Top 10 WHL Wingers

By Glen Erickson
Photo: Quinton Howden (in white) is one of the top skaters in the WHL and also among the top two-way players. This season he has 30 goals and 35 assists in 52 games. (Photo courtesy of Zuma Press/Icon SMI)

The players listed in WHL Top 10 Wingers list are all drafted prospects. Many of the players in the top-10 achieve success due in part to their versatility, as most forwards will take a spin from time to time at the center position.

The development of these WHLers after selection at their respective NHL Entry Drafts confirms that late picks can become impact players. A total of three first round picks made our list, along two second rounders. The other half of our Top 10 were taken in the fourth round or later, including two in the fifth, one in the sixth and one in the seventh.

Three players hail from the province of Manitoba, while two are from both Alberta and British Columbia. There is one from the USA. Two players are imports, one from Switzerland and one from the Czech Republic.

1. Sven Baertschi, LW, Portland Winterhawks
NHL Rights: Calgary Flames
Drafted 1st round, 13th overall, 2011

Sven Baertschi has overwhelmingly established himself this season as an elite prospect. The Swiss-born forward is the only WHLer to average two points per game every night out during the regular season. He finished with 33 goals and 61 assists in 47 contests.

He missed almost three weeks of the regular season when he left the Winterhawks to play for Team Switzerland at the 2012 WJC in Alberta. Upon his return, the injury bug kept him out of the ‘Hawks lineup briefly. Since his return to action, the 5’10, 185-pound winger has been a huge reason why Portland ultimately challenged for top spot in the overall standings.

In early March, Baertschi was recalled by the Flames as an emergency replacement when the NHL club had nine regulars sidelined by injuries. Calgary was able to keep Baertrschi on their roster until two of the regulars returned. He wound up playing five games and scored three times, tallying his first NHL goal in a 4-3 win over the Minnesota Wild on March 11. He was returned to Portland on March 18.

Baertschi was a bright light last season during the Winterhawks playoff run that resulted in a Championship Final loss at the hands of the Kootenay Ice. As a targeted forward throughout the post-season, Baertschi was still able to be a solid producer, collecting 10 goals and 17 assists in 21 games. Portland will need a similar effort this spring if they hope to challenge again for a WHL title and a trip to the Memorial Cup.

2. Emerson Etem, RW, Medicine Hat Tigers
NHL Rights: Anaheim Ducks
Drafted: 1st round, 29th overall, 2010

There is no mistaking the high end skill set Emerson Etem brings to the ice as a durable forward with good acceleration and balance. Last season, he scored 45 goals and 35 assists in 65 games this year, improving on his 65-point rookie season. In his second season, his most glaring statistic of the campaign was his plus-41 rating.

This year, Etem has scored 61 goals and added 46 assists for 107 points in 64 games. Selected in the first round, 29th overall, at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft by the Anaheim Ducks, Etem is likely to become an important part of the Ducks marketing scheme as he is something of a hometown boy, having grown up in the Long Beach, California area. He was a member of Team USA at the 2011 WJC.

This season, while leading the WHL in goal scoring, Etem has had an enormous impact on the development of Hunter Shinkaruk (2013), a youngster who scored 49 goals after a 42-point season as a 16-year-old. Etem also elevated his physical play in Medicine Hat this season, proving to be a willing and capable pugilist.

3. Mark Stone, RW, Brandon Wheat Kings (OTT)
NHL Rights: Ottawa Senators
Drafted: 6th round, 178th overall, 2010

Following a breakout season last year when he accounted for 106 points in 71 games, Stone burst out of the gate this season with the Wheaties and led the scoring race for much of the current campaign. With 41 goals and 82 assists in 66 games, he set career highs in what will most certainly be his final junior season.

The 6’3, 196-pounder from Winnipeg spent much of December away from WHL play, elevating his profile as a member of Team Canada at the 2012 WJC. He led the team in scoring with seven goals and three assists in six games, earning a bronze medal in the process.

Drafted as a forward with suspect skating ability, Stone has emerged as a blue-chipper and is already signed with the Senators. Indeed, he appears to have become a sixth round steal. On a personal note, his older brother Michael Stone (PHX) is a prospect in the Coyotes system, splitting time this season between the AHL Portland Pirates and the parent club.

4. Quinton Howden, LW, Moose Jaw Warriors
NHL Rights: Florida Panthers
Drafted: 1st round, 25th overall, 2010

Howden has played his entire career in Moose Jaw, also participating in various Hockey Canada events along the way. Recognized league-wide as perhaps the best skater among forwards, Howden is a versatile forward who can also perform with efficiency in the face off circle.

Throughout his career in the WHL, Howden has battled the injury bug, missing long stretches of play on a couple of occasions. However, at 6’3 and 183 pounds, the Oakbank, Manitoba native brings leadership to the rink day in and day out. Howden scored 30 goals and 35 assists in 52 games this season.

Signed by the Panthers, Howden projects as a valuable depth and energy-type forward in professional hockey. The Warriors are the second seed in the Eastern Conference, having won the East Division. The club is laden with veterans like Howden who would like nothing better than a long playoff run to a WHL title.

5. Brendan Gallagher, RW, Vancouver Giants
NHL Rights: Montreal Canadiens
Drafted: 5th round, 147th overall, 2010

The Giants fortunes seem indelibly linked to Gallagher’s presence, as the veteran forward provides consistent energy, leadership and offense. The diminutive winger enjoyed a prolonged stay with the Habs during the pre-season, then parlayed that success into a starring role with Team Canada at the 2012 WJC.

Gallagher is not only a playmaker; he can pull the trigger as well. He recently became the Giants all-time career goal scoring leader, then shortly thereafter, on February 25, set the organization’s standard for career points. He has scored 41 goals and added 36 assists this season in 54 games, bringing his career numbers to 136 goals and 144 assists in 244 regular season games. He has added 26 points in 36 career playoff games.

Born in Edmonton, but now calling Delta, BC his home, Gallagher has been signed by the Canadiens.

6. Ty Rattie, RW, Portland Winterhawks
NHL Rights: St. Louis Blues
Drafted: 2nd round, 32nd overall, 2011

Rattie is a pure goal scorer and a key power play contributor in Portland who consistently finds ways to get himself into scoring position. While not considered an aggressive forward, he continues to find ways to get his nose dirty around the opposition goal.

Rattie has certainly benefitted from playing with top level talent in Portland during most of his junior career. However, the 6′, 175-pound forward from Airdrie, Alberta has worked hard to develop his skating skills and has done an effective job of staying healthy, having missed only 20 regular season games over three full seasons.

This season in 69 games, Rattie has been outstanding offensively, producing career highs with 57 goals and 64 assists and a plus-23 rating. He has yet to sign with the Blues, an organization that has signed his former Winterhawks’ team mate, rearguard Brett Ponich.

7. Patrick Holland, RW, Tri City Americans
NHL Rights: Montreal Canadiens
Drafted: 7th round, 193rd overall, 2010 (by Calgary Flames)

A member of the Americans most prolific scoring line along with veterans Brendan Shinnimin (PHX) and Adam Hughesman, Holland has scored 54 goals and added 84 assists this season. That’s a 47-point improvement over last season. He led the entire WHL in the assists category.

Holland has also been in the news this season as part of a major NHL trade that saw the Habs acquire he and Rene Bourque from the Flames in return for Mike Cammellari and Karri Ramo. The 6′, 175-pounder from Lethbridge has since signed with Montreal.

The talented young forward has emerged this season as an aggressive player who works hard down low. While not physically huge, he is prepared to battle close to the opposition net. During this breakout season, Holland has developed confidence and poise in Tri City. A lengthy playoff run will only increase his value among Canadiens’ prospects. He appeared in all 72 regular season games.

8. Michael St. Croix, RW, Edmonton Oil Kings
NHL Rights: New York Rangers
Drafted: 4th round, 104th overall, 2011

In what some occasionally describe as a "big man’s game", Michael St. Croix made believers out of the Oil Kings in rather short order. An energetic winger with offensive skills, St. Croix has battled along with his teammates in Edmonton to elevate an expansion team into the top squad in the Eastern Conference this season and the overall regular season pennant winners.

At 5’11, 180 pounds, St. Croix is a speedster who is very sturdy on his skates. His durability cannot be questioned, as he has missed only 10 games over three full seasons in the WHL. He can dangle when open ice exists, but has also improved on the defensive side throughout his junior career. A native of Winnipeg, St. Croix is the son of former NHL goaltender, Rick St. Croix.

This season with the Oil Kings, St. Croix has scored has appeared in all 72 games, collecting 45 goals and 60 assists with a plus-40 rating, numbers that have him among the top ten in the league in each category. A big contributor to St. Croix’s success has been the play of linemate Dylan Wruck. To date, St. Croix has not been signed by the Rangers.

9. Michael Ferland, LW, Brandon Wheat Kings
NHL Rights: Calgary Flames
Drafted: 5th round, 133rd overall, 2010

Ferland is a hometown boy, a Brandon native playing junior for the Wheaties. Much like his teammate Mark Stone, he is a big, strong power forward who is difficult to move once he sets up shop in the offensive zone.

The 6’2, 208-pounder played in the Subway Series for Team WHL and was invited to the Team Canada Selection Camp for the WJC. In 68 games this season, Ferland has scored 47 goals and 49 assists, both career highs that enabled him to finish among the top ten scorers in the WHL. Scouts like his grit, a quality that makes him a difficult forward for opponents to contain.

10. Brett Bulmer, RW, Kelowna Rockets
NHL Rights: Minnesota Wild
Drafted: 2nd round, 39th overall, 2010

Since being returned to the WHL after a nine-game stint with the Wild to open the current campaign, Bulmer has shown the flashes of brilliance that gave Minnesota cause to provide him a long look. However, it has been a glaring inconsistency that has provided some frustration in Kelowna.

The 6’3, 190-pounder is a right-handed shooter that plays left wing, although he has played the center position this season on occasion. He is truly versatile and highly-skilled. Bulmer has utilized his size to great advantage this season, bullying his way past opponents while also protecting the puck with some proficiency.

When Bulmer is "plugged in", he is certainly among the WHL’s most dynamic players. When he’s not, it is also obvious. In 53 games, he has tallied 34 goals and 28 assists.

Other Notables
Adam Lowry, LW, Swift Current Broncos (WPG)
Brad Ross, LW, Portland Winterhawks (TOR)
Brendan Ranford, RW, Kamloops Blazers (PHI)
Brody Sutter, RW, Lethbridge Hurricanes (CAR)
Brooks Macek, RW, Calgary Hitmen (DET)
Darian Dziurzynski, LW, Brandon Wheat Kings (PHX)
Darren Kramer, LW, Spokane Chiefs (OTT)
Drew Czerwonka, LW, Kootenay Ice (EDM)
Johan Persson, LW, Red Deer Rebels (NYI)
Josh Nicholls, RW, Saskatoon Blades (TOR)
Kale Kessy, LW, Medicine Hat Tigers (PHX)
Kristians Pelss, LW, Edmonton Oil Kings (EDM)
Marcel Noebels, RW, Portland Winterhawks (PHI)
Matej Stransky, LW, Saskatoon Blades (DAL)
Oliver Gabriel, LW, Portland Winterhawks (CBJ)
Shane McColgan, RW, Kelowna Rockets (NYR)