2023 Fargo Force vs Youngstown Phantoms

2023 NHL Draft Prospect William Whitelaw Has Phantoms On Clark Cup Doorstep

2023 NHL Draft Prospect William Whitelaw Has Phantoms On Clark Cup Doorstep

William Whitelaw is a NHL Draft-eligible prospect who has been a wrecking ball for Youngstown down the stretch of the regular season and into the playoffs.

May 18, 2023 by Ryan Sikes
2023 NHL Draft Prospect William Whitelaw Has Phantoms On Clark Cup Doorstep

William Whitelaw is a 2023 NHL Draft-eligible prospect who has been a wrecking ball for the Youngstown Phantoms down the stretch of the regular season and into the playoffs.

The Rosemount, Minnesota, native came into this season with plenty of hype after being drafted No. 1 overall in the 2021 USHL Phase I Draft. 

He features a terrific skillset, with his shot and skating ability standing out above all. However, Whitelaw made tremendous improvements in his overall 200-foot game, especially in the second half of this season.

He recently was listed as No. 42 on NHL Central Scouting’s Final Rankings for North American skaters. 

Some NHL scouts consider Whitelaw to be an undersized prospect. However, through his physical and relentless style of play, the young forward is not concerned about his physical stature limiting his production at the next level.

“I play physical, I play hard, I make plays, and my size doesn’t affect me or my game,” a confident Whitelaw said.

Last year, he racked up 110 points in 55 games for the Shattuck St. Mary’s 18U squad, second only to Shattuck teammate and Chicago Steel’s Macklin Celebrini.

Whitelaw also got a nine-game look with the Phantoms in the 2021-2022 regular season and two more in the postseason.

Accompanied by purposeful changes in the front office and behind the bench, the Wisconsin commit had high expectations for the Phantoms coming into the 2022-2023 season.

“I truly don't think there's any better group or support staff than ours,” Whitelaw said of the Youngstown organization.

The first two months of the season offered some challenges as the team looked to find its footing. After losing several of their top point producers from a season ago, the Phantoms needed some time to gel, and for other players to step up, including Whitelaw. 

Youngstown went 2-6-0-0 in October and 6-11-0-0 in November, sitting in the basement of the Eastern Conference standings.

At the holiday break, Whitelaw had 11 goals, providing a glimpse of his abilities, but he also demonstrated some inconsistencies, going multiple games without a point.

He finished the first half on a positive note, accumulating points in three out of four games, providing plenty of optimism for the second half of the season.

Once the second half got underway, the 18-year-old was one of the most exciting players in the USHL, potting 39 points (25 goals, 14 assists) over the final 39 games. Further, Whitelaw had six multi-goal games and 11 multi-point games after the holiday break.

“Coming back with a lot of confidence, I just got on a different level,” he said. “The lines were starting to get set, and I was starting to get familiar with playing with the guys in the room and my teammates really helping me. I was focusing on one game at a time and trying to be my best self out there.”

He was the main catalyst in the Phantoms’ surge in the standings, going 27-11-1-0 in the second half.

From an individual perspective, Whitelaw finished with 36 goals during the regular season, breaking the franchise record for most goals in a single season by a rookie, previously set by Cameron Morrison in the 2015-2016 season.

It’s not something he specifically set out to do when he identified goals for the season. Still, the milestone is a true testament to Whitelaw’s playmaking abilities and meaning to this Phantoms club. 

It's also something he takes a lot of pride in.

“I never thought about (breaking the record) going into the season, so it's pretty cool to be able to achieve something like that, but I couldn’t do it without my teammates,” he said.

As the games became more important, the young forward continued to elevate his game.

Whitelaw had points in 14 of the final 19 regular-season games, helping the Phantoms maintain pressure on top-seeded Chicago, while holding off the United States National Team Development Program and the Green Bay Gamblers to secure the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.

In the postseason, he has elevated his game to another level, potting the overtime winner to eliminate Chicago in the Eastern Conference Finals. 

In Game 1 of the Clark Cup Finals, his third-period goal opened the scoring (and the floodgates) in the Phantoms’ 4-1 win.

His nine points (five goals, four assists) are the third-most among all skaters in the postseason.

“When moments like that come around, I know a lot of the guys in the room look toward me to make those plays,” Whitelaw said. “I try to stay confident and calm and keep playing my game, and it seems to work out.”

Whitelaw certainly has earned the paise from his coaches and teammates, too.

“Will has been an unbelievable teammate and has been a super important piece of our team,” Phantoms head coach Ryan Ward said. “He loves big games and big moments, and obviously, scoring the game-winner in overtime in the Eastern Conference Finals against Chicago was a huge moment for him and the Youngstown Phantoms. 

“Will has grown so much as a hockey player and has been invaluable to our organization as we try to win our first Clark Cup championship.” 

Whitelaw has the Phantoms one win away from the title, with the series shifting back to Youngstown for Games 3 and 4. 

The Phantoms were the league’s best home team during the regular season, and Fargo was the best road team.

The young forward is pleased with where the team is, but he also understands that the Force will be difficult to eliminate.

“We know the job's not finished here, and we're really excited to get to Game 3, but we're not looking too far ahead,” Whitelaw said. “We’re going to stay even keel and just come in with the same mentality that we need to outwork and outplay (Fargo) in all areas of the game, and that's how we're going to win.”