1. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C Red Deer Rebels: Clearly the cream of the WHL draft-eligible crop right now, the "Nuge" has proven himself to be a scoring savant. He led Canada to an unprecedented 15th gold medal at the Ivan Hlinka tournament this month, and then did himself more favors at the NHL's R & D camp this week, showing off his high-end speed, hands and overall scoring chops. He was a finalist for the CHL's rookie of the year honors, missing out to Matt Puempel, but Nugent-Hopkins appears to have eclipsed the OHL forward this summer given his tremendous international showing and outstanding upside. He's got an explosive burst and the ability to slide in and out of skating lanes effortlessly. His hands are made of gold and when the puck is on his stick, he's always a danger. The gold medal-winning shot he put past Steve Michalek from the outside would not have been stopped by most NHL goalies-- hard, high and up where not many could get it. The knock? He's only average-sized (6-0, 160) and doesn't have the functional strength right now that would make him the undisputed No. 1 player in the draft, but this kid is going to give Sean Couturier and Adam Larsson (both of whom are a few months older as late '92s) a run for their money at the top of the 2011 class (Red Line Report has him at No. 3 in their August rankings, the first for the 2010-11 season). "He's got everything: speed, he can shoot and create for his linemates," said one NHL scout who covers the WHL. "He's smallish. His build reminds me of Kyle Turris; he's going to have to eat a lot of porterhouse steaks."
2. David Musil, D Vancouver Giants: If size and athleticism were all that counted, Musil would be at the head of the class. Both parents are former world class professional athletes, with dad, Frantisek, having patrolled NHL blue lines (now a scout for the Edmonton Oilers) after defecting from Czechoslovakia when that country was still behind the iron curtain, while mother, Andrea Holikova (Bobby Holik's older sister) was a tennis pro and comes from a highly accomplished and competitive family of parents and brothers who all played pro sports in their native country. In a little irony, it was Andrea who escaped to North America first, and actually attended the 1989 NHL Draft, going onstage to receive her younger brother's Hartford Whalers jersey when that team made Holik the 10th overall selection. Musil at 6-3, 190 has the size and frame to be a monster when he fills out. He's extremely agile and skilled on his skates and has an interesting backstory in terms of how he ended up in Vancouver last season. Born and raised in the Czech Republic, his parents moved to Vancouver and the Giants, catching wind of this, listed Musil as a local player per their right, setting off a firestorm of controversy as other WHL teams (and even some outside the CHL) lodged complaints given that he had not been drafted in the WHL bantam draft and was technically a European and subject to the CHL's import draft rules. To resolve the WHL conflicts there was a drawing, and the Kootenay Ice were "awarded" Musil's rights. However, it was made clear that with his folks living in Vancouver, he would not report to the WHL frontier town and would return to the Czech Republic. Therefore a deal was struck between the Ice and Giants to keep him in Vancouver. Now that you know the backstory, you can keep an eye on this big, powerful, skilled defenseman who physically has everything you look for in a player, but may not have the natural instincts and intangibles to be the sum of his very impressive parts. Time will tell, but as of now, he deserves consideration in the top-five of the 2011 draft class.
3. Shane McColgan, RW Kelowna Rockets: Like Beau Bennett and Emerson Etem, McColgan is a Southern California kid who has gone north of the border and will likely earn a high draft grade in June. Although undersized (5-10, 160), McColgan is an explosive skater with high-end elusiveness and terrific hands to handle the puck in traffic and create offense on the fly. An injury prevented him from competing for Team USA in Slovakia this month, and the Americans certainly missed his scoring prowess. He's been on a lot of scouts' watch lists since he joined the Rockets late in the 2009 campaign, and after his first full WHL campaign, has done nothing to dissuade anyone of the opinion that he's a first-round caliber prospect even though he has a lot of work to do on his strength and overall conditioning before he's ready to challenge for an NHL job. "He's small, but super skilled," said an NHL scout who's seen him since he came into the Dub. "In terms of scoring ability, he's not that far away from (Nugent-Hopkins), but he's smaller and that's a consideration."
4. Jesse Forsberg, D Prince George Cougars: Although this rugged rearguard does not possess ideal size (6-0, 195), he's a nice skater and plays a solid two-way game. He likes to hit and take the body and moves the puck pretty well, though wouldn't at present be considered a high-end offensive defenseman but more of a safe second-pairing 'D' who is a complete player in all zones. His younger brother was just the top bantam pick in the WHL for the Cougars, so there is some natural talent in the family and the two will hopefully get some time together on the blue line there. "He's a very physical, well-rounded player-- there's a lot to like there," said the NHL scout. "You wish he was a couple of inches taller, but he's skilled and intelligent, so you can see he has the ability to compensate for the lack of height and reach."
5. Duncan Siemens, D Saskatoon Blades: About as young as you can get with a September 11, 1993 birthdate, Siemens is also the kind of intriguing player with some rough edges you would expect from a player with size (6-3, 196) who is still growing into his body. A key contributor for Canada at the Ivan Hlinka, he skates pretty well in a straight line, but has issues with his footwork, agility and pivots/turns. Siemens is at his best when keeping it safe and simple. Plays with a real physical edge and can be mean and nasty when he wants to. His puck skills are average to below-average and what could keep him from cracking the first round, but at present, he has the size and potential to be a solid second-rounder with the chance to move up if he can improve his mobility and puck handling, because he's big, smart, aggressive and has the ability to do things at both ends of the ice. "He plays pretty mean," the NHL scout said. "He can do a bit with the puck, though. He's not an offensive whiz or as smooth as Musil or Forsberg, but he's got some upside."
6. Reece Scarlett, D Swift Current Broncos: Some scouts really like this guy (RLR, who have him 15th on their August list) and some not as much. Just about everyone I talked to recognizes his high-end talent that could see him land somewhere in the top-20 come draft time, but a few have expressed misgivings about his consistency and ability to put it all together enough between now and June. Another great name to go along with Boone Jenner, Scarlett will be one of the more watched players this season because of his impressive tool box. A skinny beanpole who has to put on another 40-50 pounds before he'll have the functional size for his 6-1 frame, he's a mobile skater who can activate quickly and jump into the play with ease. The lack of strength became evident in Slovakia, as RLR said that Scarlett was bulled over by bigger, stronger players and had trouble keeping containment down low. However, with his speed and puck skills, he's a project worth following. "He's a legit high-end talent with some first round potential," the NHL scout said. "He looked good last year at the Under-17s and is a finesse d-man who needs to put it together. The raw skill is there, but he needs a lot of work."
7. Adam Lowry, LW Swift Current Broncos: Although not as talented as teammate Scarlett, Lowry is the kind of player who could, through sheer will and determination, earn a higher draft position when all is said and done. At 6-2, 165 pounds, he has a lot of filling out to do, but already plays a big man's game with some real sandpaper and anger. His skating needs to get a lot better, and he didn't have the greatest Ivan Hlinka, so we're talking a work in progress here. It's a cliche, but this relentless forward is the kind of kid who will go through a wall for his coaches and teammates, and even though he's got a slight build, brings a lot of force and physicality with him wherever he goes. His hands and instincts aren't as developed as Ryan Kesler at the same age, but Lowry is a player who reminds some scouts of the gritty Vancouver forward, who is far more valuable than his modest stats line would indicate. "He's a big banger who loves to go into the dirty areas of the ice and actually has some pretty decent hands," the NHL scout said. "I wouldn't go so far as to say he's as good as Kesler was at the same stage, but the way he works along the walls and in front of his net reminds me of the same kind of player. If he can bring some offense this season, people will take notice."
8. Ty Rattie, RW Portland Winterhawks: Portland doesn't have a Fab three this year as they did in 2010 with Ryan Johansen, Nino Niederreiter and Brad Ross, but Rattie will bring the scouts out west to Oregon once again in 2011. This small, but skilled winger can move and create, showing a deft touch with the puck. He doesn't have the kind of blinding speed some small guys possess, but he's got some fine edge control and can really scoot laterally. The size and lack of strength is a problem for him when he goes into heavy traffic or tries to take the puck to the net; relies on quick hands and individual moves to gain penetration.
9. Myles Bell, D Regina Pats: This offensive defender is an interesting player to watch because he's pretty accomplished at advancing the puck and setting up plays, but is below average defensively. The question with this kind of player then becomes: is his offensive talent good enough to overcome the defensive issues which could make him a liability at crunch time? This is the question that Mike Green has answered in the affirmative for Washington, and while Bell is not the pure talent Green is, it is still the kind of problem set that will come up in scout meetings across the NHL's Original 30 this season. Bell is a pretty good skater with decent acceleration, but doesn't have some of the high-end speed you want from an offensive d-man. RLR feels that he's the rare player who is a better skater with the puck on his stick than without, however. He has nice vision and a touch on the puck, which allows him to send forwards out on the jailbreak play with relative ease. He's not tall, but squat and strong with powerful lower leg drive and a willingness to stick his nose in. Has a booming shot that he can get off quickly from the point. Probably should be higher on this list based on his upside, so we'll see. It's only August, after all, and he only just turned 17 this month.
10. Colin Jacobs, C Seattle Thunderbirds: Power center is another interesting prospect to come out of the non-traditional hockey hotbed of Texas. Possessing very nice size (6-2, 195), he's a solid skater who doesn't possess high-end offensive skills, but will play a hard-nosed game and likes to get involved physically. Red Line Report did a very nice in-depth feature on him in their August issue, but if you want to know more about him, you'll have to subscribe, or hope that Kyle Woodlief shares some info. on the youngster in one of his gratis USA Today columns
2012 draft watch: Ryan Murray, D Everett Silvertips: (H/T to Jerome from Montreal who pointed out that Murray is a late-September 1993 birthdate and therefore ineligible for the 2011 draft. A shame that he missed the September 15 cutoff by less than two weeks) This is a decent two-way defenseman who doesn't flash a lot of high-end ability, but by certain accounts, is pretty safe. He played a solid game at the Ivan Hlinka and according to RLR, is "the type of player a coach can trust." Moves the puck well and shows some power play potential, but keeps things simple and doesn't attract a lot of attention when he goes about his business. Could be someone who moves up draft boards because of his solid skill set, or he might not gain much upward mobility because of the lack of flash. Keep an eye out on this one.
2013 draft watch: Hudson Fasching, C Apple Valley H.S.: Might as well preview another big, promising young power forward who will be eligible in three years' time. Fasching really turned heads at the Select-15 Festival last month. At 6-3, 190 the Minnesota machine already one big hoss who skates well and drives the net with impunity. Unstoppable force with excellent hands who can beat you any way he wants. Like Brandon Saad and Seth Ambroz back in 2008, he's emerged as a dominant presence on the U.S. scene and we expect that two years from now, he'll be headlining posts as we prepare for the 2012-13 campaign and are analyzing the high-end prospects for that class.
Other WHLers to watch
Marek Tvrdon, LW Vancouver
Mitch Topping, D Chilliwack
Kale Kessy, LW Medicine Hat
Sven Bartschi, LW Portland
Michael St. Croix, C Edmonton