CHL Notebook: Unheralded WHLers that went on to NHL success

Sam Cosentino and Fizal Khamisa discuss the top talent in the upcoming NHL Draft, including Alex Lafreniere, a race for the number two spot, and the likeliness of a combine taking place.

Looking back over the years, some early picks in the Western Hockey League’s bantam draft have gone on to success in pro hockey, but others selected later have also made a name for themselves.

We took a look back at some players who weren’t high picks in the WHL, or weren’t selected at all, that went on to carve out a career in pro hockey.

Brandon Wheat Kings : A seventh-round pick in the 2001 WHL Draft who saw limited time with the Wheat Kings before joining Prince George, Dustin Byfuglien was ultimately selected in the eighth round of the 2003 NHL Draft by the Chicago Blackhawks and has 869 NHL games under his belt with the Blackhawks and Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets.

Calgary Hitmen: Undrafted in the WHL, defenceman Jake Bean turned an opportunity with the Hitmen into being drafted in the first round of the 2016 NHL Draft by the Carolina Hurricanes.

Edmonton Oil Kings: Drafted in the second round of the 2010 WHL Draft, Tristan Jarry won a Memorial Cup title in 2014 with the Oil Kings as a starter in his second full season with the team. The title came after he was selected by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round of the 2013 NHL Draft.

Everett Silvertips: He’s burst onto the scene after the Philadelphia Flyers selected him in the second round of the 2016 NHL Draft, but Everett fans knew him well after Carter Hart was an eighth-round pick of the team in the 2013 WHL Draft.

Kamloops Blazers: There are few better undrafted players. Jarome Iginla turned a 71-point sophomore season with the Blazers into being selected in the first round of the 1995 NHL Draft by the Dallas Stars. After 130 points in his final WHL season, Iginla went on to play over 1,500 NHL games with the Calgary Flames, Pittsburgh Penguins, Boston Bruins, Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings.

Kelowna Rockets: Another undrafted gem, Jamie Benn joined the Rockets after being selected in the fifth round of the 2007 NHL Draft by the Dallas Stars. He has since gone on to play over 800 games with the Stars.

Lethbridge Hurricanes: Zach Boychuk was a fifth-round pick of the Hurricanes in the 2004 WHL Draft. After a 72-point season in Lethbridge, Boychuk was selected by Carolina in the first round of the 2008 NHL Draft. His 13-year pro career has taken him from the AHL to the NHL and stints overseas.

Medicine Hat Tigers: Darren Helm was a ninth-round pick of the Tigers in the 2002 draft before the Detroit Red Wings selected him in the fifth round of the 2005 NHL Draft. He’s gone on to play nearly 700 NHL games.

Moose Jaw Warriors: Selected in the sixth round of the 1997 WHL Draft, Brian Sutherby found his way into the opening round of the NHL Draft after the Washington Capitals selected him 26th overall in 2000. He turned the selection into 460 NHL games.

Portland Winterhawks: A second-round pick of the New York Rangers in the 2004 NHL Draft, Brandon Dubinsky is a veteran of over 800 NHL games with the Rangers and Columbus Blue Jackets. Portland selected Dubinsky in the fifth round of the 2002 WHL Draft.

Prince Albert Raiders: The Raiders selected veteran NHL defenceman Nick Schultz in the third round of the 1997 WHL Draft and he transitioned into a second-round pick of the Minnesota Wild in the 2000 draft. Schultz graduated from the Raiders to play in over 1,000 NHL games with the Wild, Oilers, Blue Jackets and Flyers.

Prince George Cougars: The fifth-overall pick in the 1997 NHL Draft by the New York Islanders, Eric Brewer played just over 1,000 games in the league with the Islanders, Oilers, Lightning, Ducks, St. Louis Blues and Toronto Maple Leafs. Brewer was a sixth-round pick of the Cougars in the 1994 WHL Draft.

Red Deer Rebels: Similar to Brewer, Colby Armstrong is a former sixth-round WHL pick that turned into an NHL first-rounder. Red Deer selected Armstrong in the 1997 draft. After a 78-point season with the Rebels in 2000-01, Armstrong went to Pittsburgh in the opening round of the 2001 NHL Draft.

Regina Pats: With just under 600 NHL games under his belt, Kyle Calder was a solid player for the Pats after the team selected him in the eighth round of the 1994 WHL Draft. Calder was eventually drafted in the fifth round of the NHL Draft by Chicago and saw NHL action with Blackhawks, Flyers, Kings, Ducks and Detroit Red Wings.

Braden-Holtby-Washington-Capitals
Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

Saskatoon Blades: A ninth-round pick of the Blades in 2004, Braden Holtby was eventually picked in the fourth round of the 2008 NHL Draft by Washington and has been a key piece of the Capitals success over the years.

Seattle Thunderbirds: A third-round pick in the 2010 WHL Draft, Shea Theodore has become a key piece on the Vegas Golden Knights blue line. Prior to joining Vegas, Theodore was in the Anaheim organization after the Ducks selected him in the first round of the 2013 NHL Draft.

Spokane Chiefs: The Chiefs selected Jared Spurgeon in the 10th round of the 2004 WHL Draft. After a jump offensively in his third season in Spokane, the New York Islanders selected Spurgeon in the sixth round of the 2008 NHL Draft. Spurgeon eventually went on to play in over 650 NHL games, all with Minnesota.

Swift Current Broncos: A fifth-round pick in the 1999 WHL Draft, Ian White was eventually selected in the sixth round of the 2002 NHL Draft by Toronto and went on to a productive NHL career that saw him suit up in 503 games with the Leafs, Flames, Hurricanes, Sharks and Red Wings.

Tri-City Americans: Two seasons with the Americans after being selected in the fifth round of the 1995 WHL Draft helped Scott Gomez to an NHL career that lasted over 1,000 games split between New Jersey, Montreal, San Jose, Florida, St. Louis, Ottawa and the New York Rangers. New Jersey selected Gomez in the first round of the 1998 NHL Draft.

Vancouver Giants: Signed as a free agent, Matt Kassian turned his physical game in the WHL into an NHL opportunity as Minnesota selected him in the second round of the 2005 NHL Draft.

Victoria Royals: Also undrafted, Logan Nelson turned a 62-point rookie season in Victoria into being selected in the fifth round of the 2012 NHL Draft by Buffalo.

Winnipeg ICE: In his second season of pro hockey after being selected by Montreal in the third round of the 2017 NHL Draft, Cale Fleury got into 41 games with the Canadiens in 2019-20. Fleury was a fourth-round pick by the ICE in the 2013 WHL Draft.

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