2016 NHL Draft: WHL Preview

Tyler Benson #17 (L) and Alec Baer #8 of the Vancouver Giants celebrates Baer’s second goal against the Prince George Cougars during the first period of their WHL game at the Pacific Coliseum on October 18, 2014 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Oct. 17, 2014 –
Source: Ben Nelms/Getty Images North America

After previewing the OHL and the NCAA, we turn to the next league in the CHL. The Western Hockey League is full of future 1st rounders, and possibly some sleepers in the upcoming 2016 NHL Draft.

This upcoming draft has been hyped as the All-American draft with the prospects hailing from the USA projected to go in the 1st round, but the WHL could take people by surprise with the quality of prospects it produces this year.

The top prospect coming out of the Western Hockey League has to be Tyler Benson. Benson is entering his 2nd full season with the Vancouver Giants and is looking to improve upon his 14 goal and 31 assist season last year, which he is fully capable of doing.

Benson was one of the best players on the ice during the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament for the gold medal-winning Canada. His big body is always a big factor and it helped him create space to produce points.

At 6’0″ and 201 lbs, it is not hard for Tyler Benson to outwork his opponents. He makes effortless strides around, or through them. His acceleration is a key aspect to his game. He uses speed and his big body to get around defenders to get to the net, where his heavy shot comes into play. If he is in a position where he can’t power his way through, which is rare, Benson uses his underrated hands to deke through the opposition.

A good year for Benson could cement him as a top 10 pick and maybe could get into the top 5 with a VERY good year.

Another can’t miss prospect making his way through the WHL is Kale Clague of the Brandon Wheat Kings. Clague is also entering his 2nd full season in the league and looking to have a good year to position himself well in the 2016 NHL Draft.

Clague, 1998 born, was selected 6th overall in the WHL Bantam Draft by the Wheat Kings, so he has always been playing up to high expectations. Last season and during the Ivan Hlinka Clague showed his potential in playing at both ends of the ice. His stationary defense in the zone has some upside, but not as much as his rush defense. Clague’s offensive skills are up to snuff as well. He has a powerful shot from the point and extends some decent passes.

One last prospect that has been pinned for the past year or so is Regina Pats forward Sam Steel. Steel had a year similar to Benson last season with 17 goals and 37 assists in 61 games.

Steel is a small center at 5’11” and 176 lbs; however, his size does not affect his ability to put defenders to school with his slick hands. His stride is noteworthy as well. He is able to start the stride with his next foot simultaneously with the previous foot. He skates like his feet never lift off the ice. This helps him with quick changes in direction.

The battle for best forward out of the WHL will certainly be fun to watch. Benson will look to take a strong lead, but prospects like Sam Steel, Brett Howden, and Tanner Kaspick will look to compete with his spot as the best draft prospect in the WHL.

As far as the best draft defenseman in the WHL, Kale Clague should be the runaway with it. There are a few dark horses in Max Lajoie of the Swift Current Broncos and Libor Hajek of the Saskatoon Blades.

The WHL is the last league in the CHL to begin regular season hockey. See these draft prospects kick off their season on Thursday, September 24th.

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