Welcome back to Top Shelf Prospects. It’s that time again, major junior hockey is back and we’re here to preview the new season for you. All three leagues are kicking off this week. With that in mind we will start our division previews today and make our way around the country.
You can check out all of this year’s Top Shelf Prospects articles here.
Here is the WHL East Division Preview.
2017-18 WHL Central Division Preview
Top Three Contenders (In Order of Projected Finish)
Goaltender Stuart Skinner could be the division’s best netminder, and gives the Hurricanes a leg up on the competition. Giorgio Estephan returns as an overage forward and should lead the team in scoring. However, with Tyler Wong graduating, there is a big hole to fill in the scoring department. The Hurricanes will have to do things by committee and hope that Jordy Bellerive, Tanner Nagel, Ryan Vandervlis, and import Egor Zudilov can all step up and contributing to picking up offensive slack. On defence, a pair of overagers in Brennan Menell and Brennan Riddle lead the way. Calen Addison a 2018 draft eligible, will be expected to grow into a bigger role.
The Hitmen are led by Carolina Hurricanes prospect Jake Bean. He should be one of the most dynamic offensive defencemen in the WHL this season. He is joined on the blue line by import Vladislav Yeryomenko, as well as returnees Jakob LaPointe, Jameson Murray, and Drea Esposito. Youngster Jackson van de Leest will be eased in as a rookie. The Hitmen are strong in goal with overager Nick Schneider joining the team. Overage forward Matteo Gennaro had 80 points last season and should again lead the offence. Winger Beck Malenstyn provides support up front. Centre Mark Kastelic will also be counted on to provide more offence.
Medicine Hat Tigers
On paper the Tigers might be the top team in the division. However, injuries have already decimated the club. Mason Shaw was injured at Minnesota Wild training camp and is expected to be out four-to-six months. Newly acquired goalie Jordan Hollett was diagnosed with mono and will be out to start the season. The Tigers are still strong on defence with New York Islanders prospect David Quenneville leading the way. Dylan MacPherson and Dalton Gally provide depth. Duncan McGovern and Michael Bullion will battle for the goaltending duties in Hollett’s absence. Youngsters Ryan Chyzowski and Josh Williams will get big roles up front with Shaw on the shelf.
Players To Watch
Jake Bean, Defence, Calgary Hitmen
Bean shows outstanding skating. He is blessed with very good speed and excellent acceleration. This is true in both directions and really helps him to be a two-way defender. Bean has great puck control and combines with his skating skill to elude forecheckers and move the puck into good areas to start the rush. He can lead the rush himself, or can make a strong pass to start the transition. He shows poise with the puck in the offensive zone, and walks the line well in the offensive zone opening up passing and shooting lanes. His slap shot is hard as well as accurate, while his wrist shot features a quick release. He uses it effectively to get pucks on net quickly and through heavy traffic. He also has very good vision and passing skills, able to thread the needle to set up his teammates for good scoring opportunities.
Matteo Gennaro, Centre, Calgary Hitmen
Drafted, but not signed by the Winnipeg Jets, Gennaro is at training camp with the Ottawa Senators. Gennaro has good size and is a quick skater. He’s got a very good wrist shot and release and started to use it a lot more. As a result his goal total more than doubled, and Gennaro found the back of the net 43 times last year. He also has good vision and passing skill. Gennaro can be better at the defensive end of the ice, if he wants to earn an NHL contract.
Cale Fleury, Defence, Kootenay Ice
A Montreal Canadiens draftee, Cale Fleury has some offensive tools. He has a hard and accurate point shot. Fleury makes good use of both his slap shot and wrist shot. He can sneak down from the point and get his wrister through traffic. It features good power and a quick release. He also has decent puck handling skill and good vision and passing ability. Fleury makes a strong first pass to start the transition game, and also has the poise to quarterback the power play from the blue line. There is some question on the ceiling with these tools though. His offensive game is good, but not truly great.
Jordy Bellerive, Centre, Lethbridge Hurricanes
The second overall pick in the 2014 WHL Draft, Bellerive was undrafted last year but signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Bellerive is undersized. He is also a lightning quick skater, who has the soft hands to take advantage of that speed on the rush. Bellerive also has great vision and is at his best as a playmaker. He has the skill to make passes to teammates through tight openings. Bellerive does not use it enough, but he has a hard shot with a quick release.
Stuart Skinner, Goaltender, Lethbridge Hurricanes
An Edmonton Oilers prospect, at 6’3″ tall, Stuart Skinner has the type of size that NHL general managers are looking for in goaltending prospects now. He combines that size with excellent athleticism. Skinner is a butterfly goalie who gets up and down very quickly. He has quick legs that take away the bottom of the net. For a young goalie, Skinner is ahead of the pack in terms of his rebound control, however there is still some room for improvement as well. He is strong to the blocker side, but could use a bit of work on his glove hand.
Mason Shaw, Centre, Medicine Hat Tigers
While Shaw will be out of the lineup until at least January, he is a dynamic offensive force, and his return will transform the Tigers lineup. Shaw has very good vision and passing skills. He uses his agility and edge work to create seams, and get the puck through to his linemates in good scoring areas. He also has the talent to make a saucer pass over a stick, as well as to fit a puck through a tight opening. His speed and elusiveness also make him dangerous on the rush. Add in very good stick handling, and Shaw is an offensive spark plug. He can also score goals. Shaw has good power and a quick release on his wrist and snap shots. He could stand to be a bit more accurate though. Shaw’s main issue is that he doesn’t get to the dirty areas of the ice.
David Quenneville, Defence, Medicine Hat Tigers
Quenneville is undersized but shows dynamic offensive ability. He put up 23 goals and 59 points in just 49 games last season. He has an absolute bomb from the point and is not afraid to use it on the power play. Quenneville also has a strong wrist shot and quick release. He utilizes this when defenders pressure him and take away the time and space needed to get his slap shot off. He also has very good vision and passing skills. Quenneville is a strong skater. His agility and lateral movement allow him to open up passing and shooting lanes. He is a very good stickhandler, who shows a lot of poise and controls the puck at the blue line.
Lane Zablocki, Centre/Right Wing, Red Deer Rebels
A Detroit Red Wings draft pick, Zablocki is a very good skater, who gets in quickly on the forecheck, and puts pressure on opposing defenders. He is a good stick handler and playmaker. Zablocki makes strong passes to linemates off the rush as well as out of the cycle game. Willing to play a gritty game, Zablocki battles for pucks on the boards and gets to the front of the net. Once there he can score goals in tight with his soft hands. He plays as a pest, consistently getting under his opponents skin. Zablocki must get stronger to continue to play this game at the next level.
2018 NHL Draft Eligible Players To Watch
Ethan Cap, Defence, Edmonton Oil Kings
The 6’2″ defenceman was the 11th overall pick in the 2016 WHL Draft. Cap plays a physical game in his own end of the ice, willing to throw hits, clear the front of the net, and battle for loose pucks. He has good positioning for his age, and is strong on his feet. He is a good passer, but can work on improving his shot this year.
Calen Addison, Defence, Lethbridge Hurricanes
Addison put up six points in five games for Team Canada in helping his country to gold at this summer’s Ivan Hlinka tournament. The 2nd overall pick of the 2015 WHL Draft, Addison is a very good skater who is strong at both ends of the ice. He has very good vision and passing skills, with the ability to start the transition game and play the point on the powerplay. Addison also has a very good slap shot. He put up 33 points as a WHL rookie and should improve on those numbers this year.
Alexander Alexeyev, Defence, Red Deer Rebels
Alexeyev played in 41 games as a WHL Rookie putting up 21 points. It was a tough transition to North America, compounded by the fact that he had injury issues. With good vision and passing skills, strong skating ability and an excellent shot, the Rebels are hoping for more from Alexeyev this season.
2019 NHL Draft Eligible Players To Watch
Matthew Robertson, Defence, Edmonton Oil Kings
The 7th overall pick of the 2016 WHL Draft, Robertson has excellent size, as he is already 6’3″ at just 16 years old. He played in seven games for the Oil Kings last season and already showed good skating ability and strong defensive instincts. Its hoped that he can add some offensive production to his game as he breaks into the WHL on a full-time basis.
Peyton Krebs, Left Wing, Kootenay Ice
The first overall pick of the 2016 WHL Draft, Krebs put up six points in six games for the Ice last season. He is a very good playmaker, with outstanding vision, and the ability make passes through the tiniest of openings. His hockey IQ is off the charts as he anticipates the movements of his teammates and his opponents. If he can add some muscle and get a bit more power on his shot, he could really rocket up the 2019 Draft board.
Josh Williams, Right Wing, Medicine Hat Tigers
The fifth overall pick of the 2016 WHL Draft, Williams has excellent speed on the wing. Defenders need to respect his ability to take them wide and cut to the net or will get burned off the rush. When they do back off, he uses the defender as a screen and has the type of quick release on his wrist shot that fools goalies. A pure sniper, he also has an excellent wrist shot.
Main Photo: CALGARY, AB – DECEMBER 3: Jake Bean #2 of the Calgary Hitmen skates against the Prince Albert Raiders during a WHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on December 3, 2015 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)