Rielly tops among drafted WHL defensemen

By Glen Erickson

Matt Dumba - Minnesota Wild

Photo: Minnesota Wild defensive prospect Matt Dumba received a brief look from the parent club to start the 2012-13 season before being returned to his WHL team, the Red Deer Rebels (courtesy of Brad Rempel/Icon SMI)

Our ranking of the drafted WHL defensemen includes a mix of offensively gifted players and prototypical “shut down” defensemen. For this list, the criteria we ranked “signed” prospects currently playing in the WHL. A handful of these defensemen attended their respective NHL training camps.

Given the shortened NHL campaign, each of these players is allowed to play in only five games before a decision must be made as to whether or not they will be returned to their junior teams. Should any of these players stick with their NHL clubs, teams will have to count the shortened season as one full year toward the player’s professional contracts.

Morgan Rielly (TOR), Moose Jaw Warriors

Reilly played only 17 games last season, yet he was highly sought after and landed in the Toronto Maple Leafs organization as the fifth overall pick at the 2012 NHL Draft. It was major knee surgery and the subsequent rehab that derailed things last year, although his draft stock was not negatively impacted.

He is an offensive catalyst, evident during the Super Series against the Russians last summer and again at the 2013 WJC as a member of Team Canada. In Moose Jaw this season, Rielly stirs the drink on a team that graduated significant depth prior to the current campaign. The Warriors are battling for their playoff lives in the WHL’s Eastern Conference.

The 6-foot, 205-pound Rielly was returned to the Warriors after the Leafs' brief NHL training camp. The move likely does bode well for the player as Rielly will continue to play big minutes for Moose Jaw during the second half of the WHL regular season. Through 36 games, he has scored seven goals and added 22 assists.

Mathew Dumba (MIN), Red Deer Rebels

Dumba is enjoying a bit of an extended stay with the Minnesota Wild, attending training camp where he is doing everything in his power to force the organization to keep him on the roster. However, it is conceivable  that Dumba will be returned to junior when the Wild’s injury situation on the backend stabilizes (Editor's note: Dumba has in fact been returned to his junior club).

Selected by the Wild in the first round of the 2012 NHL Draft, seventh overall, the 6-foot, 182-pound Dumba is the epitome of “reckless abandon” at times. He has always tried to make his physical presence felt.

He earned WHL Rookie of the Year honors in his first season out of the Calgary Edge Academy, but was unable to make Team Canada’s lineup for the 2013 WJC. Despite the recent letdown, Dumba has been highly visible in Hockey Canada programs during his junior career. In 43 games with the Red Deer Rebels this season, he has scored 10 goals and 13 assists.

Griffin Reinhart (NYI), Edmonton Oil Kings

Reinhart’s stock has risen steadily over the past two seasons. The native of West Vancouver has worked hard to improve his acceleration and lateral movement.

Selected by the New York Islanders in the first round of the 2012 NHL Draft, fourth overall, Reinhart checks in today at 6’4” and 205 pounds. He has played in a host of international competitions, including the 2013 WJC where Team Canada failed to medal. He earned a controversial four-game IIHF suspension for a slash at the WJC that could impact his availability for the 2014 event.

Reinhart is part of an Oil Kings backend that is perhaps the deepest in the WHL with the likes of Keegan Lowe (CAR), David Musil (EDM) and Martin Gernat (EDM) among the veterans. In 36 games this season, he has scored six goals and added 12 assists while performing an effective shut down role.

Ryan Murray (CBJ), Everett Silvertips

Ryan Murray burst onto the WHL scene as a 16-year-old, collecting 27 points in 52 games on an Everett Silvertips team that, at the time, included a host of veterans. However, since that season, some of his promise has been derailed to an extent by the injury bug.

Last season, Murray missed significant time with an ankle injury during the first half of the schedule, but was able to return in time to play in the 2012 WJC. This season, an early season ankle injury that required surgery has resulted in the White City, Saskatchewan native missing almost two-thirds of this season while on the mend. In 23 WHL games, he collected two goals and 15 assists.

Selected by the Blue Jackets in the first round of the 2012 NHL Draft, second overall, the 6’1”, 195-pound Murray has the ability to quickly make a solid backend in Columbus even better. His ability to stay healthy is of paramount concern at this point.

Duncan Siemens (COL), Saskatoon Blades

Siemens has had a difficult season in Saskatoon, where he has played his entire junior career. Last season, Siemens was the team’s captain, but early on this year, the “C” was removed. Away from the rink, Siemens has had to deal with a very legitimate distraction; his father’s health. Despite the challenges, there is no questioning his ample skill set.

Selected by the Colorado Avalanche in the first round of the 2011 NHL Draft, 11th overall, Siemens covers the ice well and has the ability to move the puck with proficiency. He can play physical hockey when required as he possesses a mean streak. Like many developing juniors, the 6’4”, 210-pound Siemens is struggling to provide the consistency the Blades need from a veteran rearguard.

The second half of the season presents an important personal opportunity for Siemens. He can look forward to playing in the Memorial Cup as the Blades will host the tournament. With improved focus, Siemens can continue to be a veteran leader in Saskatoon as he winds down his WHL career.

Derrick Pouliot (PIT), Portland Winterhawks

Pouliot has been the beneficiary of playing his first two WHL seasons alongside a high-end group of elite defensemen in Portland, including Brett Ponich (STL), Joe Morrow (PIT), William Wrenn (SJS), Tyler Wotherspoon (CGY) and Troy Rutkowski.

Selected by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the 2012 NHL Draft, eighth overall, the native of Weyburn, Saskatchewan has earned the green light from the Winterhawks coaching staff to jump up into the offensive rush virtually at will.

After a 30-point performance in his rookie year as a 16-year-old, the 6-foot, 190-pound Pouliot scored 11 goals and 48 assists while playing in all 72 regular season games in 2011-12. This season, in significantly more of a leadership role, Pouliot has scored eight goals and 30 assists in 38 games while compiling a plus-31 rating.

Alex Roach (LAK), Calgary Hitmen

The only player among our top 10 to earn a contract through a free-agent tryout, Alex Roach is a big-bodied, shutdown defender who is beginning to emerge offensively. Prior to the 2011-12 WHL season, Roach signed with Los Angeles after an impressive showing at the Kings’ training camp.

Roach is huge, checking in at 6’4 and 230 pounds, contributing to a defensive corps that is one of the biggest groups in the entire WHL. For his size, he moves extremely well. On January 18, Roach was involved in a dangerous incident when he was struck in the neck by a puck and was briefly hospitalized.

In 46 games this season, Roach has scored 11 goals and 26 assists, surpassing his combined total output from past two regular seasons. His plus-34 rating is among the WHL’s best. Roach is from Quesnel, B.C..

Damon Severson (NJD), Kelowna Rockets

While Severson is not frequently mentioned among the top five defensemen in the WHL, he is very definitely developing into a force on a Rockets team that is serving notice of its intention to challenge for a league title. The 6’2”, 200-pounder was not at all out of place at the 2012 Top Prospects Game, despite missing most of the Rockets league play leading up to the game last January with a hand injury suffered just prior to the Christmas break.

Selected by New Jersey in the second round of the 2012 NHL Draft, 60th overall, Severson remains a big, physical, mobile defenseman. He has matured of late, limiting his risk/reward approach to become a more consistent performer in Kelowna. In 47 games, he has scored six goals and 27 assists, to go along with a plus-25 rating.

The native of Melville, Saskatchewan continues to develop in a reliable system at Kelowna that has produced the likes of current NHL defenders Josh Gorges (MTL), Shea Weber (NAS), Alex Edler (VAN), Duncan Keith (CHI), Tyler Myers (BUF) and Tyson Barrie (COL). This bodes well for Severson as scouts are well aware of the Rockets ability to help develop solid, pro-ready defensemen.

Reece Scarlett (NJD), Swift Current Broncos

Scarlett has developed during his WHL career on Swift Current teams that have experienced limited post-season success in recent years. Despite the lack of playoff exposure, Scarlett has been regarded league-wide as a consistent leader on the Broncos back end.

Selected in the sixth round by the Devils at the 2011 NHL Draft, 159th overall, the Sherwood Park, Alberta native excels in the defensive zone. It is also fair to say that his skills and deportment have rubbed off on current Broncos prospects like Dillon Hetherington (2012). In 43 games, Scarlett has scored six goals and 21 assists.

Scarlett checks in at 6’1” and 180 pounds, suggesting there is room on his frame for growth. He is mobile and durable, missing fewer than a dozen regular season games over the course of his four-year career. With a run in the playoffs this year, Scarlett could reach the 300-game mark for his career as a member of the Broncos.

David Musil (EDM), Edmonton Oil Kings

Musil was acquired by the Oil Kings from the Vancouver Giants after 14 games this season. It’s just another example of how efficiently the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers work with the Oil Kings to maintain awareness of their prospects' development. Musil joins fellow rearguard Martin Gernat (EDM) and forward Travis Ewanyk (EDM) on a veteran-laden roster that makes Edmonton one of the top teams in the entire WHL.

For Musil, a big, physical defenseman, the move to Edmonton provides a very realistic opportunity for a deep playoff run this season. Joining the defending WHL champions should enable Musil to experience the heightened intensity associated with playing on a frontrunner. In 39 games combined with Vancouver and Edmonton, Musil has scored five times and added 14 assists. He is expected primarily to play a shut down role with the Oil Kings.

Selected in the second round By the Oilers at the 2011 NHL Draft, 31st overall, Musil checks in at 6’3” and 205 pounds. He is a rangy defenseman who thrives in the defensive zone. Musil’s commitment to improving his skating skills during the final years of his junior career should bode well for his future as a professional.

Drafted/Unsigned/Free Agents

Troy Rutkowski (COL, 2010) Portland Winterhawks
Joey Leach (CGY, 2010) Kootenay Ice
Alex Theriau (DAL, 2010) Regina Pats (Retired)
Jordan Fransoo (OTT), Victoria Royals

Other Notables

Colton Jobke (MIN), Regina Pats
Tyler Wotherspoon (CGY), Portland Winterhawks
Brendan Kichton (NYI), Spokane Chiefs
Martin Gernat (EDM), Edmonton Oil Kings
Keegan Lowe (CAR), Edmonton Oil Kings
Darren Deitz (MTL), Saskatoon Blades
Dalton Thrower (MTL), Saskatoon Blades
Joel Edmundson (STL), Kamloops Blazers
Zach Yuen (WPG), Tri City Americans
Harrison Ruopp (PHX), Prince Albert Raiders
Richard Nedomlel (DET), Swift Current Broncos
Brett Kulak (CGY), Vancouver Giants