As the summer rolls on, so does our WHL prospects review series. In our first post, we took a look at the seven players selected by NHL teams in the Pacific Division in 2018 and 2019.
Today, we’ll dive into the prospects in the Central Division.
In 2019, the Blackhawks used two of their selections on WHL players. The first being used to pick center Kirby Dach at No. 3 overall. Dach made an immediate impact with the Blackhawks this season, scoring eight goals with 15 assists in 64 games. Dach also had a goal and five assists in the playoffs. However, his team finds itself eliminated against the No. 1 seed Vegas Golden Knights.
In the later stages of the 2019 draft, the Blackhawks selected Cole Moberg in the seventh round, 194th overall. Moberg had just wrapped up his second full season with the Prince George Cougars, scoring 13 goals with 27 assists in 61 games. Both were career-highs for the 6-foot-3, 198-pound defenseman.
Moburg has a nice blend of size, strength, and the ability to still put up points from the blue line. He has a cannon of a shot from the point, and he plans on getting even stronger and faster.
Like the Blackhawks, the Colorado Avalanche also used their top-5 pick in 2019 on a WHL skater. Defenseman Bowen Byram went to Colorado with the fourth overall pick after an incredible year with the Vancouver Giants. During the 2018-19 season, Byram scored 26 goals and 45 assists in 67 games. That ranked him third among defensemen in the WHL in scoring.
Among Byram’s many talents are his puckhandling skills combined with his speed and acceleration. That’s a big reason why he led WHL defensemen with 26 goals in 2018-19. He’s also an accurate passer, creating scoring opportunities for his teammates.
Byram also has 18 games of experience with Canada’s junior teams, scoring a goal to go with seven assists.
The Avalance went on to select three more players from the WHL in the 2019 draft. In the 5th round, Colorado selected Sasha Mutala from the Tri-City Americans. In each of his three seasons in the WHL so far, Mutala has put up balanced scoring each season. After being selected by the Avalanche, Mutala returned to the WHL and put up his best season yet with 28 goals and 39 assists in 62 games.
Mutala also has international experience, serving as team captain for Team Canada Black at the 2017 Under-17 World Hockey Challenge. He led the team with five goals and three assists in five games. He also scored two goals with two assists in five games to help Canada win gold at the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup.
Mutala is a physical winger, checking in at nearly 200 pounds. Yet he still has excellent speed and acceleration, making him a headache for the opposition while he’s on the forecheck.
In the next round, Colorado selected center Luka Burzan from the Brandon Wheat Kings. After joining Brandon mid-season in 2018, Burzan had his breakout year in his first full season with the Wheat Kings. Once he escaped the impressive depth of forwards in Moose Jaw, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Surrey, B.C. native scored 40 goals with 38 assists in 68 games, ranking him second on the team in scoring.
This past season, Burzan put up another solid season in Brandon with 35 goals and 27 assists in 63 games.
Burzan has international experience as well. In 2017, Burzan won a gold medal with Canada at the Hlinka Memorial Tournament. He also won a silver medal at the 2016 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge and a silver medal at the 2015-16 Youth Olympic Games.
For their final selection in 2019, the Avalance took goaltender Trent Miner from the Vancouver Giants in the seventh round. During the 2018-19 season, Miner posted a 14-11-3 record with a 2.76 GA with a .901 save percentage with one shutout.
What Miner lacks in size (He’s only 6-foot-1, 185-pounds), he makes up in mobility and quickness. He’s not afraid to come up in the crease to throw approaching shooters off. He also has a knack for anticipating the play and where passes are going to end up.
Back in 2018, the Stars selected defenseman Dawson Barteaux in the sixth round. Barteaux has bounced around in the WHL, playing for three teams in four seasons. He has spent the bulk of his time with the Red Deer Rebels.
In 2016, Barteaux joined the WHL with the Regina Pats but put up just two assists in 18 games before being traded to Red Deer as part of a massive trade involving four players and four draft picks, including a pair of first-rounders.
Barteaux saw a spike in his production during his first full season with Red Deer in 2017-18, scoring three goals and 29 assists in 64 games. He followed that up with seven goals and 27 assists in 67 games. Barteaux also had nine games of playoff experience in Red Deer with five assists.
Last September, Barteaux signed his entry-level deal with the Stars with an AAV of $791,667.
After being drafted by the Stars, Barteaux returned to the WHL where he split the last season between Red Deer and Winnipeg. It was his best season yet with 10 goals and 32 assists in 62 games.
Barteaux is a two-way defenseman who is a natural leader, part of the reason he served as captain during the last of his time with Red Deer.
In 2019, the Minnesota wild selected defenseman Adam Beckman from the Spokane Chiefs in the third round. Beckman burst right onto the scene during the 2018-19 season. That year, he scored 32 goals and 30 assists in 68 games. He thrived during the playoffs as well with eight goals and four assists in 15 games as the Chiefs reached the Western Conference Championship.
Beckman’s production went through the roof last season, scoring 48 goals and 59 assists for 107 points in 63 games, making him the only player in the WHL to break the 100-point barrier. Beckman certainly turned heads and got an invite to Canada’s national junior team development camp.
His puck handling and quick shot make him a nightmare for opposing goalies, and his passing is also top-notch, keeping the netminders in check anytime Beckman possesses the puck.
Beckman signed his entry-level deal with the Wild in March. If he keeps putting up numbers as he did in Spokane this season, it might not be long before we see him in Minnesota.
St. Louis Blues
Back in 2018, the Blues used their fourth-round pick to select Portland Winterhawks goalie Joel Hofer, who was fresh off a WHL championship with the Swift Current Broncos. However, at the start of his next season, Hofer struggled. The 6-foot-5, 172-pound netminder posted a record of 6-21-3 with a .904 save percentage and a 4.02 GAA.
He then moved to Portland mid-season where his numbers started to improve, which he credited to more playing time and solid coaching. For the remainder of the season, Hofer went 9-8-0 with a .911 save percentage and a 3.18 GAA. This past season, Hofer really found his stride, going 34-8-5 with a .915 save percentage and a 2.49 GAA. At the time of the season’s cancelation, Portland sat atop the WHL with 97 points and looked poised for a deep playoff run.
Hofer also appeared in six games for Canada’s gold medal-winning U20 team at the 2020 World Junior Hockey Championships, going a perfect 5-0-0 with a .946 save percentage and a 1.30 GAA.
In March 2019, the Blues signed Hofer to his entry-level contract with an AAV of $925,000.
Hofer has certainly put his sluggish start in the WHL behind him, and it will be exciting to see just how high his ceiling is.