Canucks 2013 NHL Draft Preview: WHL Prospects to Target

The Canucks have seemingly made a habit of avoiding picking players from the WHL at the NHL Draft in recent years, especially with high draft picks (Taylor Ellington notwithstanding). Year after year this fact is lamented by fans who watch hometown kids develop into NHL studs like Milan Lucic and Brendan Gallagher.

The Canucks will be re-emphasizing the WHL at the draft this year – just as they should. The WHL is a fantastic developmental league, the second biggest source of NHL draft picks, and it’s about time that the team used its geographical advantage.

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I also write occassionally for the Dallas Stars SBN blog DefendingBigD, and it is fascinating to see how much emphasis that team puts on the WHL. It does come from the top down, as team owner Tom Gaglardi is also the owner of the Kamloops Blazers. In recent years, the Stars have signed a number of undrafted WHL free agents, including Brenden Dillon and Matt Fraser. Jamie Benn was picked out of the BCHL but moved to the WHL shortly thereafter, and the Stars knew what they were getting when they acquired WHL alum Cody Eakin from Washington.

The Stars did miss on Scott Glennie, who is toiling away in the AHL after not really developing much after the team took him with the 8th overall seletion back in 2009. But they have had way more hits than misses, and they aren’t the only team that is all over the Western League. 

Anyway, the Canucks shouldn’t target hometown players or home province players for geographical reasons alone, but it really makes no sense that they continue to pass over WHL players for comparable/equal talent from elsewhere. There are a number of very good WHL prospects eligible for the draft this Sunday, and a number of them could be available at pick 24(assuming the Canucks keep the pick). This is both a talented and deep draft, and the Canucks must really regret moving that 2nd round pick for Derek “the ghost” Roy (hindsight, I know – I was among those who thought the move was a good one at the time). 

Let’s take a closer look at a few of the WHL guys to watch for on Sunday.

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A quick preface:

Hunter Shinkaruk will be long gone. I’m a huge fan of his – tenacious, gritty, skilled. Not big or overly fast, but hard to hit and plays hard on the puck. Weak defensively and away from the puck, though.

D – Shea Theodore (Seattle)

Theodore has been slated to go anywhere from pick 20 to the second round in mock drafts. He’s the biggest “boom or bust” prospect defenseman of any on this list. His upside is tantalizing, but his game is still quite raw. He’s got a projectable frame at 6-2, but he needs to bulk up in a HUGE way (160 pounds, or about ½ of Zdeno Chara).

He’s been compared to Mike Green for the way he skates (fluid) and how he moves the puck (quickly and confidently). 

Here’s more on Theodore.

D – Mirco Mueller (Everett)

A well-rounded two-way defenseman. He’s got great size (6-3, 190 pounds) and every scouting report on him mentions his “quiet, effective game.” There are many different types of defensemen available in this draft from the WHL alone. Right side, left side, safe, risky, offensive, defensive – simply put, the Canucks need to pick the defenseman they think will turn out to be the best NHL player, regardless of team fit/need/skill set.

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D – Josh Morrissey (Prince Albert)

Great skater and passer – Morrissey is one of the best offensive defensemen eligible for the draft this year. Morrissey has been likened to a more physical, less skilled Morgan Rielly (a prospect-on-prospect comparison, if you will).

Morrissey is 5-11 and has been mentioned as a player who needs to add size and strength – not uncommon at this stage of the development process, but a lack of height and size is a particular concern for defensemen.  Morrissey isn’t going to be picked for his physicality (he isn’t soft, though) or his defensive play. His strength(s) lie in his skating, footwork, and at the offensive end of the rink. 

D – Madison Bowey (Kelowna)

He shoots right. Sign me up! The Kelowna defensive factory churns out another right shot – Shea Weber, Luke Schenn, and the artist formally known as Tyler Myers are all righty shooters. Bowey says he emulates Weber, but he is more of an offensive guy and less of a physical presence (although that could come with some more size and experience).

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Here’s a comprehensive look at his game from Yahoo! Sports.

D – Ryan Pulock (Brandon)

WHL defenseman. Leader. Check. Character kid. Check. Now for the actual stuff – the hardest shot in the draft (and already one of the hardest shots in hockey). Pulock is a skilled offensive defenseman and the rest of his game is improving rapidly as well.

He’s slated to go anywhere from 12-30 in mock drafts I have seen. He’s disciplined (low PIM totals for a physical defenseman). I haven’t seen him play outside of highlights and clips, but he does look a bit like Dan Hamhuis (and his scouting report reads a lot like one for a young Hamhuis would, as well).

It is unlikely that Pulock is available at pick 24, though. 

LW – Curtis Lazar (Edmonton) 

Lazar is probably the “safe” pick of the later part of the first round. He’s an excellent two-way forward, gritty and skilled. He’s smart defensively and creative offensively. The Canucks may not want to draft a future third line center with their first pick, and that is the likely upside for Lazar. However, he probably isn’t far off from playing in the NHL, especially relative to other options at pick 24. And slotting a rookie contract in to the top nine is a nice proposition for a team that needs to maximize its cap savings over the next year or two…

C – Nic Petan (Portland)

5-9. Petan’s lack of height is the first number you notice when looking at his scouting report. However, he has been proving his doubters wrong for a long time. The Delta, BC native is arguably a top-10 talent at this draft in terms of pure offensive ability. He’s a great skater, has elite hands and a scorer’s touch, but his vision is what sets him apart from bigger and stronger players on the ice. He sees the ice as well as any player in the WHL. 

He doesn’t play small (not many forwards in the WHL do), but his lack of size will be an issue for him at the draft. He has gone anywhere from pick 18 to the middle of the second round in the various mock drafts I have read. 

C/W – Morgan Klimchuk (Regina)

Klimchuk isn’t big, but he is an incredible skater with a ton of offensive talent. He had a solid offensive season considering the lack of talent on the Pats roster. He’s a lot of fun to watch, and he plays a fearless game with and without the puck. He’s probably the most intriguing WHL forward from a Canuck perspective at the draft this year (in the “somewhat realistic” category). He has a great shot and has played on the point on Regina’s PP at times (a testament to his offensive ability, patience, and vision).

He grew up a Flames fan (strike one), and his favourite movie is Law Abiding Citizen (with perhaps the most ridiculous plot since Batman Forever, a definite strike two). 

Pulock would be my top choice if all of the players are available at pick 24. However, he will likely be gone by that point. I’d consider Klimchuk or Morrissey next. There is a lot of talent in the WHL that will be picked on Sunday. The Canucks don’t have to go into their backyard to draft a player if they feel a better prospect from Europe or another league is on the board, but this year more than ever is not the time to ignore one of the best developmental leagues in the world. 

Who do you want at pick 24? One of the above guys? Someone else? A trade?