At ninth, Central has Portland Winterhawks defenseman Tyler Wotherspoon, and here is where the NHL scouts broke ranks.
"I don't really see it to be honest," one said. "If he's actually closer to 6-1 or 6-2, then he's maybe a prospect, but he looks more like he's 5-11, and 6-feet. He goes out and hits guys, but players who don't have much in the way of puck skills are hard to get excited about, and that's Wotherspoon's biggest issue; he doesn't have the puck skill."
The scout went on to say that if he were closer to 6-4, then Wotherspoon this high would make sense because he would have the chance to be that big, shutdown defender with some mobility. But the reality is that he's more of a 'tweener than anything else, and that doesn't bode well for Wotherspoon's NHL potential.
At 10 is Seattle center Colin Jacobs, a Texas kid who came into the season with high expectations, but who stumbled out of the gate. He didn't register many points in the early going, but has heated up this month, posting 18 points (eight goals) in 21 games.
"He's one of those guys who gets a ton of ice time and looks like he should be a player," an NHL scout said. "He wasn't producing early, but I'll say that his skating has improved a bit from last year. And he plays with some swagger. I like the fact that he seems to know he's the best player on the ice."
At 11, Kale Kessy is one player B2011DW has had eyes on as a power forward prospect who brings a similar kind of offensive element and toughness to Milan Lucic. The similarities between Kessy and Lucic are eerie: neither player was picked in the WHL bantam draft, but were picked up by their hometown clubs the Medicine Hat Tigers and Vancouver Giants because they hung around the local rinks and showed enough to the GMs and coaches to get a shot. Neither was a very good skater coming out of junior; Lucic had good straight line speed, but had problems with his starts, stops and turns. Kessy's burst and straight-line speed is poor, but he's more agile and can turn defenders better than Lucic could. Both have nice hands and the ability to set up the play and finish. And, both can really fight.
What does that mean for Kessy? Late first-round or top-half of the second round. Book it. NHL teams absolutely covet the guy who can hit, fight and score-- and they've seen enough of Lucic to know the kind of value he brings as a momentum changer.
"I like that guy a lot," said one scout when asked about Kessy. "They don't give him enough credit for his skills, smarts."
After Kessy at 12 is 5-10 Seattle winger Luke Lockhart, another Central head-scratcher.
"Lockhart's a good junior player; that's it," said a scout. "Is he a pro prospect? I don't know. He's a very finesse player who doesn't like to go into the dirty areas of the ice."
German import and fellow Thunderbird Marcel Noebels is next at 13. While skilled, Noebels has not shown much of an inclination to play a physical game or get his nose dirty. That might be why the 6-2, 195-pounder was completely passed over in last year's NHL draft.
Swift Current's Adam Lowry is an interesting prospect at 14. He doesn't have great upside, but works very hard along the boards and is a raw prospect who hit a huge growth spurt over a couple of years and is still very gangly and growing into his new body. The son of former NHLer Dave Lowry is one of those long-term project players who could pay off nicely if you're looking for a versatile, hard-nosed grinder who can do all the little things that helps teams win. Hmmm. Sounds like his old man, doesn't it?
Kelowna mighty mite Shane McColgan is way down the list at 15 for a couple of reasons, the scouts surmised. The biggest factor has been his lack of production this season. Since starting sluggish and then being diagnosed with tonsilitis and missing the first few weeks recovering from surgery, he's not been able to generate the expected offense in this, his draft year. Don't be mistaken, though-- the California kid is super-skilled. But the other big factor in his drop is that he's only about 5-8 (yes, he's listed at 5-11, but he might have been standing on a couple of encyclopedias) and he has not grown since he came into the WHL at the end of the '09 season.
"I don't know if that surgery is one of those things that takes a lot out of you, but he just looks like he's lost a step," one scout said. "When you're his size, you gotta have that speed."
Mike St. Croix is 17th and the Edmonton Oil Kings forward has some skill, but has been largely inconsistent and plays poorly on defense this year. Someone will take a flyer on him at some point, but he hasn't gotten rave reviews from any of the scouts I've talked to. The words "lazy", "uninspired", "selfish" and "dog" have come up at various times while in discussion about him.
Chiliwack defenseman Mitch Topping is pretty far down the list at 18, but is one to watch because he was a high bantam draft pick and has some skill, even if he hasn't set the world on fire for the Bruins.
"He's a little soft, but every once in a while, he'll make a great pass and you'll wonder where that came from," a scout said. "He's a big-time puck mover, but he's not a go-go-go guy you have to hold back; he tries to be responsible."
Reece Scarlett at 20 is indicative of the disappointment the Swift Current defenseman has been thus far, but he does have some intriguing tools. Given some time and a low-pressure situation in which to develop, he could end up being a player. But, he's not likely to be a high draft pick unless some team really reaches. And, anything's possible, because Scarlett (what a great name, eh?) has shown some upside in flashes.
"He's small, thin, slightly built," one scout said. "I do see some raw ingredients for a pretty good player, but a lot would have to come together. He seems to have the ability to think the game, but I'm left wanting more."
Slovak winger Marek Tvrdon was off to a very nice start before suffering a terrible injury to the labrum that is expected to force him to miss the rest of the season. Although not confirmed, I'm told that the muscle was pulled completely from the bone, which is shame. Tvrdon only got 12 games in (six goals, 11 points), so whatever notes scouts had on him is what they will have to go with. But, as was the case with Curtis Hamilton last year, don't be surprised to see a team with extra picks grab him earlier than expected. His size and skill package is going to be far too enticing to let him sit for very long.
The goalie crop is very "ehhh" this year in the WHL- there are no Calvin Pickards in the bunch. Eric Williams of Prince George is No. 2 and has some nice quickness, and Vancouver's Brendan Jensen has some raw upside, but there are no top-end guys to speak of right now.
That closes out the WHL breakdown. Next up, the USHL.