There are 40 current Western Hockey League players that have been selected by NHL teams in the 2017-2019 drafts. 23 of the 31 NHL teams own the draft rights for those 40 players. Names like Bowen Byram, Peyton Krebs, Dylan Cozens, and Nolan Foote stand out on the league’s rosters.
Only 11 out of the 40 are signed to entry-level contracts with their respective teams.
Three of the 40, who were drafted in 2017, were not picked up by the teams that drafted them when it came time to offer contracts to 2017 prospects this past spring. Players have two years from their draft day to earn entry-level contracts (ELCs) with NHL teams; if they fail, they become free agents. Luckily, they can still play in the WHL.
With the “slide rule”, NHL teams can call up their WHL prospects on loan for up to nine games without it costing them a year of the players’ ELCs. If the NHL team keeps them for more than nine games, it will be counted as one year of their three-year deals.
Let’s examine who we can expect to see come out of the WHL this year or next.
Cozens, picked seventh overall by Buffalo this year, could easily see NHL ice time by the end of the 2019-2020 season. In 13 games with Lethbridge so far this season, he has 17 points and a +3 rating. Though the Sabres would likely wait until late in the season to call him up (to stay within slide rule terms), Cozens could feasibly replace Vladimir Sobotka at center if the team makes a playoff push. Cozens signed an ELC this summer.
Carson Focht, a Vancouver prospect, had an immensely productive 2018-2019 season and is continuing his success this season with the Calgary Hitmen. Last season, he recorded 64 points in 68 games played. In 11 games this season, Focht has 15 points and a +7 rating. He was drafted in the fifth round this year and is still on the weaker side physically, but Focht could get the call from the Canucks if Tyler Motte or Adam Gaudette aren’t pulling enough weight. Focht has not yet been signed by the Canucks.
The Capitals are a strong team this year and barring any injury crises, there probably won’t be much roster movement. But Aliaksei Protas (a Belarusian!) is a forward prospect, drafted 91st overall by Washington this year, they should keep close at hand. Currently skating for the Prince Albert Raiders, Protas has 19 points in 14 games with a +16 rating to boot. Last season he finished with 40 points in 61 games and an impressive +24 rating. Protas signed an ELC this summer.
The Minnesota Wild will likely have some breathing room in terms of competitiveness this year, so it would be an apt time to slot winger Adam Beckman in for a few games. Beckman has been a stud for Spokane in 2018-2019 and into this year: 62 points in 68 games last year, 20 points in just 13 games so far this year. Mats Zuccarello has struggled his first month in Minnesota, but the Wild aren’t likely to bench him unless things get really bad. So, Beckman could be a candidate to sub in for Kevin Fiala at some opportune point this year. Beckman is not under contract yet.
Nolan Foote, a natural left wing, would have probably had a better chance of cracking a lineup sooner had the Lightning not been the ones to draft him. Tampa Bay is flush with offensive talents; most of their forwards are capable of playing center and left/right wing. Foote is a lefty, and the Lightning are notoriously strong in the left wing position- Patrick Maroon brings up the rear on the fourth forward line. That being said, Foote will likely have to wait until 2020-2021 to make his debut for Tampa Bay, unless the team hits a major skid this season. Foote has been playing in the WHL for the Kelowna Rockets since he was 16. Last season, he played in 66 games and recorded 63 points. So far this season, Foote has 16 points in just 11 games, with a +5 rating. He desperately needs to cut down on his time in the box, however. He already has 21 PIMs this season. Foote signed an ELC this summer.
Mark Kastelic, an Ottawa Senators prospect, was on the older side of the 2019 draft (I know, he’s just 20) but could very easily see ice time in Ottawa by the end of the year. Kastelic is lucky the Senators are bad, because he probably can’t do much worse than, say, Mikkel Boedker (-23 last season). His stats from last year would be incredible if it weren’t for the bloated penalty minutes he recorded. Kastelic put together a blazing 77 points in 66 games with the Calgary Hitmen last year, but sat in the box for a whopping 122 PIMs. He doesn’t look like much less of a liability so far this year either; he’s got 11 points in eight games, but has already sat for 14 PIMs. Kastelic is not under contract yet.
He might not break out this year, but center Cole Fonstad has to be on Montreal’s radar. Between the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 seasons, Fonstad skated in 139 games for the Prince Albert Raiders and racked up 146 points and a +27 rating. Traded to the Everett Silvertips on Oct. 13, Fonstad is continuing his red hot play with 15 points in 12 games this season, with a +10 rating. He is not under contract with Montreal yet.
Bowen Byram is pretty much a lock to play for the Avalanche next year. Perhaps this year, too, but Colorado is a strong team and probably aren’t looking to change up defensive pairings. Byram was Colorado’s first round pick this year, and went fourth overall for a reason. Last season he played in 67 regular season games for the Vancouver Giants, recorded 71 points, and was defensively spectacular with a +33 on-ice rating. The Giants competed for the WHL’s Memorial Cup last season and Byram had 26 points in 22 playoff games. Ryan Graves, Mike Barberio, and Nikita Zadorov will all become free agents next summer, so it will be a perfect time for Byram to debut. Byram signed an ELC with Colorado this summer.
Florida prospect John Ludvig probably won’t don a Panthers uniform this season or perhaps even the next, but he’s worth monitoring. He’s off to a great start with the Portland Winterhawks- 13 points in 12 games and a +8 rating. Last season Ludvig recorded just 18 points in 58 games, but had a massive +38 rating.
The Maple Leafs loaded up more on defense during the offseason, bringing Tyson Barrie in and re-signing Morgan Rielly. If they’re looking for a bottom-pairing defenseman to improve their transitional game, Toronto should look at Filip Kral. Kral, currently playing in Spokane, is improving and adapting his game from a finesse-heavy European style (he’s Czech) to a faster-paced North American style. Last season he put up 36 points in 47 games and a +17 rating. Kral is picking up where he left off this season with 13 points in 13 games and a +6 rating. Kral is not signed to an ELC yet.
Wyatte Wylie, the Flyers’ 2018 fifth-round pick, is showing his worth at right defense in Everett. Last year, his first after getting drafted, Wylie put up 47 points in 67 games and a crisp +33 rating. Wylie is again producing solid numbers so far this year- 11 points in 12 games with a +5 rating. As a late rounder, Wylie isn’t likely to land in Philadelphia in the near future, but the almost 20-year old is trending positively towards a call-up. Wylie does not have an ELC yet.
The struggling Devils could be calling their 17th overall pick in 2018 to the pros at any time. 19-year old Ty Smith has torn it up for Spokane these past few seasons. Between the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 WHL seasons, Smith has played in 126 games and notched 142 points and a +49 rating. Through 10 games this year, Smith has eight points and a +6 rating. New Jersey is slightly stronger at the left defense position than right defense, which doesn’t give Smith as open of a path to the NHL, but an aging Andy Greene could be the Devils’ target to slot Smith in. Smith is not under contract in New Jersey yet.
Dustin Wolf is an extremely solid prospect for the Flames. Last season, Wolf went 41-15-2 for Everett and maintained a 1.69 Goals Against Average (GAA) and .936 save percentage. Oh, and he backstopped seven shutouts. 18-year old Wolf has started in 10 games so far this season and already has another two shutouts on his record. He’s currently 7-3-0 and is rolling with a .945 save percentage. Calgary desperately needs the help in net; their tandem of David Rittich and Cam Talbot is disaster prone, and the Flames are gunning for a Stanley Cup. Wolf is very young, but could become the Flames’ future in net. Wolf is not on an ELC yet.
You wouldn’t be reaching too far in say that the Blues are a steady team in net. Jake Allen has been shaky, sure, but there won’t be much movement on the Binnington/Allen tandem until both goalies’ contracts end after the 2020-2021 season. Until then, Joel Hofer will be getting his reps in with Portland. Hofer hasn’t been outstanding during his time in the WHL (Swift Current & Portland), but is still young and has room to grow. This season needs to be a step up for him. The 6’5 Hofer will likely be getting more starts ahead of Winterhawks’ goalie Isaiah DiLaura and needs to make them count- as a 2018 draft pick, he will be on St. Louis’ block next summer if he doesn’t improve. Hofer has signed an ELC with St. Louis.