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WHL favorite Winterhawks ranked No. 3 in junior hockey; 15 players invited to NHL camps

The Portland Winterhawks are the top-rated Western Hockey League and third overall in the first Canadian Hockey League poll of junior teams.

The weekly rankings of the CHL's Top 10 teams are selected by a panel of National Hockey League scouts.

The defending Quebec league and Memorial Cup champions, the Saint John Sea Dogs, open the season in top spot after spending an incredible 23 weeks in the rankings in each of the past two seasons. The Sea Dogs led the CHL with three players selected in the first round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft: Jonathan Huberdeau, selected third overall by the Florida Panthers; Nathan Beaulieu, selected 17th overall by the Montreal Canadiens; Zack Phillips, selected 28th overall by the Minnesota Wild.

The Niagara IceDogs are the top-ranked Ontario team at No. 2 in the CHL. The Winterhawks, at No. 3, have had 12 players selected in the last two NHL drafts.

The first CHL Top 10:

1. Saint John Sea Dogs

2. Niagara IceDogs

3. Portland Winterhawks

4. Shawinigan Cataractes

5. Plymouth Whalers

6. Quebec Remparts

7. Kelowna Rockets

8. Sarnia Sting

9. Red Deer Rebels

10. Victoriaville Tigres

In other news,the Winterhawks will have 15 players, over half of their regular-season roster, attending NHL training camps. That number is the highest of any team in the WHL this season.

Of the 15 players, 13 are NHL draft picks. Oliver Gabriel was signed by the Columbus Blue Jackets last October after attending their 2010 training camp as a free-agent invitee, while Taylor Peters will be attending the Minnesota Wild's camp this year as a free agent invitee.

'Attending NHL training camps will be a tremendous experience for all of these players,' said Mike Johnston, Portland general manager and coach. 'Competing against the best players in the world every day will show them what it takes to make it to that level.'

Among the 15 players attending camps are the five 20-year-olds currently on the roster. WHL rules state that teams can carry a maximum of three 20-year-olds on their roster after October 13, which means at least two of those 20-year-olds will not be back in Portland after that date.

The players attending NHL training camps are (name, age, NHL team, draft/free agency information):

Taylor Aronson, 20, Nashville Predators, third round, 78th overall in 2010

Sven Bartschi, 19, Calgary Flames, first round, 13th overall in 2011

Riley Boychuk, 20, Buffalo Sabres, seventh round, 208th overall in 2010

Mac Carruth, 19, Chicago Blackhawks, seventh round, 191st overall in 2010

Oliver Gabriel, 20, Columbus Blue Jackets, signed by Columbus as a free agent on Oct. 7, 2010

Ryan Johansen, 19, Columbus Blue Jackets, first round, fourth overall in 2010

Joe Morrow, 19, Pittsburgh Penguins, first round, 23rd overall in 2011

Nino Niederreiter, 19, New York Islanders, first round, fifth overall in 2010

Taylor Peters, 19, Minnesota Wild, free-agent invitee

Brett Ponich, 20, St. Louis Blues, second round, 48th overall in 2009

Ty Rattie, 18, St. Louis Blues, second round, 32nd overall in 2011

Brad Ross, 19, Toronto Maple Leafs, second round, 43rd overall in 2010

Troy Rutkowski, 19, Colorado Avalanche, fifth round, 137th overall in 2010

Tyler Wotherspoon, 18, Calgary Flames, second round, 57th overall in 2011

William Wrenn, 20, San Jose Sharks, second round, 43rd overall in 2009