Dave Brunner Photography
As we reach the one month mark of the 2013-14 WHL season, we bear witness to many surprises throughout the league. But through the overachieving and underachieving teams and players, Sam Reinhart has done more than enough to maintain his ranking atop the list of draft eligible players. Currently sitting second in the WHL scoring race, Reinhart has been nothing short of dominant for the Kootenay Ice. He and linemate Jaedon Deschenau have separated themselves by a wide margin in the team’s scoring race, with the two complimenting each other perfectly. There is nothing that hasn’t been said about Reinhart so far; but he continues to prove that he’s an elite player and, should he stay healthy, looks to be a near lock for a top three selection next June.
Red Deer Rebels defender Haydn Fleury didn’t jump out to the same start that Reinhart did, but has settled into a nice groove with the Rebels, providing them with a reliable, talented top pairing defenseman. Fleury seems to play above his years, consistently chipping in offensively while not allowing his defensive assignments to suffer. A testament to his maturity may be the fact that Fleury has yet to notch a penalty minute through 12 games this year.
Leon Draisaitl has continued to be a dominant – albeit somewhat quiet – player for the Prince Albert Raiders. Averaging more than a point per game, the big winger has consistently put up points for the Raiders thus far this season, and on three occasions has notched three point efforts. Following in the same sort of mold is Calgary Hitmen winger Jake Virtanen, who hasn’t gotten off to the start that his talent would seem to allow. Virtanen has a lethal shot and can match up physically with most defenders in this league, but simply hasn’t shown the consistent play that one would expect from a former #1 overall bantam pick.
Heading into the year, it certainly looked as though Swift Current blueliner Brycen Martin was primed for big things, but he has since seen himself surpassed on his team’s depth chart by eye opening European rookie Julius Honka. Martin has been relegated to the team’s second powerplay unit, and has performed pretty well under the circumstances, but will need to be more consistent than he has been in the month of October, which has only seen him register one point thus far. Down the road in Moose Jaw, diminutive Warriors center Brayden Point hasn’t fared much better. After registering one point in each of his team’s first six games, Point has only notched one assist in the next seven. Staying East, Brandon Wheat Kings center Jayce Hawryluk has performed well, playing at nearly a point per game pace and helping lead one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference. At this point, Hawryluk has to be considered a bit of a sleeper for the 2014 NHL Draft.
Moving West, Chase de Leo’s high octane Portland Winterhawks remain one of the league’s more dangerous teams offensively. The smallish center put up 7 points in 4 games to start the year, before cooling off and playing more like a second line player. In Kelowna, Tyson Baillie leads the team in scoring with 14 points in 10 games, also boasting a team best +8 rating. At the other end of the spectrum, Rourke Chartier has gotten off to a fairly slow start; scoring just 3 times and adding 1 assist in 9 games played. All three of these players are talented offensively, while being able to chip in two-way play to support their teams in their own end.
Conner Bleackley, C, Red Deer Rebels
Admittedly, I overlooked Connor Bleackley as the season began. I definitely expected him to be on this list at one point or another, but never guessed that after just one month of play, he would have nearly matched his point totals from last year and risen into my top-5. A big body that’s difficult to play against in all three zones, Bleackley is becoming a breakout power forward for the Red Deer Rebels, and if he keeps up his play for the entire season, may hear his name called in the first round.
Julius Honka, D, Swift Current Broncos
Julius Honka has been a revelation for the Broncos through the early part of the season, sitting tied for his team’s lead in points as of this writing. Honka plays the game like an extra forward, joining the rush and competing in every part of the offensive zone. He will need to continue to work on his defensive zone play, which may best be improved by reading the play better as he drops back out of the offensive zone. Strength will be an issue for the undersized defenseman, but he shows a clear willingness to mix it up physically if he needs to.
Brayden Point, C, Moose Jaw Warriors
Point fell off of my list entirely, after being listed sixth in my preliminary ranking. After jumping out to a respectable start, Point and the Warriors have struggled mightily, currently sitting 11th among the 12 Eastern conference teams. With size working against him, Point has to put up solid numbers to be an effective player and get himself enough exposure. The bright side: there is plenty of season left, and Point plays on a team with some pretty gifted offensive players.
Rourke Chartier, C, Kelowna Rockets
Finding himself passed on the depth chart early on by talented 16-year-old Nick Merkley (2015), Chartier’s month of October has been one to forget, with zero points and a -2 rating through seven games. Chartier is a talented kid that can play in all situations, but will need to rediscover the scoring touch that saw him net 30 points in 58 games last year. Much like Point, it will be difficult to garner enough exposure if he doesn’t rediscover his scoring touch.
Tags: Sam Reinhart | Leon Draisaitl | Haydn Fleury | Connor Bleackley | Brycen Martin | Tyson Baillie | Chase de Leo | Jayce Hawryluk | Jake Virtanen | Julius Honka | Rourke Chartier | Brayden Point | 2014 nhl draft | 2014 nhl draft prospects | whl |
|1. C Sam Reinhart
|2. D Aaron Ekblad
|3. C Michael Dal Colle
|4. C Leon Draisaitl
|Prince Albert Raiders
|5. C William Nylander
|6. LW Nick Ritchie
|7. D Haydn Fleury
|Red Deer Rebels
|8. D Roland McKeown
|9. LW Sam Bennett
|10. C Jared McCann