Here’s the introduction as best as I can explain it. I put draft ranges in there as a sort of guideline as to where abouts in the draft I’d most likely start to get comfortable with taking these players. It isn’t an exact science. It’s certainly not math. It’s just a kind of range. I’ve based that range on similar drafts in the past and how these players measure up in my mind compared to previous years and the potential they show compared to past lists of mine. So, if you want to say a player who is at 100 should be 80 or 120 based on the strength of the rest of the players who I have not done my due diligence on, be my guest.
I think some of the most talented and well rounded players in the West this year have something significant holding their potential back physically. A length of skating stride, a few inches in height, some shot power, some core strength, etc. Even while possessing an elite ability or incredible details to a game, it can be very tough to overcome those elements in order to improve at a trajectory which lands you in the NHL.
I’ve spoken to some NHL scouts and they challenged me to try and shorten my list of players in order to truly know which 6-10 I’d make a priority to draft. If it is true that some NHL teams only have a list of 100 players or so going into the festivities, then busting out 40+ names wouldn’t be realistic from a team scouting standpoint. In the past, I’ve released my list based on ranges where I think players should be reasonably considered; whether I’d really advocate for them or 20.not. So, this is my attempt to show fans a depth of who I think should/could be drafted this year and which players I’d stick my neck out on.
But the players I’d be watching very very very closely are Jagger Firkus, Grayden Siepmann, Josh Filmon, Tyson Jugnauth, Marek Alscher, and Marcus Nguyen as I think they have a higher upside, offensive instincts, and could slip well past the ranges I have them in.
1. Jagger Firkus – F – Moose Jaw Warriors – Draft Range 12-16th Overall
34th – Bob McKenzie’s rankings
12th – Central Scouting North American ranking
I didn’t think I’d get here this year but here we are. Eventually at the draft you have to ask yourself “who would I pick?” and while you could make a case for a number of WHL players to be first, I’d pick Jagger. When Jagger passes, he uses look offs, slip passes, extends to his reach, can saucer over sticks, pass crisply through traffic, spots sticks laterally and is one of the most accurate passers in the WHL which makes the ability of his teammates to shoot one-timers or catch and release shots more easily. That is just his passing. The adjustments he can make to poor passes to still get shots off is incredible. He has amazing shot accuracy, can shoot off a glide or both feet, one timers, slapshots, etc. Elite vision and execution from Jagger Firkus. I think Jagger has the best puck control of anyone I’ve seen since I’ve really started closely paying attention to the WHL. The skill is elite. The downside is that Jagger is still under 160lbs and engaging physically in most ways is not at all part of what he does so two-way effort is relied on fishing pucks out of feet or poking pucks loose more often. I loved his compete and battle in the ozone during the WHL playoffs though. He competes and uses all of his elements to maintain or escape pressure. I’m not sure you can be more of a boom or bust potential player than Jagger Firkus but I completely understand why folks would bet on him. I would too. I totally understand if you’d take a conservative approach with Jagger on your draft boards but with most players in my mind projecting as middle-six forwards, I’d be willing to gamble on a player with that much skill. Sometimes you have to.
2. Kevin Korchinski – D – Seattle Thunderbirds – Draft Range – 12-16th Overall
11th – Bob McKenzie’s rankings
7th – Central Scouting North American ranking
It’s been very fun to watch his season unfold in Seattle. His skating stride is long, powerful, and pushes to get the maximum length in every burst. He uses that momentum in moments to create usable power in his turns and edges to adjust to the play unfolding around him. This means that while he moves well and covers a lot of ground, he sometimes has issues in two types of scenarios. If he is being pressured defensively, he will burst in a stride of two to escape but doesn’t keep his feet moving in short bursts to escape so he has to rely on his reach and his passing decisions. The other is when defending zone entries, I’ve seen him crossover instead of pivot in some spots which gets him turned around to more agile players. High-end NHL players will use that against him. He loves to recognise gaps in coverage in the flow of offense and jump into the play. Sometimes that means a trailer on the off-wing and other times has him on a breakaway by pushing the middle of the ice. Kevin has tons of shot power in both his wrist shot and slap shot, has some of the most creative and manipulative passes I’ve seen in a long time from a WHL defender, and uses his reach and power to his advantage all over the ice. I think it is fine to protect Kevin to a 2nd pair on an NHL team with the ability to run a top PP. He has the quickness of hands and slapshot for it. The criticisms against Kevin aren’t what he is capable of doing; it’s way more about his choices as to how he uses that skill to be efficient. I choose to look at him and think…quiet his game where you need to, work on the skating, fine tune the details, and unleash the rest.
3. Matthew Savoie – F – Winnipeg Ice – Draft range – 12-16th overall
9th – Bob McKenzie’s rankings
4th – Central Scouting North American ranking
Everything Matthew does comes from agility and quickness. All of it is high end. His crossovers, his balance, his adjustments, how he uses his insides edges, and how he can shift off puck to just maintain that gap and passing lane are all testaments to the totality of his skating ability. He uses that speed and quickness effectively defensively too since he can beat most players into the skating pathway they are looking to advance through in the neutral zone. It makes him a very effective two-way player and at worst a real pest to try and get clean transitions against. Winnipeg has used Savoie as their number one shot option through most of the season on the PP and it’s allowed him to work on his release and his shot accuracy. He is most likely to slip laterally a touch and try to go far top corner. The downside of Savoie is that since his game is mostly, “skate quick, pass quick, shoot quick, adjust quick” it is the means for which he counters the problem of playing against players with ample reach. Matthew isn’t the guy to shift laterally and drag the puck the ends of his reach constantly to evade. It means that sometimes he gets too outside, sometimes he loses the puck in one-on-one battles, and sometimes he isn’t capable of drawing pressure and opening up more passing lanes that way. While in no way shape or form do I think this hinders his ability to play in the NHL, it might limit his eventual upside. While some see him as a play-driving C, I see him as a speedy, smart, complimentary winger most likely on a second line, PK, and second PP.
4. Owen Pickering – D – Swift Current Broncos – Draft Range – 13-18th Overall
23rd – Bob McKenzie’s rankings
15th – Central Scouting North American ranking
Depending who you ask, they will give you different opinions on when a prospect’s size and reach should be brought up in the conversation. “Tell me about their skill, not their size.” But I feel like this all weaves together in the tale of Mr. Pickering. I watched him quite closely in the hub last season for Swift Current and I knew right away that he was going to lead the pack on the backend for the next wave of Swift Current Players. I had him on my list in the summer and thought he would progress nicely. He’s come along much faster and grown even more than I anticipated. With that has come better balance, a more explosive skating stride, using his fullness of both his glide and reach, and experimenting with his offensive game both in transition and walking the blueline to find shot lanes. The reality is that he still isn’t fully comfortable at being a 200-foot player in the tier of a high end first round pick, yet. But… that’s not the worst thing. He’s listed at 6’5, 178lbs and will continue to add more strength and muscle so what he is doing now is going to continue to get better. I’ve watched Owen shut down top players across the league especially when defending the rush. I’ve watched Owen explode into shot blocking lanes and transition pucks with ease. I’ve watched Owen’s shot power improve as he’s gotten more momentum and whip on his release. Everything has improved. I think it boils down to his closing of gaps and arrogance in his defensive pressure. He went from a “better safe than sorry” in all situations at the start of the year to “Hey, can you please quit that?” type of approach. It is going to continue to be an evolution of a mindset shift. He often closes gaps in the defensive zone just enough to leave 10% of room for players to make a play. He is certainly capable of closing those gaps quicker, consistently, and with more confidence. If he ends up being a defensive-minded 6’5, 205lb fluid skating dman who makes smart simple outlets and has a quality wrist shot, that’s not so bad. He might even be the first WHL Dman selected. That’s a possibility. While he might settle as a 4 or 5 dman in the NHL, he certainly has a lot more potential than that.
5. Denton Mateychuk – D – Moose Jaw Warriors – Draft Range – 18-23rd Overall
24th – Bob McKenzie’s rankings
14th – Central Scouting North American ranking
There are players in every draft that might fall under a “not for us” category for many NHL teams while simultaneously being a “high-fives all around” player for another. It just means that you see the skillset, it matches the style your team plays, and you get what the player brings to the table. Denton is an incredible transition player in the WHL. He turns play around very quickly with retrievals and accelerates out of those quick turns. His goal always seems to be to keep his feet moving, get momentum in the other direction, and push until the team forces you to make a play laterally. If Denton gets space to accelerate past the first forecheck, he will. You can expect him to either continue pushing into the offensive zone or try give and go plays so he can continue to accelerate into lanes in the middle. This allows Moose Jaw to have quicker decisions, not rely on their C to do the heavy transition lifting, and creates breakdowns in the defensive coverage and odd man changes. Since Moose Jaw has numerous one-timer shooters, it makes Mateychuk drawing pressure even more important. He isn’t the biggest or the strongest player on the ice but he does a good job of seeing pressure coming and trying to shield the puck by turning his back. Defensively, he’s improved his angling to defend zone entries and sweeps his stick in order to break up plays early. He still needs to improve some of his physical board battles and definitely needs to improve some of his net front defensive engagements. There are also limits in Denton’s posture and his passing/shooting deception. He keeps a strong stance and would rather turn his entire body than making plays with isolated stick manipulations. It makes his offensive decisions sometimes be more predictable. His passing and shot finesse aren’t top-tier to me either. He recognised the good shot opportunities but he isn’t gonna pick that top corner with consistency. This is the kind of player who I could write a novel about because there are many little details to his game which make him unique in both positive and potentially negative ways. The long and short of it is, Denton could be an incredible transition defender in the NHL especially when partnered with a bigger and stronger D partner. He isn’t the kind of player who’s game adapts to different styles though. You either want to play the type of transition offense which Denton can flourish in, or you potentially have a very frustrated coach on your hands.
6. Conor Geekie – F – Winnipeg Ice – Draft Range – 18-23rd Overall
13th – Bob McKenzie’s rankings
5th – Central Scouting North American ranking
I’ve written and thought a lot about Conor Geekie’s game the last while. I even did a couple of interviews talking about his upside and potential fit. I do think his game best translates at C in the NHL since he can use his ability to build speed in north-south bursts and take advantage of his turns rather than stops and starts. Conor is at his best when he’s moving with speed and is able to use both his reach and ability to push on his inside edge to move laterally in order to make the best use of his soft hands on the rush. He’s a very accurate passer for a player of his size and can certainly complete some high end saucer passes or slip passes into the slot. I’ve noticed as of late his shot release improvement and his determination to curl into space and try to fire with a bit more weight and momentum behind it. He’s got many elements to his game which will make the transition to NHL hockey easier than others but he still has to continue to work on some of the skating elements. It’s just about lowering the centre of gravity to be more explosive from a standstill laterally and get more strength from the first few strides; widening that stance a bit to anticipates physical pressure in corner battles too. I’d like him to reach a bit less and adjust to changing tempo better. He’s smart, he’s got great puck control at his reach, and he can build power in straight lines and manipulate the puck from his hip pocket at high speed off the wing. Early in the year, I really fought against the narrative that he should be a top-10 selection and that pushed him into the middle of the first round for me. As the season has progressed, he’s gotten opportunities to work on some of his weaknesses, shown adaptability in different linemates, and has been very vocal about improving what others see as potential limiting factors in the growth of his game. I like his compete level and his mindset. While he brings elements of size, reach, and finesse to his game, I still think he has quite a few adjustments to make for pro hockey on how to reach his potential.
7. Reid Schaefer – F – Seattle Thunderbirds – Draft Range – 50-65
37th – Bob McKenzie’s rankings
31st – Central Scouting North American ranking
The first time I put out rankings I completely missed Reid Schaefer. I think it had something to do with his birthday being Sept 21 so he’s one of the oldest players available for the draft this year. Once I realized the mistake, I focused a lot more heavily on Reid and I was surprised how much I loved the details of his game for someone who is 6’3 and 215lbs. He’s so comfortable handling the puck along the exterior and protecting it at his reach while surveying the ice for slip passes into the slot. He anticipates where the pressure is coming from, and does a terrific job of identifying how to leverage his body position to maintain control or the upperhand in a board battle. He’s also terrific positionally in the offensive zone. I find him moving through high-danger areas, keeping quality gaps, and maintaining positive passing/shooting angles as an off-puck linemate. It’s a long winded way of saying he’s in great position a lot of the time and is always ready to receive a pass or shoot. I think he’s exactly the kind of player I’d want to look for as he possesses good vision, has soft enough hands to make plays in motion, and has the patience to wait on the proper timing of plays. If I was checking boxes, I think he’s certainly intelligent, has the size and finesse to make well-timed plays against tougher opponents, and certainly has the power and accuracy in his shot for quick releases in the slot or the far side on the PP for a catch and release. I think we will see him being used more next season as a trigger man on the top-PP for Seattle in either of those positions. In the WHL playoffs, he made some individual drag moves off the rush showcasing his hands and reach which were very wow moments too. I’d like to see him add a touch more pace to his play though too. In this range of the draft, I think Reid shows a lot of really quality individual elements which could make him a good NHL 3rd liner or higher.
8. Fraser Minten – F – Kamloops Blazers – Draft Range – 50-65
47th – Bob McKenzie’s rankings
28th – Central Scouting North American ranking
The more I watch Fraser play, the more I just see no real reason why he can’t play at the pace, flow, and physicality of high-end pro hockey. While his game remains quite simple, he uses that simplicity very effectively. He can handle the puck in motion with confidence and often just needs to shift a bit laterally and drag the puck to his reach. He doesn’t need a series of complicated dangles in order to continue possession while building speed through the neutral zone. He protects at his reach, builds speed with power through crossovers, and makes smart continuation plays at speed or along the boards. He is physical and often battles for that inside position and he can curl quickly to shoot off the half-wall. The snap on his wrist shot has improved and he’s getting to better space to use it as well. I think while Fraser might not have the ability to make a series of high-end dangles in succession and become a star, he does have all the tools to succeed at the next levels. He was starting to really pick his shot locations too and having success short side in little windows later in the year. I project him to be a useful and versatile forward for an NHL bottom-six.
9. Rieger Lorenz – F – Okotoks Oilers – Draft Range – 65-80
52nd – Bob McKenzie’s rankings
17th – Central Scouting North American ranking
Rieger skates with such a powerful stride that he can build momentum and power very quickly. He visually stands out right away at the AJHL level. That normally means that he’s gaining the OZ entries with a lot of speed and can protect the puck with his power and reach to make drop passes or simple strong lateral passes. The longer I’ve watched him play, the more I’ve seen the limits of his finesse and creativity though. I’d love to see him change the release point of his shot at 5on5 and the PP and add a bit more deception to his overall game. His shot already comes in heavy but I don’t think he possesses the ability to really snipe small windows. Some scouts will see his physicality and power as a pro-style player who can handle the physicality of the NHL while others will wonder how high he could rise based on his tactical choices. In a draft with so many question marks, I think a team could grab Rieger much earlier than I’ve projected him here and whisper to themselves, “We think he’ll play.” I think he will play too. He’s a high floor player. I think the U18s for Team Canada showed that the adjustment from AJHL to international play was tougher than maybe he expected. Guys were pressuring him quicker and closing gaps quicker which made him a little turnover prone sometimes. That’s understandable too.
10. Josh Filmon – F – Swift Current Broncos – Draft Range – 75-90
75th – Bob McKenzie’s rankings
38th – Central Scouting North American ranking
This is about as big of a projection selection as there is in the WHL this year outside of Owen Pickering because Josh has that size and lankiness where you just have to imagine what he looks like still with more added speed and muscle. My favorite thing about him is his ability to catch and release wrist shots in stride. He does not need to adjust or alter or make secondary plans. Most of his high-end danger chances have come from slipping into the slot and wasting no time to shoot. He’s played quite a lot of the season with Mathew Ward but Swift Current has moved him to C for stretches too which plummeted his offensive production. His reach and stickhandling while moving through transition and offensive zone entries are tremendous and it is just about adding a more consistent explosive element of separation as a puck carrier which could potentially sky rocket his production and start to really put pressure on the defense. Since he’s a smart passer too, this should open up all sorts of options for him too once he draws pressure. While playing C, he uses his reach, puck control, and reaction time to gain entry and pass laterally to one of his wings. There is work to do as far as aggression, board play, positioning, etc but he’s big, lanky, controls pucks well at his reach, makes smart situational passes, and has an NHL projectable goal scoring release. At some point you have to stick your neck out on upside and Josh’s upside is a middle-six NHLer. If you believe in him and your development, he’s kind of a rare upside player from the WHL this year. After watching him intently, I realized he’s the kind of player I’d wanna work with and would be comfortable taking the risk around this range.
11. Jordan Gustafson – F – Seattle Thunderbirds – Draft Range – 75-90
72 – Bob McKenzie’s rankings
43rd – Central Scouting North American ranking
Whenever I watch Jordan, I know I’m going to get a consistency of effort all over the ice, which includes him hounding defensemen on the forecheck and using his quick cuts and anticipation to cause turnovers and pin players against the boards. The biggest thing I like about Jordan is his ability to cut hard which gives him the separation he needs to find a shot lane or bully his way into the inside a bit more. His shot release is a quick and heavy snap which can be quite tough for goaltenders to pick up which he uses off of curls on the half wall on the PP or by just sneaking into the slot areas when possible. I really enjoy his skating lanes through the home plate since he has tendencies to find that pass reception lane in the slot for a quick release or by sitting backdoor for a tap in option. He has the smarts and the strength to pull all of that off. I was hoping Jordan would take just slightly more of a step forward this year by lengthening his stride and just finding more of a separation element with consistency but he’s shown he has many elements which will translate very well to pro hockey. He has an incredible one-timer which he does not use enough and certainly has quality two-way upside. I’d also love to see him just be a touch more aggressive and physical on the forecheck and implement his will a bit more with a bit of added strength.
12. Grayden Siepmann – D – Calgary Hitmen – Draft Range – 75-90
NR – Bob McKenzie’s rankings
79th – Central Scouting North American ranking
I always enjoy watching Grayden play. His skating is so purposeful and fluid which allows him to adapt to the evolving landscape in front of him. His balance and weight shifts let him move with proper body positioning to open himself to pass receptions or to pinch into the zones with the assurance that he can recover afterwards. At this point, he plays in all situations for Calgary and has the skating and the vision to play within the positive flow of the offense. He gets mostly full extensions on his skating stride, has ample reach and can protect the puck on skating transitions, and isn’t afraid to be physical and engage in the defensive zone. Essentially, he’s very smart, well-rounded, and a terrific skater who absolutely understands gaps and applying great stick pressure. His positioning on board play is excellent too. Maybe the best in this WHL class as far as maintaining positional leverage. The biggest growth in his game will come from just adding more strength essentially. As he gets stronger, he will be able to win more puck battles, hold the inside position defensively a bit more, and his shot power should improve. He’s choosing good moments to shoot but just needs that extra bit of strength there to be dangerous. His skating makes the difference for me as the fluidity of his stride is just terrific. I had Grayden as a projected 4th round pick for most of the year but I realized that I’d personally project him higher than that. It makes Grayden one of my “players to watch” and “players to target” in this draft because I think he could be had at least a round later than I project him. If you get him 5th round or beyond then you’re just laughing.
13. Mats Lindgren – D – Kamloops Blazers – Draft Range – 75-90
64th – Bob McKenzie’s rankings
47th – Central Scouting North American ranking
I think so many of his decisions to engage in OZ battles, pinch, push tempo, pass to teammates, and sneak into backdoor shooting space is a testament to how smart he is. His strength is in his decision making and his efficiency as a transition defender. He certainly knows how to use curls and hesitations to pass and skate pucks up the ice effectively and hit players in stride with quality passes. Mats does a few things which limit his growth potential like lock his hand to his hips which telegraphs his passing a little and doesn’t give him the growth potential on the whip of his shot release. He also does not get as full of power and extension on his skating stride which means he loses some puck races and isn’t able to recover from some of his offensive pathways as easily. While Mats is one of the youngest players available in this draft and that often suggests massive growth to come, I also think he’s already doing such a good job of maximizing his current efficiency. He’s going to need to get stronger and work on his shot release too. At this point, it’s not really dangerous from the point and while Mats is doing a lot of things incredibly well as far as positioning and applying pressure, he just loses some of those battles based on strength currently. It won’t get easier moving forward for him either. I think it is entirely reasonable to take the gamble on Mats at the top of the third round but I’d maybe be more comfortable in the back half of the third.
14. Marek Alscher – D – Portland Winterhawks – Draft Range – 85-100
HM outside 90 – Bob McKenzie’s rankings
177th – Central Scouting North American ranking
A theme throughout these writings will be just how much potential exists in the Portland defense group. Right now, you’ve got quite a lot of the transition offense flowing through the hands of Clay Hanus and Luca Cagnoni which leaves someone like Marek to be more of a jack-of-all-trades type player. I’ve been looking for Marek as the year has progressed to be more involved in the natural flow of the offense and be a bit more aggressive at using his long strides to break past layers of the forecheck. He’s been controlling pucks well to his strong side and rushing all 200-feet at times. He’s a naturally well balanced and smooth skater who shows long strides, deep cuts, and the type of approach which will continue to build speed and power. Defensively, he finishes checks, rides players into the boards when appropriate, and cuts off passing angles and eliminates sticks. The more I’ve watched him this season, the more I’ve liked him. Since his stride is so long, his shot selection and mechanics are getting better, and his role could still be expanded a ton, it leaves ample room for continual growth and well-rounded development. While I don’t think he will ever have elite puck handling skills or be the dominant partner on a pro defensive pair, I really like the sum of the parts matched with his ability to make breakout passes and defend with size. He was one of the most improved defenders in the WHL this year as he got more rope to expand his transition play. I think Marek has a chance to challenge for NHL minutes one day.
15. Tyson Jugnauth – D – West Kelowna Warriors (BCHL) – 85-100
NR – Bob McKenzie’s rankings
66th – Central Scouting North American ranking
I touched base with Tyson Jugnauth a lot this season. For those who haven’t been following him, he was a 1st round WHL draft pick who opted for the BCHL, had his rights relinquished, and then was drafted a second time by a WHL club. Very rare. At the beginning of the year, I thought Tyson could potentially be a top-100 player since his ability to counter pressure with high-end puck control and high-IQ combine to make him a keep-away giant. He has a fast stick, fast processing, uses his reach to maximum potential, shows depth in his skating stride, and generally just makes a positive play all the time. The gigantic question mark comes in his defensive coverage and board battles against tougher opponents. He is 155lbs though and comes with those predictable limitations. However, he is a terrific quick-strike defender with the stick and keeps quality gaps to counter pressure at the BCHL level. I think with Tyson choosing NCAA, it gives him more development time to add strength, explosion, and improve the strength of his shot release. I think as I went through my draft list, I just realized Tyson would be someone I would stick my neck out for ahead of others. I think the risk of taking him in the fourth round is incredibly warranted and I could see him sneaking up into the tail of the 3rd round because of how ridiculous his skill is.
16. Jace Weir – D – Red Deer Rebels – Draft Range – 95-110
HM outside of 90 – Bob McKenzie’s rankings
56th – Central Scouting North American ranking
After reviewing the 2004-born players in the hub last season, Jace was one of my favorite players to watch with how engaged he was defensively. He already had the size, gap control, and mind to be able to limit offensive opportunities and turn play around quickly with outlets to the wings. This year has been a bit of a mixed bag in my views and since my hopes for him were sky high, I think he still was struggling a bit when he joined into the rush or was trying to make puck carrying plays through the neutral zone. I think he’s currently much more inclined to shut down a play physically, pass to his D partner, join the rush and maybe sneak in the back door for a hard wrist shot. His slapshot is a huge asset and I’ve seen signs where he’s being more patient and selective with his shooting lane choices too. Either way, he does have a bit more offensive upside in him in the future I’d imagine. There are some balance issues in some situations too I’ve seen as well but he’s easily the most engaged and heavy defensive defenseman I’ve listed thus far. He battles you for space and makes it tough as often as he can. The playoffs gave him a bit more time at 5on5, breakout responsibilities, and time on the PP to some mixed results in my views. I hope he continues to get those longer breakout puck touches and time to develop better passing decisions while in motion on zone exits. I think sometimes he’s prone to not like his options and dump the puck in odd spots. When he is counterting pressure with shorter distance outlets in the D-zone, I feel much more comfortable. Either way, Jace projects as a smart, simple outlet, quality shutdown blueliner who gives you stability, effort, and a one-timer slapshot blast option on the backend.
17. Marcus Nguyen – F – Portland Winterhawks – Draft Range – 110-125
If you aren’t as familiar with Marcus Nguyen, he has 40 points in 68 games which only includes two PP points. Simply put, Marcus has been one of the best 5on5 players in the entire WHL this season since he only averages around 12 minutes of ice time per game. The only reason he isn’t playing higher in the lineup is due to the quality of the teammates in front of him. I have no doubt in my mind that he would thrive if he played 18-20 minutes a night regularly. He can deliver quick one-touch passes, drop passes, slip passes, and play in the flow in a team style approach if you’d like him to. He can also burst away from pressure in small windows or big ones to create shooting lanes and opportunities for himself to score. His shot release and accuracy are incredible too. My favorite part about his game though is his willingness to not back down in the physical aspects too. He will beat defenders into the corners, and then engage physically to separate them from the puck in order to gather possession. He’s been one of my favorite players to watch this year and this might even be too low for him. His issues currently stem from being pushed off pucks when he’s trying to find separation bursts away along the boards. While he is dipping low on his edges, adding deception to his skating paths, I did feel that especially in the playoffs, he was turning over the puck a bit too often for my liking. He will need to use his delay game a bit more often, continue to add muscle and anticipate physical pressure more to counterbalance pressure. I expect Marcus to have a breakout year offensively next season. I have a good feeling Marcus will be available in the sixth round in this year’s draft and might not get picked at all so after a certain point, I think he will just consistently be the best player left on my board. If you can get him with a 7th round pick, I think you gotta be happy at that value.
18. Matthew Seminoff – F – Kamloops Blazers – Draft Range – 110-125
It honestly pains me to rank Matthew as far down as this because I think the way he plays is so smart and well-rounded. His skating stride length is limited which means he does not build a separation element especially as a puck carrier through the neutral zone as easily. He counters that by adjusting his positioning, being ready to receive pucks, and getting to inside positioning very often by slipping into space at well-timed moments in the offensive zone. He’s a very smart player who recognises opportunities and keeps players a bit off balance with his fakes and hesitations for passing lanes. I often find myself just commenting on how smart I think his decision making is and what lanes he chooses to occupy when attacking. Throw in some quick hands and just as quick reaction time and you have a player who is very easy to root for. If you can keep playing in smaller ice off the cycle, I think Matthew has a great chance of making a smart touch pass, or slipping into close range open space while off puck and finding the anticipation to pounce on a loose puck. Matthew does have a great shot release and can gather goals with efficiency when he is hounding the home plate area. I’d be a little surprised if he fell past the fourth round.
19. Mikey Milne – F – Winnipeg Ice – Draft Range – 110-125
Winnipeg has shuffled around their lines this season a decent amount which has allowed folks to see Mikey in multiple different scenarios with different linemates. He’s just about as consistent of a linemate as one could ask for too. He battles for inside positioning, drives the outside lanes well, has the footwork to adapt to unfolding plays in the neutral zone, and has the strength and aggression to take the puck hard into the inside. I think once you get outside of the top few rounds, scouts fall in love more with an individual progrectable asset rather than weigh the totality of the effect someone can have. Mikey has high end puck reception, a high hockey IQ, finds quality passing lanes and protection to compliment diverse teammates while keeping his foot on the gas. He’s the kind of player who works his way through the AHL until he’s on the top line and begging for a chance at a call up despite not having an elite power stride or game breaking shot. He’s the kind of player you easily root for and should have been drafted already.
20. Brandon Lisowsky – F – Saskatoon Blades – Draft Range – 120-135
You really never have to ask Brandon to shoot the puck. I honestly think he might wanna score goals more than anyone in the entire league does. He isn’t afraid to shoot from any situation. He loves to grab loose pucks and try fast wrap-arounds, fire pucks from the wings, gather a loose puck and just throw it at the net while fading away knowing he has a teammate driving the net. He does his best work in open ice when he can build space through quick crossovers and garner opportunities by eventually pushing back left. He wastes very little time in a catch-and-release situation and sometimes just has to one touch a puck to settle it in the slot before firing. The best part of his game is the deceptive snap he can get on his release in prime scoring areas. What might keep him from the NHL is just not having that physicality in all areas of the ice to win important battles and garner opportunities against bigger/stronger opponents at the pro level. Make no mistake though, he will absolutely deliver an intense bodycheck along the boards when he is in that feisty mood.
Fifth Round +
21. James Stefan – F – Portland Winterhawks
An August-birthday Portland Winterhawk player you say? I think you can make a similar justification to select James as Tampa Bay had when they selected Jaydon Dureau. I’d like to see James use a bit more physicality in win battles but he still sneaks into inside position off the rush or slips back into shooting lanes with ease. I’ve really enjoyed the way he uses his shot release this season as he can curl around on the left side and shoot with whip, proper mechanics, and a bit of hidden snap. His motions aren’t always as straightforward and predictable so he can push slightly on his inside edges to make sure the shooting lane is there. He uses this well on the PP too. Throw in the ability to one-touch passes across high traffic lanes and he’s got more than enough skill to justify a selection in this range.
22. Ben Hemmerling – F – Everett Silvertips
When I last did my rankings, I referred to Ben Hemmerling as the “best player who probably won’t get drafted” in this year’s draft. I did not even rank him on my top-40 list of players to consider because I just talked myself out on considering him. Why did I do that? Well, Ben is 5’10, 160lbs, is not a goal scorer, barely hits, and is not a player who handles the puck for long periods of time. He’s a complementary player who makes his money by keeping pace, having terrific quick-touch passes, and just trying to find space on the side of the net, fill the gaps in the middle, and just be an elite team-style player by winning battles into space. He can drag a puck to his reach to find a passing lane and showcase terrific agility with great balance. I think he’s certainly a later on option in the draft if you wish.
23. Ryder Thompson – D – Portland Winterhawks
This season, Ryder had to fight for minutes and even sometimes found himself healthy scratched on a loaded Portland blueline. I’ll keep it short and simple. His gap control is really good, engaged stick, terrific balance and skating stride, and once he was able to really open up his transition game, his play really exploded in the back half of the year. He’s a trusted puck handler, builds speed through crossovers and pushes tempo and pace. I think he flew under the radar and would get more notice if he was on another team. I like his potential and upside as a transition blueliner. Throw in the fact that he’s a late birthday with still more physical growth to come and I’m a fan.
24. Ryan Hopkins – D – Penticton Vees
I was keeping tabs on him throughout the year and I came around a bit on his upside and potential. I do think the details of his game are not quite refined but he’s big, strong, great skating stride, makes hard and crisp outlets, and has a quality slapshot release too. He’s the kind of player who after some college seasons could round out his game and work his way up through the AHL system of things. He has enough elements to give him a chance down the road.
25. Charlie Wright – D – Saskatoon Blades
I spoke about Charlie in the off season due to his quick reaction time and his ability to pull a puck laterally from a standstill or while in motion off the rush. I expected more from Charlie all over the ice this season and only really started to get a taste of what is to come from the end of the year and playoffs due to some injuries. He needed to be a more mobile, puck rush defender and push tempo under control and in scenarios to burst past layers and he showed he is quite capable of that. Throw in quick agility and quality acceleration on his edges and he’s a fun late swing to see if he can play with that transition confidence night in and night out.
26. Josh Mori – D – Portland Winterhawks
I’ve been quite bullish on Josh throughout this year and I think it is very warranted. Josh has explosiveness to his first few steps, shows terrific power to his edges, and can play with aggressive physicality and hounding defense along the boards in the defensive zone. Most of the year, he’s been fighting for defensive minutes and was often just put in the lineup as a fourth line winger to drive play and just get ice time. He wants to be a rover-style defender though and push tempo and pace in similar fashion to the way Denton Mateychuk plays. At times, he gets too excited and loses a bit of poise for hopeful tempo. He will try aggressive bank passes along the boards or higher risk stretch passes. If Josh gets picked, I think it’ll be one of the biggest swings I’ve ever seen a WHL scout advocate for but if I was baking a cake for a potential breakout transition player in the WHL, I think Josh has all the elements. I’d be delighted if someone took a swing on him but ideally I’d like to know he’s going to get more consistent minutes to develop too.
27. Gabriel Szturc – F – Kelowna Rockets
It would be sooooooo tempting to take Gabriel Szturc with a 7th round pick. There is so much to like and so much potential to be tapped into. If you could get Gabriel to be 20% more aggressive in all situations, I think he could take a big jump. He’s such a tremendous pass receptor, makes little touch passes, solves pressure problems on the fly, has a longer reach, and can pick the top corner off a curl when he feels like it. The problem is that he just defers play way too often for me and I know that is a play style which is tough to change. I categorize these players in the “I don’t think they realize how good they could be” range and I certainly can see Gabriel hitting that PPG mark next season even if he doesn’t change his playing style. He’s just talented. People are scared off by his size, lack of aggression, and late birthday and I get those arguments too. I’m just very curious about his future because I think he’s got untapped potential.
This is where I’m going to stop my list because I think beyond this point, I don’t think there would be a situation where I’d select any of these players. I have utter certainty that some of these players are going to hear their names called at the draft but I think in the 6th and 7th rounds there will still be players on my top-24 list who I would put my stamp of approval on before them.
But if you want more names.
In particular, Sedoff, King, and Milne are the interesting ones to watch because teams might let them go through the draft and then offer them AHL deals to start with instead. Depending how teams value those picks. I think by their play they have justified the potential selection but it just comes down to the strategy of the draft floor.