Friday, July 3, 2015

2015-2016 Western Hockey League Preview Teams 1 and 2

If you read an earlier post of mine, you'll have seen that I took some issue with how the Canadian Hockey League's Import Draft is currently conducted. The premise of the article was establishing a formula that would better allow the Canadian Hockey League to be  a more  equitable brand that promotes competitive parity amongst small and large market franchises alike. By saying that we live in the world in which all is not fair so one could surmount that there may just be some competitive imbalance in the Western Hockey League. What I'm going to attempt to do is forecast the wind of a league affectionately known as the 'dub, placing the teams from one through twenty-two purely based off of how I rate their chances on hoisting the Ed Chynoweth Cup.  I will preview the team's forward group, defensive tandems and goaltending outlook whilst predicting the player who at the end of the year I predict will be nominated as their most valuable player representative. The goal is two a day, with potentially some days breezing through three teams until the herculean number of Taylor Swift's former hit single is reached.

1)Brandon Wheat Kings:Western Hockey League favourite, Memorial Cup favourite, absolutely. For a team that very well could virtually return every significant piece from last year's run to the final with the possible exception of Ivan Provorov, who's status with the Philadelphia Flyers will very much be in doubt until the end of NHL training camp. I haven't been this excited with anything associated with the word Wheaties since the day fictional fan favourite character Charlie Conway graced the cover of the Wheaties cereal box in the cult classic Mighty Ducks: D2.

Up front, the Wheaties have a plethora of offensive talent led by the understated John Quenneville.  The Quenneville name has become quite the stigmatic presence in the Western Hockey League, with Peter's older brother, Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Peter graduating through the junior hockey ranks after the 2014-2015 Eastern Conference triumphant season. They also have a younger brother, David who is making a name for himself with the Medicine Hat Tigers. Normally, I would suggest that European Rihard Bukarts would be a candidate for the league scoring title, and he still could be, but will it be with the Wheat Kings? The aforementioned status of Provorov has left the import selection in a murky state as with the selection of Oliver Kylington(pronounced  Shillington, damn Swedish pronunciations), followed by the second round pick of Dario Winkler, who with being the last pick in the draft will forever carry around the nick-name Mr.Irrelevant, has some wondering including myself where Bukarts fits in this puzzle. In a recent podcast, Head Coach and General Manager Kelly McCrimmon was adamant when stating that  Bukarts remains loyal to the Wheaties and the Wheaties will follow suit, but with his age being twenty where does he fit in the picture? Outside of Bukarts and Quenneville they have so much depth that I could literally individually profile every forward because each projected forward in next year's lineup is a top six forward on any other team. The size and truculence of this group stands out to me with the prime example being Tanner Kaspick. During last year's playoff run, Kaspick got sparing minutes on the fourth line but showed so much tenacity that McCrimmon showed no fear pairing him against the opposition's top line. Kaspick and lanky Duncan Campbell are two players that I expect to have monster years in pursuit of a league title.

Defensive demons may come back and haunt Brandon but I only say that right now tongue and cheek because if the Flyers return Provorov they are returning the league's best defenceman to the league's best team so any team that possesses the best d-man will find a way to manage whether or not he has to play forty minutes a night. Aside from the unknown returned commodity in Provorov, they're losing graduated defenceman Eric Roy who's skating may not be missed but his veteran experience surely will. Losing Roy will mean that New York Islanders draft pick and Duck Lake,Sk native Ryan Pilon will have to elevate his game and become the prospect that people thought he was going to be when he was acquired from the Lethbridge Hurricanes.  The player that will have the majority of scouts drooling will be diminutive Kale Clague. Clague's game in my opinion compares to that of former Moose Jaw Warrior Morgan Reilly with the only difference being that at this point Reilly had much more aggression in the defensive zone. Injures plagued Clague(nice play on words if I do so say myself) in year one of his junior career so he will have oodles to prove if he intends on being a high first round National Hockey League pick.

Goaltending with the Wheaties is where I differ most from the "experts". Jordan Papirny is doing his job admirably but then again my issue is with his lack of adversity. Goaltenders who play on teams that come into the year as the proverbial powerhouses have a tough time identifying themselves as elite goaltenders and as evidenced by him going undrafted this past year, Papirny is falling in this trap. The Edmonton native has done just enough to not lose games for the Wheaties but some would argue he hasn't necessarily stole a lot of games for the Wheat Kings either. Papirny is expected to just do enough this year, and by just enough that would be winning the league title, unfortunately for the situation he is in, anything less will be considered a major disappointment for his fledging reputation.

2)Seattle Thunderbirds- The honest truth that selecting number one was as easy as it is to predict Tiger Woods will miss the cut in his next event(Wait,he shot 4 under yesterday????....what gives). Number two had me debating between two teams in particular so this is essentially a 2A and 2B situation. The T-Birds have outstanding depth, particularly upfront and the hope is that head coach Steve Konowalchuk can combine the team's incredible skill level with his defensively responsible, gritty reputation.

The T-Birds set of fantastic forwards is led by the Ryan Nugent-Hopkins clone, Matt Barzal. Being how he plays on the west coast my viewings are limited but from what I've seen his vision might even surpass Nugent Hopkins, reaching Joe Thornton territory minus the size. The top end speed is noticeable as on a couple of occasions in highlight packs, I've seen him weave through 1 on 3 situations and make the defenders look like players of Atom Tier 3 caliber. The combination and diversification with the way Barzal and sniper Ryan Gropp play the games makes for a very intimidating first line and it really doesn't matter who you throw in the other wing because in my opinion it's almost a formality that Barzal will rack up seventy assists and Gropp fifty goals barring significant injuries. The secondary depth is certainly something worthy to write home about because I pose this question, will there a forward next season that gets unnoticed more than Scott Eansor? His stats won't jump out at you as in the 2014-2015 campaign, he totaled a measly thirty-seven points but in anticipation of pairing him with newly acquired all around warrior Jamal Watson on the second line, it would not shock me if Eansor could break the sixty point plateau. Aside from superstar Barzal, this forward group may make Yao Ming cringe with how physically imposing it is,  the last comment in jest of course but then again maybe not with how timid Ming would play defence in his short NBA career.  With Keegan Kolesar unarguably the most versatile forward in the WHL, he's the glue that branches the epitome of what the Thundebirds offense is all about, that sultry combination of grade A skill with NFL toughness.

Shea Theodore was gone yesterday and any T-Bird fans that believe that their's a sliver of hope that Theodore is getting returned are concerningly delusional. The Anaheim Ducks will at the very least find room for Theodore with their AHL affiliate but I believe, not saying many else do that he could crack the top six for the Ducks next season. Okay now we've gotten any Theodore conspiracy theories out of the way, it's time to assess what Konowalchuk has to work with on the back end. Just like the forward group, this is a tall, tall group with no greater evidence being present then Jerret Smith and Jared Hauf.  The "twin towers", or "J squared" will be the catalyst of this group and will provide matchup problems in the defensive zone because in junior hockey anyway, I can maybe count on one hand how many forwards can match up with that kind of size which allows a much younger stalwart Ethan Bear to reign more free in the offensive zone. Acquiring Turner Ottenbreit from the Saskatoon Blades for what atleast many Blades consider free last year rounds out the top four at this point. I chose the words of this point carefully because I'm the belief that you'll see GM Russ Farwell make a pre-season acquisition of a defenceman or at the very latest if he employs incredible patience, waiting until the trade deadline is a possibility.

Seattle Thunderbird supporters might disagree with this until the cows come home but I'm telling ya, Regina product Logan Flodell is ready to take the next step and be a more then capable WHL starting goaltender. Every year, there's always that goaltender that comes out of nowhere and becomes a certifiable star, case in point Conor Ingram from Kamloops last year, think back to Daniel Wapple a couple of years ago and Flodell projects to be that specimen in 2015-2016. Flodell will get every opportunity to showcase himself to his biggest supporters(myself) and his biggest contradictors(people who think you can't win in this league with a rookie goaltender) and lead Seattle to a Western Conference crown.

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