Top 10 WHL Centermen

By Glen Erickson
Photo: Ryan Johansen, who is one of the top centers in the WHL, will likely play in the NHL in 2011-12. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

The criteria remain the same as our ranking of goaltenders, wingers and defensemen. All players ranked have been drafted or signed by NHL teams. There are many different kinds of centermen; those who primarily excel offensively and those who contribute in other ways to the success of their respective teams.

One of the biggest challenges across major junior hockey is taking into consideration the versatility of many top forwards. It is not uncommon for the best players down the middle to take a few turns on the wing in all situations.

1. Cody Eakin, Kootenay Ice
The 19-year-old native of Winnipeg, Manitoba has become a complete and consistent performer in the WHL. After three full seasons with the Swift Current Broncos, Eakin was traded to the Kootenay Ice at the trade deadline this season. In 56 regular season games split between the Ice and Broncos, Eakin tallied 36 goals and 47 assists.

A third round pick, 85th overall, by the Washington Capitals at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Eakin played for the Hershey Bears last season after the Broncos were eliminated from the WHL playoffs. The Bears went on to capture the Calder Cup, the American Hockey League championship.

Eakin, who has signed an entry-level contract with the Caps, was a member of Team Canada at the 2011 WJC, after being a late cut the previous year. As the Ice continue along their current WHL playoff run, Eakin has sparkled at both ends of the rink. He earned WHL Player of the Week honors in mid-April as the Ice took the first two games of the Eastern Conference Final Series in Medicine Hat. The Ice would then sweep the Tigers and advance to the WHL Championship series.

2. Brayden Schenn, Saskatoon Blades
The 19-year-old from Saskatoon burst on to the WHL scene during the 2007-08 season and proceeded to earn WHL Rookie of the Year honors as a member of the Brandon Wheat Kings.

Schenn spent the first half of this season in the AHL with the Manchester Monarchs, but was in and out of the lineup with ankle problems. He became a member of the Saskatoon Blades at the WHL trade deadline. In 29 regular season games, Schenn scored 22 goals and added 35 assists. His WHL season came to an earlier than anticipated when the highly-touted Blades were swept from the playoffs in the second round by the Kootenay Ice.

As a member of Team Canada at the last two WJC’s, Schenn has collected a pair of silver medals. In Buffalo this past January, he led all scorers at the WJC with 18 points, tying a long-standing Team Canada record originally set by Dale McCourt over 30 years ago.

Selected fifth overall by the Los Angeles Kings at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Schenn is currently skating with the Manchester in the AHL. The burly 6′, 195-pound centerman does not shy away from traffic, initiates physical play and frequently creates open ice for his wingers.

During his WHL career, Schenn has played alongside a number of drafted forwards, including Matt Calvert (CBJ) and Scott Glennie (DAL) in Brandon, then Curtis Hamilton (EDM) and Darian Dzurzynski (OTT) in Saskatoon.

3. Ryan Johansen, Portland Winterhawks
Ryan Johansen has met every high expectation since his return to the WHL this season. As the first WHL player selected at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, fourth overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets, all eyes were on the highly-regarded forward from the outset this season.

Johansen, now signed by Columbus, kept busy with appearances in the Subway Series and at the 2011 WJC in Buffalo, New York. For much of the past season, Johansen has played alongside a pair of 2011 eligible forwards, Sven Bartschi and Ty Rattie. During the WHL playoffs, Johansen has also been slotted in with Nino Neiderreiter (NYI) and Brad Ross (TOR), forming the trio that took the league by storm last season.

A smooth, almost effortless stride enables Johnasen to quickly cover both ends of the ice, making him dangerous when transitioning from defense to the attacking zone. Prior to his WHL career, he was a member of the Penticton Vees of the BCHL. In 63 regular season games this year, Johansen collected 92 points.

4. Linden Vey, Medicine Hat Tigers
Linden Vey caught fire about 20 games into the past regular season and has maintained his steady offensive output through the current WHL playoffs. Vey led the WHL in scoring this season with 116 points in 69 games.

In Medicine Hat, the Tigers boasted a veteran power play that included the likes of Kellan Tochkin (VAN), Tyler Pitlick (EDM) and Wacey Hamilton (OTT). Vey is a key playmaker, a slick passing centreman from Wakaw, Saskatchewan. He is one of at least five key WHLers in the Los Angeles Kings system, confirming the organization’s confidence in mining out west.

Vey was a member of Team WHL during the Subway Series against Russia and was a late cut from Team Canada’s national junior team. Vey was selected in the fourth round, 96th overall, at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.

5. Tyler Johnson, Spokane Chiefs
Undrafted, Tyler Johnson was signed late in the season by the Tampa Bay Lightning. At 20 years of age, his stock rose throughout the past season as he became an increasingly valuable contributor in Spokane. The Chiefs have advanced to the Western Conference final against the Portland Winterhawks.

Johnson is a diminutive forward with tremendous speed. Utilized in every possible situation by head coach Don Nachbaur in Spokane, Johnson has been proficient as a specialty team player and is among the top face off men in the WHL. He was a member of the gold-medal winning Team USA at the 2010 WJC in Saskatoon, along with top NHL rookies Derek Stepan (NYR) and Kyle Palmieri (ANA). Johnson finished second in WHL scoring this past season, just one point behind Linden Vey (LA).

6. Scott Glennie, Brandon Wheat Kings
Listed as a centerman, Glennie saw plenty of playing time on right wing beside Brayden Schenn during his days in Brandon. The 20-year-old forward is a native of Winnipeg, Manitoba. The Dallas Stars made Glennie the eighth overall selection at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. In 70 games this regular season, Glennie picked up 91 points.

In four full seasons with the Wheat Kings, Glennie has seen his offensive production increase each year. At 6’1 and 190 pounds, he has begun to fill out. He is a confident, skilled passer with above average skating ability. Following the Wheat Kings exit from the WHL playoffs, Glennie joined the Texas Stars of the AHL.

7. Byron Froese, Red Deer Rebels
Byron Froese exceeded expectations this season after being acquired by Red Deer during the off-season in the deal that saw Landon Ferraro (DET) sent to Everett. Based on the past season alone, the Rebels won the deal in a landslide.

Selected by the Chicago Blackhawks in the fourth round, 119th overall, Froes was a veteran presence in Red Deer who was able to live with playing in the shadow of highly-touted Ryan Nugent-Hopkins this past season. He quietly collected 43 goals and 38 assists in the process. The Rebels enjoyed their most successful regular season in about a decade, before bowing out to the Medicine Hat Tigers in the second round of the WHL playoffs.

8. Max Reinhart, Kootenay Ice
A deep playoff run that includes an unlikely sweep of the Saskatoon Blades has vaulted Max Reinhart into the spotlight this spring. The Ice has won 11 straight playoff games, advancing to the WHL Championship series where they will face either Portland or Spokane.

Reinhart has become an offensive catalyst during the second half of the season, culminating in a five-goal performance in the Eastern Conference clinching playoff game against the Medicine Hat Tigers. Reinhart has made a habit of traveling north-to-south during the playoffs, consistently creating havoc for opponents and scoring chances for the Ice.

Reinhart was selected by the Calgary Flames in the third round, 64th overall, at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. During the regular season, he chipped in with 34 goals and 45 assists. Through three playoff rounds, he has 14 goals and eight assists in 14 games.

9. Jordan Weal, Regina Pats
While the Pats did not qualify for the WHL playoffs this season, perhaps the biggest mountain for Weal to climb was the notion that his past success was due to the presence of high-octane veterans in Regina like Jordan Eberle (EDM). For certain this past season, the 5’8, 160-pounder was able to put those suggestions aside with another outstanding offensive campaign.

Selected in the third round, 70th overall, at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft by the Los Angeles Kings, Weal collected 96 points in72 games on a Pats team that lacked offensive depth. In fact Weal, who is now signed by LA, has not missed a game in two full seasons. He has joined the Manchester Monarchs of the AHL.

10. Landon Ferraro, Everett Silvertips

Ferraro burst on to the WHL scene two seasons ago with 37 goals on a Red Deer Rebels team that failed to earn a post-season berth. Despite the lack of team success, the Detroit Red Wings made Ferraro their second round selection at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.

Following his selection at the draft, an early season knee injury slowed the native of Vancouver, B.C. last season, then hernia surgery this past winter pretty much put a damper on his 201-11 WHL season. Although signed by the Red Wings, the untapped potential during the past two seasons will be remembered in both Red Deer and Everett.

In 41 games with Everett this season, Ferraro scored 10 goals and added 17 assists. Moving forward, Ferraro does have potential to become a high-end skater. He is well-spoken, but on the ice will have to prove he can be a durable performer.

Other Notables: Kevin Sundher, Chilliwack Bruins, Justin Dowling, Swift Current Broncos, Brooks Macek, Detroit Red Wings, Craig Cunningham, Portland Winterhawks