The 2007 crop of BCHL talent may be the richest in recent memory. Four players have received an "A" prospect designation from Central Scouting, indicating they are "must see players" and have the potential to be selected in the first three rounds of the NHL Draft. The league also has four "B" prospects, potential late round picks. Midway through the season, Hockey’s Future presents in no particular order its top five BCHL prospects for the 2007 NHL Draft.
Jamie Benn, Victoria Grizzlies
Benn is a 6’2, 185-pound left wing who was on very few people’s radar screens prior to the 2006-07 season. The Victoria, BC native is a hometown player who, along with his brother Jordie, joined the Grizzlies at the start of this season. HF has had the opportunity to see him play upwards of ten games throughout the season and has witnessed constant and significant improvement from the first game of the season to the end of the 2006 calendar. Benn is a pure finisher who lived up to that billing, averaging nearly a goal per game so far this season. After 31 games this season, he sits third overall in the BCHL with 30 goals. Benn has just 12 assists.
There is little doubt that Benn’s numbers are slightly inflated from spending time on a line with BCHL scoring leader Tyler Bozak. But it is Benn’s deadly accurate shooting ability and his uncanny knack for being right where the puck bounces on rebounds, that has resulted in his high goal total. Benn has the size and natural ability to be a successful major junior player, but he is not a particularly physical guy for his size. It is hoped that the college experience will add an edge to his game. Benn recently committed to Alaska-Fairbanks and was also awarded the "B" listing by Central Scouting. Benn has long-shot potential as a top-six forward. His skill set is not conducive to playing in the bottom two lines, but he won’t be a bad risk to take in the later rounds for a team that needs scoring in its prospect cupboard.
Riley Nash, Salmon Arm Silverbacks
Nash is not as purely talented as some of the other top prospects in the BCHL, but he certainly has plenty of dangle and vision, plus he’s the most complete player eligible from this Junior "A" league at the 2007 NHL Draft. But do not be deceived by his completeness or the fact that there are others who are a bit ahead of him in terms of point production. Nash is a gifted playmaker who beats you with his strong hockey sense and puck handling skills. At 6’1, Nash’s height is adequate, but he needs to pack more muscle onto his 175-pound frame. At this level he is good along the boards and is a dominating player with the cycle, although there is no question he’ll struggle with that component of his game against higher competition if he does not add significant upper-body strength.
Nash has yet to commit to any NCAA team and isn’t entirely certain that he will make the jump following this season. He is a complete player at this stage of his career that has no significant flaws in his game outside of his size. If a team is looking for the player most likely to play in the NHL at some point, regardless of offensive production (and again, to clarify, this is not to indicate that he’s incapable of scoring), Riley Nash is likely their man. He is the fastest rising player in the BCHL and an equally strong second half of the season could propel him into the upper reaches of the Draft.
Says Silverbacks Head Coach Al Davidson: "Riley is very versatile. He’s very versatile in all facets of the rink, every situation. He’s very elusive one-on-one. Ben tends to beat you with speed, while Riley brings good speed too but he beats you more with moves. He can roll off people, soft shoulder kind of things. He’s very elusive, especially down low. He’s good on the face-off, a very well rounded player."
Casey Pierro-Zabotel, Merritt Centennials
The 6’2, 208-pound Pierro-Zabotel is the biggest player among the BCHL favorites this season. He leads the league in goals (32) and is second in points behind 20-year old Bozak (68), averaging an impressive 2.2 points per game. One might suspect that a player of his size and apparent abilities must have a significant skating deficiency, but that is not the case. While the 17-year old isn’t likely to blow past a defender on the rush, he is a competent skater with acceptable speed and acceleration. His movement does need to be improved, but that alone shouldn’t hinder his ability to be successful in the NCAA and professional hockey. Pierro-Zabotel is not the type of player who creates many chances on his own. He is an opportunist who calmly stalks his opposition and lurks in front of the net waiting for a scoring chance to present itself. What sets him apart from other players who might be criticized for this style is his ability to finish. When given an opportunity, Pierro-Zabotel almost always converts. He has good hands and touch in tight to the net, plus a hard, though at times inaccurate, slap shot. Pierro-Zabotel is destined for Michigan Tech and will likely hear his name called at the NHL Draft.
Says Silverbacks Head Coach Al Davidson of Pierro-Zabotel: "He’s a big-body guy who skates pretty good for a big guy. He is money in the bank around the net. If he gets an opportunity, he’s usually cashing in, he’s very dangerous that way. He is really more of an opportunist. He doesn’t make things happen on his own; he kind of waits for turnovers or maybe a rebound or something like that. He’s more of a parasite, if you will, a little bit. He waits for those opportunities and he definitely cashes in on them. He’s a very, very, very big-time scorer."
Kyle Turris, Burnaby Express
This article is supposed to identify the top five BCHL prospects for the upcoming draft, not rank them. But there is no secret that Turris is the top guy that not only the BCHL has to offer, but any Junior "A" league in Canada. Turris brings an exciting and dynamic skill set to the rink. The forward has NHL speed and great shooting ability. Perhaps most impressive is the fact that he can keep the puck under control while flying through the neutral zone at top speed. He has a quick release on his wrist shot and can blow it past opposing goaltenders with a big slap shot. After putting up a dominating performance in last year’s Royal Bank Cup, Turris sprang into the limelight this season, living up to the hype so far. After 24 games, the sniper has 28 goals and 18 assists. His point-per-game ratio is third in the league. The biggest factor that may keep Turris outside of the top ten of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft is his slight build. At 6’0, 170-pounds, Turris knows that he must get bigger to be successful at the next level next season when he joins the University of Wisconsin Badgers, and is working closely with his team’s fitness consultant to make it happen.
Says Burnaby Head Coach Rick Lanz: "He’s a very dynamic individual. He creates offensive situations basically from nothing. And that’s his ability to see the game, anticipate; he’s just got a brilliant mind for the game. Along with his athleticism, it’s a pretty amazing package."
Ben Winnett, Salmon Arm Silverbacks
Going into this season, Winnett’s name was likely the second only to Kyle Turris when NHL scouts considered this year’s draft crop from the BCHL. With 48 points (22 goals and 26 assists) in 30 games, one would be hard-pressed to argue that he has disappointed. Winnett is a speedy scoring winger who rarely fails to convert on a scoring chance. Unfortunately, Winnett suffered a partially separated shoulder at the CJAHL Prospects Game in mid-December that is expected to keep him out of the line-up until sometime in early 2007. The 6’0, 173-pound Winnett needs to add some size while continuing to develop his skills. He’s not a purely one-dimensional guy, as he can handle defensive responsibilities in his own zone, but there is little question that he is a top-six forward rather than a checking-line player.
Says Silverbacks Head Coach Al Davidson of Winnett: "He’s got, I would say, NHL speed already. But he’s a very dynamic winger that’s very lethal off the rush. He’s got a good hard, quick, shot. The other good asset is that he plays with an edge. He’s very feisty, he’s not afraid to go into the corners or to the front of the net."
Other players that Central Scouting identifies as potential prospects out of the BCHL include goaltender Chris Rawlings (Powell River), center Adam Basford (Surrey) and left winger Jeremy Beller (Penticton).
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