It’s never too early to start thinking about the draft, and since I’ve been doing some scouting work on the side this year, it’s time to bring you all my top 10 list for WHL players. Included will be a brief description of the player’s game as well as where I could see them going on draft day. This list will likely change as the season continues, so I’ll update it in an article every couple of months.
Note: For this list, I’ll be going off of the Top 50 rankings that I participated in with Smaht Scouting as well as my own rankings for the later players.
Number One - Matthew Savoie (Winnipeg)
This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise considering the fact that Savoie currently sits as the consensus number two pick in the draft, right behind Shane Wright. Savoie is fantastic and a consistent threat when he’s on the ice. Few players in the WHL are as creative and dangerous in the offensive zone as Savoie. He can think of ways to create offense quicker than most and can execute on those plays with astonishing precision. Savoie makes everyone on his team better, and while I haven’t seen the highest level of his play just yet, I’m fairly confident that he’ll be an excellent NHL player. Savoie’s speed and ability in all three zones will make him a top line player in the NHL and one of the league’s most exciting players once he breaks into the league.
I don’t see a lot of negatives in Savoie’s game, and while I’d like to see more two-way consistency and a higher level of play in the offensive zone, I’m confident that Savoie will improve on those enough between now and next fall when he enters his first NHL training camp. As of right now, there’s not a single player that I can see contending with Savoie for that second overall spot, and I feel that the gap between the second and third spot might be wider than the gap between Wright and Savoie. You’re getting a triple threat scorer that can beat you with his shot, playmaking, and hockey sense. Those don’t come around too often.
2. Conor Geekie (Winnipeg)
There’s a very real possibility that the Winnipeg ICE could have two top-10 picks in this draft. Some team is going to pick Geekie a little higher than he probably should go due to his size and natural scoring ability. Conor is a more polished version of his older brother, Morgan, providing offense with an elite shot and puck-handling combo. Conor is one of the better puck handlers in the draft and has puck skills that aren’t often seen in players that are 6-foot-4. Geekie plays a strong two-way game and has developed as a playmaker for the ICE this season, with 22 assists in his first 23 games of the season. Much like his older brother, Geekie’s shot is an underrated aspect of his game and one that can beat goalies from almost anywhere in the offensive zone. When a team drafts Geekie, they’ll be getting a power forward with legitimate top six upside and playmaking ability.
Geekie has a fair amount of risk to his game due to his average at best skating ability. It’s fine in the WHL, but eventually he’s going to get to the point where his skating is below average and he won’t be able to run over the competition anymore. In the WHL, Geekie stands as one of the biggest and stronger forwards. As the competition gets stronger, Geekie will have to improve on his skating and work towards making other improvements in his game. It’s entirely doable, but if Geekie’s skating stays where it’s at, it’s likely that he is limited as a bottom six NHL forward. If it does improve, however, Geekie could be looked at as one of the best power forwards in the NHL in five or six years.
3. Denton Mateychuk (Moose Jaw)
Mateychuk is one of those players that could either go in the top 20 or fall out of the first round entirely depending on who you ask. I’m fairly high on him because of the fact that there are so few defensemen around that can make as much of an impact on a shift by shift basis as he can, but I can see why people don’t love him either. Mateychuk is incredibly skilled and plays at a high tempo without sacrificing defense, making him the ideal modern defenseman. The offense runs through him and his skating is elite, giving him the ability to get back on defense to nullify a rush if he gets caught pinching. Mateychuk is one of the smarter defensemen in the draft, with the ability to see the ice in the offensive zone better than most of the other defensemen.
As the season has gone on, I’ve grown to love the good in Mateychuk’s game and hate the bad aspects of it. I’ve been up and down on him because I know that if Mateychuk pans out, he could be a top-four defenseman capable of 40+ points a season. In that same breath, I’ve noticed that Mateychuk is more of a boom or bust prospect than I initially believed. The offensive part of his game is close to NHL ready, but I don’t love his defensive zone play and his defensive issues have only been magnified over the course of the season. He can’t battle for position in front of the net and often gets burnt on those plays since players can easily bounce off of him and score on a rebound or deflection. He can be careless with his breakout passes and can be guilty of trying to force a high skill play when a simple play would be more effective. As I’ve seen with a variety of skaters in the past, the players that know when to slow the game down and make the simple play instead of the flashy one are the ones that make it to the NHL.
When we sat down to rank Mateychuk, I was still riding high on his offensive abilities and ranked him 16th. I’ve come down on him a bit since then, but I’d still rank him around 20-25 in a heartbeat. Mateychuk could easily be a game breaker for some NHL team, but he could just as easily flame out in the AHL.
4. Matthew Seminoff (Kamloops)
Seminoff at four is bold considering the fact that he didn’t make Smaht’s preliminary rankings or Honorable Mentions list. However, since the rankings I’ve taken the time to watch more of Seminoff’s game. At the time of our preliminary rankings, Seminoff was a player that stood out to me but one that I felt was a little overshadowed on a very good team. I’ve watched five of Seminoff’s games this season and three from last season, and every time I’ve come away impressed with the player and his compete level. There’s something to be said about a player that never gives up on the play. Seminoff is one of those players that is relentless on the forecheck and a scoring threat any time he’s on the ice.
Seminoff doesn’t have overwhelming amounts of skill, but he’s a player that can finish chances and set up his teammates for goals. His hard work makes him a tough player to play against, and despite average to slightly above average skill, Seminoff can wreak havoc in the offensive zone. My biggest question with Seminoff is his upside. Can he become more than a third line energy forward, or is that his ceiling? As of right now, I’m not comfortable with ranking him in the top 50, but I could see him finding his way into the end of the second round or early third round.
5. Mats Lindgren (Kamloops)
Lindgren has the potential to become a power play quarterback at the NHL level, especially with his hockey sense and puck handling ability. I see him being a distributor on the back end, making plays and setting up teammates for goals rather than becoming an elite shooter. The main problem that I have with Lindgren is that he hasn’t shown much, if any, growth from last season and he hasn’t cemented himself as the top offensive defenseman in the WHL. We ranked Lindgren 36th in our preliminary rankings. It was ambitious, but Lindgren proved last season that he could be a top producer and looked the part early on. I’ve been disappointed with his play as of late, which is a shame considering the fact that he plays on one of the CHL’s top teams.
Lindgren isn’t quite as good as Mateychuk in terms of pace and “fun,” but I believe that he’s craftier with the puck and a much better distributor. While Mateychuk likes to play with a ton of pace and cycle through the zone, Lindgren likes to slow the game down, force the defense to make a mistake, and then make a perfect pass to a teammate for scoring chances. I don’t expect Lindgren’s scoring slump to continue. I’d like to see improvements in the defensive zone and at even strength, but overall, I think he could be a late first or early second-round prospect.
6. Owen Pickering (Swift Current)
I’ve watched a lot of Pickering lately, and I have to say that he’s one of the safest picks if you’re looking for a defenseman early on day two. He’s 6-foot-4 and skates like an “undersized” forward, great in his own end and a smart player in all three zones. The way he can break down a play in his head and anticipate where the puck will go makes him a force in the defensive zone. I rarely saw Pickering out of position and he’s one of the more stable presences on the back end, which is something that Swift Current desperately needs. I’d say that he’s the best defender on this top ten list due to his positioning, size, hockey sense and knack for creating turnovers.
Pickering is a deceptively good puck carrier and can exit the zone with possession. You don’t often see bigger defensemen pushing the pace and creating plays in transition, but Pickering is able to do so with ease. In the offensive zone, he is able to analyze the play and find teammates through a crowd of defenders, which usually leads to goals. I feel that there is more offense in his game than what he’s shown thus far, especially since his elite hockey sense translates in the offensive zone as well. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Pickering gets drafted early on day two, especially if he keeps this play up. He’s the most complete draft eligible defenseman in the WHL and it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s the second WHL defenseman drafted this summer.
7. Kevin Korchinski (Seattle)
I had high expectations for Korchinski considering a few outlets had him ranked as a late first round talent, but he has done little to warrant those rankings in my eyes. Let’s first talk about what Korchinski does well, and then I’ll get into why I’m very low on him. First off, Korchinski’s straight line speed is above average and he likes to carry the puck in transition, something that we see modern defensemen do. He seems to think the game well and his defensive positioning is usually pretty strong, so he can get in the way of offense and make plays happen. That’s about all that I’ve noticed from him aside from the occasional pass or two.
Korchinski struggles when he has to cross over and his backwards and side to side skating are a few tiers below his straight line skating. He can’t go anywhere with the puck on his stick when he has to stop skating forwards, and he can’t slow the game down mentally in order to make a smart pass. As a result, Korchinski can be a turnover machine and offense usually dies if he enters the zone with the puck on his stick. He tries to be an offensive defenseman and attempts to use his speed to overpower defenders, but he isn’t skilled enough with his shot or playmaking to create many high danger chances. Defensively, Korchinski can struggle one on one since he isn’t confident in his backwards skating speed, meaning that he can get burnt on the rush.
There are moments where I can see why people are high on Korchinski. Again, his straight line speed is up there with the best in this draft class and he could end up being a decent two way defender. But for me, there are too many holes in his overall game for me to rank him in the first round. In fact, I’m on the fence as to whether I’d draft him at all.
8. Brandon Lisowsky (Saskatoon)
If you Googled the word “fun,” there’s a non-zero chance that a GIF of Brandon Lisowsky carrying the puck in the offensive zone will pop up. I love watching Lisowsky go to work in the offensive zone. His high pace, great edge work and tenacious forecheck make him an absolute pain to play against, and there’s a fair amount of skill in his game as well. I’ve been a bit disappointed with his play lately, and I’ve noticed some inconsistencies in his game that could be a cause for concern as far as his NHL projectability is concerned. He can be fantastic and has a great shot, but I don’t know if he can be a dominant player on a consistent enough basis. There are a lot of holes in his game and I need to see him improve on his playmaking if he wants to have a hope of NHL success. Right now, he’s a quick goal scorer but I’m not sure if he’s a pro. Still, the skill in his game makes me think that some team will take a chance on him, even if it’s later than where he was projected to go.
9. Mathew Ward (Swift Current)
Points off for not having two T’s in his first name. Ward is one of those players that can wreak havoc in the neutral zone, cause a turnover and make the opponent pay by scoring on the ensuing rush. He’s less skilled than a player like Lisowsky, which is why I’m putting him ninth, but I could easily see someone taking a chance on Ward over Lisowsky because he’s more polished. Ward can play at just as high of a pace and can make plays, which is something Lisowsky can’t do.
I’m not entirely sure where to place Ward’s upside. I’m not sure if I see second-line skill, which likely means that he’ll be a third line player at best in the NHL. Still, that role might be suited for him because he can get some favorable matchups and take advantage of a team’s slower defensive pairing. I don’t see Ward becoming a perennial 20+ goal scorer, but I do see him becoming a 30-40 point player if he does reach the NHL.
10. Tyler Brennan (Prince George)
Brennan has been fine on a not so great team this year. He stands at six foot four, which essentially guarantees that he’ll get drafted this summer. NHL teams love big goalies, and Brennan is likely the WHL’s best draft eligible goalie for the 2022 draft. Brennan is a goaltender with excellent positioning and excellent coverage of the top half of the net. I’d like to see his recovery from a save improve. If the right shot gets him out of position, it’s easy to beat him because he’s slower getting to the rebound. But still, his puck tracking ability is superb and he can stop a lot of shots.
It’s hard to tell sometimes whether Brennan is a product of a bad defense or if there are problems in his game. I’d wager that he goes in the early third round, but with this year’s goalie class being underwhelming by the looks of things, he could easily go higher. He’s absolutely worth a draft pick because if he improves on the few holes in his game, he could be an NHL backup or even a starter.
Other Names to Watch
Fraser Minten, Joshua Davies and Reid Dyck missed the cut. Minten does a lot of things well but isn’t elite in any area, making me question his upside and NHL odds. He might only be a fourth line player. Davies hasn’t been overly impressive to me when I’ve watched him, although his shot alone makes him a threat when he’s on the ice. Dyck plays on a very bad Swift Current team but has had some decent moments that make me think he could warrant a mid to late round selection. There are more players that I liked as fourth round or later selections, but I felt that the ten I selected were the best that the WHL has to offer this season, for one reason or another.
One other player that missed the top ten was Jordan Gustafson. He’s one of the top scoring draft eligible skaters in the WHL, but I left him off of the list for a few reasons. First, his decision making with the puck is poor and he skates the puck into a corner with alarming frequency. He can be a turnover machine and his skating is only average to slightly above average. That coupled with his size have me worried about his NHL upside, so I felt that I couldn’t put him on this list. I’m firmly in the camp that believes that a player’s height doesn’t equate to their skill level, but a lot of NHL teams hesitate to draft these smaller players. And if the player’s skating is only average, it’s a tough hurdle to overcome if that player wants to reach the NHL. So with those reasons in mind, I left Gustafson out of the top ten. Ward and Lisowsky are both undersized forwards but they’re better with the puck and better skaters than Gustafson, at least in my eyes.
Overall, it’s a pretty top-heavy WHL class. Outside of the top three, it’s anyone’s guess as to how each player will pan out. This draft will likely end up being a better one than the 2021 draft due to every player having a full season, but it won’t be a deep one. Teams will have to work to find gems in the later rounds. That’s what makes the draft fun, though. It’s great when your first round pick works out, but it’s almost more exciting having one of your later picks turn into an NHL player because it shows that your scouts put in the work that season.