Thursday, July 9, 2015

2015-2016 Western Hockey League Preview: Teams 19 and 20

19. Tri-City Americans- Goaltender Eric Comrie was the Hollywood show-stopper for the last few years out west in Kennewick, Washington. The feature film didn't exactly produce a lot of high profit results, at least in substantiated playoff revenue, but Comrie left the fans wanting sequel after sequel. Since Comrie has decided(forced) to leave the project, it's time to figure out who will win the role of lead actor for the 2015-2016 season.

Being a lead actor for the Tri-City Americans right now would be compared to winning the lead role in the critically panned Adam Sandler produced, "Jack and Jill". A lot of exuberance of where the project will run off too, but soon there after realization that the hype does not mesh into positive fruition.  There have been several flops of anticipated forward stardom in recent Ams history thinking back, well not so far back to Brian Williams, Connor Rankin pre-Calgary move, Jordan Messier and the list really goes on and on. To avoid leaving the theaters after one weekend, who can provide that excitement and produce sustainable offence? Maybe the brother of Eric Comrie, Ty can continue the outstanding lineage of the Comrie surname, and become a much needed valuable asset for Mike Williamson.  After an incredibly poor individual season from Comrie this last go around, and to be fair this was a disappointing campaign across the board,  the youngest Comrie accumulated twenty one points while skating to a titillating -34. Out of the mass failures that took place in Kennewick, a very bright surprise was from the home town leader and expected twenty year old Beau McCue. The common denominator when dissecting McCue's strengths and weaknesses that he has a Steven Stamkos-esque shot, yes I went there although struggles with  his skating stride and if that could ever be rectified, he could be in line for an eighty point season and find himself being scouted by National Hockey League teams. Taylor Vickerman, who received deserving recognition at the Western Hockey League awards by winning the Humanitarian of the year award will have to better display these humanitarian diligences on the ice and round himself out to be a more complete player. The two times I've seen Vickerman play, I've  noticed that he a A + skater, but a lot of the times, similarly to Dominic  Turgeon on Portland doesn't involve himself when the going gets tough.  His nineteen year old season is approaching and he needs to add more then just the Mr.Nice guy to his repertoire. A player that I felt wasn't given a fair shake and a lot of it was due to age, was Parker Aucoin. In my limited, very limited viewings I sense that Parker fits in admirably to the league with a re-tooling team, expect him to get more primo opportunities to fill the back of the net this season.

Within the top fifteen picks of the CHL Import draft it's come to my realization that outside of Dmitry Sokolov, who's now found himself in the Drake Berehowsky initiated Sudbury soap opera, the Tri-City Americans snagged the second best player by selecting Juuso Valimaki. Valimaki, who is already getting strong consideration for the finnish World Junior program is a gargantuan compliment to Brandon Carlo. He's conceivably a three player for the Americans and already standing at 6'1 194 at the age of sixteen, the sky is literally the limit for a player who fairly or unfairly has drawn comparisons to finnish counterpart  Sami Salo. If so, the Americans won the power ball lottery on this one.  The brother of once Tri-City rival Tyler Wotherspoon, Parker figures to compound his exploits of 2014-2015 to bigger and better things. The knock of Wotherspoon is his foot speed but more then makes up for in hockey awareness. Unarguably possessing the smartest hockey I.Q in the league, and I know I reference unarguably a lot but when I have an opinion it's always right so therefore unarguably is a perfect adjective when I enlist statements such as the one involving Wotherspoon, but carrying on with Parker, Parker even though he has high level hockey I.Q, there are limitations in his game that affected the reason he fell to the 112th overall pick by the New York Islanders. Mike Williamson has the reputation of being an offensive minded coach but for the sake of developing Wotherspoon to an aspiring professional, because at it's core, the WHL is a developmental league, it's only fair that Williamson work real hard with Parker and refine the obvious deficiencies in his game.

Remember that time when John Grahame took over for Nikolai Khabibulin after the Tampa  Bay Lightning bolted their way to the cup? I hope Evan Sarthou doesn't. Remember that time when Tuuka Rask took over the Bruins reigns replacing Tim Thomas? This is a much more positive comparable that Sarthou should have in the memory bank and he delves into the herculean task of replacing Eric Comrie.  Sarthou is an overlooked but quality goaltender and the stigma over the loss of Comrie won't be as overwhelming as some Ams fan envision.  This will be a non-playoff year in Kennewick so Sarthou will have plenty of leeway when it comes to committing a plethora of expected errors that will hopefully for the American organization lead to more sustainable results in the future years to come.

20. Swift Current Broncos-Earlier I chronicled how the Indiana Pacers had a miserable off-season in a blog post fittingly titled "Indiana Pacers freefall", please check it out by the way but the word freefall isn't a powerful enough adjective when assessing the Bronco's torcherous spring. Losing Jay Merkley to the Canadian University ranks is a devastating blow to a team that is going to be in tough this year, not to mention the losses of Zack Mackay and Tanner Lesann, Lesann a player in particular who I thought for whatever reason didn't get the appropriate ice time to cherish was a player who as a Regina Pat supporter I always wish we would've got our hands on. And then earlier today, assistant coach Josh Dixon offered up his resignation which has led me to this query, are locker room issues prevalent in Swift Current's locker room and if so, does coach Mark Lamb have the resilience to turn around the culture and provide these loyal fans  a winning product? A long year in Speedy Creek ahead.

Jake DeBrusk is a special player. Unarguably, and I only used the word unarguably again to create some laughter to this enterprise, DeBrusk is the best forward in the Eastern Division bar none as his combination of aggressiveness and a knack around the net are unparalleled. As insinuated in the opening, will DeBrusk have enough horses in the stable to allow Swift Current to be competitive? Can I add, and I doubt any response I'm going to find satisfactory, but in a year where Swift Current will be so desperate for goals did they go in the defensive direction at the Import draft when they could've brought over a European with the skill set to play alongside Jake? This will play out to be one of the more regrettable gaffes of the WHL off-season. Scott Feser is a cagey veteran who's a very good penalty killer who has that defensive ensemble, a trait that when under the tutelage of former Head Coach Brent Sutter comes naturally as that's been a Rebel hockey staple. I like the pick-up but it still lingers from where the offence will come from as Scott Feser is no Tyler Redenbach.  A player that intrigues me for both good and bad is Glenn Gawdin. His surprise selection for Team Canada at the Ivan Hlinka tournament allowed me to really analyze his game on TSN. Gawdin trucks up and down the ice consistently as his work ethic is his greatest weapon. That's the good, but the bad enlies in the natural scoring ability. When the Broncos got paired against the Regina Pats in round one of the Western Hockey League playoffs, Gawdin and DeBrusk were expected to carry the load for the Broncs, and although DeBrusk was serviceable, it was Gawdin particularly in game one and three that literally a million chances but on the stat sheet only accounted for one goal. He's all around the net but it may be advisable that he takes a page out've Blake Wheeler's game as the two play in a similar fashion with the difference that the current Winnipeg Jet Wheeler can slow it down and show the patience needed to read the play in the offensive zone, something that Gawdin lacks in but could improve upon.

Brett Lernout, the 6'4 Winnipegian who I'm questioning whether he even will make his way back to the dub as I deem his chances strong of remaining with the Montreal Canadiens American Hockey affiliate will be asked to shoulder the load if  the Swift Current Broncos are fortunate enough to be again graced by his presence. His blocking shot ability is second to none,  and his shot has got a lot of stronger from two seasons ago. Lernout had the reputation of acting clumsy on the ice with the perpetuate for taking ill-advised chances in the offensive game but now with a more complete player which can be credited to the constant advising from Jamie Heward and now former associate Josh Dixon. Lernout, based on the realistic expectations of Swift Current I would imagine will be a trade chip Mark Lamb can use because on a rebuilding club there is no sense hanging onto a very above average twenty year old. Twenty-one other clubs will covet his services. So who's next in line if or when Lernout departs town? That's the easiest question I've asked myself all day as if I was playing Jeopardy I would respond with " Who is Max Lajoie". Alex-"Correct Brett, that's $500". If Lajoie continues upward on the developmental curve, $500 will soon be pocket change for the Calgary native. Lajoie is so calm with the puck and at times playing with Brett Lernout, who when alongside Lernout has the presence of Mugsy Bogues plays bigger with what scouts would consider "an untapped offensive game". If scouts are considering a forty one point season as untapped offensive potential, I'd hate to see, once again only because I'm from Regina what his game will look like when all the kinks are hammered out.  Mark Lamb will have decision to make when narrowing down the twenty year olds, especially if Lernout is returned but if the card align right and Griffin Foulk can return, that will be a  welcome re-addition. Foulk played alongside Ayrton Nikkel last year and I just felt like Nikkel, who probably won't have his "contract" renewed if Foulk is back in the fold struggled severely and brought down the game of Griffin. If Griffin can be slated with a more competent partner he'll show that using one of the twenty year old positions on himself was a smart decision by Lamb that he won't   regret.

Because the Bronco's have such an interesting and confusing twenty year old dilemma, I have no idea what you do with Landon Bow. Do you sacrifice a Lernout or a Foulk to accommodate keeping Bow or do you try to deal Bow to a contender full well knowing it is near impossible to get fair value for a twenty year old netminder, unless of course you are the Kamloops Blazers dealing then 20 Cole Cheveldave. This decision will drastically effect the circumstances for the 2015-2016 campaign. My gut says they will deal Bow, with wink wink nudge nudge a possible trade to Western conference powerhouse Seattle in order. Travis Child may well have to step in sooner than expected and it's unknown if he'll have the propensity to work his way through the gamut.  Child hails from the town that produced Olympic gold medal curler Kevin Martin and if indeed Child is required to step in, one can only hope he can find the golden touch for Speedy Creek.

1 comment:

  1. The talk in SC is that Lernout will not be back in town. He is an AHL ready player, with a contract from the Canadians, so he will likely be in St. John's. If by miracle he is back, I'd expect him moved at a high price to a contender. The D however is interesting even with the losses of Heatherington and Lernout. They have potential first round pick in Max Lajoie, as well as older guys in Foulk, Thomson and Harris. They just acquired the Russian as well as Kade Jensen (a smooth move I must admit). Also returning is Gordon top prospect Dom Schmeimann, plus youngsters Sissons, Thomas, Parsons, Stanley who will make a push this fall. That's eleven players I named, for the record I think I can only name eleven potential forwards. Expect and older guy dealt, maybe two before or during camp, returning forwards in the transaction. Hopefully this includes Thomson.
    Bow should be back. I see the validity of trading Bow but the team seems set on keeping him around.
    Up front there are the stallions in DeBrusk and Gawdin. Steenbergen, Schumacher, Feser and likely Leth/Seidel/Johnson as the other top six. The bottom six is young, inexperienced and partly unknown. This is why I'd expect trades to lengthen the forward group. Either way, any line with DeBrusk is a top line.
    This is a bottom feeding team that should move it's older assets like DeBrusk for some future. They may have a decent defence but scoring will be hard.