Saturday, July 4, 2015

2015-2016 Western Hockey League Preview: Teams 7 and 8

7.Prince George Cougars-After years of irrelevance the Prince George Cougars aided by new ownership group led by Dan Hamhuis and Eric Brewer have brought a level of stability back to the program after years of endless rumours of where the team would move to due to a lack of direction from the previous group and dwindling attendance numbers that brought the team near extinction. Times are far more superior for the citizens of northern British Columbia as with already mentioned stable ownership has brought a respected General Manager into town with tremendous NHL connections and terrific bloodlines in Todd Harkins. Essentially, the Cougars are in year three of what I will classify as there rebirth is going to be speared by Todd's son, Jansen who may be playing through several grudges as he had expected to be a first round pick but slipped to the early second. For a team that was once run like a Mickey Mouse organization, for all the reasons listed above professionalism has crept into the Cougars and everything they accomplish now will be gravy because the loyal supporters who fought through one atrocious season after another don't know what winning feels like, well...they're about to!

Years of bad drafting has crippled the organization for so long and although the light can be seen at the end of the tunnel, they're not completely out of the woodwork yet. From my questionable counting skills, the Cougars will only be returning three forwards who have any natural, efficient scoring abilities with these three comrades being the aforementioned Jansen Harkins, Brad Morrison, and assuming he returns, Chase Witala. Call me clueless, but I think I know a  little about hockey to say that you need more then three capable forwards to not only make the playoffs, but to contend for the conference. It's going to be crucial that secondary players(and I use this term loosely for who I'm actually describing) such as Jared Bethune, and their newly drafted European who possesses one of the greatest names in the league, and Bartek Bison  contribute to alleviate the pressure off of that first line. Bethune was signed by Prince George amongst high, and probably undeserved hype. After posting Adam Banks type of numbers in the Minnesota high-school hockey scene by tallying eighty four points, his adaptation to the Western Hockey League wasn't so enamored as he accumulated twenty points in sixty one games played. Coach Mark  Holick will be begging him to revert back to his Minnesota Miracle man mantra and become a key cog in the Cougars attack.  A resurgence by Bethune and a strong emergence from Bison will solve the equation that somewhere along the coefficient has the maximized probability that successes from Bison and Bethune equal success for Prince George.

Thusfar in the dating world, I've had zero success but am inept enough to know when coming across a "Cougar" in the real world, the first thought that would come to mind is that she would be an older, intimidating lady who if you were a few years older would be all over. This cougar terminology in the dating world in some ways does correlate to what the Western Hockey League's Cougars have to offer. This is an older, intimidating group that without question is the strength of the hockey team. To continue along this line of thinking, one could suffice that Sam Ruopp is the Jennifer Lopez of the dating world as all the younger forwards want nothing to do with him but at the same time the scouts are certainly enamored by his Chris Pronger physicality and aggression. The expected twenties in this defensive core will be players that assuming they have a serviceable year could be in line for American Hockey League contracts in Joseph Carvalho and Josh Connolly. Carvalho, in particular although on the smaller side of the spectrum at 5'7 is an incredible puck mover who snipers like Morrisson and Harkins will need to push the pace and create that coveted open space that all goal scorers deem desirable. Carvalho has gotten no recognition throughout his time with the organization but I'll tell you the end of year you'll be hearing the name Carvalho a lot from insider who cover the game of hockey in Western Canada because by finally getting first pairing minutes, it'll be more than the media that is after young Joseph, NHL teams may be chasing him down aswell. The Slovenian Zorko who was their other selection in the import  draft is Zdeno Chara like at 6'5 and according to the scouting report Harkins provided is a very mobile defenceman considering his height so the Cougars may have found a gem.

Ty Edmonds is back for another crack at the can. Edmonds came to Prince George during a time of transition and Edmonds came in as a seventeen year old and stole the show which caught scouts eyes.  Unfortunately for him, that year in the second half was marred by concussion issues which has set back his development. This past season, I think by even his own admission, the .892 goals against average was underwhelming for him and the Cougars which took him out of favour with the Cougars and prospective NHL teams who otherwise may have come calling to put pen to paper on a contract. It's no secret that the Cougars will need him to have a rebound year, not just for the team, for himself aswell if he has any notion of playing professionally in North America. If he continues to struggle, seventeen year old Burnaby native Tavin Grant will be waiting in the wings looking to pounce on playing time.

8.Regina Pats- The infamous Parker era came to an end before the 2014-2015 campaign and boy, how quickly things changed in a positive fashion for the St.Patricia's. In came general manager and head coach John Paddock who quickly brought upon the team accountability and leadership. Last year ended with a second round bow out to the eventual conference champion Wheat Kings and I think realistically for the Pats next year, getting back to the second round and playing Brandon is probably the expectation.

Defensively, no one will ever deny the Pats ability to create offence from the back-end but I'm interested to see if the Pats will make tangible improvements to keeping the puck out of the back of their net, something they struggled with mightily last season. The drafting of Colby Williams by Washington may of just thrown a wrench in the Pats plan as it was expected that Williams would take over the captaincy from work horse Braden Cristoffer but now comes to the real and unfortunate possibility that he signs and spends the year with the Hershey Bears, or should I say Hershey Pats with the amount of Pats alumni donning the sweater. With  or without Williams, I'm confident the Pats can withstand the loss due to the depth they have on the back end. 2016 NHL prospect James Hilsendager in many ways I think is the Pats most complete defenceman. Sure, he lacks Williams' top end speed and creativity but the completeness of his game stands out as you can put him out in any key situation with the confidence that he will deliver.  In order to maybe give Brandon a run, they will require an improvement from Chase Harrison. I will sing the praises when needed, but I will also call out a player when I believe he has much more to delve out and that's how I feel about Harrison. Being how he is going into his nineteen year old season, if he can't crack the top four which I doubt he can I suspect that by November/December he may have a different home. Sergei Zborovsky getting drafted in this year's third round in the NHL  draft was about as much shock as it was when the Jamaican underdog Dustin  Brown upset heavy favourite at Wimbledon. Hopefully this draft surprise can propel Sergei into a WHL star which will make  Regina even more dangerous.

Natural scoring ability, something I touched on with the Prince George Cougars concerns me as a pat supporter. The talent of Sam Steel can be seen all the way to Pense, Saskatchewan but talent doesn't always necessarily relate to being a premier goal scorer. When I watch Steel play, I see a little of Ryan Nugent Hopkins with both players skewing through the same strengths and weaknesses. I feel as if the Pats possess a lot of players who are more suited for second and third line roles, case in point Adam Brooks, criminally underrated Austin Wagner(how he fell to the fourth round is larceny), and Jesse Gabrielle fit the bill. I don't know what Paddock's game plan is for the season as a lot of Regina folk have been under the impression that Paddock has his sights set on the 2017-2018 season but it would absolutely assist the aforementioned Steel if they could acquire a top line winger who on a good year could score forty goals. After getting a taste of playoff action, Jake Lechyshyn  shouldn't have to experience those typical rookie growing pains as he is already well adversed with the Dub so having him excel on the third line allowing to showcase his legendary aggressiveness will be a treat and will make the Pats more competitive than they're already expected to be.

Small, but master of the lateral movement Daniel Wapple is back and his talents will be a welcome retention for Paddock as he is a glue in net with his confident demeanor shines off on his Pat teammates alike which instills the belief that they have the talent to win each and every night. Wapple sometimes give off an "over confident" presence, which just like this blogger is A OK. Consistency was a staple in his performances last year and I expect nothing different this coming season.

Brett Murray


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