Playoffs can help Hawk prospects in NHL draft

Four Portland players who rank highly know they have to ‘keep working’ to impress pro scouts
by: Christopher Onstott Defenseman Joe Morrow is one of four Portland Winterhawks ranked among the top 40 North American skaters for the June NHL draft.

The final Central Scouting Bureau rankings had four Portland Winterhawks players in the top 40 of North American skaters for the NHL draft, June 24 and 25 in St. Paul, Minn. One of them, defenseman Tyler Wotherspoon, who is ranked No. 40 and probably will go in the third round at the latest, puts that into perspective. “Thank you, but you’ve got to keep working,” says Wotherspoon, from Surrey, British Columbia. “It’s up in the air right now. We see the rankings. You look at that, but anything can happen. It’s what the (NHL) team wants. They have their own rankings.” Indeed, prospects can be enhanced or diminished in the playoffs, and the Winterhawks are working hard toward their goal of winning the Western Hockey League championship and making the Memorial Cup tournament. For Sven Bartschi, Joe Morrow and Ty Rattie — all deemed to be first-round NHL draft material —as well as Wotherspoon, the playoffs mean everything right now, for team and individual. “The scouts, they definitely look at the playoffs as a huge key to your game,” says Morrow, a defenseman from Sherwood Park, Alberta. The four touted Winterhawk prospects have all had good playoff runs, following good to great regular seasons. Just as important, all four draw favorable praise from their coaches, Mike Johnston and Travis Green. Coming off last year, when eight Winterhawks were drafted, including Ryan Johansen (No. 4) and Nino Niederreiter (No. 5), it’s obvious that NHL organizations put much value on the type of coaching that players now receive in Portland, and trust the opinions of Johnston and Green. Johnston has served as an NHL assistant coach, and Green played in the NHL for 14 years. “We try to promote our players,” Johnston says. “But we don’t sell (scouts) on the goods that aren’t there. We believe in our guys. And, all the guys drafted last year were in the right (draft) spot. “Everybody wondered about Johansen, saying, ‘Oh, he probably went too high.’ Well, nobody’s looking at Ryan Johansen now and saying he went too high. They’re saying, ‘I wish I had him.’ Same with Nino.” At the top of the list this year is Swiss import Bartschi, who has greatly impressed with his quickness, skills and smarts. The 5-10, 185-pound winger has climbed to No. 7 in the Central Scouting rankings. Depending on which Europeans rate high for the NHL draft, Bartschi appears to be destined for a top-10 pick. Johnston says NHL scouts considered Bartschi a possible draft pick before he came to Portland, but thought he was maybe a bit small. His play, which included a WHL rookie-leading 34 goals and 51 assists (85 points), propelled him up the rankings. “Now the whole world knows about him,” says Rattie, his linemate. Portland coaches helped Bartschi change his game, he says, to pay more attention to defensive detail, assignments and smaller rinks in North America. “I wouldn’t be here without them, wouldn’t be playing like this without them,” says Bartschi, who always had eyes on an NHL career. Bartschi is quickness personified, Johnston says, and “he probably practices harder than anybody on our team.” The coach adds: “Everything about him is quickness – quick feet, quick shot, quick hands, makes quick decisions. He can receive the puck at full speed, shoot it at full speed, pass it at full speed. He’s really hard for defensemen to handle. His decision-making is instantaneous.” Dreaming of the NHL Morrow is a great example of a kid working his way to the top, in Central Scouting’s case, to No. 12 in North America. Johnston guesses that the 6-1, 200 D-man started the year about No. 100. He says Morrow has been sensational since Christmas time. “I’ve tried to work on consistency, but mainly the defensive aspect,” says Morrow, who led Portland defensemen with nine goals and 40 assists (49 points), the most by a Portland blueliner since 2002-03. “I was told that was the one downside that could be improved a lot.” Morrow skates well, shoots a hard puck, passes adeptly and makes good decisions. Johnston says Morrow needed to work more on poke checks and playing defense with his stick, and reading plays better while still playing physically. “And, the angle on his check is a lot better,” the coach says. Rattie, 6-0, 170 and from Airdrie, Alberta, has been a touted player for years. Johnston says scouts have predicted NHL future for Rattie, who has made steady progress to rise to No. 17 in Central Scouting rankings, after notching 28 goals and 51 assists (79 points). Rattie put on 10 pounds in the offseason and envisions adding another 15 pounds before he goes pro. “When you’re younger, you’re dreaming about talking to an NHL team. Now, you’re talking to an NHL team every day,” he says. “It’s exciting. I’m soaking it in, enjoying it.” The 6-2, 205 Wotherspoon played in the Prospects Game with the three Winterhawks first-round candidates and “got a taste” of draft hype. Johnston describes him as a “subtle” defenseman, not sensational in any one area, just solid in all. He’s a shutdown defenseman who excels on penalty kill. “Guys like him don’t stand out as much as a Rattie or a Morrow,”Johnston says, “but (scouts) came in to watch other guys and got to appreciate the type of player he is.” Pearce Eviston, a 6-1, 190 two-way center from Vancouver, B.C., who joined the Hawks after a solid British Columbia Hockey League (junior A) season, is 169th in Central Scouting rankings. And, Johnston hopes somebody takes a flyer on Taylor Peters, a 6-3, 210 two-way center from Delta, B.C., a year after his first draft eligible season. Last year, the Buffalo Sabres similarly picked Portland forward Riley Boychuk. “I think he’ll find a way to emerge,” Johnston says, of Peters. “If he’s undrafted, there will be people scrambling to get him to (NHL) camp.”