Saturday, November 18, 2006

Another Attempt--WHL Highlights (Brandon-Chilliwack)

Here is an update on the Western Hockey league teams and players:

Brandon Wheat Kings--off to a very good start to the 2006-07 season (12-10-0-2), as of this morning, the Wheaties are atop the somewhat weak Eastern Division. That does not take away from the efforts of some of the team's top players, including alternate captain, center Codey Burki (Colorado 2nd round 2006) who was named the WHL Player of the Month for the first 6 weeks of the season. With 36 points in 24 games, Burki is showing the ability to finish (17 G), as well as good passing and on-ice presence. Also of note is WHL rookie Juraj Simek (RW), who is a Swiss import playing in North America after being drafted by the Vancouver Canucks last summer. With 31 points in 22 games, he is the second leading rookie scorer in the league. Now I must make a disclosure here, and that is that I spent quite a bit of time with Simek at the Combine last June, which gave me the opportunity to get to know him a bit (and to like him as a person), but independent of that, I believe that he has the maturity and the skill to make it to the NHL, despite his low round selection. Late bloomer Andrew Clark (LW) was overlooked in last summer's NHL draft, but if keeps on putting up the numbers he has at the start of the season (24 pts in 24 gms with a +10 plus/minus), he will be a candidate for a mid to late round selection in 2007. Defenceman Dustin Kohn (NYI, 2nd round selection, 2005) seems to be back in 2004-05 form. After a difficult season in 2005-06, the big blueliner has 23 points in 20 games and looks strong. Finally, veteran netminder Tyler Plante (Florida, 2nd round 2005) has been solid between the pipes, although rookie Joe Caligiuri looks like he has excellent potential. The problem with Caligiuri is his size; at only 5'9" (wink, wink), he will struggle to move on to a professional career unless he gets a little taller.

Calgary Hitmen--With a 14-9-0-1 record, the Hitmen are firmly planted in the middle of the Central Division. The team is 4-2 thus far in November and looks to be a real contender, even though on Wednesday night, the team lost Derek Leblanc (9 pts in 23 games) for about 6 weeks due to a broken wrist. The two players who have performed the best on the team have almost identical numbers. Brodie Dupont (NYR) and Ryan White (MTL), both centers, each have 29 points and are +11 in 24 games. Two 2007 draft-eligible blueliners are also having excellent seasons. The big D-man (6'4", 200) Alex Plante has really blossomed offensively this season, with 16 points in 24 games, 45 PIM and a +1 plus/minus. And just as importantly, Plante has a physicality to match his height, while getting more disciplined as well. An excellent NHL prospect, absent injury, Plante is a player to watch over the next few years. Also big, but not as big in size (6'2", 209), is defenceman Karl Alzner. Really coming into his own this season (20 points, 24 games, +1, 18 PIM), Alzner is more of a nifty puckhandler than Plante and much less physical. That does not mean that he is any less of a top prospect. Just this week, NHL Central Scouting rated Alzner 14th among WHL skaters in their preliminary ratings. With all the buzz surrounding Plante and Alzner, defenceman Michael Hengen in not getting much attention. Hengen, who is playing for his third team in 2 seasons, does have potential. Not on the NHL radar screen last summer for very good reason, if he continues to put up some numbers and most importantly takes care of his own end, Hengen will be able to parlay his play into a professional career. Whether it will be on the NHL level remains to be seen. No talk of Calgary can be complete without a mention of its goaltender Dan Spence (a 1988 player who is still draft eligible in 2007). With a 2.44 GAA and a .915 save percentage this 6'0", 185 netminder should be watched by NHL scouts.

Chilliwack Bruins--The expansion Bruins were not expected to do much this season, and indeed they have the worst record in the league. However, there are a couple of individual players who are worthy of mention. Center Mark Santorelli, who played in the BCHL in 200-06, joined Chilliwack this season and has had an outstanding start. The WHL Player of the Week during the last week in October, Santorelli has 31 points in 24 games (18 PIM, -5 plus/minus) this season. While not on NHL teams' radar at this point, if Santorelli's offensive production continues, he could be a surprise pick next summer. No one will be surprised, however, if Oscar Moller's name gets called by an NHL team in the 2007 draft in Columbus this coming summer. The 5'10.5" right winger has 23 points in 21 games, while maintaining a +2 plus/minus (the only player on the current Chilliwack roster with a positive plus/minus). Currently projected to be a first round selection by ISS in their November scouting reports, Moller is an excellent NHL prospect.