WHL 2006 draft review

By Glen Erickson

Of the 213 players selected during the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, a total of 24 came from the Western Hockey League. It’s a number, and a trend, that doesn’t sit well with Lorne Frey, the Assistant General Manager, Director of Player Personnel and Head Scout for the Kelowna Rockets.

“The first thing that comes to mind with 24 guys drafted, and this is my own personal feeling, is that there should have been considerably more chosen from the WHL,” commented Frey in an interview with Hockey’s Future.

Frey, who has been immersed in the WHL in a number of front office positions since 1977, understands the business reasons associated with why NHL teams might shy away from junior players. But it’s clear he remains somewhat bewildered.

“If those high school players (that were drafted) are better than these guys up here, then that high school hockey must be some pretty good hockey,” Frey wondered, with reference to the number of American high school players drafted.

The current agreement with the NHL would seem in some ways to favor teams choosing high school players who usually enter NCAA programs. Currently, an NHL team must sign a junior player within two years of drafting him, while high school players can potentially remain the property of the NHL club for up to six years after being drafted.

“I’m not sure we’re on the same playing field,” Frey opined. “It would be interesting to see how many of the high school players who have been drafted in the past ten years have actually played in the NHL.”

As expected on draft day, the Everett Silvertips supplied the bulk of early round WHL players selected in Vancouver with four players chosen in the first three rounds. It is likely, however, that the four will spend the 2006-07 season in Everett, making the Silvertips a definite WHL favorite out of the gate when the puck drops this fall.

The Phoenix Coyotes selected Peter Mueller in the first round. Some coaxing was required to secure a commitment from Mueller to even play in Everett. He has been a USA Hockey prodigy of sorts, accumulating significant international experience at all levels to date. After a season of experience in the WHL, Mueller has become a more complete player under head coach Kevin Constantine, who has extensive NHL coaching experience. Mueller was dominant at times during the Silvertips playoff run last season, playing in all situations including on special teams. Over and above Mueller’s obvious offensive gifts, he impressed many WHL types by demonstrating the desire and ability to become an effective shot blocker.

In Leland Irving, the Calgary Flames have obtained a true fighter, both on and off the ice. Not only was Irving good enough to be a starting goalie in the WHL at age 17, he is also a cancer survivor. He is technically sound, relying on balance to take away shooting angles from opponents. As he grows and become stronger, the Flames will be looking for improvement in his puckhandling skills.

Ondrej Fiala is likely to surprise many at the NHL level with his ability to persist and win physical battles. An import player in the WHL with outstanding skating ability, Fiala will be looked upon to take some pressure of Mueller next season in Everett by contributing offensively on a consistent basis. If he can mature quickly, the Minnesota Wild may have to make room for this gifted, offensive threat.

The Florida Panthers have landed a prospect known in WHL circles for his prolific skating ability in Brady Calla. A veteran of three seasons in Everett, Calla adds depth to an already talented Silvertips lineup. Calla can be counted on to provide leadership. Any additional offense he can muster will add scoring balance in Everett next season.

The Prince George Cougars also saw four players drafted.

Veteran Eric Hunter, who was selected in the sixth round by the New York Rangers, was a noteworthy pick because it marks the second time he has been chosen at the NHL Entry Draft. After an unsuccessful attempt to earn a contract with the Chicago Blackhawks, Hunter elevated his game last season and was a valuable contributor among the Cougars determined forward corps. According to general manager Dallas Thompson, Hunter played with an edge this past season, with a bit more of an attitude. It is thought by many that Hunter is not prepared to let a second chance at an NHL job pass him by.

“I think that was a great pick for the Rangers,” Frey suggests. “Actually, he probably should have gone sooner. Sure he’s a 19-year-old, but why do teams write these guys off?”

As expected, defenseman Ty Wishart was chosen in the first round, while fellow rearguard Jesse Dudas and forward Evan Fuller went in the final two rounds.

A total of 24 players were chosen, representing 16 WHL teams. In addition to Prince George and Everett, Swift Current and Medicine Hat were the only other teams to see more than one player selected.

Following is a list of drafted players along with some comments from Lorne Frey:

Peter Mueller, C (Everett)
8th overall – Phoenix Coyotes
Birthdate: 4/14/1988
LF: “He’s outstanding. I didn’t see a lot of him in the regular season, but saw him in the playoffs. He was the difference in many of the games against us. Great hands, size and skill level.”

Michael Grabner, RW (Spokane)
14th overall – Vancouver Canucks
Birthdate: 10/05/1987
LF: “I only saw him twice. An excellent skater and he plays hard. Really great skill, but I was surprised he went that high.”

Ty Wishart, D (Prince George)
16th overall – San Jose Sharks
Birthdate: 05/19/1988
LF: “Just a huge upside. He is improving every year. He really moves the puck well.”

Leland Irving, G (Everett)
26th overall – Calgary Flames
Birthdate: 04/11/1988
LF: “Just an outstanding goaltender. Last year at 17 years old, it’s remarkable the numbers he put up. I mean these are Cam Ward-like numbers. Or Shane Bendera. The league final against Vancouver might have been a longer series if he hadn’t been injured.”

Ondrej Fiala, C (Everett)
40th overall – Minnesota Wild
Birthdate: 11/04/1987
LF: “A very highly skilled European player. He really plays hard. Pretty physical, too. A great pick for Minnesota.”

Riley Holzapfel, C (Moose Jaw)
43rd overall – Atlanta Thrashers
Birthdate: 08/18/1988
LF: “Highly skilled and an excellent skater. A goal scorer. If he continues to grow, and he seems to get bigger every year, he’ll have all the qualities to be a great player.”

Ben Maxwell, C (Kootenay)
49th overall – Montreal Canadiens
Birthdate: 30/30/1988
LF: “As a bantam, he may have been the top player in his age group. It was good for him to have been able to play with some veterans in Kootenay. Had a great season last year, good offensive numbers.”

Milan Lucic, LW (Vancouver)
50th overall – Vancouver Canucks
Birthdate: 06/07/1988
LF: “He’s improved as a player and worked really hard. He obviously did what they (Vancouver Giants) wanted him to do. Average skills, but he compensates with physical play.”

Codey Burki, C (Brandon)
59th overall – Colorado Avalanche
Birthdate: 11/17/1987
LF: “Another great bantam. Very highly skilled. Benefited from the long playoff run against Kelowna a couple years ago and then really caught fire last season.”

Ryan White, C (Calgary)
66th overall – Montreal Canadiens
Birthdate: 03/17/1988
LF: “What an excellent pick here. He’s not a big guy, but a tremendous character player, perhaps a future captain of that club (Calgary Hitmen). You know what you’re going to get from him every night. He’s quite a leader.”

Brady Calla, RW (Everett)
73rd overall – Florida Panthers
Birthdate: 03/14/1988
LF: “A great skater and a hardworking two-way player. Great work ethic. Had a great year as a 16-year-old, but his numbers have maybe leveled off a bit.”

Bud Holloway, C/RW (Seattle)
86th overall – Los Angeles Kings
Birthdate: 03/01/1988
LF: “Another guy who played very well last year and improved as the year went along. He’s really developed over the last year and his numbers have improved. Skates well and competes hard.”

Other Drafted WHL Players

James Reimer, G (Red Deer)
99th overall – Toronto Maple Leafs
Birthdate: 03/15/1988
A native of Arborg, Manitoba, Reimer posted seven wins and 18 losses in his rookie season. He compiled a 2.81 GAA and a .910 save percentage.

Ben Wright, D (Lethbridge)
113th overall – Columbus Blue Jackets
Birthdate: 03/18/1988
Born in Foremost, Alberta, Wright scored 5 goals and 13 assists in 55 games while accumulating 79 penalty minutes.

Ashton Rome, RW (Kamloops)
143rd overall – San Jose Sharks
Birthdate: 12/31/1985
A native of Nesbitt, Manitoba, Rome is a WHL veteran who split the 2005-06 season between the Red Deer Rebels and Kamloops Blazers. He played in a total of 65 games and scored 30 goals and 34 assists. He was previously drafted by the Boston Bruins in 2004. He has played a total of 300 WHL games in his junior career.

Jordan Bendfeld, D (Medicine Hat)
152nd overall – Phoenix Coyotes
Birthdate: 02/09/1988
Born in Leduc, Alberta, Bendfeld scored 2 goals and 10 assists in 65 games while accumulating 92 penalty minutes.

Levi Nelson, C (Swift Current)
158th overall – Boston Bruins
Birthdate: 04/28/1988
The Calgary, Alberta native scored 21 goals and 17 assists in 63 games while picking up 63 penalty minutes.

Jesse Dudas, D (Prince George)
159th overall – Columbus Blue Jackets
Birthdate: 03/31/1988
Born in St. Alberta, Alberta, Dudas played a total of 24 games last season between the Lethbridge Hurricanes and Prince George Cougars. During the injury-shortened campaign, he picked up 11 assists and 27 points.

Dane Crowley, D (Swift Current)
168th overall – Tampa Bay Lightning
Birthdate: 01/22/1987
Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Crowley split the 2005-06 season between the Saskatoon Blades and Swift Current Broncos. He accumulated one goal and 20 assists in 71 games while picking up 149 penalty minutes.

Eric Hunter, C (Prince George)
174th overall – NY Rangers
Birthdate: 08/11/1986
The native of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Hunter scored 40 goals and 32 assists in 71 games along with 125 penalty minutes. He has played a total of 264 games in a Cougars uniform and may return as an overage next season. He was previously drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks.

Derek Dorsett, RW (Medicine Hat)
189th overall – Columbus Blue Jackets
Birthdate: 12/20/1986
Born in Kindersley, Saskatchewan, Dorsett scored 25 goals and 23 assists in 68 games. He collected 279 penalty minutes. In 13 playoff games, he chipped in with 12 points and 53 penalty minutes.

Evan Fuller, RW (Prince George)
197th overall – Vancouver Canucks
Birthdate: 06/01/1988
Born in 150 Mile House, BC, Fuller played in 56 games, scoring 2 goals and 7 assists. He accumulated 87 penalty minutes.

Cameron Cepek, D(Portland)
199th overall – Montreal Canadiens
Birthdate: 01/12/1988
Born in Huntington Beach, California, Cepek scored two goals and eight assists in 21 games.

Logan Pyett, D (Regina)
212th overall – Detroit Red Wings
Birthdate: 05/26/1988
The native of Balgonie, Saskatchewan, Pyett scored 10 goals and 35 assists in 71 games while accumulating 89 penalty minutes.

Players Drafted by WHL Team

Prince George (4)
Everett (4)
Medicine Hat (2)
Swift Current (2)
Moose Jaw (1)
Vancouver (1)
Regina (1)
Portland (1)
Spokane (1)
Kamloops (1)
Lethbridge (1)
Kootenay (1)
Red Deer (1)
Seattle (1)
Brandon (1)
Calgary (1)

Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.