11.Portland Winterhawks- The Portland Winterhawks from the 2010-2011 season until the 2013-2014 season made it a habitual trend making the league final all those years. The 2012-2013 season proved to a little more triumphant, well actually a lot more triumphant as they not only took home the championship, but ventured all the way to the Memorial Cup final before bowing out to the Nathan MacKinnon led Halifax Mooseheads. The final streak ended last year, albeit commendably as they crashed and burned while being in the presence of the Kelowna Rockets explosive attack. This time around, the returning coach Jamie Kompon will have his work cut out for him in order for Portland to objectively be seen a finals contender again.
Paul Bittner came to Portland expecting to be a main cog to the attack but in lieu of the Winterhawks having so much depth throughout the last two years including Nic Petan, Chase De Leo, Oliver Bjorkstrand, which significantly limited Bittner's special teams opportunities and ability to showcase his talents which greatly plummeted his NHL draft stock. Well that chance to be showcased although a year too late will be this year for Bittner. The sizable Bittner is your prototypical Power forward that has above average speed but in my limited viewings he lacks high hockey sense that you need to reach that next level. Seventy one points last season whilst trucking away on the third line at times is no small feat and with him getting guaranteed first line minutes, the three digit plateau seems certainly attainable. The theme of the Winterhawks as a whole will be redemption, not just from a team perspective, but from an individualistic approach as well as many players, not just Bittner have craved bigger roles and now will get it. This same stigma applies to Pierre Turgeon's son, Dominic and the jury is out, meaning myself because I'm the sole proprietor of this enterprise and color me not impressed when it comes to Turgeon's abilities. In my humble opinion, Turgeon has been heralded due to his last name, not merits that bring the majority of players into this league. Pierre Turgeon on the premise was an excellent playmaker that when the game got bigger, his game elevated. Comparatively to the younger Turgeon, when the game gets big he hides in similar fashion to the way Peyton Manning hides when he hears the word playoffs. The fact is, Turgeon will get his undeserving first line minutes but a player aligned to have a superb year is Sherwood Park resident Skyler McKenzie. Sixteen points last year as a fourth line/sparing healthy scratch was what he dealt with but has this escapability factor that allows him to weave through otherwise tight spots being able to accomplish this because he sits at a whopping 5'7.
Another Jones in Portland, this time Caleb....hoping he was obtained legally unlike his older brother and current Nashville Predator Seth. Smooth skater just like his brother doesn't quite have the same level of physicality, and luckily for both himself and Seth they didn't acquire the gene that was prevalent when it came to the oft-clumsy presence and play that Popeye Jones displayed in the NBA. The quintessential laid back demeanor that successfully handles high pressure environments is exactly the descriptor for the twenty year old Layne Viveiros. Last year's point totals more then doubled from the year before and it's because Layne is so calm with the puck and read the play, especially knowing the appropriate time to pinch so well. He's just an overall, well rounded player that coach Kompon will have no issue employing on both the power play and penalty kill. I'll be interested and curious to see whether or not Jones and Viveiros are partnered together, or whether the more logical approach is used and splitting the two up and forming two solid pairings.
Adin Hill could've never in a million years that by the second half of the 2014-2015 season, he would've taken the realm of the Winterhawks net. Well, when Brendan Burke, who was later shipped to Calgary struggled so severely that Portland needed to look in another direction. At first, that "other direction" was Bolton Pouliot, who was received from Kamloops. This must of been a devastating turn of events for Hill as it's never a re-assuring measure when as an eighteen year you're deemed not good enough so much so that they bring in a veteran 20 year old. Full credit to Hill, he didn't sulk and complain at least not publicly and continued to put his head down and take his reps in practice with full well knowing that at some point he would get his chance...well as the story unfolded, Hill could stop waiting soon enough as he eventually was shown the confidence to play and he ran with the opportunity. This is a story of perseverance, something that away from hockey for a minute that we should all take a deep look in life at as the underlined message here is with a little hard work anything is possible and back to Adin, he fulfilled the goal that some deemed unattainable, getting selected in the NHL draft by the Arizona Coyotes. Great work Adin!
12.Kamloops Blazers- The golden years of the Blazers existence took place in the mid nineties, which in all reality was my introduction to hockey. Who can forget Nolan Baumgartner, Jarome Iginla, world junior hockey championship star Hnat Domenichelli, who later announced Swiss citizenship while playing for them at World Championship, and the great current TSN reporter Ryan Rishaug who clearly was the who stirred the drink? Probably most who are reading this had no idea that the Blazers were such an iconic franchise during that tenure but the hockey purists are well aware that the work of then and current coach Don Hay was a Picasso masterpiece. Well great news for Blazer fans that Don Hay is back for second go around in his second stint as a Blazers employee(I think anyways as some could argue that the game has passed Hay bye). Does Hay have the horses to turn the beautiful city of Kamloops around? This is up for debate but the facts are that the Blazers are better positioned right now then they were a year ago.
Matt Revel is an anomaly in the Western Hockey League because with the immense talent has come mediocre results in both Kamloops and Saskatoon. It's quite possible that the hype surrounding Revel wasn't deserved coming out of Bantam but when you watch him play, and when he's mentally checked into the game has game changing characteristics, mostly good but some bad. You hate to wish upon player movement when dealing with teenagers, but sometimes a change of scenery is a requirement for both the player and organization. There are twenty one other teams that feel that they could resurrect Revel's repoire but the Blazers will be pleading with this Abbotsford, British Columbia to find that game with them because the minute he find that niche, the Blazers are looking at a first line, ninety point phenom. Now with the bad, a player with that pair of mitts should be controlling the play, not weeping himself to sleep in the defensive zone leading to a +/- of -17. Don Hay will take it upon himself to make him a ninety foot player and this will benefit all parties greatly. Remember that time when the Prince Albert Raiders traded their best prospect Jake Kryski for an average twenty year old netminder which eventually saw the Raiders miss the playoffs? Livid Prince Albert fans most definitely don't and still to this day can't fathom why then controversial GM Bruno Campese pulled the trigger on that trade. This lopsided deal rivals an another deal forever surrounded in infamy and that was when the Toronto Raptors dumped off fan favourite Vince Carter to the New Jersey Nets for Eric and Aaron Willams, Alonzo Mourning(never suited for the Raptors) and two draft picks. Anybody remember any tangible contributions from the Williams'? That's right, there were no contributions. Bringing this back full circle to WHL terminology, I doubt many Raider diehards will remember Cole Cheveldave(the goaltender to which Prince Albert acquired) but they won't forget the impact forward Jake Kryski is bound to make in the league. While watching the springs under eighteen tournament, Deven Sideroff suited up for Team Canada and before the tournament I knew very little but I walked away, or more subtly put turned away from my television impressed. Not the world's biggest guy but plays much bigger. Sideroff, if utilized correctly will be a top shut down guy in the B.C division.
As much as I expect stellar things from the forwards, I'm a little worried about the prospective defence. The wild card in this whole charade is the European they just picked up, Czech Republican Ondrej Vala. The concerning proposition for the Blazers is that at the ripe age of seventeen he'll be looked upon to become that number one king pin. Scoring nine goals from the point while playing for HC Pardubice last year is no small feat and the offense will be a welcome addition because I'm perplexed where the rest of the offense will come from the backend. I shouldn't slight the Blazers prospects so quickly as expected to come into the fold is 2014 first round bantam draft selection Nolan Kneen. If he provides the same level excitement as someone with a similar surname that being play by play announcer Jon Keen, the Blazer fans anticipation for Nolan coming in won't go unnoticed. Summoning back to a thought I had regarding Matt Revel earlier is due to the lack of defensive prowess, one might consider it a good idea to package Revel whilst acquiring a top four defenceman because what I see right now are two players just profiled who to call them fringe top four defenceman at the moment may be a gross exaggeration. Defensive struggles on the horizon in the 'Loops?
Conor Ingram is a calming presence in net who will more then make up for the inevitable defensive blunders. This seventeen year old from Imperial, Saskatchewan I thought was a notable omission being passed over in the NHL draft has the fortitude to step up and improve upon his .904 save percentage. I fully believe he has the skillset to be considered and labeled as the league's best seventeen year old netminder, I know he isn't there yet with the likes of Carter Hart in his way but I view him as the tender with the most upside. As chronicled in the opening paragraph, the Blazers parlayed themselves into a 90's dynasty, Ingram has the chance to be the backstop to a new and improved dynasty that is unquestionably in the right direction.