Name: Justin Kirkland
Position: Left wing
Weight: 190 lbs.
2013-14 Team: Kelowna Rockets
From: Camrose, AB
As a rookie in the WHL, Justin Kirkland broke out in 2013-14 with the Kelowna Rockets as one of the draft’s potential diamonds in the rough. At 6’3” he already has NHL size, his 48 points in 68 games with Kelowna show that he could have the skill to back it up.
Primarily known as a power forward, when Kirkland is on he likes to use his body in the offensive zone to overwhelm defenders and crash the net. He isn’t a one-dimensional sort of power forward who only relies on his size to succeed though, he wields a high on-ice IQ; getting into scoring areas and anticipating where his teammates will be- as well as staying aware and in-position defensively. He was used on both special teams in Kelowna.
Consistency is one aspect of his game that will need to improve, he can sometimes fail to use his size effectively and hover out in perimeter positions, also at times struggling to win puck battles or create space in front of the net. Gaining muscle will help with that, as well as the commitment that comes with maturity. Teams know that they will be getting a project in Kirkland, so he will be given plenty of time to work on those areas as he transitions to pro. Expect him to spend at least three seasons developing before making the jump to the NHL.
Kirkland seemed to put his game all together late in the 2013-14 season, scoring 21 points in his final 21 games (and 10 in 14 playoff games). This bump in play has helped his draft stock in some eyes, making it hard to predict exactly where he will go in the draft. NHL Central Scouting’s placement of Kirkland at #67 in its final draft rankings would suggest that he will be picked somewhere from the late 3rd to 5th rounds, though Craig Button’s inclusion of Kirkland in his top 50 overall might hint that he could be picked as early as the 2nd round.
Quotes and rankings:
“…a late-blooming power forward who is still filling out an impressive 6-3 frame after a recent growth spurt. One of our WHL scouts has been impressed by the seamless transition he has made into major junior, and sees a high end hockey IQ.” Kyle Woodlief, USA Today
“Big winger is a late bloomer who played the past seasons at Notre Dame (Sask). Shows the ability to develop into a winger with a power game after some long term work.” –Bill Placzek, draftsite.com
Craig Button: #44
NHL Central Scouting: #67