5.Calgary Hitmen-After a frustrating finish in which they lost to the Brandon Wheat Kings after allowing an astonishing twenty nine goals against in the series, a short memory will be needed to rebound and regroup and rebrand themselves to be a competitive entity next year. Mark French has some future NHL pieces to work around so expectations will be high in cowtown.
I've never seen or heard of a player that gets more of a mixed reputation than that of Jake Virtanen. Some consider him to be one of the purist snipers this league has ever seen, others, particularly those away from the Calgary media spotlight ascertain that Virtanen is a player with an incredibly large tool box, but no tools inside. The fear with him is with an NHL role with the Vancouver Canucks all but wrapped up, is there enough internally that can motivate Virtanen both mentally and physically to dissuade him from taking another year off, a remark made by many people that are well beknownst in the hockey circles. Virtanen is obviously the straw that will stir the drink, but every Batman needs a Robin who will fill the roles in this soon to be hit movie "The Calgary Hitmen: Road to Redemption". The actors up for audition to be Virtanen's supporting cast will Nanaimo's Chase Lang who potted twenty five a year ago, and the ever underachieving Terell Draude. Draude came into the league with much fan fare but hasn't been able to live up to potentially unfair hype before arriving to Calgary. Due to the loss of Adam Tambellini, Draude will be relied upon to be a serviceable second liner, and if he can't he may be that admissible trade chip for someone who can better serve the role. This forward tandem has the size, some shooting abilities(ala Virtanen), but does it have enough depth to compete with the Brandon's of the world? I'm not convinced it can be keep up with the Wheaties but a forward group capable of another eastern conference final appearance? Better believe it!
Earlier, you would've read how I felt that Kelowna Rocket Devante Stephens was one of the top shutdown defenders in the dub, well now it's time to discuss one of the top, probably the top offensive defenceman in the league, that being Travis Sanheim. Sanheim is a threat 5 on 5 and on the power play largely because of his ability to make one of the best first passes I've ever seen and his knowledge as far as being able to recognize the play and knowing when it is safe to jump into the play. Sanheim has size which allows him to be satisfactory in his own end, but I'm sure by his own admission and that of the Philadelphia Flyers, he has plenty of work to do in that facet to be able to crack the Flyers lineup. Sanheim is always going to be a threat to score from the back end which is one of the main reasons why the Hitmen project to be a dangerous team. If Jake Bean is not a top twenty pick in next year's draft I will probably blog in absolute rage because in my three to four viewings he at times has looked more dominant than Sanheim, and Sanheim himself is two years older and a first round pick, so it shows how highly I think of Mr.Bean himself. For a player that was sorting through his sixteen year old season, It was amazing how calmly he controlled the play and anytime he was under even the littlest pressure, it was as if nobody was around him and he would always make the right play,
To say the Calgary Hitmen had good goaltending would be like theorizing that the Toronto Blue Jays have good pitching, Although if you base it off Blue Jays general manager Anthopoulos' lack of movement in the trade market one could suffice that Anthopoulos is content with the status quo, I think it's fair to say that the Hitmen will be content with the status quo and will strongly consider a goaltending upgrade. The fact that Brendan Burke did not materialize as a capable WHL goaltender is mind boggling as the Burke bloodlines have led to decent success in the National Hockey League with father Sean having a respectable career. Then again, after careful consideration numerous examples lead to sons of former professional stars do not always pan out such as Blake Geoffrion or Chris Bourque. The saying the apple does not fall far from the tree isn't always applicable when comparing athletes offspring. I consider myself well adversed in the Western Hockey League but even I'm stumped consummating a resolution to fix this goaltending mess. Is Mack Shield deserving of the starting gig, the problem there is like Burke, he's also twenty years of age which does lend beneficial to the ratio. The other option is allowing the seventeen year old Dumba to be given an increased role which based on all other scenarios may be the best in the batch.
6.Spokane Chiefs-A braniac G.M Tim Speltz who I have a hard time thinking of someone who has had as much success as he's had while working with less with one small exception, that was the process used when hiring the replacement to Bill Peters back in 2008. First, Hardy Sauter was hired who had many reported run ins with the players which led to plenty of conflict within the Chiefs organization. After an ill-advised run with Sauter, he then turned to veteran coach of the league, Don Nachbaur. Just like Sauter, Nachbaur doesn't have the best repoire with the kids but one certainly can't argue with the wins he's been able to accumulate. Both Sauter and Nachbaur have had commendable regular seasons, but it's been a lack of playoff success since their Memorial Cup in 2008(remember, the one in which captain Chris Bruton dropped the cup) that has left Speltz scratching his head and me penning that this may be a make or break year for Nachbaur with the advancement to the second round a must.
The diminutive sensation Kailer Yamamoto is on the verge of being the league's most marketable star. The memorable last name followed with and more importantly electric hockey skills has made Chiefs games extremely entertaining and as a fellow Reginan has me wishing they were coming to Regina this year which sadly they are not as the WHL has a dysfunctional schedule which we can get into another day. Yamamoto is my pick for the western conference M.V.P candidate just narrowly losing out to Bleackley. From my perspective, the Chiefs boast the best crop of 20's in the league co-led by Adam Helewka. This Burnaby bad-ass has made a lot of goalies look like asses this past year as he an unprecedented thirty seven point leap from 2013-2014 to 2014-2015. His production exceeded that of Yamamoto but for the Chiefs to be successful it's glaringly obvious that the two will have to gel to continue the productivity within the first line. Another play that I expect a big push from is seventeen year old Hudson Elynuik. I haven't got any confirmation of this, but if he's Campbell's brother, the former Regina Pat then what I was mentioning earlier about athletes bloodlines not always correlating has much more relevance because Campbell wasn't half the hockey player Hudson is. If there's no relation, then I guess I'm the biggest fruit loop dingus around. Hudson has the game that if given the proper ice time, which back to Nachbaur for a minute has the reputation of not giving his younger players enough of a role to develop properly, expect Hudson to thrive.
As good as Helewka and Yamamoto are, the strength of this club is difinitively the defence. Jason Fram is a point scoring machine, Tyson Helgesen, who being left undrafted is one of hockey's greatest mysteries is going to have a chip on his shoulder to prove all National Hockey League clubs made a mistake by not drafting him. Also, someone worth notating is budding heavyweight Evan Fiala who accumulated one hundred and seven penalty minutes which is abnormal in today's game of junior hockey as fighting has virtually gone by the wayside. That element of toughness is something unique to the team as it may, and I stress may prevent some of the leagues smaller goal scorers may not want to test Fiala in the corners knowing the potential consequence post whistle. Nick Charif, unless Speltz does something that completely blows my mind which he has the capability of doing, will likely be seeking employment elsewhere as I can't imagine a scenario in which Fram, Helewka and goaltender Garrett Hughson eat up the twenty year old positions.
Garrett Hughson is the Chiefs goaltender and hails from Foremost, Alberta. For a completely useless tidbit, Foremost has a very underwhelming golf course, it makes the mint greens(I mean shit brown) greens at Oungre, Saskatchewan look like Pebble Beach. I'm pretty sure at some point the town of Foremost will be better known for being the home of Hughson, not being known for the golf course that needs a face lift. Hughson I would stipulate is a top ten goaltender in the league, and once again I'm under the presumption that the Chiefs will retain Hughson as Speltz will be left with the unbearable task of having to cut one of Hugson, Helewka(safe), Fram(safe), and Charif. I think the Chiefs could do some damage in 2015-2016, and it all starts from the back-end with them needing Garrett Hughson to be better than,......well to be better then the state of the Foremost Golf Course.