WHL Top 15 prospects for the 2006 NHL Entry Draft

By Glen Erickson

The celebration of hockey in Vancouver continues this month as the city readies itself for the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. This west coast paradise played host to the 2006 World Junior Championship, watched the WHL Giants win the league championship and is also preparing to accommodate the Memorial Cup tournament in May 2007.

Heading into the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, it is apparent the WHL’s Western Conference possesses the bulk of prospects with seven of the top 10 playing west of the Alberta/British Columbia border.

In speaking with general managers throughout the WHL, the cyclical nature of the draft was mentioned frequently. With a few successful seasons and long runs through the playoffs, players generally receive more exposure and attention on draft day. Some teams may not have a player drafted in a given season, while other clubs may see a number of players chosen.

Based on the number of total wins, the BC Division proved to be the toughest in the league during regular season play, evidenced by an overall total of 207. The East Division (180), U.S. Division (162) and Central Division (151) lagged behind. The league champion Vancouver Giants finished atop the BC Division standings en route to a berth in the Memorial Cup.

The Everett Silvertips, who won the U.S. Division crown, are deep in NHL prospects. It would not be inconceivable to see six ‘Tips chosen next weekend.

The top three players ranked by Hockey’s Future in the WHL are from countries outside of Canada.

1. Peter Mueller, C
Team: Everett Silvertips
Height: 6’2 Weight: 205lbs
ISS Ranking: 6th
CSS Ranking: 6th North American Skaters

The Everett Silvertips could conceivably have four players selected in the first two rounds of the draft. Peter Mueller, the highest ranked, has risen steadily over the past eight weeks, due to a strong playoff run and an impressive NHL Combine in Toronto.

Mueller moves with deceptive efficiency and demonstrated an ability to control play in the attacking zone. Perhaps viewed more as a finesse player, Mueller has the size to become a more physical force in the WHL. A native of Bloomington, MN, he has a deep resume with USA Hockey programs and has already accumulated a wealth of international experience. He has been invited to 2006 U.S. National Junior Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid, N.Y., coming up August 5-14.

As a WHL rookie, Mueller played in all situations during the regular season where he scored 26 goals and 32 assists in 52 games. He was able to elevate his game during the playoffs and contributed 13 points in 15 games.

2. Ondrej Fiala, C
Team: Everett Silvertips
Height: 6’2 Weight: 190lbs
ISS Ranking: 17th
CSS Ranking: 14th North American Skaters

Fellow Silvertips forward Ondrej Fiala is another potential first rounder. Acquired by the ‘Tips in the first round of the 2005 CHL import draft, Fiala overcame an early season knee injury to establish himself as a team leader in Everett. Born in Stenberk, Czech Republic, the 6’2, 190-pounder added offensive depth to a team focused playing sound defensive hockey.

Fiala successfully overcame one of the major on-ice challenges many import players in the WHL face in their rookie season — the physical grind associated with the 72-game schedule. An efficient puck handler, Fiala managed eight points in eight playoff games.

In 51 games, Fiala scored 21 goals and added 14 assists. He played in the 2006 CHL/NHL Top Prospects game for Team Orr.

3. Michael Grabner, RW
Team: Spokane Chiefs
Height: 6’1 Weight: 185lbs
ISS Ranking: 24th
CSS Ranking: 15th North American Skaters

Michael Grabner toiled in Spokane last season with a rebuilding club that struggled through a 25-win season. This past season, his second in Spokane, Grabner scored 36 goals and 14 assists in 67 games. Unfortunately, he has yet to play a WHL playoff game.

“The biggest thing we see in Michael is the speed dynamic he brings to the ice,” said Chiefs GM Tim Speltz. “His speed creates offensive chances for us and there’s no question in my mind that’s the direction the game is headed.”

For the most part last season, Grabner played alongside Adam Hobson. The native of Villach, Austria played in all special teams situations as well.

“For Michael, one of his biggest challenges initially was getting into the tough spots to score,” Speltz added. “But I think he was able to do that successfully this past season.”

4. Codey Burki, C
Team: Brandon Wheat Kings
Height: 6’1 Weight: 195lbs
ISS Ranking: 40th
CSS Ranking: 18th North American Skaters

Codey Burki is a players whose numbers in all categories have increased every season. While most players are draft eligible after two years of junior, Burki has completed three seasons in Brandon.

“Codey has really progressed well through three seasons here,” said Wheat Kings GM and Head Coach Kelly McCrimmon. “He took a real step forward during the 2004-05 playoffs. It was important in his development, our club going to the league final.”

While the Wheaties had a number of high-end players during the playoff run, Burki embraced the opportunity and ice time, securing an important role in the future of the club. According to McCrimmon, the native of Winnipeg, Manitoba saw his role change last season as Burki became more of a leader in Brandon both on and off the ice.

Last season, Burki played alongside Mark Derlago and Finnish import Sami Sandell. He played in all situations and on both special teams. In 70 games, he led the team in scoring with 27 goals and 34 assists.

5. Leland Irving, G
Team: Everett Silvertips
Height: 6’0 Weight: 185lbs
ISS Ranking: 55th
CSS Ranking: 4th North American Goaltenders

Leland Irving rose to prominence in the WHL this season and capped his performance with an inspiring playoff run. A minor groin injury during practice before Game 1 of the western conference championship series against the Vancouver Giants kept Irving on the sidelines for the first two games.

In 67 games during the regular season, Irving posted 37 wins, a 1.91 GAA and a .925 save percentage. He ranked third in the WHL behind the Calgary Hitmen’s Justin Pogge (TOR) and Dustin Slade of the WHL champions Giants.

Irving played in the CHL/NHL Top Prospects game, making 21 saves for Team Orr in a 7-2 victory. He was a member of gold-medal winning Team Canada at the U-18 World Championship last year.

6. Ty Wishart, D
Team: Prince George Cougars
Height: 6’. Weight: 190lbs
ISS Ranking: 28th
CSS Ranking: 21st North American Skaters

Ty Wishart played more minutes than initially intended for Prince George this past season as the club was decimated by injuries along the blue line. In the absence of Andy Rogers (TB), Wishart assumed a physical role in the defending zone for the Cougars. He secured the confidence of the coaching staff and earned the respect of his teammates.

Wishart was named to Canada’s U18 World Championship entry after the Cougars playoff exit, however, he was tired and banged up, resulting in a somewhat sub-par performance overseas.

Wishart, who was born in Comox, BC, scored 5 goals and 32 assists in 70 games last season.

7. Ryan White, C
Team: Calgary Hitmen
Height: 6’0 Weight: 200lbs
ISS Ranking: 32nd
CSS Ranking: 27th North American Skaters

According to many in the game, Ryan White is not your prototypical athlete. At least physically, that is.

“He’s not a great physical specimen, he’s not necessarily in great physical condition, but when we put him on the ice, he does nothing but win battles,” said Hitmen GM and head coach Kelly Kisio.

White is a native of Brandon, Manitoba and has evolved into a consistently dependable performer in Calgary. The club uses White in all situations and is clearly impressed with is ability to lead through consistent on-ice production. This past season, the durable forward played in all 72 regular season games, scoring 20 goals and 33 assists. With 121 penalty minutes, White established himself as a player not hesitant to mix things up when need be.

“He’s heard it often enough from a lot of hockey people and he’s beginning to understand the importance of a commitment to conditioning,” Kisio assured. “He’s definitely a guy we’re looking to for a good couple of seasons here. The puck seems to follow him around out there, probably because he such a smart player and works so hard on the ice.”

8. Riley Holzapfel, C
Team: Moose Jaw Warriors
Height: 5’11 Weight: 175lbs
ISS Ranking: 75th
CSS Ranking: 37th North American Skaters

From the day he arrived at his first Moose Jaw Warriors training camp, Riley Holzapfel has earned everything through his hard work and persistence.

“I think it goes back to his 16-year-old season with us,” recalls Warriors GM Chad Lang. “We thought he would compete for a job, but he really overwhelmed us.”

Holzapfel’s development has been aided by his interaction with some key veterans in Moose Jaw.

“Last year, Riley was a tremendous asset as he played on our top two lines,” Lang explained. “He played with Dale Jones and Troy Brouwer (CHI) for the most part.”

“Riley is an individual who never seems to get the breaks, but really works hard to make things happen for himself. He never played midget AAA hockey, but just continues to excel here.

“There has been a lot of NHL interest in Riley. The scouts I’ve spoken with like his hockey sense and skating ability. He has a very strong shot for a guy his size and really plays with determination. He’s a guy who competes hard and does the little things right.”

In 64 regular season games, Holzapfel, a native of Regina, Saskatchewan, scored 19 goals and 38 assists and accumulated 46 penalty minutes.

9. Brady Calla, RW
Team: Everett Silvertips
Height: 6’0 Weight: 185lbs
ISS Ranking: 59th
CSS Ranking: 28th North American Skaters

The native of Kelowna, BC grew up playing in the Westside Minor Hockey Association program. At 6’, 190 pounds, Calla is an intense forward whose primary attributes are his skating speed and acceleration.

Calla has played three seasons in Everett. This past season, he scored eight goals and 33 points in 66 games. He has improved as a shot blocker and has become more and more reliable on specialty teams.

Calla was a member of Team Cherry at the 2006 CHL/NHL Top Prospects game and won a gold medal with Team Canada at the 2005-06 U-18 World Championship.

10. Bud Holloway, LW/RW
Team: Seattle Thunderbirds
Height: 6’1 Weight: 185lbs
ISS Ranking: 87th
CSS Ranking: 40th North American Skaters

In some quarters, NHL scouts had hoped to keep Bud Holloway a secret until draft day. However, according to Thunderbirds head coach Rob Sumner, Holloway spoiled those best laid plans by continuing to improve his play every night.

“There has been a lot of interest in Bud,” Sumner explained. “A lot of guys were hoping to keep him hidden, so to speak, but he has really become a complete player, a complete package.”

“He has pretty much done everything here for us these past couple seasons,” Sumner continued. “He played regularly as a 16-year-old and just didn’t give us any reason to keep him out of the lineup. He’s very reliable, understands the game and can play on both wings.”

Holloway, who was born in Wapella, Saskatchewan, scored 21 goals and 13 assists in 72 games last season.

Sumner credits both Holloway and his midget coaches for his on-ice presence and understanding of the game.

“He understood the game very well when he first arrived here,” Sumner confirmed. “He learned quickly what he had to do to play more at this level and really grasped the system here.”

In his first season in Seattle, Holloway played regularly with veteran Nate Thompson (BOS). This season, due to injuries, Holloway found himself playing with a variety of forwards.

11. Kris Lazaruk, G
Team: Kootenay Ice
Height: 6’0 Weight: 165lbs
ISS Ranking: 214th
CSS Ranking: 7th North American Goaltenders

At the beginning of his first season with the Kootenay Ice, Kris Lazaruk experienced the prototypical ‘baptism under fire’ in the WHL. With Ice starting goalie Taylor Dakers (SJ) out of the lineup with a hip injury, Lazaruk started 19 of the club’s first 20 games. In what was supposed to be a night off, he was forced into a relief appearance in the other game.

“Kris had a tough situation to step into with our No. 1 goaltender being out for the first 20 games,” explained head coach Cory Clouston. “Kris had to start 19 of our first 20 games. It wasn’t easy, but I think he made the best of it. And it was a great experience for him.”

In 31 games, Lazaruk compiled a 2.55 goals against average and a .912 save percentage. At mid-season, the Edmonton, Alberta native found himself ranked 11th by the Central Scouting Service among North American goaltenders. At season’s end, the CSS ranked him seventh.

“Kris is a young guy with lots to learn, but I also think he was able to show that he’s capable of playing in this league,” Clouston said. “It’s all about becoming a complete goaltender, that’s the focus Kris has to have over the next couple of years.”

In 31 games as a WHL rookie, Lazaruk compiled a 15-8-1-2 record, a goals against average of 2.55, and a save percentage of .912. He was a member of Hockey Canada’s U-18 entry at the 2006 World Championships in Sweden.

12. Ben Maxwell, G
Team: Kootenay Ice
Height: 6’0 Weight: 175lbs
ISS Ranking: 52nd
CSS Ranking: 44th North American Skaters

A native of North Vancouver, Ben Maxwell responded well to a broadened role in his second season with the Ice, scoring 28 goals and 32 assists in 69 games.

“We were never really concerned about his offensive output because he’s a very talented player, said Ice head coach Cory Clouston. “About halfway through the season, he really hit kind of a low point, but in the last three weeks he’s really got his game back on track and I think he’s really battled.”

Maxwell has played in a host of team situations, appearing in Ottawa last season at the annual CHL/NHL Prospects Game. He was also a member of Hockey Canada’s U-18 team in April at the World Championships in Sweden.

“His play without the puck is what I think has really improved lately,” Clouston continued. “He’s been very responsible defensively for us and he’s played with more of an edge. That’s something he really has to do more consistently. Offensively, he’s very gifted. Good speed, good hands, and I think what’s starting to click for him is his play away from the puck.”

13. Kevin Armstrong, G
Team: Spokane Chiefs
Height: 6’1 Weight: 180lbs
ISS Ranking: 159th
CSS Ranking: 8th North American Goaltenders

As the WHL trade deadline loomed, Kevin Armstrong was firmly entrenched as the backup goaltender on the playoff bound Saskatoon Blades. However, the Chiefs and Blades orchestrated a huge, blockbuster swap and Armstrong found himself out of the playoff run as the go-to guy in Spokane.

“It was really a baptism under fire for ‘Army’ when he arrived here,” recalled Chiefs GM Tim Speltz. “Kevin is a very good goalie. He’s got good feet and presence in goal. Hey, he’s a young guy, a starter in the WHL at 17 years of age.”

While sharing duties in the nets with Anton Khudobin (MIN) in Saskatoon, Armstrong appeared in 24 games. In Spokane, he also played 24 games and compiled a combined goals against average of 2.97 and a .902 save percentage.

“All our guys were disappointed we didn’t make the playoffs and it was tough for Army to get thrown into the No. 1 spot here,” Speltz conceded. “But Kevin Armstrong is a big part of our plans for next season.”

14. Milan Lucic, C
Team: Vancouver Giants
Height: 6’3 Weight: 205lbs
ISS Ranking: 94th
CSS Ranking: 58th North American Skaters

Following his second season in Vancouver, Milan Lucic finds himself as a better player today, based simply on his experience with the WHL champions and their trip to the Memorial Cup in Moncton.

The native of Vancouver, BC, Lucic possess the physical stature that will earn a long look from NHL scouts. Lucic played in 62 games this past season and picked up nine goals and 10 assists. His 149 penalty minutes served to keep opponents honest, while creating open space on the ice for the many of the Giants high-end, offensive talents.

Like many prospects who play an aggressive, in your face style, Lucic’s commitment to fundamentals will always be scrutinized closely. Lucic will be looked upon to continue improving his offensive skills and with a concerted effort next season, he can become a valuable and relied upon veteran as the Giants gear up to host the 2007 Memorial Cup tournament.

15. Jesse Dudas, D
Team: Prince George Cougars
Height: 6’1. Weight: 205lbs
ISS Ranking: 146th
CSS Ranking: 53rd North American Skaters

Prince George has been forced to lament the absence of Jesse Dudas from the lineup this past season as the native of St. Albert, Alberta saw action in only six games following his arrival from the Lethbridge Hurricanes. A defenseman the Cougars were counting on to play important minutes, Dudas endured a frustrating 2005-06 campaign as he was unable to lend his toughness and maturity to an up and coming Prince George team.

In 27 games played this past season, 21 with Lethbridge, Dudas picked up 11 assists.

At the NHL Combine in Toronto, Dudas had over 15 interviews and impressed with his strength testing.

Other WHL Notables

Ben Wright, D
Team: Lethbridge Hurricanes
Height: 6’2 Weight: 195lbs
ISS Ranking: 89th
CSS Ranking: 59th North American Skaters
Born: Foremost, Alberta

In 55 regular season games, Ben Wright scored five goals and 13 assists and accumulated 79 penalty minutes.

Victor Bartley, D
Team: Kamloops Blazers
Height: 6’. Weight: 195lbs
ISS Ranking: 91st
CSS Ranking: 64th North American Skaters
Born: Chase, BC

In 65 regular season games, Victor Bartley scored three goals and 24 assists and accumulated 114 penalty minutes.

Graham Potuer, D
Team: Everett Silvertips
Height: 6’0 Weight: 215lbs
ISS Ranking: 129th
CSS Ranking: 43rd North American Skaters
Born: Red Deer, Alberta

In 63 regular season games, Graham Potuer scored one goal and five assists and accumulated 68 penalty minutes.

Keegan Dansereau, RW
Team: Calgary Hitmen
Height: 5’11 Weight: 190lbs
ISS Ranking: 191st
CSS Ranking: 75th North American Skaters
Born: Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

In 60 regular season games, Keegan Dansereau scored 16 goals and 17 assists and accumulated 31 penalty minutes.

Matt McCue, D
Team: Spokane Chiefs
Height: 6’5 Weight: 205lbs
ISS Ranking: 194th
CSS Ranking: 78th North American Skaters
Born: Cochrane, Alberta

In 56 regular season games, Matt McCue scored five goals and 10 assists and accumulated 125 penalty minutes.

Cameron Cepek, D
Team: Portland Winter Hawks
Height: 6’1 Weight: 170lbs
ISS Ranking: 198th
CSS Ranking: 83rd North American Skaters
Born: Huntington Beach, California

In 21 regular season games, Cameron Cepek scored two goals and eight assists and accumulated 71 penalty minutes.

Lukas Bohunicky, D
Team: Kootenay Ice
Height: 6’3 Weight: 215lbs
ISS Ranking: 172nd
CSS Ranking: 85th North American Skaters
Born: Bratislava, Slovakia

In 63 regular season games, Lukas Bohunicky scored two goals and seven assists and accumulated 52 penalty minutes.

Tysen Dowzak, D
Team: Kelowna Rockets
Height: 6’5 Weight: 225lbs
ISS Ranking: 126th
CSS Ranking: 87th North American Skaters
Born: Fergus Falls, Minnesota

In 43 regular season games, Tysen Dowzak scored one goal and three assists and accumulated 68 penalty minutes.

Sasha Golin, RW
Team: Portland Winter Hawks
Height: 6’2 Weight: 185lbs
ISS Ranking: 166th
CSS Ranking: 98th North American Skaters
Born: Vernon, BC

In 68 regular season games, Sasha Golin scored 10 goals and eight assists and accumulated 74 penalty minutes.

Jordan Bendfield, D
Team: Medicine Hat Tigers
Height: 6’3 Weight: 210lbs
ISS Ranking: N/R
CSS Ranking: 99th North American Skaters
Born: Leduc, Alberta

In 65 regular season games, Jordan Bendfield scored two goals and 10 assists and accumulated 92 penalty minutes.

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