2018-19 WHL Central Division Preview

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Dylan Cozens
CALGARY, AB - OCTOBER 15: Mark Kastelic #12 of the Calgary Hitmen battles for the puck against Dylan Cozens #24 of the Lethbridge Hurricanes during a WHL game at the Scotiabank Saddledome on October 15, 2017 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)

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 continue our division previews today as we make our way around the country.

You can check out all of this year’s Top Shelf Prospects articles here.

Check Out the WHL East Division, WHL B.C. Divison, and WHL U.S. Division Previews here.

2018-19 WHL Central Division

Top Three Contenders in Projected Order of Finish

Lethbridge Hurricanes

The Hurricanes have plenty of offensive firepower this year. Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Jordy Bellerive and top 2019 NHL Draft prospect Dylan Cozens give them a dynamic duo. Fellow 2019 eligible Logan Barlage, along with Jacob ElmerKelti Jeri-Leon, Taylor Ross, Jackson Shepard, and rookie Noah Boyko provide support. The defence features Calen Addison. He gets support from Igor Merezhko and Ty Prefontaine. The Hurricanes added New Jersey Devils prospect Akira Schmid to handle the goaltending duties.

Medicine Hat Tigers

The Tigers will have a very strong offensive team. Ryan Chyzowski, James Hamblin, Gary Haden, Ryan Jevne, Elijah Brown, Bryan Lockner and Josh Williams make up one of the deepest offensive groups in the WHL. The team also has the possibility (although small) of getting back star centre Mason Shaw. Shaw missed all of last season with a knee injury and given the lost time, the Minnesota Wild could send him back for an overage season. The defence is young and inexperienced and could be this team’s Achilles heel. They do have Jordan Hollett in goal, and he could mask some of the deficiencies.

Kootenay Ice

The Ice were hoping that their long rebuild would finally bear fruit last season. Instead, the team just missed the playoffs. That should not happen again. Peyton Krebs is a top prospect for the NHL draft. He is joined by 2020 prospect Connor McLennan and the two youngsters should reek havoc on opposing teams. Brett Davis, Cameron Hausinger, and Jaeger White provide veteran support. Jonathan Smart leads the team on defence, but overall, depth on the backend is the Ice’s biggest weakness. Duncan McGovern takes over as the team’s top goalie.

 

Players to Watch

Carl Stankowski, Goaltender, Calgary Hitmen

After leading Seattle to the WHL title in 2017, Stankowski was injured and missed all of last season. He now joins the Calgary Hitmen. 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 2017 WHL playoffs. He surprised even more with his brilliant play in those playoffs, taking the team to the WHL Championship. Stankowski is looking to bring the same type of play he had in those playoffs, and do it all season long, in order to overcome those size concerns and be drafted in his second go through the NHL draft next June. With what he’s done so far, he’s an intriguing story to watch.

Vladislav Yeryomenko, Right Defence, Calgary Hitmen

Undrafted in 2017, Yeryomenko was taken by the Nashville Predators in 2018. He has a long stride which is very good for generating straight line speed but could use some work on his agility and edgework. Yeryomenko is poised with the puck and makes smart decisions, both in the breakout and on the powerplay. He has very good vision and passing skills, starting the rush and quarterbacking the power play. He also has a very good slap shot and one-timer from the point.

Trey Fix-Wolansky, Right Wing, Edmonton Oil Kings

Fix-Wolansky is an undersized winger with excellent skating skills. He put up 32 goals and 89 points in 71 games. Undrafted in 2017, the Columbus Blue Jackets made him a seventh-round pick in the 2018 Draft. Despite his lack of size, Fix-Wolansky is willing to play a gritty game. He gets to the dirty areas of the ice and is able to make plays in traffic. Fix-Wolansky sees the ice well and can find seams to put a pass through and set up a scoring chance. He can also finish with an accurate wrist shot and good release.

Brett Davis, Right Wing, Kootenay Ice

A Dallas Stars prospect, Davis had 25 goals and 58 points in 72 games for the Ice last season. He is strong along the boards and brings this game in all three zones. Davis wins battles in the corners and retrieves loose pucks, getting them to the front of the net. He is strong on the puck and has good balance, which helps him to be effective in cycle game. Davis drives the net and can finish in close to the net. He is also good defensively and can play the penalty kill.

Calen Addison, Right Defence, Lethbridge Hurricanes

Drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins, Addison is an outstanding skater. This helps him to play a two-way game and be effective at both ends of the ice. He is one of the fastest skaters in the WHL, both forwards and backwards. His edgework, agility and pivots are also elite. Addison covers a ton of ice. He can transition quickly from offence to defence and vice-versa. Addison can join the rush or pinch in at the blue line and still get back defensively. He could use more core muscle to be better on the boards and in front of the net.

Addison has very good vision and passing skills, with the ability to start the transition game and play the point on the power play. He loves to drive offence and jumps into the play, both off the rush and pinching at the blue line. Addison also has the stickhandling ability to skate the puck out of danger, and even to lead the rush. Addison also has a very good snapshot and wrist shot. He gets them both off very quickly, with an excellent release. He sneaks down from the line, to get in position to use these shots from the top of the circle. His slap shot is good, but not great. Most importantly, is the fact that Addison gets his shots through traffic and on the net. His skating and poise allow him to walk the line and open up shooting lanes to get off those shots.

Jordy Bellerive, Centre, Lethbridge Hurricanes

Signed by the Penguins as a free agent, Bellerive is blossoming into a steal. He suffered serious injuries in an off-season campfire incident but is already back on the ice at Penguins camp, much earlier than expected. Bellerive combines his skating with great puck handling skill. He has soft hands and can create plays at top speed. He combines his skating and puck skills to create space, opening up passing and shooting lanes. Bellerive is at his best as a playmaker. He sees the ice extremely well and has the skill to make passes to teammates through tight openings. Bellerive might have picked up even more assists if he played for a more talented WHL club.

Bellerive has really developed his goal scoring in the past year. He always had a very good wrist shot with a quick release but is now more willing to use it. If defenders back off to respect his speed off the rush, he will fire a shot on net, using the defender as a screen. Bellerive is willing to play a gritty game and gets to the front of the net both with and without the puck. He has the soft hands to finish in close. Bellerive is not afraid to battle for loose pucks in the corners as well.

Ryan Chyzowski, Left Wing, Medicine Hat Tigers

Undrafted last year, Chyzowski put up 21 goals and 52 points in 72 games. His father, Dave Chyzowski was the second overall pick in the 1989 NHL Draft. Chyzowski has good speed and acceleration. If he gets a step on a defender, he can go wide and cut back to the net. He also has the agility to make quick cuts and create space that way. Chyzowski has a strong wrist shot. He also sees the ice well and can set up his linemates. He could stand to be more physical.

Mason Shaw, Centre, Medicine Hat Tigers

Mason Shaw has very good vision and passing skills. He can use his agility and edgework 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 the talent 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 snapshots. 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. He prefers to create things from the perimeter than to cut to the net, or battle in the crease area. This is an area that he will have to improve going forward. Playing off the side boards will work for him on the power play, but it is not clear if it will translate into production at even strength at the next level.

Alexander Alexeyev, Left Defence, Red Deer Rebels

Drafted by the Washington Capitals, Alexeyev has good vision and passing skills. He can start the play with a good pass out of his own end, as well as quarterback the play from the blue line. Alexeyev has the skating ability to retrieve dump-ins and loose pucks as well as the poise to move it out of danger in his own end. He can lead the rush but also makes smart passes to get the transition game going. Alexeyev does not force plays. If he is skating up the ice and does not like the way things look, he is not afraid to stop, turn back to his own end and try it again.

Alexeyev also has a hard slap shot but must find a way to get it through to the net and keep it low for teammates to grab deflections and rebounds. He needs to learn to use his agility to create better shooting and passing lanes from the point. When there is no lane there, he keeps the puck moving, and makes the safe play rather than try something creative to generate a scoring chance. When his shot is taken away, Alexeyev needs to do more, both with and without the puck to find open spaces and create shooting angles.

Alexeyev defends well on the rush, keeping opponents in front of him, and forcing them to the outside. He can throw a big hit when given the opportunity and makes good use of his physical capabilities that way. However, when he is defending in the zone, he can sometimes get himself out of position by looking to be more physical.

 

2019 NHL Draft Prospects to Watch

Matthew Robertson, Left Defence, Edmonton Oil Kings

Robertson had seven goals and 24 points in 67 games as a WHL rookie last season. While the stats might not show it, his mature two-way game has caught the eyes of scouts and earned him a spot on Team Canada for the Under 18s. Robertson has great size at 6-foot-3 and pairs this with excellent mobility. He skates well in both directions and has the pivots to transition from offence to defence quickly and vice versa. The skating ability has become the foundation of his two-way game. He could work on his agility to keep up with particularly shifty forwards.

Generally, Robertson has good gap control and keeps attackers to the outside on the rush. If they have their head down, he is not afraid to throw a big hit. However, he does not get caught out of position looking for one. He has a strong physical game in the corners and in front of the net. Robertson is a very good passer. This shows up in the transition game where he can start the rush from his own end. It also helps him at the point on the power play. Robertson has a good slap shot and a knack for getting it on the net.

Peyton Krebs, Centre, Kootenay Ice

The 1st overall pick in the 2016 WHL Draft, Krebs spent most of his first season in the league playing left wing for the Kootenay Ice. However, there is some question if he will be converted to centre in his second year in the league. Krebs put up 54 points in 67 games and led all WHL rookies in scoring. An outstanding skater, Krebs can create chances in transition due to his speed. He takes defenders wide and can cut to the net. He also has the ability to change direction on a dime making him difficult to contain one-on-one. If defenders back off to respect his speed, Krebs can take advantage of the added room by letting go a powerful and accurate wrist shot, with a quick release.

Krebs is best known for his playmaking ability though. He can thread the puck through extremely tight spaces, as well as make strong saucer passes. He is also good at passing the puck on his backhand. Krebs works hard in the defensive zone, supporting his teammates down low and working to break up passing lanes. He will need to add some muscle to his frame in the coming years.

Logan Barlage, Left Wing/Centre, Lethbridge Hurricanes

Barlage had seven goals and 20 points in his rookie season split between Swift Current and Lethbridge and Swift Current last year. He came into his own in the playoffs though, with five goals and eight points in 16 games. At six-foot-four and over 200 pounds, Barlage has the size and frame to play a power game. He wins battles on the boards, protects pucks in the cycle and causes havoc in front of the net. Barlage is a goal scorer. He has the soft hands to finish plays in tight to the net, as well as a strong wrist shot from further out.

Dylan Cozens, Centre, Lethbridge Hurricanes

Cozens put up 22 goals and 53 points in 57 games last season and earned WHL Rookie of the year honours. He has an excellent shot and a quick release as well as the soft hands to finish in close. Cozens is not afraid to get to the dirty areas of the ice, establishing position at the top of the slot, where he can fire in one-timers or provide the “high-screen” that many teams are using to great effect in recent years. Cozens also sees the ice very well. He controls the puck in the cycle game before dishing to an open teammate.

Cozens has good speed and agility, especially given his size. His first step is above average as is his acceleration. However, Cozens will need to add muscle to what is currently a lanky frame. This will help him to be more physical on the forecheck, as well as to better support his defence down low. He works hard in his own end, and he tends to be in the right position and make the right reads. However, added strength would make him a two-way force at the junior level.

Josh Williams, Right Wing, Medicine Hat Tigers

The fifth overall pick of the 2016 WHL Draft, Williams had 11 goals last season. He had a breakout performance at the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup with five goals and one assist in five games and helping Canada to a gold medal. He 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 excellent power on his wrist shot as well as a very good one-timer.

Oleg Zaitsev, Centre, Red Deer Rebels

The 17th overall pick in the 2018 CHL Import Draft, Zaitsev joins the Rebels from the Moscow Dynamo junior system. Coming in at 6-foot-1, Zaitsev has good size. He plays a two-way game, providing offence with strong passing skills and good vision. Zaitsev sees the ice well and makes smart decisions. He also has good positioning in his own end and is willing to backcheck and support the defence down low.

 

2020 NHL Draft Prospects to Watch

Connor McClennon, Centre, Kootenay Ice

Drafted second overall in the 2017 WHL Draft, McClennon is a speedster. He has a great first step and outstanding acceleration. McClennon creates issues on the rush with his ability to get behind defenders. He also has excellent hands and can use quick moves along with his changes in direction to create space and open up passing and shooting lanes. He is smart and makes the right plays with the puck on his stick. McClennon needs to add weight to his frame and improve his strength going forward but this is common for a 16-year-old.

Jake Neighbours, Left Wing, Edmonton Oil Kings

The fourth overall pick in the 2017 WHL Draft, Neighbours has decent size and a powerful stride. He can fight through checks and get to the front of the net. He has the soft hands to score on rebounds, tip-ins, and one-timers. Neighbours also sees the ice well and can set up teammates. He extends plays in the cycle game and this allows his linemates the opportunity to get open. When they do, he can make a tape-to-tape pass to set up a scoring chance. Neighbours is also reliable in his own end, working to provide back pressure and playing well positionally.

 

Check Out the WHL East Division, WHL B.C. Divison, and WHL U.S. Division Previews here.

 

Main Photo:
Embed from Getty Images

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