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CHL Countdown: Top 10 new faces to keep an eye on in the Dub

Kelly Friesen
Buzzing The Net

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Seth Jones (Getty Images)

Even though the Western Hockey League's upcoming season is still over two months away, it's never too early to look ahead at the highly-regarded young guns expected to make the jump to major junior hockey.

This year's crop of up-and-coming stars looks promising. For the most part, these youngsters already have their feet wet. All 10 of them have either already suited up in the WHL or have played with the best of their age group in International tournaments.

Without further ado, here is a look at Yahoo's top 10 new faces to keep an eye on in the Dub's upcoming 2012-13 season.

1. Seth Jones, defence, Portland Winterhawks — The rich get richer saying came to life in Portland when the Winterhawks acquired the rights to Seth Jones from the Everett Silvertips and later convinced him to choose the major junior route over the NCAA.

The 17-year-old, who is the son of former NBA player Popeye Jones, could ultimately be one of the top players, let alone defencemen, in the Dub next year. After all, Jones is regarded as one of the top talents of the 2013 draft class along with Halifax Mooseheads centre Nathan Mackinnon.

The 6-foot-3, 201-pounder was a force on the back end of the United States Development Program last year, posting eight goals and 31 points in 52 games. Jones is expected to fill the Winterhawks' void on blueline from losing Joe Morrow to the pros. He should fit in nicely beside Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Derrick Pouliot. The Jones-Pouliot tandem has the potential to be the best defensive paring in the CHL.

2. Jake Virtanen, centre/wing, Calgary Hitmen — Virtanen lining up against Edmonton Oil Kings star Curtis Lazar has the makings of a very exciting battle of Alberta. Both forwards have the potential to be top-10 draft picks in their respective draft years.

Despite racking up 120 penalty minutes, Virtanen found the time to score 17 goals and 39 points in 39 games for the Fraser Valley Bruins in the British Columbia Major Midget League. These stats are a telling point for how the 5-foot-11, 163-pounder plays the game. He plays with an edge, going through opponents rather than around them.

Hitmen fans were lucky enough to get a taste of what the first-overall pick of the 2011 bantam draft has to offer last year. Virtanen suited up for nine games in a Hitmen uniform, netting an impressive three goals and four points.

3. Brayden Point, centre, Moose Jaw Warriors — Point dazzled spectators in his playoff stint in Moose Jaw. The 5-foot-8, 161-pound centre notched an outstanding seven goals and 10 points in 14 games, finishing tied for eighth in post-season goals.

No one expected Point to produce as he did for the Warriors in the playoffs. However, considering his track record, maybe it shouldn't have been as much of a surprise as it was. The 16-year-old scored 19 goals and 41 points throughout 32 games in his rookie season in AAA minor midget with the Calgary Buffaloes. He also notched two goals and four points in a four-game stint with the Canmore Eagles of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.

Point will receive plenty of opportunity to munch up major minutes in Moose Jaw next year. The Warriors will be losing the likes of Florida Panthers prospect Quinton Howden, St. Louis Blues prospect Cody Beach, Cam Braes, and James Henry to the pros.

4. Joonas Korpisalo, goaltender, Prince George Cougars — After finishing dead last

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Joonas Korpisalo (zimbio)

in the Western Conference standings, the Cougars added puck-stopper Joonas Korpisalo with the fifth pick of the import draft to try to cut down the number of times their goal light turns on next year.

Although a lot can happen between now and the opening night of the WHL season, Korpisalo is expected to replace Drew Owsley between the pipes in Prince George next year as their No. 1 goaltender.

The 6-foot-2, 168-pounder spent last season in Finland. He played with Jokerit U-20, maintaining a remarkable 2.04 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage. This impressive play didn't just catch the eyes of the Cougars scouting staff. It also obviously grabbed the attention of the Columbus Blue Jackets scouts considering he was drafted 62nd overall by them in the 2012 NHL entry draft.

5. Ryan Pilon, defence, Lethbridge Hurricanes — Standing 6-foot-2, 197-pounds at 15-years-old, Pilon has the potential to become the next prominent shutdown blueliner in the WHL.

Pilon starred on the Beardy's Blackhawks' blueline this year, netting eight goals and 24 points in 32 games. The nephew of former NHLer Rich Pilon also stood out at both end of the ice for Team Canada at the Youth Olympic Games, scoring three goals and five points in six games.

The native of Duck Lake, Sask., who was the third-overall pick of the 2011 bantam draft, will be counted on to bring stability to the Hurricanes' defensive zone along with recently acquired puck-stopper Ty Rimmer.

6. Brycen Martin, defence, Swift Current Broncos — Martin, who was the second-overall pick of the 2011 bantam draft, will be a nice addition to the Broncos' blueline alongside the likes of New Jersey Devils prospect Reece Scarlett and Detroit Red Wings prospect Richard Nedomlel. He will not only receive ample opportunity, but he will also have a strong supporting cast to show him the ropes.

Martin had an excellent rookie season with the Calgary Buffaloes last year, scoring six goals and 17 points in 25 games. The 6-foot-1, 161-pounder also showed he can play with an edge, racking up 65 penalty minutes.

7. Leon Draisaitl, wing, Prince Albert Raiders — Selected second overall in the 2012 import draft, the Raiders have high hopes for Leon Draisaitl to help turn their franchise around from their previous last-place finish.

The 6-foot, 179-pound winger shined for Germany at the U-18 world junior championship, scoring two goals and seven points in six games. This outstanding performance and Prince Albert's confidence in being able to convince him to play in North America this year is why he was selected this high in the import draft.

8. Reid Duke, centre, Lethbridge Hurricanes — Hurricanes fans seen a bright future in Lethbridge during Duke's call-up stint last year. The 5-foot-10, 161-pound centre didn't look out of place in the Dub at all, tallying two goals and five points throughout seven games.

The 16-year-old's nickname in Calgary last year was Point-Per-Game Duke because of his superb consistency. He scored 13 goals and 29 points throughout 29 regular-season games for the Calgary Royals in midget AAA. He also netted two goals and five points in five games for the Calgary South Flames at the Alberta Cup.

If Duke, along with Lethbridge's 2010 first-round bantam pick Jay Merkley and recent first-round bantam pick Giorgio Estephan all live up to their potential — the Hurricanes should be an offensive powerhouse in a couple years.

9. Jordan Thomson, defence, Kamloops Blazers — Thomson may be slightly more distinguished than some of the other high-end bantam picks of the 2011 draft because he already has two years of major-midget hockey under his belt. The 5-foot-11 169-pounder starred on the Southwest Cougars' blueline the past two years, notching a total of eight goals and 45 points in 75 games.

Thomson, who was the 2011 fourth-overall bantam pick, is regarded as a complete player by scouts. That being said, the Blazers should be able to count on the Manitoba native to make a strong impact at both ends of the ice for at least the next two seasons.

10. Conner Bleackley, centre, Red Deer Rebels — Red Deer's offence took a huge hit in last year's offseason by losing Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to the Edmonton Oilers. It definitely showed on paper. The Rebels scored 64 less goals last year than their previous season with Nugent-Hopkins in the lineup.

No one is expecting Bleackley to replace The Nuge. Nevertheless, Rebels Nation is hoping he will help them try fill the evident scoring hole left by the No. 1 pick of the 2011 NHL draft.

Bleakley, who scored two goals in 16 games for Red Deer this year, already possesses a man's frame. He stands 5-foot-11, 194-pounds. This imposing stature for a 16-year-old helped him take no time to adapt to AAA midget hockey last year. He posted 13 goals and 30 points in 26 games and racked up 41 minutes in the sin bin for the UFA Bisons.

Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen

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