In some ways, being the best player on a poor hockey team can be a blessing in disguise for an NHL prospect. Each year there are players who are the reason for any success their team mustered entering the draft and trying to catch on in the pros. Their teams are finding a way to lose in spite of their massive contributions and they want to prove their worth beyond the basement of their league. In 2012, Mike Winther has the opportunity to make that impact coming out of the Prince Albert Raiders program.
The Raiders have really struggled since the turn of the millenium as they’ve only made the playoffs five times in 13 tries. This hasn’t stopped them from churning out elite NHL calibre talent as Mark McNeill was drafted 18th by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2011, and now Winther will try to be the next to go early on. He is a highly dynamic, creative winger whose offensive game should translate to NHL production.
Born: January 9, 1994
What people in the know know
“[He] has pretty solid hockey sense from an instinctual and vision standpoint. His positional play is fine, and while he can make plays he shows a bit of a sniper’s instincts in terms of finding open space in the high percentage areas … He combined that with a solid shot and can finish from outside the blue paint.”
I’ve seen Winther a ton over the last year and a half and I have been known to be fairly hard on him. Last season on a fairly mediocre Raiders club I felt he didn’t step up and fill the role that he needed to. He never did enough to jump out at me.
But, he’s taken the next step in his development this season and really showing me what he can do. He’s got average size at 5’11 but he has great speed and the ability to beat people off the rush.
To go along with his game breaking speed, he’s got great puck skills and an excellent release on his shot. He’s showing more improvement in his decision making, hockey smarts and play away from the puck, but those are all areas of his game that he still needs to work on.
The biggest knock I have against him right now is really his lack of size and strength. To start this year he weighed in at only 170 pounds and I doubt he’s gained much since then. He consistently gets knocked off the puck along the boards and I’ve seen him struggle trying to defend bigger and stronger opponents. Will this be a longterm problem? I don’t think so, but it is a current concern.
The new NHL has room for players like Winther, who have talent and are a little undersized. But Winther does play a robust, competitive game for his size and also has an elite skill set.
He showed flashes of that in the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game and he was a dominant player during stretches of the season.
The only trouble is there were other long stretches where he was far less noticeable. “He’s a smaller, skilled guy who is very smart and creative,” said one scout. “Of course, you’re going to question the size factor a little bit, but nobody is questioning Claude Giroux these days. There are some similarities in their styles.”
There is sometimes a disconnect between Winther’s ability and his offensive production, but that is a product of his consistency. He has stellar technical skills and impressive quickness. It’s the consistency of effort and results that scouts would like to see improve the most.
From the horse’s mouth
Obviously Winther’s size and consistency are of concern, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see the consistency issues evaporate as matures and moves on to more competitive clubs. I know this may come as a surprise to some but it’s not easy for a 16 or 17 year old to get fired up for games when they expect to get the crap kicked out of them each night. This year the Raiders only won 21 games and were outscored by 100 goals.
With many teams late in the first round and early in the second looking to add offensive talent to their development pipelines, Winther is sure to be taken off the board relatively early in the draft. We have him ranked 35th out of the 40 players we’ll be covering, but it would not be at all surprising if he had a jersey and cap to his credit by the time the 35th pick rolled around.