Kyle Woodlief is the chief scout and publisher of the Red Line Report. He is a former NHL scout and has been involved in the draft for years. The Red Line Report has been a very good source for the draft in the past, and I caught up with Woodlief to get his thoughts on the Memorial Cup, the Edmonton Oil Kings and the top centres in this year’s draft class; Sam Bennett, Sam Reinhart and Leon Draisaitl.
My thoughts are in italics.
Gregor: Does the Memorial Cup impact the rankings very much?
Woodlief: Slightly, not that much. Guys like Robbie Fabbri, Dysin Mayo and Aaron Irving, there were a few prospects like every year, but I don’t think Fabbri moves more than a spot from where he had been on our list, Mayo may move up a couple of spots and Irving might move down a few spots.
Gregor: Looking at Mayo and Irving, who do you have ranked higher and why?
Woodlief: We have Irving higher. After the first half of the season he had, right into January, was in our first round. The typical scenario for first year players in the WHL is they take a few months to get comfortable. He was the opposite. He came in and played well offensively in the first four months, but then it seemed like the coaching staff started sheltering his offensive minutes down the stretch, and he didn’t produce much offensively, where as Mayo came on down the stretch. Irving was a ways ahead of him at the top of the stretch in February and March, and Mayo did close the gap, but long-term I think Irving still has more upside to his game.
Gregor: What do you like about Irving’s game more than Mayo?
Woodlief: Irving is more physically active in his own end and he’s a really good two-way defender. He can be part of a shut down pairing. Mayo, at this point, is more of a puck moving, finesse defender.
***Mayo was a top-four D-man for the Oil Kings throughout the playoffs, while Irving was in the 3rd pairing and didn’t play nearly as much. Steve Hamilton didn’t shelter Irving offensively as much as it was a case of Mayo playing better in the second half. They are different types of players, and while Irving is heavier and more aggressive, Mayo is a good skater and he thinks the game very well. It will be interesting to see which one becomes a better NHLer. I’m not as sure as Woodlief that it will be Irving.**
Gregor: Edgars Kulda was passed over last year but is ranked this year. When you are ranking players, how much does that extra year impact them?
Woodlief: Every year it seems we have more and more second and third year draft eligible players. In this particular draft year, because it is a weak year, I’m seeing on our list about 15-20% higher second and third year eligibles than there normally would be. We rank about 350 players during the course of the season and generally speaking you have about 30-35 players who are older, but this year there is about 50 of those types of players because it is a weaker draft year. You are looking for talent anywhere you can find it and guys like Kulda pop up.
The same thing happened to Kulda last year. He had a strong playoff for Edmonton, and we put him on our rankings late. I don’t think we had him on our rankings all year, and then finally in April we put him on. He had a good regular season, but he came up really big in the playoffs. I’d be very surprised if he goes undrafted this year.
***He was ranked as a 4th or 5th rounder before the Memorial Cup. He might sneak into the 3rd round, but usually there isn’t much of a difference between a 3rd rounder and a 4th or 5th. A lot of it will depend on how the player matures and what opportunity he is given within his NHL organization.***
Gregor: A player could have a great month or six weeks in the playoffs. Does that impact the rankings because many people value the playoffs more than the regular season?
Woodlief: You try not to get sucked in. The bottom line is it is a long grind in an NHL season, it is 80 games plus playoffs, so you want guys who can do it consistently over the course of a long season. Players in junior who aren’t getting in done in the regular season,but rev it up for a couple of weeks at playoff time…It is good, it will get them on the list, and in some cases move players value up the board, but, again, you are still looking for that player who has done it over the long haul.
TOP END CENTRES…
Gregor: Bennett, Reinhart, Draisaitl and Nylander are the best centres in the draft in most people’s rankings. Where do you rank them from first to fourth and is there a significant drop at any point?
Woodlief: The top four grouping is Bennett, Ekblad, Reinhart and Draisaitl. Those are the top four on the board and it wouldn’t surprise us if they went in any order. I tend to think that the top two players off the board will be Bennett and Ekblad, in which ever order you care to mention. I think just because of the fact that Edmonton has drafted a lot of really good players, but similar style players, who are all kind of like Reinhart in some respect, I think if Edmonton sat still at number three and were looking for a player to take they’d be a little bit better off taking a big centre who could give you some size and strength down the middle in Draisaitl.
**Interesting that he didn’t mention Nylander. I’ve read some reports that Florida really likes him, but I’d be shocked if they took him 1st overall. Maybe they trade down knowing they could get him later, but part of me feels the Nylander talk is a bit of a smokescreen. And for me Ekblad and Draisaitl are the two best players. If they aren’t #1 and #2 the Oilers should be doing cartwheels.**
Gregor: If the rankings were out of 100, how close are Bennett, Reinhart and Draisaitl?
Woodlief: There is not a big gap at all. We have Bennett at #1 at Redline Report, because we’ve been really impressed with his heart and desire and that’s put him over the top in our mind, but there is not a lot of a drop off from him to Reinhart and Draisaitl.
Gregor: I asked about the gap because you don’t take size if the smaller player is clearly better. Are you suggesting the gap between the players is so small that in this case size would be the better option for Edmonton?
Woodlief: That would be take on the situation. They could use a big, strong centre down the middle more than they can use another player similar to what they have. I honestly think Reinhart projects better on the wing in the pros. I think he is more of a goal scorer than a play maker. He does both, don’t get me wrong, but I think you can put him on the wing in the NHL with a good centre who can get him the puck he will fill up the net.
***The Oilers don’t need more of the same. They have an abundance of small, skilled players, so if it comes down to Reinhart, Bennett and Draisaitl I take Draisaitl all day. He is the most skilled of the three in my eyes. While I respect all the chatter about Bennett’s desire and such, I believe that is a Canadian bias coming out in many. I watched Draisaitl a lot in Prince Albert. He’s dominant. His passing is incredible, on both his backhand and forehand. And he likes to slow the game down so some see that as a skating weakness I don’t. He can go when he wants, I just think he needs to get a bit stronger. He is young, but has a big frame. When he fills out I guarantee he’ll be a dominant player for any team who drafts him. The interesting decision would be if Ekblad and Draisaitl are both available at #3. If Ekblad becomes this year’s Seth Jones and drops a few spots, I’d lean towards taking him over Draisaitl, but it would still be a tough decision. You need skilled size down the middle to win, especially in the western conference, but it would be hard to pass on Ekblad.**
Gregor: Which player do you think will go higher at the draft than people expect?
Woodlief: The one guy we really like at Redline Report over the course of the second half of the year is down in Calgary, big defenceman named Travis Sanheim. In the first half of the season in October to December you wouldn’t have even noticed him, but all of a sudden in January he started taking off and he has just gotten better and better.
**Sanheim is 6′ 3″ and 195 pounds. He has been ranked as a late first rounder thus far, but with very few elite D-men in this year’s class, a team between 15-25 might grab him if they need defensive depth.**
The good news for Oilers fans is that the Oilers biggest organizational needs are available with the 3rd pick. This team needs a right shot D-man and help at centre. In 2012, I wrote that I would have taken Alex Galchenyuk, because this team needed a big centre, and two years later I feel the same way. I’d pick Draisaitl, because I don’t see Ekblad dropping to #3, but if he does then the Oilers could get a franchise right-shot D-man.
The Oilers should walk out of Philadelphia with either a big, skilled centre or an elite defender.
For the fourth consecutive year we are doing our Ultimate Sports Fan package in support of charity. On June 7th I am riding in the 190km MS Bike Tour, and I’ve come up with a pretty good package for the diehard sports fan.
How it works is you make a $100 donation and you get 1 entry. If you make a $200 donation you get two entries.
We only take 100 entries and we will raise $10,000 for MS. The draw is Tuesday, June 3rd, and we only have 20 entries left.
This year’s winner will get the following: The final package will be value at over $5,000.00
- A pair of tickets to the Oilers home opener in October.
- A pair of Edmonton Eskimos season tickets in the lower bowl.
- A signed, game used Ryan Nugent-Hopkins stick.
- 20 tickets to the Oil Kings opening night game and banner raising night. Also, you will get an Oil King of your choice to come to your backyard rink or minor hockey practice for an hour. ( Between November 1st and December 15th.)
- A pair of Edmonton Rush season tickets.
- Two VIP floor seats to MFC 41 on October 3rd. That includes dinner before the fights, and you will also get to watch the prelims at ringside with the MFC broadcast team.
- The Nation’s own Jason Strudwick and one of his former NHL friends will play a game with your Men’s League team next season. Struds will bring the beer, a few good stories and some shootout moves.
- Four infield passes to the Canadian Derby on Saturday August 16th.
- Pizza for a year (1 pizza a week) from Papa Johns Pizza. When you want to watch the big games Papa Johns will ensure you have great pizza.
**Edit…THANK YOU. We sold out yesterday, it took less than a week. Awesome.***
Recently by Jason Gregor: