USING NUMBERS TO LOOK AT THE NHL'S FUTURE STARS
With the powerhouse Kelowna Rockets taking on a solid Victoria Royals team, I thought it was as good of a time as any to track my first WHL game of the year.
Both teams possess quality draft eligibles (highly touted winger Nick Merkley on Kelowna; underrated center Tyler Soy on Victoria) as well as some high-end drafted players, so there were plenty of options as to which players to track.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I like to track 3-4 players per game because it can be a bit chaotic if the number gets too high, so I decided to track Merkley and Oilers prospect Leon Draisaitl for Kelowna, while I tracked Soy and Red Wings defensemen Joe Hicketts for Victoria.
Note: PvR stopped recording with about 5 mins left in the 3rd. There was a late PP, so I missed 2-3 mins of ES time.
The Kelowna Rockets are loaded from top-to-bottom and have high-end players on each of their top three lines, so it wasn’t a surprise to see Merkley and Draisaitl, who play on different lines, both trusted in the defensive zone, but also given some offensive zone starts. This was a pretty even game, and Kelowna didn’t seem to care who was on the ice – at least up front – regardless of where play was starting.
That was the case for Hicketts, too. He’s Victoria’s top blue liner and the game was pretty even, so naturally his zone starts were evenly distributed as well.
As for Soy, he played a little less sparingly, so I think Victoria picked their spots a little more with his zone starts. He certainly seemed capable of playing defense, and did a nice job driving play, which you’ll see shortly.
Nick Merkley was very effective carrying the puck up ice and into the offensive zone, but Leon Draisaitl was a machine in that regard. He used his big strong frame to protect the puck, and made his entries look easy. Obviously it’s nice to have highly skilled players like Draisaitl spoon fed offensive zone starts, but I can see why Kelowna isn’t too concerned with how they use him. He really excelled in this game regardless of his usage.
Joe Hicketts didn’t have an entry attempt, and Soy made good of his lone try. He did have a few zone entries on the man advantage, but that’s to be expected.
Merkley spent a good portion of his time playing against Joe Hicketts at even-strength, so what he was able to accomplish was quite impressive for a 17-year-old. He didn’t get on the scoresheet, but he played well and created/had several chances.
Draisaitl was an absolute freak. He wasn’t rewarded for his efforts until late – he had a PPG and an assist in the final eight minutes – but he dominated this game from start to finish. OZ start? Here comes a few shot attempts. NZ or DZ start? No problem, Draisaitl just carried the puck up ice, into the OZ and went to town. What a player.
Hicketts logged a ton of minutes and spent almost all of his time against either Merkley’s line or Draisatl’s, so it was tough for him to come out even in the shot attempt battle; especially considering he has lesser players to work with. 41% isn’t the greatest, but you can live with it given who he was up against.
Last but not least, Soy did a heck of a job driving play. His defensive positioning forced some turnovers in the defensive zone, and offensively he generated quite a bit. Considering he has 24 goals, 54 points and (for whoever likes the stat) a plus-20 rating on a mid tier team – 9th out of 20 in the WHL – you’d think he’d be regarded higher (ranked 152 among NA skaters by Central Scouting). He’s listed at 5’11’ on the WHL website, too, so it’s not as if size is much of an issue. This was the first time I’ve seen him play, but I’m sure you could do much worse in the mid-to-late rounds than Soy.
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