November 17, 2011
As expected, the Western Hockey League was led by their five highly touted defencemen in NHL's Central Scouting's preliminary draft rankings.
The only uncertainty among these blueliners is who will go ahead of who in the draft. One could make a case for any of the five as being the best NHL prospect.
The Everett Silvertips' Ryan Murray is definitely the most established of the five. He's currently playing in his third season in the Dub; and was named the Silvertips' team captain this year. With Murray being the only one of the five invited to tryout for Team Canada's world junior team last year, it seems he has the best odds of representing his country this winter. If Murray does indeed make it past Canada's final cuts, a strong performance in the tournament could ultimately separate him as the top-defenceman in his draft class.
With the other four defencemen all standing around 6-feet, Griffin Reinhart's 6-foot-4, 208-pound frame will definitely have him stand out in size. Although most assess Reinhart as a shutdown defenceman, he can also move the puck. The Edmonton Oil Kings' pivot has already tallied three goals and eight points in 15 games. The combination of Reinhart's size, shutdown ability, and offensive skills will definitely make him a hot commodity on the draft floor.
The most exciting defenceman to watch is undoubtedly Red Deer Rebels' Mathew Dumba. He brings a ton of energy every game — throwing bone crushing hits, scoring on end-to-end rushes, and dropping the gloves in toe-to-toe tilts. Few can affect the momentum of a game like Dumba does. It's no wonder he's elicited comparisons to former Rebel and current Toronto Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf.
The Portland Winterhawks' Derrick Pouliot quite possibly has the strongest offensive instincts of the five. The native of Weyburn, Sask., scored five goals and 30 points last year; and has sniped five goals and 16 points this season. His remarkable offensive pizazz has been compared to that of Kitchener Rangers' Ryan Murphy, who was selected 12th overall by the Carolina Hurricanes in last year's draft.
With Moose Jaw Warriors' Morgan Rielly suffering a knee injury that has put him out of action for anywhere from four to nine months, how smoothly his recovery goes will unquestionably effect his draft stock. Prior to his unfortunate injury, Rielly was touted by some as the best blueliner of the five. He seemed to be on the verge of a major breakout season, scoring three goals and 18 points in 17 games. Although his injury woes can only hurt his popularity on the draft floor, many reporters and scouts still believe he'll be a top-10 pick in the draft.
Five omissions to take note of
Toy Bourke, winger, Prince George Cougars — Bourke's 19 goals and 42 points last season was the most among WHL forwards up for the 2012 draft, so it seemed he was easily one of the top goal scorers among his age group. With that said, why Bourke was left off of Central Scouting's WHL list is definitely a head scratcher.
Standing 5-foot-10, 170-pounds, he doesn't have the most imposing stature; but he still stands taller than the Regina Pats' Chandler Stephenson, who was ranked seventh, and Winterhawks' Brendan Leipsic, who was ranked 19th. Despite the lack of credit being given to Bourke, don't be surprised to see him being handed an NHL jersey next June.
Jaynen Rissling, defence, Calgary Hitmen — He is tough to miss at 6-foot-4 and 222 pounds, but Rissling went unaccounted for on Thursday.
The hulking defenceman has played a shutdown role for the Hitmen. He's logged big minutes against opponents' top talents on the penalty kill and even strength. This hard nosed style has made Rissling a well-known blueliner in the Dub. As Future Considerations' columnist Cody Nickolet put it, "He's big, he can skate, he can move the puck, and he plays with toughness. If he gets lost in the shuffle, he could be one of the draft's sleepers."
Josh Hanson, defence, Portland Winterhawks — Playing on a stacked Winterhawks blueline makes it hard for Hanson to grab attention. But similar to the Prince Albert Raiders' Harrison Ruopp, who was selected 84th overall by the Phoenix Coyotes in June, Hanson's strong play in his own end is definitely noteworthy.
A telling point for Hanson's draft stock will be whether he's able to improve his offensive play. If so, the 6-foot-3, 201-pounder will undoubtedly get a couple looks from NHL clubs.
Reid Gow, defence, Spokane Chiefs — Gow's game has been a work in progress but there's a lot to like about him. The 6-foot, 185-pounder has held his own in his own end and shown flashes of superb offensive skills. Gow has impressed by transitioning the puck up the ice smoothly and showing strong offensive instincts. He has one goal and eight points in 15 games thus far this season. If he's able to keep up his scoring success, scouts will quickly take notice of the 17-year-old.
Daulton Siwak, winger, Red Deer Rebels — When it comes to pound for pound strength, few in this season's draft class can match Siwak. This uncanny strength has made the 6-foot, 190-pounder a force along the boards and in front of the net. However, a concern with Siwak is whether he maxes out as an energy player or becomes a top-line goal scorer. Ultimately, this could determine whether Siwak's hockey career will surpass the junior ranks.
Kelly Friesen is a Western Hockey League writer for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen (photo: Western Hockey League).