Top 5 BCHL prospects for the 2007 draft

By Matt MacInnis

The 2007 BCHL crop appears destined to be one of the better classes of NHL prospects to ever come out of the league.  In addition to Kyle Turris, who appears destined to be the first prospect drafted in the top five directly out of the BCHL since Paul Kariya, Hockey’s Future predicts at least four other BCHL players will be selected June 22-23.

1. Kyle Turris, C
2006/07 Team: Burnaby Express
2007/08 Team: Wisconsin
6’0.5, 170 lbs.
DOB: 8/14/89 Shoots: Right
NHL Central Scouting final ranking: 1st among North American skaters

Turris has been a highlytouted prospect since a strong performance during the 2006 RBC Royal Bank Cup, including a dominating performance during the championship’s final game on national TV.  Touted going into the season as a probable first-round pick, Turris steadily climbed up the ranks throughout the course of a very strong season in the BCHL.  In 53 regular season games, Turris racked up 66 goals and 55 assists for 121 points.  While there is no question his statistics are inflated by playing junior “A” hockey, there is equally no denying Turris’ impressive raw talent.

Turris is a fast player with great hockey sense, puck -handling skills and shooting accuracy.  He has very good positioning in the offensive zone and creates a chance almost every time he touches the puck.  He’s a very lean player at this point, but he knows how to avoid getting hit and his game is not reliant on overpowering the opposition.  Rick Lanz, his coach in Burnaby, used him in all situations this past year and wasn’t afraid to keep him on the ice for minutes at a time – a practical example of Turris’ impressive stamina. 

The main criticism of Turris is the fact that he spent the season playing against lesser competition in the BCHL.  However, Turris’ vast skill supersedes all other factors and he will almost certainly be selected in the top three on Draft Day.  He has the raw talent to potentially develop into a first-line game breaker.

2. Riley Nash, C
2006/07 Team: Salmon Arm Silverbacks
2007/08 Team: Cornell
6’1, 175 lbs.
DOB: 5/9/89 Shoots: Right
NHL Central Scouting final ranking: 64th among North American skaters

Not many people in the hockey world knew much about Riley Nash going into this season.  He spent the 2005-06 hockey season playing major midget and only appeared in a handful of BCHL games (mostly playoff) at the very end of the year for the Salmon Arm Silverbacks.  He broke onto the scouting radar this year however with some big offensive numbers including 38 goals and 46 assists in 55 regular season games.

Of this year’s BCHL class, Nash may be the most guaranteed to play in the NHL in some capacity.  There are more skilled players and better goal scorers, but Nash offers an impressive all-around, mature game that is unique among 17 and 18-year-olds.  He plays very well along the boards and has very good mobility although he’s not a particularly fast skater.  He probably needs to add 20 lbs of muscle if he’s going to be able to excel on the boards in the professional ranks – but going the NCAA route gives him more time to build the muscle mass he will need later in his career.

Nash could be a surprise first-round pick on draft day but will likely be chosen in the second round.  He is probably a future third-line player, but he could conceivably end up as the defensively conscious player on a well-rounded second line at some point in his career.  Whoever ends up with Nash will have a great character player in their system.

3. Casey Pierro-Zabotel, C
2006/07 Team: Merritt Centennials
2007/08 Team: Michigan Tech
6’1, 205 lbs.
DOB: 11/8/88 Shoots: Left
NHL Central Scouting final ranking: 75th among North American skaters

In his third full season in the BCHL with the Merritt Centennials, Pierro-Zabotel finished third in the league in points with 51 goals, 65 assists and 116 points in 55 games of action.  The 6’2, 210 lbs Kamloops, BC native was clear from the start of the season that he had no interest in leaving the BCHL for the WHL and was true to his word.

Pierro-Zabotel has a professional hockey body already but does need to learn how to use it more effectively.  He’s far from a soft player, but considering that many of the players in the BCHL are smaller he didn’t physically impose himself as much as one would like.  He is an extremely effective finisher who rarely fails to convert on a chance from 10-12 feet in to the net.  However, he is also very much a complementary player.  He rarely creates his own chances – in fact one opposing BCHL coach described him as a “parasite,” referencing that Pierro-Zabotel waits for turnovers, mistakes, rebounds or loose pucks and then capitalizes on the opportunity.  His skating is okay but his acceleration could definitely use some work.

Pierro-Zabotel will likely end up as a third or fourth round pick.  He has the potential to develop into a Tomas Holmstrom-type of second-liner, a player who feeds off strong playmakers and buries his chances.  If he can add some toughness to his game, he would be a good fit as the man in front of the net during power plays because he does have very good hands in close for a bigger player. 

4. Ben Winnett, LW
2006/07 Team: Salmon Arm
2007/08 Team: University of Michigan
6’0, 173 lbs.
DOB: 4/3/89 Shoots: Right
NHL Central Scouting final ranking: 90th among North American skaters

Winnett went into this season in many books as the No. 2 prospect behind Turris, but injuries and surprising performances but other players in the league likely moved him back a few spots.  Winnett appeared in just 39 regular season games, but put up very strong numbers including 27 goals and 30 assists in that time.  He also added 10 points in 11 playoff games.

The 6’1, 180 lbs winger uses his speed to create chances and beat opposing defenders to the outside.  He is an effective attacking player with the ability to control the puck at top speed.  At this point his defensive game is very limited and he will need to get a little bigger throughout his collegiate career. 

Winnett has committed to the University of Michigan after spending two years with Salmon Arm.  Winnett is expected to be a fourth or fifth-round pick.  He is a higher risk prospect because it is unlikely that he will effectively convert to a role player in the professional ranks.  Winnett is an offensive player who could develop into a second liner scorer, but it will take a number of years.

5. Jamie Benn, LW
2006/07 Team: Victoria Grizzlies
2007/08 Team: Victoria Grizzlies (committed to Alaska-Fairbanks for 08-09)
6’2, 185 lbs.
DOB: 7/18/89 Shoots: Right
NHL Central Scouting final ranking: 107th among North American skaters

The Victoria, BC native had a resoundingly successful rookie season in the BCHL, racking up an impressive 42 goals and 23 assists in 53 games.  He finished seventh in goal scoring in the lead, with all but two of the players ahead of him being 20-year-olds (the other two were Turris and Pierro-Zabotel).  Benn was not really on the radar screen heading into the season but has forced teams to take a closer look at him because of his strong performance in his draft year.

Benn is a natural goal scorer who possesses very good shooting abilities and an uncanny knack to be in the right place at the right time.  He can hurt you on the rush or on a set play – especially on the power play where nearly half his goals came – and can score from a distance or in tight.  Although he has good size, he hasn’t shown a tendency to use it well to date relying more on his skill set than his physique to get things done.  He steadily improved as the season went on, but it’s safe to say that he’s predominantly a one-dimensional player at this point in his career.

Benn has committed to Alaska-Fairbanks (where he will once again join his older brother Jordie) for 2008-09 but will return to Victoria for his sophomore season next year.  With several key players leaving the team, Benn will be heavily relied upon for his offensive production.  Benn is a good value gamble in the last three rounds of the draft for teams looking to find a gem of a scorer late. 

Other notables

Nanaimo Clipper forward Russell Goodman, Burnaby Express forward, and son of NHL veteran Geoff Courtnall, Justin Courtnall and Powell River goaltender Chris Rawlings all have shots at being selected in the latter stages of the draft.  Goodman has received praise throughout the year from highly-respected coach Bill Bestwick; Courtnall has attracted attention all season for his size (6’3, 185 lbs) and bloodlines but really struggled throughout the season offensively; and Rawlings has demonstrated potential at times but is generally viewed as a very long-term project.

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