Smaht Scouting | A Look Into Our Draft Rankings: WHL

Independent scouting for NHL, QMJHL, OHL, WHL, USHL and NCAA teams

Photo Credit: Candice Ward / Calgary Hitmen

Post written by Matthew Somma

Nobody is going to agree wholeheartedly with a site’s draft list. Either a player is too high, too low, or left out entirely. Obviously, scouts are going to view players differently and there’s always going to be some disagreements whenever a list is posted. I had the idea to go through our list, look at all of the WHL (and some Junior A) players we ranked and provide some context for our rankings.

Matthew Savoie – 6th Overall

Savoie has some of the highest upside in this class and has shown flashes of brilliance this year. He might be one of the best pure offensive players in this draft class, but I’ve had concerns about his ability to attack the middle of the ice at the NHL level. His game is projectable and he should be a strong NHL player, but other players have risen above Savoie’s level, in my opinion. It’s entirely possible that Savoie becomes one of the top producing players from this draft class. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that he does. He’s a strong skater and has elite hockey sense, playmaking and scoring ability. Savoie commands your attention when he’s on the ice and can maintain his production under any level of pressure.

Kevin Korchinski – 13th Overall

Early on in the season, I would have laughed if you had told me that this is where I’d be ranking Korchinski. I didn’t like his game at all and was unable to see why scouts liked him so much. Now, I see a player that can run an offense both in transition and on the blue line. Korchinski is an excellent passer and skater that doesn’t sacrifice defensive responsibility. He’s able to dominate a shift better than most other defensemen in the WHL this season, regardless of their age. His game is projectable, and if he can continue to develop physically and defensively, he’s a near sure bet for a team’s top four. I would have been comfortable ranking Korchinski as high as 9th on our list, as I had him on a similar level as Simon Nemec. Ultimately, we went with Nemec and bumped Korchinski down a bit.

Denton Mateychuk – 16th Overall

I want Mateychuk to be an NHL player so badly. There aren’t many, if any, defensemen that play like he does. He’s a player that constantly seeks out offense and will go all-out every shift. Defense be damned, Mateychuk is going to find a way to turn a routine play into offense. Mateychuk is a unicorn. While most defensemen quarterback but ultimately dish the puck to a teammate, Mateychuk is the catalyst of his team’s offense. It’s almost as if Moose Jaw has a fourth forward on the ice whenever Mateychuk is out there. Mateychuk might be one of the most polarizing players in this draft class, in my opinion. You’re getting a player that is elite offensively, but at the same time, a player that struggles in his own end as well as with decision making when it comes to exit passes and pinches along the boards. Mateychuk could work in a high octane system, but there are very few teams that implement a system that will unlock Mateychuk’s full potential. I felt that ranking Mateychuk 16th is fair because even though his upside is much higher than Korchinski’s, Mateychuk’s game is far less projectable.

Jagger Firkus – 21st Overall

Firkus rose up my board rapidly this season. I love his offensive game and he’s one of the more potent goal scorers in this draft. His shot release is lethal and a threat from anywhere in the offensive zone, after all. I’ve seen a much more engaged player than I did early on this year, which has helped him up the draft board. Firkus is now an active forechecker and will pressure players in the defensive zone, something I didn’t see at all back in October. Firkus being the second WHL forward on our rankings may be a bit of a surprise given the fact that Conor Geekie hasn’t been ranked yet, but I see Firkus making more of an impact on a team’s second line than Geekie. Firkus isn’t perfect and will need some time to develop, but I felt that it was a no-brainer to rank him ahead of Geekie, especially given what I saw in the WHL playoffs.

Conor Geekie – 30th Overall

Out of all of the members of the Smaht staff, I might be the one that likes Geekie the most. That’s saying something, because I have major doubts about Geekie’s NHL upside and overall game. He doesn’t attack the middle of the ice, he’s not carrying the puck in transition, his skating is a liability and his defensive zone play is poor. That doesn’t scream top six center to me. I have concerns that Geekie won’t be as effective in the offensive zone once he leaves the WHL, too. He’s able to bully the WHL due to his size and strength, but once he graduates to the pros, that’ll no longer be the case. Yes, there’s a good chance that Geekie is an NHL player after three to four years. I just don’t believe that Geekie is a top six forward at the NHL level. Ultimately, I decided that Geekie was worth a selection in the 25-32 range, and we as a staff settled on 30. You’re likely getting a player that will play NHL games when you pick Geekie, and it’s a fairly safe pick if you’re okay with sacrificing upside.

Owen Pickering – 33rd Overall

Pickering is a late bloomer and I’m almost convinced that this ranking will come back to bite me in the future. My biggest concerns with Pickering were his passing and his overall play in transition and the offensive zone. Pickering’s passing is a weak point and he often turns the puck over because he is either unable to execute the pass or he has failed to see the defender in the lane. Pickering’s offensive game and play in transition are limited due to his passing being a weakness. Still, I’ve seen tangible growth from him this season and it’s hard to find a defenseman at his size that’s as smooth of a skater as Pickering is. If his passing ability doesn’t improve as much as I hope it will, Pickering is only going to be a third pairing defenseman at best. If he is able to round out his game, however, we’re looking at another potential top four defenseman at the NHL level. For the sheer potential, I had Pickering in a similar range to Geekie. I could have ranked him 25-35, and I wouldn’t argue if someone put him higher than 33rd.

Rieger Lorenz – 51st Overall

Lorenz has a great mix of size, speed and two way ability that makes him a solid prospect for this draft. I’ve loved watching Lorenz on the penalty kill this season and I’m seeing a player that could be ready for the NHL as soon as he finishes up at Denver. I’m unsure of Lorenz’s upside since he’s coming from the AJHL, but I could see him as a solid third line center capable of playing in all situations. The depth in this draft tapers off significantly after a while, so I felt that ranking Lorenz 51st would be fair since he has a solid projection as an NHL player.

Reid Schaefer – 55th Overall

I like Schaefer and Lorenz roughly the same. Schaefer is a more gifted goal scorer, and Lorenz is a little better defensively. Schaefer rose up my board significantly late in the season and in the WHL playoffs, too. I’ve watched Seattle closely this postseason and he has been one of their most dangerous forwards on a consistent basis. His size and skating make him a threat when he’s on the ice, and his shot release is near perfect. Schaefer has finally come into his own as a player, so I felt that ranking him a little higher than consensus was justified.

Mats Lindgren – 63rd Overall

Lindgren has a lot of potential as a passer in the offensive zone, and his skating is smooth and effortless, but I don’t like the rest of his game. He’s awful with exit passes and turns the puck over at an alarming rate. Defensively, he’s unable to knock players off of the puck and can’t get in the shooting or passing lanes and disrupt the play. He’s fairly one-dimensional and doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence. I liked Lindgren early on, but as the season went on, it became clear that teams could exploit his weaknesses with little difficulty. Lindgren’s offensive potential makes him worth a swing at this point in the draft, which is why I ranked him here. Lindgren’s upside isn’t as high as that of Korchinski or Mateychuk, and the flaws in his game are easier to exploit. I ranked Lindgren in the 61-80 tier and he wound up at 63 in our final rankings.

Matthew Seminoff – 67th Overall

Seminoff is a pest to play against and fits the bill of a bottom six energy forward. I see flashes of higher upside in his game, but my brain tells me that Seminoff likely peaks as a 30-35 point NHL player. My heart wants to believe that he can turn into a stronger offensive presence, but I don’t see enough elite skill in his game. He’s dependable, though, and will be an easy player to coach due to how hard he works in all three zones. Seminoff’s tenacity on the forecheck and play below the goal line made me comfortable ranking him anywhere from 60-70 in spite of his lower upside.

Mikey Milne – 73rd Overall

This was a ranking where I deferred to Josh and Austin. I like Milne, but I felt that my own personal biases got in the way a bit here. Milne is very close to being a double overage player for this draft, so I felt that at this point in his WHL career, he should be putting up these sorts of totals. Still, Milne’s game fits an NHL style and I could see a team taking him this high in the draft if they’re looking for an immediate boost to their prospect pool. Personally, I would have ranked Milne in the 100-128 range due to his age. No disrespect to the player, I just worry about overage players being a little overhyped in this draft due to a lack of viewings last year.

Jordan Gustafson – 74th Overall

Gustafson has bounced around on my board this year. He’s another talented goal scorer and is great on the forecheck, but his skating is average and his defensive zone play is shaky. Overall, I think we’re looking at a player with third line upside. I can understand why people are a little higher on Gustafson, especially now that I’ve seen him in the playoffs. Still, I felt that I hadn’t seen enough in my previous viewings of the player to justify a higher ranking.

Tyler Brennan – 76th Overall

Brennan is arguably the top goaltender in this draft class and has the potential to become a good 1b or backup at the NHL level. I don’t see him becoming a franchise goaltender due to his inability to truly steal games, but he’s a great technical goaltender with NHL size. This is probably the worst draft for goalies that I can remember, and Brennan hasn’t wowed me this year. Ultimately, I felt that teams could be better off picking Milne or Gustafson ahead of Brennan since it’s not likely that Brennan will be a high end goaltender. We’re splitting hairs with all three players, though, and I wouldn’t have argued if we decided to put Brennan above the other two.

Jace Weir – 78th Overall

Weir is a player that I’ve liked a lot this season. He’s different from the other WHL defenders on this list thus far in the sense that he’s more of a defensive defenseman who excels at zone exits and board battles. Weir plays a heavier game and uses his long stride to control a breakout and start the play for his teammates. He’s a little raw defensively and his one on one defending could use a lot of work, but there’s potential in his game. When I watch Weir play, I see a player with size, above average skating and hockey sense. He’s great at executing the first pass out of the zone and plays a physical, yet modern, style.

Ben Hemmerling – 81st Overall

I was a huge advocate for Hemmerling in our draft rankings meeting. He didn’t get a lot of ice time this season since he played on a deep Everett team, but when he got the opportunity, he was able to shine in the spotlight. Hemmerling’s upside is that of a top six forward, and even though he’s raw in a lot of areas, his potential as a playmaker is enticing. Hemmerling sees the ice at an elite level and is an excellent playmaker that can play with a ton of pace. He’s able to adapt on the fly and can make his teammates better. My biggest concern with Hemmerling isn’t his size, however. It’s his scoring. Hemmerling isn’t a finisher and I worry that he won’t be able to score at the NHL level. There are plenty of playmakers in the NHL, but all of them have the ability to put the puck in the net. I haven’t seen that from Hemmerling yet. I pushed for him ahead of one of my other favorites, Marcus Nguyen, because I’ve seen more consistent high-end skill this year.

Tyson Jugnauth – 82nd Overall

Jugnauth isn’t a player I’ve watched a ton, and the viewings that I do have of him have all been very different. In our rankings meeting, I deferred judgment to Austin since he has kept up with Jugnauth all year. My take on the player is that I see the skill and skating ability, but I don’t see a player that is always engaged when he’s on the ice.

Marcus Nguyen – 84th Overall

Marcus Nguyen is my absolute favorite prospect to watch when he’s on his game. Like Hemmerling, Nguyen’s ice time was limited on a deep team, so I had to do some projecting with this player. Watching Nguyen play is fascinating. You see the high end puck skills, playmaking and shooting that could make him a fantastic NHL player. He’s a quick skater that is able to beat you with a quick burst of acceleration right from the get go, making him a pain in transition. Nguyen can pick apart defenses and create turnovers, immediately turning it the other way to create a scoring chance. I feel that with an increase in ice time next year, Nguyen could be one of the top scorers on the Portland Winterhawks. He has a dynamic element that I don’t see in other WHL skaters, but his game is still very raw. Nguyen’s performance in the playoffs was poor to say the least, which doesn’t change how I view the player. It may make some NHL teams hesitant to draft him, though. Still, I’m very high on the player. 84th overall is a bold ranking but I believe that if Nguyen reaches his potential, he could be one of the steals of the draft.

Fraser Minten – 92nd Overall

Minten is likely a bottom six forward if he reaches the NHL, but he’s extremely coachable and can be played in a variety of situations. He’s often the product of great passes from Matthew Seminoff, and while he can score at the WHL level, I don’t see him being as much of a scoring threat at the NHL level. In reality, you’re looking at a center that can shut down the opposition. I’m a bit lower on Minten than the consensus, but not by much. I feel that if you’re drafting in the first two or three rounds, you should be drafting for high upside talent. Minten is a safe pick, but you can find a ton of players just like him in free agency.

Brayden Schuurman – 106th Overall

Credit where credit is due, Schuurman was one of the top players on an awful Victoria team this year. Schuurman’s good games are really good, but his bad games are really bad. He goes from being a dangerous player whenever he steps on the ice to being a liability in all three zones quickly. His play at the U18s wasn’t anything to write home about, but I wonder what he can do with better teammates. It seems that at times, Schuurman was guilty of trying to do too much since he was the best player on his line. I like the potential, but ultimately, I’m unsure of where Schuurman will be drafted.

Hudson Thornton – 118th Overall

Thornton is another player with high highs and low lows. He’s dangerous in the offensive zone and a capable quarterback on your power play, but his defensive zone play is atrocious. In all honesty, I’m not sure what to expect from Thornton. I wasn’t a fan in any of my viewings, but it’s hard to deny the offensive potential that he has. If his defensive zone play improves, there’s a good chance that Thornton becomes a top four defenseman based on the fact that he can quarterback a power play.

Brandon Lisowsky – 119th Overall

Lisowsky is another boom or bust player from the WHL. He’s a fantastic goal scorer with a shot that’s a threat from a solid range, but I don’t know if he’s going to be able to score at the NHL level. I felt that this year, Lisowsky was only able to get to the middle on a rush or on the power play, which is a concern.

Josh Filmon – 124th Overall

Filmon frustrates me in so many ways. His effort is inconsistent, he isn’t good defensively, he’s not the strongest player and it takes very little to knock him off the puck. I think there’s some merit in drafting him because when he’s on his game, he’s able to contribute offensively. But right now, this is a player that I haven’t liked at all this year.

Grayden Siepmann and Mathew Ward – Honorable Mentions

Siepmann nearly made it ahead of Filmon, but again, some of the team felt that Filmon was worth including in our rankings. I like Siepmann. There’s some real potential in his game and I feel that he’s worth taking in the later rounds of the draft. I see him more as a third pairing player that could see power play or PK time, but not a defender that I’d put any higher in the lineup. Ward’s ability to create offense from takeaways is impressive and there’s a lot to like about his game on the forecheck. The biggest question is his upside, however, because he hasn’t shown me that he can play at a high level on a consistent basis. There’s potential in his game, but not enough to make me feel comfortable ranking him at this moment.

I hope you all enjoyed reading through these explanations. I’m always available to answer your questions if you have any more about specific players. Feel free to shoot me a message on Twitter if you do have any questions!

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