WHL Cultivates Impact NHLers

The style of hockey played in the WHL is the closest to the NHL you will find in junior hockey which is why you see so many former WHLers making an impact in the NHL. Lets take a look at a few players who are dominating the WHL who make excellent prospects for your fantasy hockey team.

Brett Connolly was drafted sixth overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning last year. The biggest question heading into the draft was Connolly’s health, which he seems to have answered early this season with 15 goals and 25 points in 20 WHL games. There are several NHL scouts who said that if Connolly was healthy last season he would have been competing with Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin for 1st overall.

Connolly is a very gifted offensive player who has helped propel the Prince George Cougars into a tie for second in their division and tied for sixth in their conference as of November 13, 2010. Only three other players have more goals this season and if he stays healthy Connolly should be the WHL’s leading goal scorer.

With Steve Yzerman as the Lightning GM you can expect him to follow the Detroit Red Wings’ model for prospect development, which is not to rush their development and they must earn the right to play in the show.

Connolly will have to show that he can handle playing against men and will definitely see at least one season in the AHL before playing full time in the NHL. Connolly’s NHL career potential is a 50-goal and 95-point player.

The Boston Bruins drafted Craig Cunningham in the fourth round at last years NHL Entry Draft. Cunningham is only 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds but this is a new era in the NHL where smaller players can be an impact.

Cunningham is a pure offensive player who put up 97 points last season to finish sixth overall in WHL scoring.  This season Cunningham has scored 39 points in 22 games and is leading the WHL in scoring by seven points. Cunningham is a 20-year-old so this will be his last season in the WHL and will need a couple seasons in the AHL before making the jump to the NHL. The Bruins have had success in drafting wingers from the Vancouver Giants and he is definitely a player to keep an eye on.

Darcy Kuemper is currently the best goaltender in the WHL. Kuemper has the most wins and shutouts over 20 games while posting a league low GAA of 1.78. Kuemper has helped put the Red Deer Rebels into first place in their conference.

The Minnesota Wild drafted Kuemper in the sixth round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. Kuemper is a bigger goalie at 6-4 who has already seen action in the AHL where he won two of the four games he played in. Kuemper is sitting behind Matt Hackett and Anton Khudobin on the Wild’s prospect depth chart but Kuemper has gotten better every year he has played. Remember goaltenders take longer to develop and Kuemper should slowly move up the depth charts.

The last player we will look at is a dark horse and is an undrafted free agent. Brandon Manning is not only leading all WHL defensemen in scoring but he is also in the top 20 overall for scoring. Manning has an extremely hard point shot, can carry the puck end-to-end and is not afraid to drop the gloves.

Manning attended the New York Rangers prospect camp this year and showed he could play at that level. Don’t let the fact that he went undrafted scare you off as he has all the tools to be a gritty offensive minded defenseman in the NHL.

Brian Rafalski, Dan Boyle and Borje Salming were never drafted and went on to have great NHL careers. I am not comparing Manning to those stars but rather showing that players who are undrafted can develop into strong NHLers. If your hockey pool allows you to sign undrafted players I would definitely be adding Manning to my fantasy roster.

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