This week's edition of the Top 5 takes us back to the WHL and a look at the freshmen of the league. Here now are five rookies we feel deserve to be followed very closely this year.
5. Tommi Kivisto - Red Deer Rebels
The Rebels plucked the Finnish rearguard 6th overall in the 2008 CHL Import Draft. The native of Vaanta Finland is listed at 6'1 and 192 lbs so he's got pretty good size already plus, as a '91 born player, he's someone that Red Deer can probably count on being in their line up for at least a couple of seasons. Thus far in the early season he has 4 assists in 9 games, good for 17th overall in the scoring for defencemen and 14th overall for all WHL rookies. He'll be adding to those totals much more as the year goes on.
4. Cam Lanigan - Edmonton Oil Kings
The 16-year-old back up netminder has won both starts he's had for Edmonton this early season and made a brief appearance in another. Thus far he's got the 4th best save percentage in the WHL (.955) and goals against average as well (1.48) omitting golaies that haven't played in more than one game. The Calgary native has definitely impressed this year, beginnning in training camp, and I have already gone on the record predciting that unless the Oil Kings acquire a more veteran back stop, Lanigan will be the starter by the end of the season. Lanigan isn't eligible for the NHL draft until 2011.
3. Zdenek Okal - Medicine Hat Tigers
The Czech native was grabbed by the Tigers in the second round of the 2008 CHL Import Draft this past June. Listed at 5'9 and 162 lbs, he's not exactly a big guy but the 18-year-old enters the league a couple years older than most rookies so he's made a quicker transition than many of his counterparts. Okal is second in the league for rookie scoring with 10 points through 8 games. We saw him in person at the Oil Kings preseason tournament and on a team without 19 or 20-year-olds, he was a standout for the Tigers. Back home Okal has represented his country at the last two U18 tournaments where he was only 16 and 17-years-old. Okal is eligible for the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
2. Mark Pysyk - Edmonton Oil Kings
He's already being touted as a potential top 5 NHL pick in 2010 so it's not out of line to have a second Edmonton player on this list. The Sherwood Park native has been in the spotlight locally ever since winning the coveted Athlete of the Week award on Global TV... there's Millard's free plug for the night. Pysyk is smooth skating, quick passer, calm under pressure and still developing physically. He's got 2 points so far, both assists, but although he's described as a 2-way defeceman I would argue that he leans a bit more towards his own end at this point. He's not flashy at what he does but he's very efficient and his skating... it's hard to believe he won't turn 17 until mid-January.
1. Jordan Weal - Regina Pats
I'm going to be honest - this is a guy I've had my eye on since the Oil Kings inaugural pre-season mini-tournament in 2007. As a matter of fact, I decided that I'd be watching for him before the Pats even took the ice that fall. Why? The roster sheet Regina supplied us with listed Weal at something like 5'6 but showed that he'd scored 42 goals and 90 points in 25 games playing in Wilcox, SK with Notre Dame (see right).
The Pats draftd him 79th overall but he was honestly one of the most exciting players on the ice in that tournament - as a 15-year-old. Last year Weal set a new scoring record in the BC AAA Midget league with an even 100 points and he hasn't missed a step now in the WHL. He's not only the current rookie scoring leader but is just two points shy of the league's top point getters as well. Weal has 11 points in 7 games and picked up Player of the Week honours in week #1 of the season. At 5'8 and 158 lbs, Weal is still growing and if he can add another couple inches and even 20 more pounds, he'll be a solid 1st round contender at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.
(photos courtesy: Andy Devlin of the Edmonton Oil Kings, the WHL, the Notre Dame Hounds)