surprising, but when you look at how Mitchell Moroz and Jordan Martinook performed in the playoffs, you can start to see why they were drafted so high. The Oilers had the extra benefit of watching Moroz play all season long right in their own back-yard. Colton Sissons slipped a little further than some expected as he didn’t get selected until Nashville took him 50th overall. His mid-season concussion affected his play over the second half of the season and contributed to his draft-day slide.
Perhaps the most surprising draft omission from the WHL was Saskatoon Blades goaltender Andrei Makarov. The supremely athletic goaltender stood on his head at times and almost stole the Gold Medal for Team Russia at the World Junior Championship. The only WHL goalie drafted this year was Chris Driedger of the Calgary Hitmen, who was selected by the Ottawa Senators in the third round.
The feel-good story of the draft for the WHL was the selection of Seattle Thunderbirds winger Branden Troock by the Dallas Stars in the fifth round. He was able overcame a serious neck injury that essentially wiped out two years of his young career to realize his dream of being drafted into the NHL.
Here are a few more WHL numbers for your digestion:
Past WHL – NHL Draft Results
2011 NHL Entry Draft: 33. (1st Round: 6)
2010 NHL Entry Draft: 33. (1st Round: 5)
2009 NHL Entry Draft: 31. (1st Round: 5)
2008 NHL Entry Draft: 37. (1st Round: 9)
2007 NHL Entry Draft: 37. (1st Round: 9)
2006 NHL Entry Draft: 24. (1st Round: 4)
WHL Players Drafted, in Order, with HF Top 10 Rankings:
1st Round (6)
2. Ryan Murray (CBJ) Everett Silvertips: HF Rank #1. HF Mock Draft #2.
4. Griffin Reinhart (NYI) Edmonton Oil Kings: HF Rank #2. HF Mock Draft #8.
5. Morgan Rielly (TOR) Moose Jaw Warriors: HF Rank #4. HF Mock Draft #10.
7. Matt Dumba (MIN) Red Deer Rebels: HF Rank #3. HF Mock Draft #6.
8. Derrick Pouliot (PIT) Portland Winterhawks: HF Rank #5. HF Mock Draft #23
27. Henrik Samuelsson (PHX) Edmonton Oil Kings
2nd Round (7)
32. Mitchell Moroz (EDM) Edmonton Oil Kings
39. Lukas Sutter (WPG) Saskatoon Blades
50. Colton Sissons (NAS) Kelowna Rockets: HF Rank #6.
51. Dalton Thrower (MTL) Saskatoon Blades: HF Rank #7. HF Mock Draft #25
54. Mike Winther (DAL) Prince Albert Raiders: HF Rank #8.
58. Jordan Martinook (PHX) Vancouver Giants
60. Damon Severson (NJ) Kelowna Rockets: HF Rank #10.
3rd Round (6)
64. Tim Bozon (MTL) Kamloops Blazers: HF Mock Draft #29
72. Troy Bourke (COL) Prince George Cougars
76. Chris Driedger (OTT) Calgary Hitmen
77. Chandler Stephenson (WSH) Regina Pats
84. Steven Hodges (FLA) Victoria Royals
89. Brandon Leipsic (NAS) Portland Winterhawks
4th Round (3)
105. Brett Kulak (CGY) Vancouver Giants: HF Rank #9
116. Nicholas Walters (STL) Everett Silvertips
117. Taylor Leier (PHI) Portland Winterhawks
5th Round (4)
133. Logan Nelson (BUF) Victoria Royals
134. Branden Troock (DAL) Seattle Thunderbirds
135. Graham Black (NJ) Swift Current Broncos
149. Travis Brown (CHI) Moose Jaw Warriors
6th Round (2)
160. Ryan Olsen (WPG) Saskatoon Blades
165. Coda Gordon (CGY) Swift Current Broncos
7th Round (4)
187. Kenton Helgeson (ANA) Calgary Hitmen
192. Colin Smith (COL) Kamloops Blazers
197. Jaynen Rissling (WSH) Calgary Hitmen
206. Tyrel Seaman (STL) Brandon Wheat Kings
# of Players Selected – By WHL Team:
3 – Calgary, Edmonton, Kelowna, Portland
2 – Everett, Kamloops, Moose Jaw, Saskatoon, Swift Current, Vancouver, Victoria
1 – Brandon, Prince Albert, Prince George, Red Deer, Regina, Seattle
0 – Kootenay, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Spokane, Tri-City
# of Players Selected – By NHL Team:
2 – COL, DAL, MTL, NAS, NJ, PHX, ST.L, WAS, WPG
1 – ANA, BUF, CAL, CBJ, CHI, EDM, FLA, MIN, NYI, OTT, PHI, PIT, TOR, VAN
0 – BOS, CAR, DET, LA, NYR, SJ, TB
# of Players Selected – By Position
12 – Defensemen
9 – Center
7 – Left Wing
3 – Right Wing
1 – Goaltender