Prospectus Prospecting: Around the W

 Benoit is a scout and prospect writer for Hockey Prospectus who focuses on the WHL. Currently based in Calgary and originally from Sudbury, he has scouted for ISS Hockey as well as his hometown (and alma mater) Laurentian Voyageurs. Benoit currently interns with the Western Hockey League. Twitter: @Benroy_

Hockey Prospectus’ WHL scout, Benoit Roy, chimes in with seven reports of Western league talent, including a recent first round draft pick and two who are projected to be taken in the first round this June. Drafted players include prospects from Arizona, Calgary, Vancouver and Columbus.

Scouting Report: Brendan Guhle

Bio

Team: Prince Albert Raiders                        Draft Status: Eligible 2015

Position: Defence

To Date Stats: 54 GP / 3 G / 16 A / 19 PTS / 22 PIM / -10 (+/-)

Shoots: Left

Height/Weight:  6’2”/ 186 lbs.

Date(s) Seen: January 30, 2015 vs Calgary, WHL regular season

Characteristics

Skating (Speed/edges/techniques, etc.)

Guhle is an effortless skater with a long, loose stride. Looks extremely comfortable on the ice and is calm and fluid. He can pick up significant speed in tight or in open space and can easily maneuver and manipulate his body. His cuts and transitions tend to be wide and could afford to tighten them up. He plays the game at high speeds at all times, pushes the pace of game and is clearly one of the most skilled skaters in his draft class.

Shooting (Slap/wrist/backhand, General strength, proclivities, etc.)

Guhle is an effective shooter from the point. Favors a combination of slap shots and snap shots that are low, firm and quick. His stick is never much higher than his waist when taking a back-swing but shots are surprisingly strong.

Puck Skills

Guhle finds teammates with relatively soft, short and safe passes. Shows intelligence with the puck, but could work on his patience, poise and decision-making when under pressure. Shows assertiveness in jumping up in the play and makes his presence felt. Generally, with time and space he’ll connect and find solid outlets.

Smarts (vision, defensive play, ability to stick in system, etc.)

Off the puck, he sees the game well and is anticipatory. On one-on-ones, he tends to leave a big gap, allowing opponents to enter his zone with possession. He shows a preference for making one grand sweep at the puck or hit rather than containing his opponents at the blue-line. In his own zone, he plays tightly to his man and has surprising strength. Capable of easily knocking guys off pucks and frustrating opponents with his pressure. He’s not a tremendous threat offensively but with his speed and confidence on the point there’s room for him to improve.

Physicality

Guhle is a strong body and a fierce competitor. He enters battles with the intention of out-muscling his opponents and is often successful at doing so. He’s also capable of connecting on open-ice hits using combination of awareness and acceleration to catch opponents off-guard. His assertiveness and speed are intriguing and he already possesses NHL-level size and strength, which should bode well with the scouts.

General Assessment

Guhle is an exciting player. The combination of his speed and aggressiveness should make him a surefire top-90 pick. At one point he was touted as an offensive-defenceman, but he’s done little to prove that this year. He has some offensive upside but his decision-making and ability to manage the puck hold him back. If he improves his production over the final parts of the season, his draft stock should improve. Guhle is a Tier IV draft pick with potential to be a strong two-way defenceman in the NHL in a second or third pairing.

Scouting Report: Dysin Mayo

Bio

Team: Edmonton Oil Kings                           Draft Status: Selected 133rd overall by Arizona in 2014

Position: Defence

To Date Stats: 55 GP / 11 G / 28 A / 39 PTS / 53 PIM / 11 (+/-)

Shoots: Right

Height/Weight:  6’1”/ 191 lbs.

Date(s) Seen: January 31, 2015 vs Calgary, WHL regular season

Characteristics

Skating (Speed/edges/techniques, etc.)

Mayo is a smooth-skating, shifty defenceman with great foot speed and acceleration. Has excellent top speed, a wide stance and gets very low. Jumps up in the play with confidence and gets up and down the ice very quickly. Never seems to skate straight ahead; he’s always shifting his direction to fool opponents.

Shooting (Slap/wrist/backhand, General strength, proclivities, etc.)

Has a quick release from the point and is capable of getting shots off on his weak foot. His shots aren’t overly powerful or overly accurate, but they’re low and find the net or sticks/skates for deflections.

Puck Skills

Mayo is an intelligent manager of the puck. Regularly makes smart, productive outlet passes. Incredibly elusive on the rush. Capable of quarterbacking the power play and is difficult to manage once he’s in the offensive zone. At times, he plays like his line’s fourth forward.

Smarts (vision, defensive play, ability to stick in system, etc.)

Mayo is a ruthless defender. Plays tight to oncoming forwards and uses his stick as his primary deterrent. He’s responsive on the cycle and uses his speed and anticipation to intercept passes. Creates offence by jumping up into the play and is strong on the blue-line. He’s used in all situations and finds success wherever deployed.

Physicality

Does not play a hyper-physical game but can be underrated in physical contests. Although he engages with his stick first, he is capable of making explosive contact if he lines up his opponents properly. He would definitely benefit from filling out and gaining strength to contend with bigger opponents along the boards.

General Assessment

Mayo was a steal for Arizona who selected him in the fourth round. He has the tangible skills that will make him a well-rounded defenceman at the professional level – he just needs to improve his strength and stability. His offensive and defensive skills resemble those of Dan Boyle who has a similar skating style, stick work and ability to quarterback power plays. Will fit well as a top-4 defencemen in Arizona and as Ekman-Larsson’s running mate on the power play in the next 2-3 years.

Scouting Report: Keegan Kanzig

Bio

Team: Calgary Hitmen                    Draft Status: Selected 67th overall by Calgary in 2013

Position: Defence

To Date Stats:  Calgary: 30 GP / 2 G / 10 A / 12 PTS / 81 PIM / 26 (+/-), Victoria: 21 GP / 0 G / 6 A / 6 PTS / 51 PIM / 5 (+/-)

Shoots: Left

Height/Weight:  6’6”/ 242 lbs.

Date(s) Seen: January 30, 2015 vs Prince George and January 31, 2015 vs Edmonton, both WHL regular season

Characteristics

Skating (Speed/edges/techniques, etc.)

Kanzig is a strong and quick skater for his size. Has a long, powerful stride and can generate significant speed. His lateral movement is adequate but can be beat if his opponent comes at him wide and with enough speed.

Shooting (Slap/wrist/backhand, General strength, proclivities, etc.)

Kanzig has a powerful slap shot from the point but it’s generally inaccurate and inconsistent. Doesn’t favor any another shot.

Puck Skills

Kanzig makes the safe play out of his own end with regularity. He is aware of danger and where it’s forming and will either find an outlet or throw the puck away from traffic. If time is available, he’ll skate with the puck but resorts to dump-ins when under pressure. Kanzig seems to be aware of his limitations with the puck and plays well within those limitations.

Smarts (vision, defensive play, ability to stick in system, etc.)

Defensively, Kanzig is a shutdown defender who takes pride in playing a complete game in his own end. He plays with his head up, approaches opponents with a wide stance and he uses his stick and body in tandem to effectively defend. He usually forces his opponents to the outside and forces them to take bad angle shots. At the blue-line, he tends to overcommit and searches for hits. He also plays a bit of a hectic game in his own end and could benefit from tightening up.

Physicality

Kanzig is a relentless combatant. He’s a ferocious hitter and his size is threatening. When he connects, he hits to hurt. Along the boards he’s a massive threat and is extremely effective at using his body to separate the puck. If he can’t commit physically, he surprises opponents with his long reach and strong stick. He’s a physically dominating player.

General Assessment

Kanzig is a strong shutdown defender who’s responsible with the puck and effective at the blue-line. He can lose sight of his man in his own end at times, but recovers well. For a big man, he’s a strong skater and solid puck handler who can push the pace but is prone to making mistakes both on and off the puck. I expect Kanzig to find time with Calgary’s AHL affiliate next year and make a run at being a mainstay on Calgary’s blue line the year after.

Scouting Report: Mathew Barzal

Bio

Team: Seattle Thunderbirds                                        Draft Status: Eligible 2015

Position: Center

To Date Stats: 24 GP / 9 G / 17 A / 26 PTS / 8 PIM / 4 (+/-)

Shoots: Left

Height/Weight:  6’0”/ 177 lbs.

Date(s) Seen: January 25, 2015 and January 28, 2015, vs Spokane, WHL regular season

 

Characteristics

Skating (Speed/edges/techniques, etc.)

Barzal’s a fluid, shifty skater that can pick up speed on the rush. Has the ability to calmly and confidently slide past defenders using tight edges, overall top-speed, lateral movement and unpredictability. He plays to the pace of the game but will pick it up when the opportunity is there. Is not particularly explosive and looks like he has heavy legs at times.

Shooting (Slap/wrist/backhand, General strength, proclivities, etc.)

Barzal is a playmaking forward first and doesn’t go looking for the shot when around the net. When he does connect, it’s on a loose puck in the slot or after making a move towards the net. Barzal exhausts all passing opportunities before shooting which causes him to miss some scoring opportunities. He could benefit from taking the shot more often.

Puck Skills

As mentioned, Barzal is a pass-first forward. His passes are consistently tape-to-tape and he’s capable of distributing the puck effectively using his forehand and backhand. Maintains poise when under pressure and unwaveringly finds teammates in all situations. Finds creative passing lanes and creates scoring chances with his ability to distribute the puck. He’s a strong possession player who doesn’t relinquish possession with unnecessary dump-ins. Always seems to be in excellent position to receive a pass, particularly in his own end where he makes himself available as an outlet. Overall, he’s an elite puck handler everywhere on the ice and is difficult to manage.

Smarts (vision, defensive play, ability to stick in system, etc.)

Barzal has high-level vision and awareness both on and off the puck. He has a knack for finding open space and is smartly positioned. His play looks calculated and utilitarian, as if every move he makes has a distinct purpose. He’s very anticipatory in the offensive zone. Defensively, he’s usually the first forward on the back-check and effectively ties up his man.

Physicality

Barzal is not an incredibly physical player and relies on active stickwork to separate the man from the puck. In battles, he’ll connect with hits on occasion but they tend to be superficial. Despite this, he’s able to protect himself and the puck well through physical abuse. He could definitely benefit from filling out his smallish frame.

General Assessment

Barzal is an elite playmaking center that plays a strong positional game at both ends. Despite missing two months this season to a knee injury, he’s been able to pick up right where he left off offensively and his draft stock hasn’t suffered. He’s among the best draft-eligible players in the WHL and is unmatched when it comes to the way he sees the game. There’s no doubt in my mind he’ll be a top-15 selection this year, making him a Tier II draft pick with Tier I not out of the realm of possibility.

Scouting Report: Jake Virtanen

Bio

Team: Calgary Hitmen                                    Draft Status: Selected 6th overall in 2014 by Vancouver

Position: Right Wing

To Date Stats: 27 GP / 13 G / 18 A / 31 PTS / 44 PIM / 10 (+/-)

Shoots: Right

Height/Weight: 6’1” / 207 lbs.

Date(s) Seen: Jan. 23, 2015 vs Swift Current and Jan. 25, 2015 vs Vancouver, both WHL regular season

Characteristics

Skating (Speed/edges/techniques, etc.)

Virtanen is an explosive, fiery forward with excellent foot speed and mobility for his size. He has flat-out separation speed and can blow past defenders with his lightning-quick acceleration. On the puck, his speed and explosiveness challenges opponents, and, as a result, he draws many penalties.

Shooting (Slap/wrist/backhand, General strength, proclivities, etc.)

Virtanen can unleash a quick and powerful wrister from the slot that hits his target and challenges goaltenders. He likes to fire his lethal shot from any angle in open space, but also has the poise and creativity to get shots off in tight.

Puck Skills

He has a crafty set of tricks and quick hands to execute offensively, but is not exceedingly flashy. He tends to drive the play on his own. Virtanen leads the rush and will attempt to finish the play on his own before passing, but is capable of finding productive teammates with simple, effective passes. Although a goal-scorer by nature, he has solid vision and passing ability.

Smarts (vision, defensive play, ability to stick in system, etc.)

He’s a threat anywhere in the offensive zone and is willing to battle for space in the slot or high traffic areas (where he tends to gravitate) to generate scoring chances. More often than not, he makes defenders look foolish. Defensively, he’s reliable, is a solid back-checker and is willing to sacrifice his body to prevent scoring chances.

Physicality

Plays a highly physical, aggressive game and can make devastating contact given the opportunity. His tenacity is intimidating which causes defenders to play more conservatively when he’s bearing down on them, buying time and space for his club.

General Assessment

Virtanen is a versatile forward who excels in the offensive zone and has an imposing presence all over the ice. He’s generating over a point per game this year, and would be on pace to for his best junior season had he not missed 20+ games this season. Virtanen’s ability to push the pace of the game, his size, physicality and dominance on the puck will make him a serious contender to crack Vancouver’s lineup next year as second or third line winger.

Scouting Report: Dillon Heatherington

Bio

Team: Swift Current Broncos                      Draft Status: Selected 50th overall in 2013 by Columbus

Position: Defense

To Date Stats: 37 GP / 1 G / 11 A / 12 PTS / 38 PIM / -11 (+/-)

Shoots: Left

Height/Weight: 6’4” / 213 lbs.

Date(s) Seen: January 23, 2014 vs Calgary, WHL regular season

Characteristics

Skating (Speed/edges/techniques, etc.)

Heatherington is an effortless and powerful skater who is characterized by his long, low stride. He has the ability to transition from forwards to backwards instantly with fluid mobility while maintaining speed in his transition. He’s an excellent lateral mover and looks light on his feet when doing so. Does not possess significant top speed and is not very explosive.

Shooting (Slap/wrist/backhand, General strength, proclivities, etc.)

Does not display a tendency to shoot (plays pass-first) although showed a quick release on his slapshots from the point. Joins the rush when time and space is available. Not a significant offensive threat and his goal totals (both this year and in the past) are an indication of his pure offensive skill.

Puck Skills

Consistently makes firm, cerebral headman passes. Looks comfortable with the puck. Regularly finds productive outlets and uses a variety of means to find teammates. When under pressure he makes the safe, dependable play away from danger. Very effective at using his large frame to protect the puck when under pressure. Passes feel forced at times which results in uncomfortable retrievals by teammates, causing turnovers.

Smarts (vision, defensive play, ability to stick in system, etc.)

Understands his role as the defensive lead on his club. His head was on a constant swivel both on and off the puck. Displays excellent gap control and engages opponents at the blue-line. Has a strong, active stick and plays blade-to-blade. Shows a knack for anticipating offensive threats and is rarely out of position to defend. Able to contain offensive threats with a combination of positional play and stick-work.

Physicality

Rarely engages physically in corners or on one-on-one situations. Relies on stick and positioning to contain, however does not shy away and was willing to battle down low and in front of his net.

General Assessment

Heatherington is clearly his club’s top defender and is deployed to play against his opponent’s top forwards. His minutes were limited later in the third period in the game I watched him and he showed some signs of slowing down, but was not a detriment to his club. His offensive skills are limited, but due to his defensive nature I expect him to line up in Columbus’ second or third paring in a shut-down role in 3-4 years after a brief adaption-period in the AHL.

Scouting Report: Jake DeBrusk

Bio

Team: Swift Current Broncos                                      Draft Status: Eligible 2015

Position: Left Wing

To Date Stats: 49 GP / 28 G / 21 A / 49 PTS / 30 PIM / -11 (+/-)

Shoots: Left

Height/Weight: 6’0” / 177 lbs.

Date(s) Seen: January 23, 2014 vs Calgary, WHL regular season

Characteristics

Skating (Speed/edges/techniques, etc.)

DeBrusk is a slick, creative skater with a low centre of gravity who fights for every bit of space on the ice. He finds open space with a combination of sleekness and rapid versatility; he always seems to be moving his feet. Although he doesn’t possess breakaway speed, DeBrusk is capable of picking up the pace on the rush as he transitions from his own end to the offensive zone. DeBrusk’s aggressive skating style and edge are intriguing qualities.

Shooting (Slap/wrist/backhand, General strength, proclivities, etc.)

DeBrusk used a variety of shots this particular game that challenged goaltenders. He has a quick release on his wristers and backhanders. He had some difficulty connecting on one-timers and appeared hesitant to use his slapshot. Despite this variety and relative accuracy, his shots did not leave his stick with substantial velocity. He produces primarily by driving the net and battling for space.

Puck Skills

The puck seems to gravitate towards DeBrusk when he’s on the ice and at times it seems fully attached to his stick. He is difficult to knock off the puck and is very solid contending with opposing sticks and bodies. His size and solid stance means his capable of finding his way through traffic while successfully fighting off checks and maintaining possession. Likes to shoot once he enters the slot. His passes aren’t pinpoint accurate, but manageable. Guilty of making one too many moves.

Smarts (vision, defensive play, ability to stick in system, etc.)

DeBrusk’s an intelligent offensive player, both on and off the puck. He follows the play intently and gravitates towards the low slot. Off the puck he is less effective. Can be caught watching the play in his own end and will lose defensive assignments. Looks much more comfortable when the play is heading north.

Physicality

DeBrusk certainly plays with an edge to his game despite his size and strength. He’s willing to combat in front of the net and will commit in the corners during possession battles. He has a pesky character and frustrates opponents with his natural aggression. He did show a tendency to overcommit on defense. He’s a relatively clean player and won’t wrack up needless penalty minutes.

General Assessment

DeBrusk is an agitating and confident player who can produce. An immediate NHL comparable is Brad Marchand, albeit slightly larger and cleaner. He shows passion at both ends, plays a reasonable defensive game, and excels in the offensive zone where he’s currently posting a point per game. His tenacity and physical play combined with his offensive output should please the scouts. I project him to be a late first-round pick and has a ceiling as a second-line winger, making him a Tier III prospect.

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