Here’s a look at our top prospects from the Western Hockey League. Also included are the final rankings from the NHL’s Central Scouting, and the player’s standing among WHLers on their Final Spring listing.
All those among the Top 10 were invited to attend the NHL Scouting Combine, May 30 through June 3, where interviews and physical testing enables teams to add to their informational resources prior to the NHL Entry Draft in Minneapolis on June 25 and 26.
The current crop will be hard pressed to produce the same number of first round picks from the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, where a total of seven WHL players were selected. However, there is depth among the current group. Among goaltenders, there is no sure thing this season, opening the door for a couple of overagers like Nathan Lieuwen (Kootenay Ice) and Adam Brown (Kelowna) to hear their names called, perhaps in the mid- to late-rounds.
Nugent Hopkins has been the consensus top pick from the WHL for pretty much the entire season. In fact, many suggest he will be the first pick overall at the NHL Entry Draft, although the Edmonton Oilers have yet to tip their hand.
Nugent-Hopkins has played two full seasons in Red Deer, winning the WHL Rookie of the Year award as a 16-year-old after compiling 24 goals and 41 assists in 67 games. This past season, the resurgent Rebels completed their most successful regular season in a decade with 104 points, good for a Central Division title and second place overall in the Eastern Conference. Nugent Hopkins led the team in scoring with 31 goal and 75 assists in 69 games.
The final cut at the selection camp for Team Canada’s entry at the 2011 WJC, Nugent-Hopkins has been a mainstay in Hockey Canada programs over the past three seasons. Only a full-time job in the NHL will keep him from participating at the 2012 WJC.
A native of Burnaby, B.C., Nugent-Hopkins is a creative playmaker and an above-average skater. He possesses tremendous anticipation, an ability to find open ice near the opposition’s goal. It is debatable whether or not another season in the WHL will serve as the best developmental route for the highly-skilled Nugent-Hopkins.
2. Sven Bartschi, LW
5’10, 185 pounds
CS Ranking: CHL – #7; WHL – #2
Bartschi is a native of Switzerland, a good friend of Nino Neiderreiter (NYI) for many years. The pair was a huge success story in Portland and it is entirely possible that for the first time, Swiss-born players will be selected in the top ten at consecutive NHL Entry Drafts. Neiderreiter was the fifth overall pick last year.
Bartschi is a gritty, offensive-minded forward who had the good fortune of lining up with Ty Rattie and Ryan Johansen (CLB) for much of the past season. The high-octane trio supplied consistent scoring for the Winterhawks as they collected 50 wins during the regular season. Bartschi scored 34 goals and added 51 assists in 66 games.
During the playoffs, Bartschi was arguably the Winterhawks most consistent forward. While not a physically dominant player, he did not shy away from tough play in close quarters, even as a marked man by opponents such as Everett, Kelowna, Spokane and Kootenay. He tallied 10 times and added 17 assist in 21 playoff games.
3. Duncan Siemens, D
6’3, 195 pounds
CS Ranking: CHL – #10; WHL – #3
Duncan Siemens has been on the radar of scouting personnel since his bantam hockey days. In Saskatoon, he has developed steadily with the help of veteran rearguards like Stefan Elliott (COL) and Teigan Zahn (TB).
With at least another season in the WHL a very real likelihood, Siemens will play a more important leadership role with the Blades. Unfortunately, due to the team’s unexpected early exit from the past post-season, Siemens and his mates were unable to gain more of the valuable playoff experience that also guarantees added exposure for those in their draft year.
From Sherwood Park, Alberta, Siemens scored five goals and 38 assists while appearing in all 72 games this past season on a team that collected 56 wins. While not a huge offensive contributor, Siemens was a key shut down defenseman in Saskatoon.
4. Joe Morrow, D
6’2, 200 pounds
CS Ranking: CHL – #12; WHL – #4
If an NHL team is shopping for an aggressive defenseman with offensive skills, Joe Morrow might be their man. The Sherwood Park, Alberta native put on a gritty display during the WHL playoffs, emerging as the second highest scoring defenseman behind Brayden McNabb (BUF) of the Kootenay Ice.
Morrow scored nine goals and added 40 assists in 60 games this season. During the playoffs, he chipped in with six goals and 14 assists in 20 games. At his best in t he attacking zone, Morrow possesses a heavy shot and the ability get the puck through traffic and on to the net.
Tested by opposing forwards, particularly during the second round by the Kelowna Rockets, Morrow showed desire and ability to stand his ground and avoid foolish penalties. It is this composure, in addition to his size and mobility that have combined to elevate his stock, particularly through the second half of the past season.
5. David Musil, D
6’3, 195 pounds
CS Ranking: CHL – #38; WHL – #8
Musil has battled injuries this season, during the WHL schedule and at international events. Scouts most certainly would have liked to see him play more meaningful games, but there is a feeling that his size and mobility are already strong suits.
Musil arrived in the WHL as a 16-year-old and proceeded to play a regular shift on a talented Giants team that included talented rearguards Kevin Connauton (VAN), Brent Regner (CBJ) and Craig Schira (OTT). This past season Musil scored six goals and added 19 assists in 61 games.
Primarily considered a shutdown defender, Musil has good puck skills, an offensive side that could evolve over the next season or two in the WHL. He is the son of former NHLer, Frank Musil.
6. Mark McNeill, C
Prince Albert Raiders
6’2, 200 pounds
CS Ranking: CHL- #14; WHL – #5
If there is a true power forward among the top WHL prospects, it’s most certainly Mark McNeill. When he is at his best, his presence makes opponents tentative. However, there is a potential issue here with his overall consistency.
In 70 games this season, McNeill scored 32 times and added 49 assists. He had a taste of playoff activity this season, as the Raiders pushed the highly touted Saskatoon Blades to six games in the first round. McNeill, from Edmonton, Alberta, has been an offensive catalyst in Prince Albert, along with unheralded veteran Brandon Herrod.
McNeill was a member of Team Canada at the recent U-18 World Championship tournament. Reece Scarlett (Swift Current), Colin Smith (Kamloops) and Travis Ewanyk (Edmonton) were three other 2011 eligibles on the team that failed to collect a medal after a semi-final loss to Russia.
7. Ty Rattie, RW
5’11, 165 pounds
CS Ranking: CHL – #17; WHL – #6
On a team that boasted tremendous offensive skill, Rattie was able to fit right in among a group of gifted forwards. Much like Nugent-Hopkins, Rattie is adept at locating open ice in the attacking zone. He is the epitome of a player with a "nose for the net".
What makes Rattie most valuable is his obvious thought process on the ice. He is not a powerful skater, yet he seems to be able to hang on to the puck when it matters most. While he was blessed with proficient linemates like Ryan Johansen (CLB) and Sven Bartschi this past season, his versatility enabled head coach Mike Johnston to employ Rattie among a number of effective power play combinations.
Rattie, from Airdrie, Alberta, collected 28 goals and 51 assists in 67 regular season games before adding nine goals and 13 assists in 21 playoff tilts.
8. Colin Jacobs, C
6’1, 200 pounds
CS Ranking: CHL – #61; WHL – #15
While the Thunderbirds failed to earn a post-season berth, the roster was dotted with some talented prospects. Jacobs, from Coppell, Texas, saw teammate Brendan Dillon signed by the Dallas Stars during the WHL regular season, while he also played in front of highly-touted goaltender Calvin Pickard (COL).
Jacobs is a playmaking centerman who is capable of providing a power forward-like effort. In terms of size, he is certainly NHL-ready. As he matures and builds confidence, it is likely he will become even more polished around the opposition goal. In 68 games this past season, Jacobs scored 22 goals and added 22 assists.
The WHL schedule is such that Jacobs and crew played a significant number of tough games this past season against talented U.S Division teams, all of which qualified for the playoffs. Missing the post-season can deprive a player of some valuable experience gleaned from heightened intensity, yet the T-Birds played over half of their regular season games among the toughest division in the league. Whether or not this is enough for scouts to be enamored with Jacobs skill set remains to be seen.
9. Tyler Wotherspoon, D
6’1, 205 pounds
CS Ranking: CHL – #40; WHL – #10
As the Winterhawks continued their lengthy playoff run, Tyler Wotherspoon continued to demonstrate a compete level that should earn him a legitimate shot at a NHL job. Portland played 21 post-season games, all of them without their captain and veteran defenseman Brett Ponich (STL). His absence enabled the likes of Wotherspoon, Morrow, Taylor Aronson (NAS) and 2012 eligible Derrick Pouliot to parlay extra ice time into valuable experience.
Wotherspoon, from Surrey, B.C., is effective in front of his own net, possessing the size and strength to allow his goaltender a clear view of oncoming shots. He will have to improve his mobility and also his puck moving skills.
In 64 games this past season, Wotherspoon scored two goals and 10 assists.
10. Myles Bell, D
6′, 215 pounds
CS Ranking: CHL – #39; WHL – #9
Destined for an exciting day at the NHL Entry Draft in Minneapolis, the future of this talented rearguard took a tragic turn when he was in a severe car accident in Calgary after the regular season ended for the Regina Pats. Bell faces a number of charges associated with the incident.
Hockey’s Future featured Bell in a CHL podcast prior to the 2011 Top Prospects Game in January, an event that saw the right handed shooting defenseman win the hardest shot competition. Bell was a bright light in Regina this past season, contributing at both ends of the ice. On a team that has not seen post-season play for awhile, despite possessing and developing some high-end talent, Bell has been looked upon to add leadership and stability for the next couple of seasons.
In 66 games, Bell scored 14 goals and added 31 assists. While there is no questioning his skill set, his immediate hockey future is certainly up in the air.
Other Notables: Joel Edmundson, Moose Jaw Warriors; Marcel Noebels, Seattle Thunderbirds; Reece Scarlett, Swift Current Broncos; Adam Lowry, Swift Current Broncos; Michael St. Croix, Edmonton Oil Kings; Travis Ewanyk, Edmonton Oil Kings; Luke Lockhart, Seattle Thunderbirds; Zach Yuen, Tri City Americans; Keegan Lowe, Edmonton Oil Kings; Sam Grist, Tri City Americans; Colin Smith, Kamloops Blazers; Dylan Wruck, Edmonton Oil Kings; Kale Kessey, Medicine Hat Tigers; Harrison Ruopp, Prince Albert Raiders; Brent Benson, Saskatoon Blades; Anthony Bardaro, Spokane Chiefs; Zach Franko, Kelowna Rockets; Shane McColgan, Kelowna Rockets; Jesse Astles, Kelowna Rockets; Liam Liston, Brandon Wheat Kings; Tyler Hansen, Kamloops Blazers; Laurent Brosseau, Edmonton Oil Kings; Jagger Dirk, Kootenay Ice; Jesse Forsberg, Prince George Cougars; Dominic Uher, Spokane Chiefs; Eric Williams, Prince Albert Raiders; Nathan Lieuwen, Kootenay Ice; Adam Brown, Kelowna Rockets.