2021 NHL Draft: 5 WHL Players to Watch
While the 2020 NHL Draft hasn’t happened yet, this would normally be the time where we start to turn our attention to the following edition of the event. For the sake of normalcy, I’m going to begin the 2021 NHL Draft coverage with a seven-part series introducing some of the names you’ll want to keep an eye one when the 2020-21 hockey seasons start – whenever that may be.
This is the fourth edition in the series, where we’ll head out west to the Western Hockey League, where there are several potential top-10 picks to be seen this season. After an impressive 2019 class from the Dub, 2020 looks a little quieter, at least at the very top. Well, in 2021, I can assure you that the WHL will be a league to watch.
As we begin to look towards the upcoming hockey season, here are five players – plus one bonus player not actually in the WHL – in the league that you need to keep an eye on (alphabetically listed).
Sebastian Cossa, G, Edmonton Oil Kings
We’ll start in net, taking a look at a netminder that could very well hear his name called in the first round. Sebastian Cossa had a stellar rookie season for the Edmonton Oil Kings, playing 33 games with a 21-6-3 record. He had four shutouts that contributed to his 2.23 goals against average (GAA) and .921 save percentage (SV&).
Now, remember – he’s a WHL rookie. His 2.23 GAA was fourth-best in the WHL, while his .921 SV% and shoutouts were tied for third. He started off this season on a particularly high note, getting his first WHL start, win, and shutout all at once on Oct. 4, 2019, with a 40-save performance. He was recently invited to Team Canada’s virtual selection camp for the national junior team.
Cossa is a very athletic goaltender, shown in his movement in the crease and his quick reflexes to stop pucks. For a 17-year-old to win the starting job in the WHL is no small feat, and a big part of that is his calmness in the net. He always seems poised and collected in the crease, ready for whatever is thrown at him.
The technical side of his game still needs some fine-tuning, as many goaltenders do at this age, especially in his positioning. But he’ll likely have at least two years of manning the Oil Kings’ crease to further that development piece. He’s more likely to be a second-rounder, but with a big season, he could be in first-round territory.
Dylan Guenther, RW, Edmonton Oil Kings
One of my favourite forwards in this draft class, Dylan Guenther is another Oil King that you’ll need to be watching this year. He just wrapped up a very impressive rookie season where the right winger racked up 26 goals, 33 assists, and 59 points in just 58 games. In the defensive WHL, that’s extremely impressive.
His season was so good that he earned the Jim Piggott Trophy as the WHL Rookie of the Year. He also played for Team Canada, collecting three goals in the six games played at the 2019 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge.
One of the biggest standouts about Guenther is his elite hockey sense at both ends of the ice. He reads the play so incredibly well. Defensively, he knows when to take a chance, spring forward, and pick off a pass, or when to hang back and take away a passing lane. Offensively, he reads defenders so well and knows where to find his teammates, setting up plays with regularity.
He’s a player that never takes his foot off the gas, even without the puck. You can tell he’s hungry for his team to win and he’s always hungry to have the puck on his stick. Combining this with his elusive skating, his quick hands, and his hard shot, Guenther might be one of the first forwards to hear his name come off the board on draft day. But he’s used to that.
Carson Lambos, D, Winnipeg Ice
Right after Guenther was taken first overall in the 2018 WHL Bantam Draft, the then-Kootenay Ice selected Carson Lambos. Now the Winnipeg Ice, they have to be happy with their decision. The 6-foot-1, 201-pound defender has blossomed into arguably the most dynamic defender on the Ice and could be one of the best in the entire league for 2020-21.
In his rookie season, the left-shot defenseman showed off his playmaking ability with 24 assists, adding eight goals for 32 points in 57 games. That was the most points for a rookie defender. He was thrown into all scenarios on the ice, a great sign of what’s to come for the young d-man.
His acceleration might be among the best in this draft class, and once he gets going he has a great top speed. But that’s not just straight-line speed. Lambos is excellent when it comes to changing direction, switching his path quickly and making him hard to predict when he’s coming at you.
On top of this, he’s an excellent passer. He sees the ice so well, starting from behind the net, quarterbacking the play. He can dish out a far, hard pass, or skate it up and slip the puck to a teammate. He also makes good decisions on the ice. While he likes to pinch, he picks his moments as to not get caught. There’s no question for me that Lambos is one of the best defenders in this class.
Cole Sillinger, C, Medicine Hat Tigers
All of the players in this series are very good. They should all be high picks in the 2021 NHL Draft. But boy, Cole Sillinger might be one of the most fun to watch. The Medicine Hat Tigers’ centreman put on a show in the WHL this season and you should expect more of that this season.
Sillinger collected 22 goals, 31 assists, and 53 points this season – in just 48 games. His total finished fourth among rookies, but his points-per-game rate (1.10) finished second. While he’s behind Guenther on my list (for now), he showed him up at the U17s, collecting five goals in the six games played.
Sillinger drives the offense for his line. He’s always looking to create plays and does so often, one of the simple yet crucial aspects of a hockey player at any level. He drives the puck towards the back of the net every play, whether he passes it off or takes it home himself. There’s no worry about Sillinger not being able to drive to the middle at all.
At 6-foot, 187-pounds, Sillinger battles hard at all times. He’ll fight with you along the boards (usually winning) or meet you in open ice to knock you off the puck. He gets off a quick, deceptive shot, he can create space for himself and his teammates and reads the play so well. He’ll be many draft-enthusiast’s favourite 2021 prospect next year if he’s not already.
Logan Stankoven, C, Kamloops Blazers
Logan Stankoven may be a bit undersized at 5-foot-8, 170-pounds, but the Kamloops Blazers’ forward doesn’t play to that size. Playing on the highest-scoring team in the league (thanks to Zane Franklin and Connor Zary), the 2021-draft eligible prospect did not look out of place.
He collected 29 goals and 19 assists, good for 48 points in his 59 games played. His goal total actually tied Michal Teply for the rookie goal-scoring title. Not too shabby. He also dressed for the U17s, adding four more goals to his season in five more games.
Being a smaller player, being a great skater is a must. Assuming he continues on his development path as he has, this is a big checkmark for the young player. He’s explosive is his first steps, allowing him to accelerate quickly and with power. After that, he’s shifty and has the ability to weave through traffic.
He does very well in pulling defenders into him, giving his teammates space, and then getting a pass through. He will need to keep working on getting open himself when his teammates have the puck to give them that extra option, but he seems to have all the tools to put everything together. He could be in line for a big season.
BONUS: Corson Ceulemans, D, Brooks Bandits (AJHL)
Alright – Corson Ceulemans does not play in the WHL. But, he doesn’t fit into any other category I’m highlighting in this series either. So, with him playing in the Alberta Junior Hockey League, I’m plugging him in here because he deserves a mention. As the heading says, consider this a bonus.
Ceulemans played 44 games this season for the Brooks Bandits, potting five goals and 30 assists for 35 points. He finished second among U17 players in the league for points, but as a defender, that’s very impressive. He also played in the World U17s, going a point-per-game with four assists. He’s committed to the Wisconsin Badgers for 2022-23.
Ceulemans can be described as a high risk, high reward player. He’s an excellent skater that can rush the puck, likes to jump in the play, and really likes to take chances. Sometimes, he can get caught for that but if he can nail down when to and when not to take a risk, there could be a very special prospect here.
In his own end, he can force turnovers and use his big 6-foot-2, 190-pound frame to push opponents off the puck. Again though, he does take some risks going for the puck that can leave him out of position. He’s definitely a work in progress, but I do think the ceiling is very high for this young defender.
Others to Watch
- Colton Dach, LW, Saskatoon Blades
- Ryder Korczak, C, Moose Jaw Warriors
- Conner Roulette, F, Seattle Thunderbirds
- Zack Stringer, RW, Lethbridge Hurricanes
- Graham Sward, D, Spokane Chiefs
Plenty of 2021 NHL Draft Top Prospects in WHL
The WHL is definitely going to be a very exciting group to watch this season. There’s a chance that all of the six players listed above could all be drafted in the first round. Or at least the majority. Taking that a step further, I think three of them could even go in the top-10. Buckle up, folks. The 2020-21 WHL season should be very exciting for draft-eligible prospects.
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