Players to watch in the WHL

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 23: The Detroit Red Wings select center Michael Rasmussen with the pick 9th in the first round of the 2017 NHL Draft on June 23, 2017, at the United Center, in Chicago, IL. (Photo by Patrick Gorski/Icon Sportswire)
Patrick Gorski/Icon Sportswire

It seems unlikely that Nolan Patrick, who told reporters at Philadelphia Flyers rookie camp Monday that he is back to 100 percent, will return to the Brandon Wheat Kings this season. While there’s always a chance the Flyers choose to send him back down, the draw of a solid center like Patrick (when he’s healthy) may prove too strong to ignore, and Patrick certainly appears determined to make a good impression.

Keep an eye on that situation as training camp unfolds. In the meantime, here are players who will compete in the Western Hockey League (WHL) this season.

Kieffer Bellows (LW/C, Portland Winterhawks)

Bellows, the former Boston University playeer, made the leap to the WHL this season in part because the schedule more closely resembles that of the NHL. At 72 games, it’s the closest to the NHL’s 82-game schedule (the other two major-junior leagues play 68 games each). Unless teammate Cody Glass achieves his goal of making the Vegas Golden Knights this season, Bellows could play alongside Glass — a potentially dangerous combination for the Winterhawks, and one that could make the transition from NCAA to WHL easier for Bellows.

The main question is: How will Bellows respond to the more intense pace of the WHL season? It’ll be up to him to prove taking his development path from the NCAA to the CHL was the right decision.

Michael Rasmussen (C, Tri-City Americans)

Rasmussen was not the pick most expected Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland to make at ninth overall. As mentioned in June, Rasmussen is not a bad hockey player. He just wasn’t the best available at No. 9. Or No. 10. Or No. 11.

Rasmussen would do well to take this season as an opportunity to prove his detractors wrong and the Red Wings right. One big quibble with his play was his less-than-ideal even strength production, particularly his playmaking abilities. Improvement in that area could go a long way toward both the general view of him as a player and his chances of being an impact player for the Red Wings.

Jordy Bellerive (C, Lethbridge Hurricanes)

Bellerive, who went undrafted in June, is currently at the Pittsburgh Penguins rookie camp on an amateur tryout — and has he made an impression. Overall evaluation of a player should never be based on one rookie camp, but with his performance in this tournament, Bellerive has rightfully turned heads in his direction that previously may not have looked his way.

Though undrafted, he was ranked 82nd by NHL Central Scouting at the end of last season. Bellerive is a smaller player, offensively skilled but not a game-breaker, yet has room to grow his game this season, especially if he gets more ice time with the Hurricanes. If he does, don’t be surprised to see him drafted as an over-ager in Dallas next June.

Ty Smith (D, Spokane Chiefs)

The first overall pick in the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft, Smith is an undersized (in the hockey world) left-shooting defenseman who is an excellent skater. He’s considered a top prospect for the 2018 NHL entry draft, and recently represented Canada at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament.

Smith is a smart, smooth-skating defenseman who can join the rush while still making intelligent defensive decisions. His positioning and playmaking are good, but he could stand to add some muscle and improve his strength.

Teammate Kailer Yamamoto is worth keeping an eye on as well. His offensive play is already high end, and given past viewings, it isn’t unreasonable to expect him to continue to improve. The area of concern with Yamamoto, as always, is his size. He dropped a significant amount of weight over the course of last season, and though he’s still an effective player in the WHL, it could affect whether the Edmonton Oilers believe Yamamoto can contribute at the NHL level. (Spoiler: He can, but proving it is the difficult part.)

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