Jones the top 2013 WHL prospect in group dominated by defensemen

By Glen Erickson
Seth Jones - Portland Winterhawks

Photo: Portland Winterhawks defenseman Seth Jones has been the top-rated defender for the 2013 NHL Draft since the start of the 2012-13 season (courtesy of Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)

 

Here’s a look at our top 10 prospects from the Western Hockey League for the 2013 NHL Draft, a group that includes a very top-heavy batch of elite defensemen. All players in our ranking attended the NHL Combine last month.

There is a definite Canadian presence in our ranking. There are four players who have honed their skills through minor hockey in Calgary, Alberta. Two players hail from both Manitoba and British Columbia, while one each from the United States and Switzerland add international flavor to our ranking.

1. Seth Jones, D, Portland Winterhawks

It would seem very safe to say that Seth Jones has completed a stellar rookie campaign with the Winterhawks, one that will most certainly be his only WHL season. The highly-touted rearguard came over to the WHL this season after spending last year with the U.S. National Team Development Program U-18 squad.

The physically gifted Jones, who checks in at 6’3” and 210 pounds, handled the rigors of a 72-game regular season schedule with style and panache. Jones, from Dallas, Texas, scored 14 times and added 42 assists in 61 regular season games, while compiling a plus-46 rating. He led all rookie defensemen in scoring with 56 points.

Along the way, he played in the CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game at Buffalo in September and helped Team USA capture a gold medal at the 2013 U20 WJC in Russia. He skated for Team Orr at the 2013 Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game, then played a prominent role in the Winterhawks' WHL Championship win that led to a berth in the Memorial Cup. Indeed, Jones deserves a rest.

Jones displays very good reach and adapted well to the speed of the game in major junior hockey. He was constantly a media target, yet handled the interactions with maturity and class. A homecoming of sorts would seem imminent later this month if the Colorado Avalanche elect to make Jones the first overall pick at the 2013 NHL Draft, but that does not appear to be a sure thing at this point.

2. Curtis Lazar, C, Edmonton Oil Kings

Among our ranked players in the WHL, Lazar is clearly the top power forward. During his two-year career in the WHL so far, Lazar has played in the championship final series twice, resulting in opportunities to experience pressure and expectations during highly intense post-season play.

Lazar continued to make his physical presence felt during the past season. Lazar, from Vernon, BC, scored 38 goals and 23 assists while appearing in all 72 regular season games. With the Oil Kings busy on their deep run in the playoffs, Lazar was not an option for Hockey Canada when the U18 team was put together for the World Junior Championship. The durable Lazar did establish some prominence as a member of Team Orr at the Top Prospects Game in January, though, particularly during a spirited tussle with highly touted OHL defenseman, Darnell Nurse.

For a NHL team looking for strength, versatility, scoring punch and physical play, the 6’, 198-pound Lazar will fit the bill.

3. Hunter Shinkaruk, LW, Medicine Hat Tigers

Shinkaruk has completed his third full season in the WHL where he has been a consistent point producer. While he is defensively responsible, he is likely the most gifted offensive player among the current WHL crop of draft eligible forwards.

As a 16-year-old, he collected 42 points in 63 games then followed that up last year with 91 points in 66 games. This season, Shinkaruk, from Calgary, scored 37 goals and added 49 assists in 64 regular season games. The numbers confirm his offensive prowess, which includes a deceptively heavy shot and a quick release. He has responded favorably to adversity as a youngster, bouncing back from a seriously broken leg during his final season in minor hockey. His persistence has not been overlooked by NHL scouts.

Shinkaruk, who checks in at 5’11” and 175 pounds, played for Team WHL in the Subway Series, and for Team Canada during the Super Series last August. He was also invited to participate in the Top Prospects Game but had to miss the game due to illness.

4. Josh Morrissey, D, Prince Albert Raiders

With Seth Jones considered head-and-shoulders the top rearguard among draft eligible WHL defensemen this season, Morrissey headlines a group of dynamic defensemen that ooze offensive skills.

Morrissey, from Calgary, appeared in 70 regular season games and collected 15 goals, 32 assists and a +14 rating. Scouts attest to his hockey IQ, borne in part by his ability to transition from defense to offense. Seldom hesitant to carry the puck out of his own end, Morrissey has also become a key power play contributor for the Raiders. He shoots the puck accurately, with a knack for getting pucks to the net.

Morrissey checks in at 6’ and 185 pounds. He was a member of Team Canada’s gold medal winning entry at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament last August, attended the Top Prospects Game in January, and earned another gold medal this Spring at the U18 World Juniors.

5. Ryan Pulock, D, Brandon Wheat Kings

Pulock will arrive at the NHL Draft with three full years of WHL experience under his belt.

Teams across the WHL took notice, along with NHL scouts, when Pulock produced 42 points as a 16-year-old. Last season he appeared in 71 regular season games, putting up 60 points along the way, in addition to compiling a plus-33 rating. On a Wheat Kings team that experienced some growing pains this season, he scored 14 goals and 31 assists in 61 regular season games.

Pulock, from Grandview, MB, checks in at 6’1” and 210 pounds. Scouts like his hockey sense and his efficient puck movement. Hockey types have also taken notice of the velocity with which he shoots the puck. The Wheat Kings utilize Pulock, a right-handed shooter, in all situations.

Pulock was sidelined for three weeks due to the misfortune of being struck in the face by a puck in mid-November. Prior to the injury, he played one game for Team WHL in the Subway Super Series. In January, Pulock played in the Top Prospects Game.

6. Shea Theodore, D, Seattle Thunderbirds

Yet another offensively gifted defenseman, Shea Theodore burst into the WHL last season when he led the Thunderbirds in assists during his rookie campaign. This past season, Theodore and his mates qualified for the post-season for the first time in three years.

Theodore is a solid 6’2” and 175 pounds. He is the offensive catalyst, a skilled puckhandler with great mobility. He plays in all situations, excelling on the power-play. Theodore, from Aldergrove, BC, scored 19 goals and 31 assists in 71 regular season games.

He was a member of Team Canada, the gold medalists at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial last August and skated for Team Orr at the Top Prospects Game. After the Thunderbirds exit from the WHL playoffs, Theodore joined Team Canada, helping the group earn a gold medal at the U18 World Junior Championship.

7. Mirco Mueller, D, Everett Silvertips

Mueller began the regular season skating beside Ryan Murray and assumed a more prominent role among the Silvertips' blueline brigade when Murray was injured early in the campaign. His hockey sense sets him apart, as he seldom makes errors that hurt his team.

A strong, agile skater, Mueller was the second-highest scorer among rookie defensemen in the WHL, behind only Seth Jones. Mueller, from Winterthur, Switzerland, scored six goals and added 25 assists in 63 regular season games as a WHL rookie. Scouts like his size at this point, as he checks in at 6’3 and 185 pounds.

Mueller was the 11th overall selection at the 2012 CHL Import Draft. He comes from an every-growing line of Swiss-born players taking the WHL developmental route to the NHL, a list that includes Luca Sbisa, Nino Neiderreiter and Sven Baertschi. Mueller played for Switzerland at the 2013 U20 WJC, and then shortly afterwards skated for Team Cherry at the Top Prospects Game. In April, he again represented Switzerland, playing in the U18 WJC.

8. Madison Bowey, D, Kelowna Rockets

Bowey has completed two seasons in the WHL, establishing himself this past season as one of the top defensemen in the league. Capable of playing a physical role, his strong suit is his skating ability.

Bowey checks in at 6’1” and 195 pounds. He is effective in clearing opponents from in front of the net and continues to develop as a puck moving rearguard. Bowey, from Winnipeg, scored 12 goals and 18 assists in 69 games, while compiling a +41 rating.

Bowey has represented the country in Hockey Canada programs, earning a gold medal with Team Canada at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial. He played in the Top Prospects Game, and after the Rockets exit from the playoffs, he skated with Team Canada and scored in the final game as Team Canada collected a gold medal at the U18 WJC.

9. Morgan Klimchuk, LW, Regina Pats

The biggest improvement made by Morgan Klimchuk has been his skating ability, due in large part to his off-season regimen. The results have enabled the Calgary native to move with more efficiency through traffic areas and also to ensure he finds soft spots in the attacking zone.

Klimchuk proved to be a durable forward, delivering clutch goals for a Pats team that struggled during the regular season and missed the playoffs. He appeared in all 72 regular season games, collecting 36 goals and 40 assists for 76 points.

The 5’11”, 180-pound Klimchuk is a mature, composed 18-year-old, destined for a host of international opportunities through Hockey Canada programs. He collected a gold medal with Team Canada at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial and played for Team Cherry in the Top Prospects Game. In April, he played for Team Canada, earning a gold medal at the U18 WJC.

10. Dillon Heatherington, D, Swift Current Broncos

Perhaps the top shut down defenseman in the WHL draft class this season, Heatherington has become a stalwart in Swift Current. At 6’4 and 195 pounds, he is effective in clearing the area in front of the Broncos goal.

Like many young WHL players, Heatherington has been a developmental beneficiary from skating with veteran teammates. With the Broncos, Heatherington often teamed up on the blueline with Reece Scarlett. Hetherington, from Calgary, tallied four times and added 23 assists, while compiling a plus-25 rating in 71 regular season games. He played for Team Canada at the U18 World Junior Championship in April, earning a gold medal.

Notables…

Goaltenders

Eric Comrie, G. Tri City Americans

Austin Lotz, G. Everett Silvertips

Tristan Jarry, G. Edmonton Oil Kings

Patrik Bartosak, G. Red Deer Rebels

Defensemen

Mason Geertsen, D. Vancouver Giants

Eric Roy, D. Brandon Wheat Kings

Mitch Wheaton, D. Kelowna Rockets

Spencer Jensen, D. Medicine Hat Tigers

Ty Stanton, D. Medicine Hat Tigers

Forwards

Nic Petan, C. Portland Winterhawks

Oliver Bjorkstrand, RW. Portland Winterhawks

Myles Bell, LW. Kelowna Rockets

Jackson Houck, RW. Vancouver Giants

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