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Destinations for Draisaitl, Lazar and Reinhart? WHL’s best bets to leap up to the NHL

Kelly Friesen
Buzzing The Net

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It seems Leon Draisaitl's days in Prince Albert are over. (The Canadian Press)

It’s business as usual in major junior hockey to see elite talent skip their 19-year-old seasons to kick-start their NHL careers. But more WHL general managers than usual will be hoping and praying this year that their players will have strong showings at NHL camps, but not quite strong enough to earn a full-time spot.

The Prince Albert Raiders are the most vulnerable team to be poached of ’95 talent as Edmonton Oilers prized pick Leon Draisaitl and Winnipeg Jets first-rounder Josh Morrissey look ready to make the early jump.

It seems like a safe bet to say Draisaitl's days in Prince Albert are over. If he doesn’t crack the Oilers, reports have circulated that he will spend the year playing professional hockey in Europe. But it appears the odds of Draisaitl looking at his options overseas are slim to none because the Oilers are thinner than a runway model down the middle with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Boyd Gordon sitting on top of their centre depth chart. Moreover, the way Edmonton GM Craig McTavish was drooling over the German native at the 2014 entry draft appeared to be a good indication that he wanted him in the NHL sooner than later.

Do not expect a Nathan MacKinnon-like rookie season out of Draisaitl, though. He is physically ready with a 6-foot-1, 209-pound frame and seems to be mentally prepared for the pros; however, his lack of foot speed should keep him below the 40-point mark. It seems his development could play out similar to Columbus Blue Jackets centre Ryan Johansen, who struggled in his rookie year before blossoming into a star in his third season.

The 6-foot, 191-pound Morrissey made a strong case last year to indicate that he’s ready to make the early plunge into the NHL as a 19-year-old. He not only finished second among defenders in points with 28 goals and 73 points in 59 contests, but he also asserted himself as a more complete player.

The Jets have eight blueliners under one-way contracts, but only three — Zach Bogosian, Tobias Enstrom and Jacob Trouba — are above-average players. Winnipeg could use another impact player on the back end if Morrissey shows in training camp that he’s ready to take on that role. Not to mention, it should work to Morrissey's benefit that Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff is on the hot seat after missing the playoffs for the third straight year. He needs all of the help he can get to stay employed in Manitoba.

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Sam Reinhart seems ready to kick-start his NHL career.

The Buffalo Sabres don’t have a hole in their depth chart waiting for Kootenay Ice forward Sam Reinhart . Nonetheless, his elite skill set should force his way into their top nine. The 6-foot-1, 183-pounder, who was selected second overall in 2014, has rare offensive abilities and backs it up with a complete 200-foot game. It frankly would be shocking to see the North Vancouver native, who can play both centre and wing, return to Kootenay because he appears to have the potential to notch 50 points this year if he’s given top-six minutes.

The Jason Spezza trade created an opportunity for Edmonton Oil Kings centre Curtis Lazar to step into the Ottawa Senators lineup. He ultimately could become Ottawa’s No. 2 centre behind Kyle Turris if he transitions well to the pro game. Even if he struggles to put up points early on, though, the 6-foot, 196-pounder could fit in nicely in their bottom six because of his strong two-way game. Moreover, the first-round pick who notched 41 goals and 76 points in 58 games last year could be moved to the wing if David Legwand and Mika Zibanejad beat him out down the middle.

Everett Silvertips blueliner Mirco Mueller’s fate seems to be in his own hands. The San Jose Sharks have six one-way contracts and a couple of capable AHL defenders that can get the job done in the mix for jobs on the blue line. So how the 6-foot-4, 200-pound Switzerland native, who was selected 18th overall in the 2013 draft, does in training camp and pre-season should have a major effect on his imminent future.

The odds are against Portland Winterhawks forward Nicolas Petan to make the Jets, but his impressive stats make him worthy of an honourable mention. He has racked up 81 goals and 233 points in 134 games over the past two seasons, so it’s safe to say that he has nothing left to prove in the Dub. But the bottom line with the Delta, B.C., native is that he seems to be in a very similar situation to that of Jordan Weal when he was playing with the Regina Pats. No one denies that Petan is a dominant junior hockey player; however, there are concerns — mainly his smaller 5-foot-9, 173-pound stature — surrounding how smoothly his transition to the pros will be. This should keep Winnipeg from rushing him into the league.

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

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