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An NHL fan’s guide to the WHL

When I moved to Seattle 14 years ago, I signed up for a partial season ticket package of the Seattle Thunderbirds. I didn’t really know what level the Thunderbirds were in the hockey hierarchy. I just wanted to watch hockey. Originally, I thought it was an interesting hybrid of minor league and semi-pro league hockey for young guys. Shamefully, I lost interest halfway through my first season ticket season and did not renew the following season.

2007 NHL Entry Draft…the “a-ha moment”

It wasn’t until I was watching the 2007 NHL Entry Draft did I realize I could watch the

Thomas Hickey played 4 years with the Seattle Thunderbirds and was drafted #4 overall in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. (Photo Courtesy of the Seattle Thunderbirds.)

NHL’s future stars before they made it to the NHL. I was casually watching the 2007 draft when the #4 pick came up and the Los Angeles Kings drafted “from the Seattle Thunderbirds, Thomas Hickey.” Wait, what? This kid plays in Seattle? Then “with the #8 pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, the Boston Bruins select from the Everett Silvertips, Zach Hamill.” HUH?!?! And this kid plays up in Everett!?!? I was somewhat shocked that these kids were playing in our backyard. That 2007 NHL entry draft would end up with 9 Western Hockey League (WHL) players selected in the first round, which led all leagues of first rounders in the NHL draft. The second highest league was the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) with only 4 players drafted. That was the moment that I realized the caliber of the players in the WHL.

Since 2007 the WHL has produced the 2nd most 1st round NHL draft picks with 76 players. Behind only to the powerhouse Ontario Hockey League (OHL) that has 98 first round draft picks selected since 2007.

Leon Draisaitl, Brayden Point, Seth Jones, Morgan Rielly, Mathew Dumba and, of course, Matthew Barzal have all played in the WHL in the last 7 years. You CAN see future stars today by watching the WHL.

Mathew Barzal played 4 years in the WHL
(Photo Credit Brian Leisse. Courtesy of the Seattle Thunderbirds)

The NHL fans guide

The WHL is a fun league to watch, regardless if these players ever make it to the NHL, but some of us are more NHL fans and don’t really pay attention to Junior Hockey. For those fans, no problem. I’ve put together a table of all the WHL teams with a count of NHL drafted players and players identified by the NHL’s central scouting list.

Dillon Hamaliuk was rated as a ‘C’ Skater by NHL Central Scouting but has been climbing draft charts.
According to Scott Wheeler from the Athletic, Hamaliuk is the 35th best prospect in the 2019 NHL Draft Class.
(Photo Credit Brian Leisse. Courtesy of the Seattle Thunderbirds)

Putting this together had its fair share of challenges. It is entirely possible that I missed someone so if I did, let me know.

John Barr
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