WHL 2011 draft review

By Glen Erickson
Photo: Part of the powerhouse Portland Winterhawks, Joe Morrow was selected by the Pittsburgh Penguins with the 23rd overall pick in the NHL draft. (Photo courtesy of Ian Altenbaugh/HF)

For the first time since 1996, when the Ottawa Senators selected defenseman Chris Phillips of the Prince Albert Raiders with the number one selection, the WHL can again take credit for developing the first overall pick.

When Edmonton Oilers‘ general manager Steve Tambellini stepped on stage in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to announce his pick, there was actually very little suspense across western Canada. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Red Deer Rebels was roundly assumed to be headed for the Oilers organization. And Tambellini did not disappoint, taking the Burnaby, British Columbia native with the first pick, one that was confirmed at the NHL Draft Lottery a few weeks ago.

Nugent-Hopkins is an offensive dynamo, a playmaker that has gradually become more adept at also pulling the trigger. However, at 6’1 and about 175 pounds, he is slightly built. The center has already begun adding some size this season, "The biggest thing that would be holding me back is my strength and my size. I put on ten pounds already this off-season so I feel like if I put on another five or so I think I’ll be ready to play (in the NHL)."

While the Oilers are not necessarily in a hurry to insert Nugent-Hopkins into the lineup, he will be given every opportunity to make the team when training camp opens in September. Last year’s first pick overall, Taylor Hall, along with Edmonton’s 2009 first rounder Jordan Eberle, have one NHL season under their belts. Indeed, the future looks bright in Alberta’s capital city.

With the 11th pick, their second of the first round, the Colorado Avalanche selected burly rearguard Duncan Siemens of the Saskatoon Blades. With the likes of former WHLers Stefan Elliott and Tyson Barrie both drafted and signed by the Avs this past spring, acquiring a physical shutdown defenseman seems logical. Siemens will be looked upon in Saskatoon next season to continue his strong play in the defending zone. It is also rumored that he is a candidate to become the team’s captain. Also, a future reunion in Denver with Elliott, who Siemens played with during the last two seasons, is likely to be a consistent motivator for the Sherwood Park, Alberta native.

The Calgary Flames grabbed Sven Baertschi of the Portland Winterhawks with the 13th overall pick. The Swiss-born forward had a productive rookie season in the WHL and was a stalwart among Portland forwards during the team’s run to the league championship final series. He was a target by opponents during the post-season, yet still managed 27 points in 20 playoff games. Bartschi brings significantly more grit to the mix than many observers might admit, in addition to better-than-average offensive skills.

With the 18th pick, the Chicago Blackhawks chose power forward Mark McNeill of the Prince Albert Raiders. McNeill was a key offensive contributor in Prince Albert, but might need some seasoning in the Blackhawks organization. Among Chicago prospects, he joins former WHLer Kyle Beach, a big, tough, high-scoring power forward who went 11th overall to the ‘Hawks at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.

The Pittsburgh Penguins selected Joe Morrow with the 23rd pick. The Portland Winterhawks defenseman was solid during the second half of the WHL season and throughout the playoffs, logging significant ice time after veteran rearguard and team captain Brett Ponich (STL) was lost for the season due to injury. Morrow describes himself as, "A good skater. I like to move the puck. I try and do everything to contribute physically. If that means fighting it means fighting." The defenseman patterns his game after Blackhawks blueliner Brent Seabrook although many compare him more favorably to Canucks defenseman Dan Hamuis.

Among the other WHLers selected are Brenden Kichton of the Spokane Chiefs and Nathan Lieuwen of the Kootenay Ice. Both were passed over in previous NHL Entry Drafts. Kichton is now 19 years old and checks in at 5’10 and 175 pounds. He tied with Stefan Elliott (COL) for the league lead in scoring among defensemen during the regular season with 81 points. Lieuwen, 20, stands 6’5 and weighs in at 185 pounds. He was named the WHL’s Most Valuable Player during the post season, leading the Ice to a berth in the Memorial Cup.

And also of note is the tragic circumstance surrounding Myles Bell. The Regina Pats’ defenseman was ranked 39th among CHL players by NHL Central Scouting, but was involved in a serious car accident in Calgary after the regular season that resulted in the death of his female passenger. Bell was seriously injured, and now faces a number of criminal charges in connection with the incident. All 30 NHL teams elected to take a pass at the Entry Draft.

Here are a few more WHL numbers for your digestion:

Past WHL – NHL Draft Results
2010 NHL Entry Draft: 33. (1st Round: 5)
2009 NHL Entry Draft: 31. (1st Round: 5)
2008 NHL Entry Draft: 37. (1st Round: 9)
2007 NHL Entry Draft: 37. (1st Round: 9)
2006 NHL Entry Draft: 24. (1st Round: 4)
2005 NHL Entry Draft: 43. (1st Round: 4)

WHL Players Drafted, in Order, with HF Top 10 Rankings:

1st Round (5)

1. Ryan Nugent Hopkins (EDM) Red Deer Rebels: HF Rank #1. HF Mock Draft #1.
11. Duncan Siemens (COL) Saskatoon Blades: HF Rank #3. HF Mock Draft #19.
13. Sven Bartschi (CGY) Portland Winterhawks: HF Rank #2. HF Mock Draft #11.
18. Mark McNeill (CHI) Prince Albert Raiders: HF Rank #6. HF Mock Draft #12.
23. Joe Morrow (PIT) Portland Winterhawks: HF Rank #4. HF Mock Draft #22.

2nd Round (4)
31. David Musil (EDM) Vancouver Giants: HF Rank #5.
32. Ty Rattie (STL) Portland Winterhawks: HF Rank #7. HF Mock Draft #28
46. Joel Edmundson (STL) Moose Jaw Warriors: HF Rank – NR
57. Tyler Wotherspoon (CGY) Portland Winterhawks: HF Rank #9

3rd Round (4)
67. Adam Lowry (WPG) Swift Current Broncos
73. Keegan Lowe (CAR) Edmonton Oil Kings
74. Travis Ewanyk (EDM) Edmonton Oil Kings
84. Harrison Ruopp (PHX) Prince Albert Raiders

4th Round (6)
106. Michael St. Croix (NYR) Edmonton Oil Kings
107. Colin Jacobs (BUF) Seattle Thunderbirds: HF Rank #8
111. Kale Kessey (PHX) Medicine Hat Tigers
115. Marek Tvrdon (DET) Vancouver Giants
118. Marcel Noebels (PHI) Seattle Thunderbirds
119. Zach Yuen (WPG) Tri City Americans

5th Round (6)
125. John Persson (NYI) Red Deer Rebels
127. Brenden Kichton (NYI) Spokane Chiefs
134. Shane McColgan (NYR) Kelowna Rockets
138. Darren Dietz (MTL) Saskatoon Blades
141. Darian Dzurzynski (PHX) Saskatoon Blades
144. Dominik Uher (PIT) Spokane Chiefs

6th Round (6)
156. Darren Kramer (OTT) Spokane Chiefs
159. Reece Scarlett (NJ) Swift Current Broncos
164. Laurent Brossoit (CGY) Edmonton Oil Kings
165. Matej Stransky (DAL) Saskatoon Blades
167. Nathan Lieuwen (BUF) Kootenay Ice
175. Richard Nedomlel (DET) Swift Current Broncos

7th Round (2)
186. Jordan Fransoo (OTT) Brandon Wheat Kings
193. Brody Sutter (CAR) Lethbridge Hurricanes

Not Drafted:
Myles Bell, Regina Pats: HF Rank #10

# of Players Selected – By WHL Team:
4 – Saskatoon, Portland, Edmonton
3 – Spokane, Swift Current
2 – Red Deer, Prince Albert, Vancouver, Seattle
1 – Moose Jaw, Brandon, Kelowna, Tri City, Kootenay, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat
0 – Kamloops, Calgary, Prince George, Everett, Regina, Victoria (Chilliwack)

# of Players Selected – By NHL Team:
3 – EDM, CGY, PHX,

# of Players Selected – By Position

13 – Defensemen
7 – Center
7 – Left Wing
4 – Right Wing
2 – Goaltender