Taking A Deeper Look At The Future Of The Western Hockey League

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

The 2018 NHL Entry Draft saw many special talents have their names called early. However, through the first sixteen picks, exactly zero players were drafted from the Western Hockey League. With the seventeenth pick, the New Jersey Devils selected Ty Smith, making him the first WHL’er off the board.

It wasn’t until the Toronto Maple Leafs drafted Riley Stotts at #83 that the first forward from the WHL was selected. It was truly a poor year for the West, especially for high-end forwards. At first glance, the reality of the 2018 Draft was slightly concerning for the outlook of the WHL going forward.

Fortunately for the “Dub”, things could not be looking any brighter. Dylan Cozens, Kirby Dach, Peyton Krebs and Bowen Byram are all consensus (or close to) Top 10 selections for the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. After those four, Matthew Robertson, Nolan Foote, and Lassi Thomson are also likely candidates to be taken in the first round. It’s safe to say the Western Hockey League talent is on full display for this coming draft, the best one to date for Western talent in several years now come and gone.

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The incoming talent goes far beyond 2019, with many players looking to make their mark out west. The 2020 draft class from the WHL appears at this stage to be slightly above average. Notable names include Connor McClennon, Jake Neighbours, Connor Zary, Seth Jarvis, Braden Schneider and Kaiden Guhle.

Every one of these guys has a fair chance of cracking 2020’s top 31 and that’s without mentioning many other talented players who could emerge next season. The incoming 2003 born class is very strong, led by the first overall pick of the most recent bantam draft in Dylan Guenther. Other headliners include Logan Stankoven, Carson Lambos, Zack Stringer and Cole Sillinger.

From what I’ve gathered, the 2003’s are clearly the best birth year to come along in recent memory. It will be lots of fun to watch these players develop into established junior stars in the next few years.

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The most fascinating part of the WHL’s up and coming talent; two players outshining their age groups by more than a country mile. Matthew Savoie is a 2004 born player who recently applied for exceptional status. I believe without a doubt he will be granted it and will be eligible to play full time for the 2019-20 season. It’s incredibly rare that a player plays with an older age group (in this case the 2003’s) and becomes the best player in that particular age group.

I say it’s incredibly rare that players do this, because at the end of the day, it really is as rare as it sounds. However, Connor Bedard, a first-year bantam player, is setting fire to the CSSBHL where he has over twice as many goals as any other player in the league. That’s right, he has more than twice as many goals as players slated to go in the top 10 of this upcoming bantam draft and he is not even eligible until next season’s selection. As long as Bedard successfully transitions to Midget hockey, I see no reason why he too won’t receive exceptional status should he apply.

There’s no disguising the fact that 2018 was a rough year for the WHL, but after analyzing the incoming talent, there is good reason to believe the influx of talent is really as strong as ever. In fact, just writing this article has got me excited to follow the WHL in the years to come ahead. As for right now, the focus is turned on 2019 where the WHL will be front and center on day one of the new year.

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