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.
2017-18 WHL U.S. Division Preview
Top Three Contenders (In Order of Projected Finish)
The Americans will be led by defenceman Juuso Valimaki. The Calgary Flames draft pick gets support from fellow import Sergei Sapgeo. Defenceman Dylan Coghlan will also be given a bigger role. Undrafted, he signed with the Vegas Golden Knights. Upfront the Americans have plenty of firepower with Morgan Geekie, Michael Rasmussen, Jordan Topping, Maxwell James, and Sasha Mutala, The Americans biggest question mark is in net. Beck Warm and Patrick Dea compete for starts.
The Winterhawks are lead by Golden Knights first round pick Cody Glass. While there is some chance he plays in the NHL, it is more likely he is returned to junior. He already has chemistry with Skyler McKenzie creating a top notch duo. The team has also added 2016 New York Islanders draftee Kieffer Bellows. The blue line features Henri Jokiharju, a Chicago Blackhawks first round pick. Overager Keoni Texeira, Brendan De Jong, and Matthew Quigley round out the top four. In goal, overager Cole Kehler returns.
The Everett Silvertips have lost a lot of talent from the team that won this division a year ago. However, one player who returns is Philadelphia Flyers prospect Carter Hart. He is the two-time reigning WHL goalie of the year. Any team with the undisputed best goalie in the league always has a chance to be competitive, even in this talented division. The Silvertips also return Patrick Bajkov, their leading scorer last season. Draft eligible prospect Riley Sutter will provide another offensive threat up front. Orrin Centazzo had a strong pre-season, while imports Martin Fasko-Rudas and Pavel Azhgirei will be looked on to produce. On the blue line the Silvertips will rely on overager Kevin Davis to lead the group. Jake Christiansen will be asked to take on a bigger role than last year.
Players To Watch
Patrick Bajkov, Right Wing, Everett Silvertips
Bajkov is a pure sniper. He has a great shot and a tremendous release. While he has flashed passing skills from time to time, he looks to shoot the puck more often than not. Bajkov is also a good skater, with a quick first step and good acceleration. Defensively responsible, Bajkov is also used on the penalty kill.
Carter Hart, Goaltender, Everett Silvertips
Carter Hart has exceptionally fast reflexes. He gets in and out of the butterfly very quickly, and takes away the bottom of the net with extremely fast legs. He also is an aggressive goalie who makes himself seem bigger by taking full advantage of his ability to come out of the net and cut down angles. Strong skating, being able to move out and back quickly, as well as a good push and the ability to go side-to-side with ease allow Hart to fully take advantage of a style that sees him really challenge shooters and aggressively play the angles. He also has a quick glove hand.
Carter Hart is extremely athletic in the crease. While his technique is solid, and he is almost always square to the shooter, whether it be on a first shot or rebound, when he does get beaten he can make some incredible recoveries and reflex based stops. While most young goalies struggle with rebound control this is a strength of Hart’s game, as he often swallows up pucks or directs them into the corners, minimizing the number of second chance opportunities that he will face.
Kieffer Bellows, Right Wing, Portland Winterhawks
Like his father, Kieffer Bellows is a pure sniper. He has a tremendous wrist shot and release, as well as an excellent one-timer. His arsenal also features a heavy snap-shot, and good back hand. Bellows also has the soft hands, and quick reflexes, to get deflections and to pounce on rebounds and score in tight. He is not afraid to get his nose dirty, battling for space in front of the net. Bellows is more of a physically punishing forward than his father was, as he is willing to throw big hits when he gets in on that forecheck. He also shows excellent stick handling ability, and the agility to beat defenders one-on-one, either off the rush or in the cycle. Bellows uses his body to protect the puck in the cycle and extend plays.
Cody Glass, Centre, Portland Winterhawks
Glass has good hands, with the ability to stick handle in tight spaces and make moves one-on-one. He protects the puck extremely well down low, extending plays and keeping possession. He shields the puck well, using his body to keep defenders away, while also having the good balance to fight through checks. Glass is good in board battles, and could be even better as he adds some muscle to his frame. He also has the passing skills and vision to make his line mates better and put up points. Glass is an creative playmaker, finding a way to get the puck to a teammate, even when there doesn’t appear to be much of a lane to do so.
He also has a decent wrist shot and good release. Glass’ quick hands help him to finish plays in tight to the net. What really sets him apart offensively though is his hockey IQ. He is almost always in the right spot or making the correct play with the puck. He puts the puck into good areas, allowing a teammate to get it and make a play. Glass then finds an opening, and looks for a soft spot in the defense to get open for a return pass.
Henri Jokiharju, Defence, Portland Winterhawks
Jokiharju is a solid puck handler. He can lead the rush or join in as a trailer. He also has the poise to quarterback the play from the blue line. Jokiharju keeps his head up and makes smart passes. He can make the long stretch pass in transition, as well as make a cross ice pass to set-up a one-timer for a teammate. Jokiharju possesses excellent vision, the smarts to see plays developing before they happen, as well as the skill to fit the puck through tight openings. He makes those passing lanes a little less tight, through his excellent lateral mobility and poise with the puck. He can stand to improve his shot.
Jarret Tyszka, Defence, Seattle Thunderbirds
A Montreal Canadiens draftee, Tyszka is very strong defensively. His positioning and gap control are very good and make him extremely tough to beat in one-on-one situations. While Tyszka is not the type to look for huge hits, he is willing to play physical. He battles hard in the corners, and clears the front of the net effectively. Tyszka will need to get stronger to play this way at higher levels. He also has good positioning and an active stick that cuts down passing lanes. Tyszka is not afraid to put his body out there to block shots. He also shows some offensive skill, more as a shooter than play maker.
Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Centre, Spokane Chiefs
A Los Angeles Kings draftee, Anderson-Dolan uses his excellent skating to get in quickly on the forecheck, pressuring defenders into mistakes and creating turnovers. Once he does get a turnover, he uses his strength on the puck to extend possession. More a goal scorer than a play maker, Anderson-Dolan shows some decent vision and passing skill. Anderson-Dolan’s dogged determination is also an asset around the net. He scores goals in tight to the goalie by using his soft hands after driving the net, or by knocking in rebounds, or a short one-timer on a quick pass. His wrist shot is also a weapon from further out as he has surprising power, and a quick release.
Kailer Yamamoto, Left Wing/Right Wing, Spokane Chiefs
Drafted in the first round by the Edmonton Oilers, Yamamoto is undersized, but has tremendous skating ability. He also has dynamic skill, including outstanding hands. He is a great stick handler and can bury goals in tight. Yamamoto can make quick dekes in very tight spaces, helping him to beat defenders as well as goaltenders. Excellent hand-eye co-ordination allows Yamamoto to tip pucks on net. He developed a harder shot last year, but could use more power before being ready for the pros. The release on his wrist shot and snap shot is very quick, and helps him to fool goaltenders. He can release the puck without much of a wind-up. Yamamoto is more of a play maker than a goal scorer. He uses his quickness and stick handling to open up passing lanes. He has tremendous vision,
Morgan Geekie, Centre, Tri-City Americans
A Carolina Hurricanes prospect, Geekie creates most of his offense in the dirty areas of the ice. With the puck on his stick, he looks to manufacture offense by getting to the front of the net. From there he can dish the puck to a linemate through a tight opening, or finish in close. He has very good vision and makes smart plays with the puck. He also has the hands necessary to pounce on rebounds and to redirect shots into the net. Geekie has also really improved his one-timer, and loves to let it go from between the face-off circles. He usually fires either a quick wrist or snap shot, with good power and an excellent release. Geekie is not afraid to take punishment to make plays, and he battles hard in the corners and in front of the net.
Michael Rasmussen, Centre, Tri-City Americans
Drafted ninth overall by the Detroit Red Wings, Rasmussen has great size. His long reach makes it very hard to get the puck off of him, and he has the slick hands to control it in tight areas, or make plays in close to the goalie. This, along with his above average skating help him to extend plays in the cycle game, waiting for teammates to get open. His vision is very good, as is his ability to pass the puck through tight spaces. When scoring chances present themselves he can take advantage with a good pass. Rasmussen can also establish body position in front of the net and use his size as an effective screen. Rasmussen has the talent to bang in rebounds and tip-in shots. He also has a very heavy wrist shot, with good accuracy and an excellent release.
Juuso Valimaki, Defence, Tri-City Americans
Valimaki is an excellent skater. He has very good speed and acceleration in both directions. This allows him to join the rush and get back defensively. His edge work and pivots are also good, allowing him to play his two-way game and transition from offense to defence (and vice-versa) quickly. He also has the lateral agility to walk the line and open up passing and shooting lanes on the power play. Valimaki is not the flashiest player, but he does a lot really good things out there. His hockey IQ is very high, and he almost always seems to make the right play with the puck on his stick. He has the poise to control the puck and quarterback the play from the line, as well as the passing skill and vision to find open teammates on the power play.
2018 NHL Draft Prospects to Watch
Riley Sutter, Right Wing/Centre, Everett Silvertips
Sutter put up 20 goals and 39 points in 67 games for the Silvertips last season. The latest member of the famous Sutter clan, the son of Ron Sutter plays with the gritty style that has led to so many members of the team becoming NHL contributors. He brings offence with a good shot, the willingness to work down low and win battles in front of the net and in the corners, and a never say quit attitude. He also plays a strong two-way game.
Elijah Brown, Centre, Seattle Thunderbirds
The 5’9″ centre was the 15th overall pick in the the 2015 WHL Draft. He has the skating skill necessary to make up for his lack of size, with outstanding speed, edge work and agility. Brown is a play maker, with excellent vision and the ability to slip the puck through the tightest of openings. He has very good hockey IQ, anticipating where his teammates will be, and what opponents will do. Brown must add some core muscle and strength as he was knocked off the puck a little bit too easily last year.
Carl Stankowski, Goaltender, Seattle Thunderbirds
Stankowski is undersized for a goaltender, but has tremendous reflexes and quickness. He surprised many when he took over in the Thunderbirds crease at the start of the WHL playoffs. He surprised even more with his brilliant play in last year’s playoffs, taking the team to the WHL Championship. Stankowski will need to have the same type of play he had in the playoffs, and do it all season long, in order to overcome those size concerns and be drafted in June. Still with what he’s done so far, he’s an intriguing story to watch.
Ty Smith, Defence, Spokane Chiefs
The first overall pick in the 2015 WHL Draft, Smith put up 32 points in 66 games. He also captained Team Canada Black to a silver medal at the Under 17s. Smith is another excellent skater. He can rush the puck up the ice, or pinch in at the blue line and still cover up his spot defensively. His defensive game is based on smart positioning and a quick stick, but he must get stronger this season, to be better in front of the net and in the corners. He is a very good paser and can set things up on the rush or from the point on the power play. Smith has a good wrist shot, but could stand to improve his slap shot. He could be a top 10 pick in the NHL Draft.
2019 NHL Draft Prospects to Watch
Sasha Mutala, Right Wing, Tri-City Americans
The sixth overall pick of the 2016 WHL Draft, Mutala played in three games for the Americans last season. Americans general manager Bob Tory has said, “He is a dynamic offensive player who competes hard each and every shift.” He is more of a play maker than a goal scorer, and also does well on the forecheck and battling down low.