WHL Top 25 for 2007 NHL Entry Draft

By Glen Erickson

When it comes to divulging identities and trade secrets, NHL-style, it’s tough to get an ironclad, on-the-record commitment from experienced professional scouts. Playing it close to the vest is definitely the norm.

Hockey’s Future spoke with a professional scout who bird dogs for a prominent Western Conference NHL organization, who provided just a general overview of the current WHL talent pool.

While the Western Hockey League movers and shakers were none too impressed last year after the NHL Entry Draft resulted in only 24 WHL players being selected, the upcoming edition should provide them with a tad more satisfaction.

"The guys in the WHL will likely be a lot happier this year," laughed our source. "The WHL has a better crop this year, certainly in terms of numbers. The WHL and the QMJHL are probably deeper this year than the OHL."

The WHL talent pool is not necessarily confined to the blueline, although the high-end players are mostly rearguards.

"Sure the guys like Alzner, Ellerby, Plante and Hickey are likely going to go reasonably high," the source suggested. "But there’s also Repik, Moller and Hamill up front.

"I think everybody is still looking at the bigger skilled players, especially for the playoffs because they’re usually the guys that win for you then. But the smaller skilled guys with good speed have been freed up a bit now with the way the rules are being enforced."

In terms of the "sleeper" picks, our source wasn’t biting when asked for his insights.

"I think there are some players you could say are in that situation," he assured. "But you know, they’re names you don’t want to divulge because you might be hoping to be able to pick them in the fourth or fifth round."

Below is Hockey’s Future’s Top 20 for the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.

1. Karl Alzner, D
Calgary Hitmen
September 24, 1988

Alzner made an early season impression across the WHL with his mobility and offensive production. A member of Team WHL for the Canada/Russia Challenge, Alzner looked solid as a puck carrier and was able to slow down the play in the defending zone to buy time for the breakout to develop. At the WJC, the 6’2, 210-pound blueliner played sparingly as the tournament progressed, although he looks to be a mainstay on the squad for next year.

With the Hitmen winning a pair off playoff series before being eliminated by the Medicine Hat Tigers, Alzner gained valuable post-season experience. The native of Burnaby, B.C. will likely play a couple more seasons in the WHL and is destined for a productive professional career. He scored eight goals and 39 assists in 63 regular season games.
 
2. Keaton Ellerby, D
Kamloops Blazers
November 5, 1988

While Ellerby has maintained a high ranking among scouting organizations during his draft year, his performance on the ice was inconsistent. A common thought shared among WHL prognosticators was the notion Ellerby had begun reading his press clippings early in the season and began to rest on his laurels. The Blazers coaching staff called out the native of Okotoks, Alberta during the second half after a spurt of needless penalties and lackluster efforts.

In any event, the 6’4, 190-pound defenseman oozes talent and will get a serious look from any NHL team looking to stock the cupboard with back-end skill. Ellerby is a tough physical player who can be a willing and vicious pugilist. He scored two goals and 23 assists in 69 games while collecting 120 penalty minutes. If Ellerby chooses to improve his focus for the next couple season, he will certainly get a look from Hockey Canada for the WJC. The Blazers will also need him to assume a leadership role over the course of the next couple of years.

3. Colton Gillies, C
Saskatoon Blades
February 12, 1988

Another highly-skilled WHLer, Gillies cannot be satisfied with his offensive production this past season. Although the Blades missed the playoffs, Gillies was pegged throughout the season by scouting organizations as a top prospect. While he toiled with a non-contender, he also battled shoulder and ankle injuries.

Gillies, a native of Surrey, B.C., has made his mark as a leader in Hockey Canada programs and is certain to receive consideration for the WJC team next season. He scored 13 goals and 17 assists in 65 regular season games and collected 148 penalty minutes. While his ability to mix it up suggests a bit of a mean streak, the Blades will be depending upon the 6’4, 185-pound forward to spend less time in the penalty box while significantly increasing his offensive contributions next year.

4. Alex Plante, D

Calgary Hitmen
May 9, 1989

Another of the strong draft prospects on defense, Plante began the season slightly below the radar in Calgary. He became a steady and consistent contributor for the Hitmen and made his presence felt with a strong second half. He benefited from Alzner’s absence during Hockey Canada exhibitions and the WJC, using the opportunity to earn additional ice time down the stretch.

Plante scored eight goals and 30 assists in 58 regular season games. At 6’5, 220 pounds, the native of Brandon, Manitoba is a dependable defensive blueliner was successful in imposing himself physically on attacking forwards.

5. Thomas Hickey, D
Seattle Thunderbirds
February 8, 1989

Hickey’s strong suit is his skating ability, a skill that has enabled him to excel in the WHL at a young age. He played for Seattle as a 15-year-old and has improved his offensive play each season. Hickey played most of the past season with veteran Scott Jackson (STL). He scored nine goals and 41 assists in 68 games.

Another product of the successful Hockey Canada programs, Hickey exudes confidence on and off the ice. He plays bigger than his 5’11, 185-pound frame might suggest. A well-spoken player with great on-ice vision, Hickey will looked upon to be an important leader in Seattle long after his name is called at the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.

6. Zach Hamill, C
Everett Silvertips
September 23, 1988

Hamill led the WHL in scoring with 32 goals and 61 assists in 69 games. With three seasons under his belt, Hamill is a young veteran with an offensive upside NHL teams will not ignore come draft day. Hamill, who was born in Port Coquitlam, BC, is the Silvertips all-time career-scoring leader.

A member of Team WHL for the Canada/Russia Challenge in November, Hamill felt the slight when he was not invited to the training camp for Canada’s WJC team. With a smooth stride and powerful acceleration, Hamill is able to create space for himself and his teammates. The 5’11, 190-pound forward was considered undersized early in his junior career, but has developed into a solid physical player.

7. Brandon Sutter, C

Red Deer Rebels
February 14, 1989

The son of Brent Sutter, who has four Stanley Cup rings to his credit, Brandon is certain to hear his named called at the NHL Entry Draft. The 6’3, 175-pounder has become a reliable scorer during his two full seasons in the WHL. As a rookie, he led all 16-year-olds with 22 goals. This past season, he collected 20 goals and 37 assists in 71 games.

Sutter played in the first game of the Canada/Russia Challenge in Chilliwack. He has international experience with Hockey Canada programs, most recently as a member f the 2006 U-18 team. A versatile forward, he displays typical Sutter attributes including tenacious puck pursuit and a consistent work ethic. Born in Huntington, New York, Sutter is destined for an important leadership role next season in Red Deer.

8. John Blum, D
Vancouver Giants
January 30, 1989

As Blum and his Vancouver Giants basked in the glow of their Memorial Cup championship, the dependable rearguard’s stock rose measurably. Playing behind such stalwarts as Mark Fistric (DAL), Brett Festerling, Brendan Mikkelson (ANA), Paul Albers (MIN) and Cody Franson last season, Blum had plenty of veteran role models to rely on. This season, the demands on Blum have been increased and he has wholeheartedly answered the call.

Blum tallied eight goals and 43 assists in the full complement of 72 league games and led the WHL with a plus-37 ranking. The native of Rancho Santa Margarita, California, the 6’1, 170-pound Blum demonstrated outstanding mobility and often takes the initiative to carry the puck up ice.

9. Oscar Moller, RW

Chilliwack Bruins
January 22, 1989

A shifty product from Stockholm, Sweden, Moller made a huge impression in his rookie campaign in the WHL. Chosen in the import draft by general manager Darrell May on the advice of high performance skating instructor Steve Serdachny of Edmonton, Moller delivered a consistent offensive performance for an expansion team that earned a playoff berth in its first season.

Moller scored 32 goals and 37 points in 68 games. He was named player of the game for Team White at the Top Prospects game and is sure to be a fixture for Team Sweden at the next two WJC’s. At 5’11, 180 pounds, Moller responded well to the rigors and physical play in the WHL, due in part to his on-ice vision and anticipation.

10. Michael Repik, LW
Vancouver Giants
December 31, 1988

A member of the powerful Vancouver Giants, Repik will have the benefit of consecutive Memorial Cup appearances to his credit come draft day. The native of Vlasim in the Czech Republic, Repik has become a reliable import on an upper-echelon WHL team. He scored 24 goals and 31 assists in 56 games.

At 5’10, 180 pounds, Repik is a shifty skater with good acceleration; he seldom loses speed through lateral movement. He shows good anticipation and puck skills. He played for the Czechs at the WJC and has earned respect across the WHL as a durable import player who has been exposed to high-pressure situations as a member of the Giants. Playing along side Wacey Rabbit (BOS) and Milan Lucic (BOS), he scored the game-winning goal in the Giants Memorial Cup win over Medicine Hat.

11. Dana Tyrell, C
Prince George Cougars
April 23, 1989

Tyrell was likely the most consistent member of veteran-laden Cougars team that underachieved during the regular season and then proceeded to upset both the Kamloops Blazers and the Everett Silvertips in the WHL playoffs. He scored 30 goals and 26 assists while playing a high-energy style in all 72 regular season games.

The native of Airdrie, Alberta has shown the Cougars a high level of dedication during his two seasons in Prince George. At a generous 5’10, 185 pounds, Tyrell is committed to off-ice conditioning and scholastic achievement. A curious oversight for the annual Top Prospects Game, Tyrell will be a very pleasant, mid-round surprise for the NHL club that calls his name.

12. Eric Doyle, D
Swift Current Broncos
April 5, 1989

Doyle endured a challenging season this past winter as he was dealt near the trade deadline from the No. 1 ranked Everett Silvertips to the Swift Current Broncos. While the Broncos qualified for post-season play in the less than stellar East Division of the Eastern Conference, Doyle’s hopes for a Memorial Cup appearance realistically ended with the deal.

The native of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, is a prototypical stay-at-home defenseman. He scored eight goals and 21 assists in 58 games. Doyle has above average mobility, a heavy shot and is receptive to physical play.

13. Taylor Ellington, D
Everett Silvertips
October 31, 1988

A reliable defender for the regular season champion Everett Silvertips, Ellington scored five goals and eight assists in 60 games during his third WHL season. The 6’2, 210-pounder has tremendous reach and begun to develop a mean streak in the ‘Tips end of the rink.

A member of Team WHL for the Canada/Russia Challenge, Ellington cites his strengths as his first pass on breakouts and his decision-making in the defending zone. He toiled on the blueline with Eric Doyle for most of the season until Doyle was traded to Swift Current. Silvertips former head coach feels Ellington has developed confidence over the past couple of seasons and has also begun to understand the game positionally. As a result, his puck skills improved immensely this past season.

14. John Negrin, D
Kootenay Ice
March 26, 1988

In his second full season in Cranbrook, Negrin improved his offensive numbers over his rookie campaign. He scored once and added 15 assists while earning a plus-11 ranking for a Kootenay Ice team that battled the eventual WHL Champion Medicine Hat Tigers for first place in the league’s Central Division.

However, Negrin played in only 44 games, primarily due to a concussion suffered in a game against the Regina Pats. Upon his return, the 6’2, 195-pound native of West Vancouver was consistently ranked among the ISS’s Top 30 WHL prospects.

15. Andrew Clark, LW
Brandon Wheat Kings
April 8, 1988

After a successful season in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League where he was selected to the All-Rookie Team at season’s end, Clark made the jump to the WHL. During his rookie season, he collected 22 goals and 38 assists while playing in all 72 regular season games.

The durable forward played in the Canada/Russia Challenge along with Wheat King teammates Codey Burki (COL) and Dustin Kohn (NYI). Head coach Kelly McCrimmon used the 5’10, 180-pound Clark often on special teams and was rewarded by the native of Brandon as he tallied 11 power play and four shorthanded goals.

16. Tyson Sexsmith, G
Vancouver Giants
March 19, 1989

Including the WHL playoffs, Sexsmith collected 14 shutouts in 73 games after being handed the starting job by head coach Don Hay in November. His sparkling 1.79 goals against average is certain to earn him a serious look at the NHL Draft.

After veteran goaltender Dustin Slade left the Giants, Sexsmith weathered the media storms and doubts concerning the ability of a 17-year-old being able to backstop the Memorial Cup host team. The critics have been answered and silenced as Sexsmith gained confidence throughout the season and led the team to a national championship. The 6′, 200-pound native of Priddis, Alberta will be tested next season in Vancouver as the Giants look to reload following the loss of some key veterans.

17. Nick Ross, D

Regina Pats
February 10, 1989

Ross is perhaps the top prospect from a Regina Pats roster that, while young, probably underachieved this past season. The versatile native of Lethbridge, Alberta scored seven goals and added 24 assists in 70 games.

At 6’1, 190 pounds, Ross has above average puck skills and is a motivated open-ice hitter. He patrolled the Pats’ blueline this season, often with Logan Pyett (DET), and also saw time at forward as the Pats searched for consistent offensive production early in the season.

18. Linden Rowat, G
Regina Pats
June 27, 1989

Rowat assumed the starting role in Regina following an early-season trade that saw veteran goaltender David Reekie moved to the Everett Silvertips. In 52 regular season games, Rowat posted 25 wins and four shutouts. His 3.36 goals against average is more indicative of the club’s play in front of him.

The 6’2, 175-pound native of Cochrane, Alberta survived an early-season tweak to his MCL. He was able to spend a week with Hockey Canada goaltending consultant Corey Hirsch this past season through the relationship of Pat’s head coach Curtis Hunt, an assistant coach with the national junior team. The focus in sessions with Hirsch was Rowat’s mental preparation and puckhandling skills. Rowat is the top-ranked WHL goaltender according to the ISS, second overall among draft eligible goaltenders behind Jeremy Smith of the OHL’s Plymouth Whalers.

19. Spencer Machacek, RW
Vancouver Giants
October 14, 1988

The lanky Machacek matched his rookie-season point total this past year with 21 goals and 24 assists in only 63 games. Machacek parlayed an energizing second half of the season into a consistent playoff contribution for the Giants as he collected 20 points in 22 games.

The 6’1, 185-pounder from Lethbridge, Alberta already has 40 WHL playoff games under his belt along with nine Memorial Cup game appearances over the past two years. Because the national champion Giants graduate many of their veterans, Machacek will find himself in a leadership role next season. Along with teammates Blum, Sexsmith and Repik, Machacek attended the NHL Combine.

20. David Schlemko, D

Medicine Hat Tigers
May 7, 1987

Perhaps overlooked last year as a defenseman playing behind the likes of Cam Barker (CHI), Kris Russell (CBJ) and Gord Baldwin (CAL) in Medicine Hat, Schlemko emerged this season as the Tigers most consistent rearguard. The native of Edmonton, Alberta scored eight goals and 50 assists in 64 regular season games, behind only Russell, Darren Helm (DET) and Derek Dorsett (CBJ).

Schlemko logged plenty of minutes for the Tigers over the past three seasons when many of his teammates were attending the WJCs. Lauded as a truly gifted offensive contributor by head coach Willi Desjardins, Schlemko played on the Tigers top power-play unit.

21. Matt Robertson, C
Prince Albert Raiders
February 7, 1988

The WHL’s Eastern Conference Rookie of the Year nominee, Robertson amassed 37 goals and 27 assists in 69 games for a club that limped into the post-season. The strong-skating forward personifies home-grown talent, having played his minor and junior hockey in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.

At 5’9, 160 pounds, Robertson is likely a late-round pick at the draft, although his offensive skills have not gone unnoticed. As a member of the Prince Albert Mintos AAA Midget team, Robertson and crew won a Telus Cup championship in 2006, emblematic of national supremacy in Canada.

22. Justin McCrae, C

Saskatoon Blades
October 30, 1988

While teammate Colton Gillies has garnered much of the attention from scouts over the past season, the contribution and development of Justin McCrae has been a pleasant surprise in Saskatoon. The young veteran forward scored 16 goals and 33 assists in 61 games for the Blades, who missed the playoffs this season.

At 6’1, 185 pounds, the native of Cochrane, Alberta will likely add some weight and muscle over the course of the off-season. A determined performer, McCrae impressed head coach and general manager Lorne Molleken with his grit and all-around skills, much like former Montreal Canadien forward Bob Gainey. A dependable defensive forward, McCrae has completed three seasons in Saskatoon and will be looked upon to continue to lead the club next season, both on and off the ice.

23. Kurtis Mucha, G

Portland Winter Hawks
June 3, 1989

In his second full season in Portland, Mucha shouldered the burden of a troubled on-ice group this past season. The Winter Hawks finished well out of the playoffs and appeared to mail it in over the course of the last 20 games of the regular season, leaving Mucha to face upwards of 40 shots on many nights.

The native of Sherwood Park, Alberta rose to prominence during the 2005-06 playoffs as he led Portland to the second round as a rookie. At 6’1, 172 pounds, he covers the net well, in much the same fashion as the Regina Pats’ Linden Rowat. While his 3.82 goals against average in not awe-inspiring, Mucha oozes talent and provides the Winter Hawks with a bright future between the pipes. He faced a league-high 1,996 shots last season, over 200 more than his nearest rival.

24. Radek Meidl, LW
Seattle Thunderbirds
November 25, 1988

While Meidl spent much of the past season getting accustomed to the North American lifestyle, he impressed the T-Birds with his hand skill and physical play. The durable forward, a native of Sparza, Czechoslavakia, scored 16 goals and 11 assists in 72 regulars season games during his rookie campaign.

The younger brother of Vaclav Meidl, an OHL veteran and 2004 draft pick of the Nashville Predators, Radek used his 6’2, 195-pound frame to impose his will on opposing defensemen this year. Another season in the WHL will aid his development, as the T-Birds will look for the reliable import to become a more consistent offensive threat.

25. Drayson Bowman, LW
Spokane Chiefs
March 8, 1989

In 61 games, Bowman scored 24 goals and 19 assists for a Chiefs team that made its first playoff appearance in three years.  The 6′, 185-pound forward is a native of Littleton, Colorado and has become a dependable and durable forward in Spokane.

During his rookie season, he played in all 72 games, collecting 34 points. His offensive output is headed in the right direction and will be valuable to the Chiefs as they graduate veteran forward Adam Hobson to the Chicago Blackhawks. As he matures and amps up his physical play, Bowman should find himself playing an important leadership role for a Chiefs club that is definitely on the rise.

Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future.  Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.