2014 NHL Draft: WHL draft review

By Glen Erickson
2014 NHL Draft - Sam Reinhart - Buffalo Sabres

Photo: Kootenay Ice forward and Buffalo Sabres prospect Sam Reinhart was the Sabres highest selection since Pierre Turgeon was chosen first overall by the club back in 1987 (courtesy of Aaron Bell/CHL Images)


Heading into the 2014 NHL Draft, both the Western Hockey League (WHL) and Ontario Hockey League (OHL) knew their top eligible prospects would be jockeying for the coveted first pick overall. When the Florida Panthers did not receive a satisfactory offer after openly shopping the number one pick, they chose to select defenseman Aaron Ekblad of the Barrie Colts.

He was the first of 10 OHL players chosen in Round One, which also included nine players from the WHL. The overall total of 37 WHL players selected in Philadelphia last month matches the number of players chosen in both 2007 and 2008. At each of those NHL Drafts, a total of nine WHL players were also selected in the first round.

Sam Reinhart of the Kootenay Ice was selected second overall by the Buffalo Sabres, a team that will be able to bolster its system with a vengeance in the near future as the organization has stockpiled early round draft picks through a combination of efficient trades and, unfortunately, poor regular season finishes of late.

The youngest Reinhart brings elite offensive skills to the mix, along with the kind of hockey IQ any team can build around. The North Vancouver native became the highest pick ever among the “Reinhart” family, surpassing his brothers Griffin (4th overall, 2012) and Max (64th overall, 2010), and also his father Paul (12th overall, 1979).

As rumored prior to Draft Day, the Edmonton Oilers opted for Leon Draisaitl of the Prince Albert Raiders. The lowly Oilers have had their share of high picks in recent years, but Draisaitl represents the first round one pick of late whose big frame fits well with his high-end skill set. At 6’1” and 205 pounds, Draisaitl is already pro-sized and brings a much needed combination of strength and finesse to a talented but somewhat diminutive forward corps. He surpasses veteran forward Marcel Goc (20th overall, 2001) as the highest German-born player ever selected at the NHL Draft.

In some quarters, the Vancouver Canucks selection of Calgary Hitmen forward Jake Virtanen at number six was a surprise. However, he should be considered a “local boy”, given he played his minor hockey close by in the Abbotsford region. A pure, powerful skater, Virtanen tallied 45 times this past season, production the Canucks would dearly love to see from any future power forward. Post-season shoulder surgery kept Virtanen from participating at the NHL Combine prior to the draft, but the prognosis is good and he anticipates being ready to go sometime in September.

Haydn Fleury of the Red Deer Rebels followed Virtanen at number seven overall when the Carolina Hurricanes called his name. Fleury, from Carlyle, Saskatchewan, is already physically imposing at 6’2” and 203 pounds, yet it would appear he has room on his frame to add more weight and muscle. The Hurricanes can also look forward to Fleury’s offensive prowess from the backend.

At 14th overall, the Dallas Stars selected Julius Honka of the Swift Current Broncos. Honka, from Finland, adapted well to the WHL this season, producing consistently on offense while maintaining his responsibilities in the defensive zone. Earning a gold medal at the 2014 U20 WJC as a member of Team Finland was a nice bonus for Honka this past season.

Three picks later, Travis Sanheim of the Calgary Hitmen was chosen by the Philadelphia Flyers. Sanheim took full advantage of the extra ice time that came his way near mid-season and parlayed the development opportunity into a spot on Team Canada at the U18 World Championship. With only 73 career WHL games under his belt, Sanheim’s rise to become a first round selection has been somewhat meteoric.

Connor Bleackley of the Red Deer Rebels has become a consummate leader already, an attribute that surely caught the attention of the Colorado Avalanche. Bleackley was the 23rd pick overall.

The so-called “Russian Factor” may have loomed over Saskatoon Blades prolific rookie Nikita Scherbak, who was chosen 26th overall by the Montreal Canadiens. Should Scherbak elect to stay in North America and continue to develop physically, the Habs could find themselves with a terrific complement for the likes of youngsters Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk. Scherbak led all WHL rookies in scoring by a margin of 19 points.

The New Jersey Devils used the final pick of round one to select John Quenneville of the Brandon Wheat Kings, a forward with plenty of smarts who will have to continue to improve his skating. He follows older brother Peter (195th overall, 2013) as an NHL draft pick, while his highly-touted younger brother David remains on the Wheat Kings roster.

Through two rounds at the NHL Draft, not one player from the WHL’s Western Conference had been selected, a run that was broken when Justin Kirkland of the Kelowna Rockets was chosen 62nd overall by the Nashville Predators. With the next pick, the Detroit Red Wings selected Dominic Turgeon of the Portland Winterhawks. All told, only eight of the 37 WHL players that heard their names called in Philadelphia toiled in the league’s Western Conference last season.

Top 10 WHL Selections:
1. Sam Reinhart, Kootenay Ice (2nd. HF Ranking – WHL: 1)
2. Leon Draisaitl, Prince Albert Raiders (NHL: 3. HF Ranking – WHL: 2)
3. Jake Virtanen, Calgary Hitmen (NHL: 6th. HF Ranking – WHL: 3)
4. Haydn Fleury, Red Deer Rebels (NHL: 7th. HF Ranking – WHL: 4)
5. Julius Honka, Swift Current Broncos (NHL: 14th. HF Ranking – WHL: 5)
6. Travis Sanheim, Calgary Hitmen (NHL: 17th. HF Ranking – WHL: 9)
7. Connor Bleackley, Red Deer Rebels (NHL: 23rd. HF Ranking – WHL: 8)
8. Nikita Scherbak, Saskatoon Blades (NHL: 26th. HF Ranking – WHL: 6)
9. John Quenneville, Brandon Wheat Kings (NHL: 30th. HF Ranking – WHL: 7)
10. Jayce Hawryluk, Brandon Wheat Kings (NHL: 32nd. HF Ranking – WHL: NR)

Total number of WHL players selected at the NHL Draft:
2014: 37. (1st Rd: 9)
2013: 33. (1st Rd: 8)
2012: 32. (1st Rd: 6)
2011: 33. (1st Rd: 6)
2010: 33. (1st Rd: 5)
2009: 31. (1st Rd: 5)
2008: 37. (1st Rd: 9)
2007: 37. (1st Rd: 9)
2006: 24. (1st Rd: 4)

Selections by Round (2014):
1st – 9
2nd – 2
3rd – 8
4th – 3
5th – 6
6th – 5
7th – 4

Selections by Position:
0 – Goaltender
13 – Defensemen
13 – Centers
5 – Left Wingers
6 – Right Wingers

Selections by Country:
26 – Canada
4 – USA
3 – Russia
1 – Czech Republic; Germany; Latvia; Finland

Selections by WHL Team:
5 – Calgary Hitmen; Edmonton Oil Kings.
4 – Portland Winterhawks; Kootenay Ice.
3 – Brandon Wheat Kings; Red Deer Rebels; Swift Current Broncos.
2 – Kelowna Rockets; Prince Albert Raiders.
1 – Kamloops Blazers; Lethbridge Hurricanes; Moose Jaw Warriors; Saskatoon Blades; Victoria Royals.
0 – Everett Silvertips; Regina Pats; Medicine Hat Tigers; Vancouver Giants; Seattle Thunderbirds; Tri City Americans; Spokane Chiefs; Prince George Cougars.

Selections by NHL Team:
3 – Minnesota Wild; New Jersey Devils;
2 – Arizona Coyotes; Buffalo Sabres; Dallas Stars; Montreal Canadiens ; Nashville Predators; New York Rangers; Philadelphia Flyers; San Jose Sharks; Tampa Bay Lightning; Vancouver Canucks; Winnipeg Jets
1 – Carolina Hurricanes; Calgary Flames; Colorado Avalanche; Detroit Red Wings; Edmonton Oilers; Florida Panthers; New York Islanders; St. Louis Blues; Toronto Maple Leafs.
0 – Boston Bruins; Pittsburgh Penguins; Anaheim Ducks; Ottawa Senators; Columbus Blue Jackets; Washington Capitals; Los Angeles Kings; Chicago Blackhawks.

Notables Bypassed:
Mads Eller, Edmonton Oil Kings
Reid Gardiner, Prince Albert Raiders
Ty Edmonds, G, Prince George Cougars
Adam Helewka, Spokane Chiefs
Luke Philp, Kootenay Ice
Riley Stadel, Kelowna Rockets
Sam Ruopp, Prince George Cougars
Joe Hicketts, D, Victoria Royals
Tyson Baillie, W, Kelowna Rockets
Colby Cave, C, Swift Current Broncos
Alex Forsberg, C, Prince George Cougars
Matt Needham, C, Kamloops Blazers
Connor Rankin, C, Tri City Americans
Alex Moodie, G, Saskatoon Blades

Mitch Holmberg, Spokane Chiefs
Todd Fiddler, Prince George Cougars

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