|North Bay Battalion|
|Owen Sound Attack|
|Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds|
|Acadie-Bathurst Titan||Baie-Comeau Drakkar|
|Blainville-Boisbriand Armada||Cape Breton Screaming Eagles|
|Charlottetown Islanders||Chicoutimi Sagueneens|
|Drummondville Voltigeurs||Gatineau Olympiques|
|Halifax Mooseheads||Moncton Wildcats|
|Quebec Remparts||Rimouski Oceanic|
|Rouyn-Noranda Huskies||Saint John Sea Dogs|
|Shawinigan Cataractes||Sherbrooke Phoenix|
|Val-d'Or Foreurs||Victoriaville Tigres|
The 2012 NHL Draft is set for June 22nd and 23rd at the Consol Energy Centre in Pittsburgh, PA, as NHL clubs prepare to stock their systems with the next wave of young, upcoming talents.
One of the leading suppliers of talent to the NHL, the Western Hockey League has seen 1,795 players selected since the NHL Draft’s inception in 1969.
This year, expect to see plenty of Western Hockey League defencemen chosen early as the WHL boasts many of the top-rated rearguards available in the draft.
The Edmonton Oilers hold the No. 1 pick for a third straight season. Last year, the Oilers used the first overall pick to take Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Red Deer Rebels. Nugent-Hopkins became the first WHL player to be selected first overall since 1996 when the Ottawa Senators chose defenceman Chris Phillips of the Prince Albert Raiders.
While Russian forward Nail Yakupov of the OHL’s Sarnia Sting is the top-ranked player in NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings of 2012 draft-eligible players, it’s not a stretch to suggest they may consider tapping the WHL’s pool of elite group of defencemen with their pick.
Topping that list is Ryan Murray of the Everett Silvertips. The 18-year-old from White City, SK, is ranked No. 2 on NHL Central Scouting’s list, right behind Yakupov, and is considered the most NHL-ready and well-rounded rearguard available in the 2012 draft.
A solid, reliable and confident two-way defender with terrific leadership skills, Murray plays a very strong and effective defensive game. His skating and mobility, combined with a quick stick and great vision, enable Murray to separate players from the puck and make him incredibly difficult to beat in one-on-one situations. He also boasts great poise and makes good decisions with the puck. Murray’s talents also make him effective on the attack as well, having put up 20 goals and 104 points in 168 career WHL contests.
“He’s just a very intelligent player that is effective in all situations,” director of NHL Central Scouting Dan Marr told NHL.com. “His skating and skills are deceptively good, and there is a defensive side to his game that we think may be a bit underrated.”
Murray, the Silvertips’ first-round pick in the 2008 WHL Bantam Draft, already has three full seasons of WHL seasoning under his belt, and boasts an extensive hockey resume. The 6’1”, 195-lb rearguard suited up for Canada’s Under-18 team on three occasions, played for Canada’s national junior team at the 2012 World Junior Championship, and also played for Canada’s national men’s team at the 2012 World Championship.
The list of top-end WHL defencemen available for the 2012 NHL Draft doesn’t stop at Ryan Murray, however. Four other WHL rearguards are among the top 12 skaters in NHL Central Scouting’s rankings.
NHL clubs looking for an infusion of offense from the blue line need not look further than Morgan Rielly of the Moose Jaw Warriors. Rielly, a product of Vancouver, B.C., missed all but 18 regular-season games during the 2011-12 campaign due to a knee injury. However, that didn’t stop NHL CSS from putting the 6’0”, 197-lb rearguard at No. 5 on their final ranking list.
An incredible skater with outstanding puck skills, Rielly is an exciting player who brings perhaps the best pure offensive abilities of any defenceman available in the draft.
“He’s an intelligent, poised puck-rushing defender with very good playmaking ability from the back end,” International Scouting Service director Dennis MacInnis commented to Kelly Friesen of Buzzing The Net. “He is the kind of player that can create havoc and change the game at the blink of an eye.”
On the flip side, an NHL team seeking some size and defensive strength will likely have Edmonton Oil Kings’ rearguard Griffin Reinhart high on their list. The 6’4”, 202-lb West Vancouver, B.C., native, ranked 10th in NHL CSS’ final rankings, is a strong, intimidating presence in the defensive zone, and can also make an impact in the offensive zone with his passing skills and heavy shot from the point.
Having helped the Oil Kings to the best regular-season record and the WHL championship this past season, Reinhart looks to follow in his older brother Max’s footsteps and hear his name called on NHL draft day.
“He’s a big defenseman who can play the game in any situation,” said Edmonton Oil Kings’ general manager Bob Green, who selected Reinhart in the first round of the 2009 WHL Bantam Draft.
“He can log a lot of minutes and thrives on lots of playing time, he moves the puck very well, defends very well and rarely gets caught out of position, and has good offensive tools,” said Green. “Obviously, his size and physical make-up are what stand out about him, but he brings a lot more to the game, too.”
Coming in right behind Reinhart on NHL CSS’ rankings is Red Deer Rebels’ rearguard Mathew Dumba. The 2010 WHL Rookie of the Year, Dumba plays an exciting game that blends a creative and thrilling offensive flair with an ability play a hard-hitting, physical style.
A product of Calgary, AB, Dumba put up 20 goals this season for the Rebels after notching 15 tallies as a rookie in 2010-11. With excellent skating ability, offensive talent and penchant for throwing big hits, Dumba also boasts great leadership skills, having recently captained Canada’s Under-18 team to a Bronze medal at the 2012 World Under-18 Championship while leading the tournament in scoring.
"Dumba is more of the run-and-gun…a gunslinger-type of guy," NHL Central Scouting’s David Gregory told NHL.com. "He has a ton of skills and is a guy who will come at you hard in the corners and plow you down.
The fifth WHL defenceman among NHL Central Scouting’s top 12 is Derrick Pouliot of the Portland Winterhawks. A former first overall WHL Bantam Draft pick, Pouliot is a smooth-skating, offensively inclined defender with outstanding passing skills who has ‘Future Power Play Quarterback’ written all over him.
The native of Weyburn, SK, is coming off an outstanding campaign with the Winterhawks, piling up 11 goals and 59 points in 72 games, and another 17 points in 22 playoff contests to help the Hawks reach the WHL Championship series for a second consecutive year.
“This is a kid who is a bit underrated, in our estimation,” said Marr. “His hockey IQ was very smart…He’s not a big guy, but he’s not intimidated by anything. He just makes the right plays at the right time, and gets things done.”
Though the top five WHL draft-eligible rearguards may not be on the board for very long when the first round of the 2012 NHL Draft gets underway on Friday night in Pittsburgh, there are other WHL defensemen who could also hear their names called sooner rather than later.
Dalton Thrower of the Saskatoon Blades and Damon Severson of the Kelowna Rockets are two rearguards who have seen their stock rise throughout the 2011-12 WHL season.
Thrower, a product of North Vancouver, B.C., is a strong two-way defenceman who plays a hard-nosed, physical game and can also be a key contributor in the attack zone. Likened to Vancouver Canucks’ Kevin Bieksa, Thrower put up 18 goals and 54 points in 66 games for the Blades this season and also played in the 2012 Home Hardware CHL / NHL Top Prospects game.
Severson, a native of Melville, SK, joins a long list of highly-touted defence prospects to come out of the Rockets’ system. A strong skater with a big frame, Severson possesses very good defensive traits. His ability to block shots is among the best in the WHL, and he uses his size well in the defensive zone to muscle players off pucks and win battles along the boards.
WHL.ca 2012 NHL Top Prospect Profiles
May 30 – Colton Sissons, Kelowna Rockets
June 5 – Derrick Pouliot, Portland Winterhawks
June 7 – Matt Dumba, Red Deer Rebels
June 12 – Griffin Reinhart, Edmonton Oil Kings
June 14 – Morgan Reilly, Moose Jaw Warriors
June 19 – Ryan Murray, Everett Silvertips
June 21 – WHL – NHL Draft, Special Feature
June 22 & 23 – 2012 NHL Draft