Monday, August 15, 2016

2016-2017 Pre-Season Western Hockey League Report(Teams 12 and 13)

13.Everett Silvertips-Credit to the Everett Silvertips for having an updated roster on their official website. This is more than I can say about some other teams, just an aside I wanted to get off my chest. If you're naive enough to believe some of the press out there they'd have you repeating that the Silvertips style is the most mundane. boring style ever advertised in Canadian Hockey League history.  While comparing them to the '04-05 Rimouski Oceanic would be an injustice, the truth is the characteristics that Head Coach Kevin Constantine advocates is a little more modern then most will sign off on. This is the same franchise after all, not all under the tutelage of Constantine the stingiest observers will point out I may add, that produced the likes of Peter Mueller,Zach Hamill, and Kyle Beach. The three names that I just mentioned bring up an interesting correlation. It's an absolute fact that none of the three transitioned into serviceable National Hockey League careers after all three were higher NHL picks and I have a theory behind that. It's such a structured program that they run in Everett that some of their skilled players who flourish graduate to their respective NHL clubs and aren't adaptable enough because it's entrenched in their D.N.A to abide by strict X's and O's but when to use Mueller as an example, he left Everett,Washington and immediately set foot in Glendale,Arizona taking orders from the Great One and you just know Gretzky encouraged freedom and creativity, traits that Mueller had expunged under K.C. Historically, and I'll even include Leland Irving in this by saying that not many Silvertips have gone on and escaped the wrath of Constantine and at what point, something that's been voiced by a lot of Tips fan does General Manager Garry Davidson change the culture because as the developmental reputation worsens so does your chances of recruiting top prospects.

I'm not going to sit here and lie by saying I get to witness a lot of Everett Silvertips contests throughout the regular season but the few I did see, team speed up front was prevalent. The 15/16 version, not to beat a dead horse by re questioning the approach entailed by Constantine was fast but had offensive limitations. Analyzing the make up of the roster and you'll begin to notice, I certainly did that they lack that go to presence. I love what Graham Millar provided in a secondary role last year and with the graduations of top scorers Remi Laurencelle, who can I just say was vastly underrated during his tenure and Carson Stadnyk, an expanded role should open up for somebody, and I hate even theorizing on something like that because there are internal factors that  are concealed to the outside observer, could we be looking at Everett's next captain? Scoring will be at a premium but Millar with his speed down the right wing will be looked upon to drive the net hard and pick up those garbage goals that are very much needed. I found last year with Graham that even though he possessed outstanding wheels refused to head the net instead constantly hovering around the perimeter. Philosophically,if I was given the opportunity to speak with Graham I'd attempt to instill the fact that a mindset change is needed if he has ANY aspirations of turning professional after this season. In minor hockey, and  a shout-out to for making this information available somebody like Graham had the same size and speed and thus was a scoring machine. What some players entering the dub fail to realize and without knowing the kid personally I won't necessarily paint Graham with the same brush is that the very players you're playing and dominating against in Bantam and Midget, only a minuscule percentage of those players advance to the next level so it's important you have a short memory and are willing to re-define yourself. The point I'm attempting to hammer down is if Graham utilizes that top end speed that most pendants know he has and adds a physical element, it'll do wonders for the chances of the Silvertips heading into this campaign. I'm constantly reminding myself that Millar is now twenty so it's important to temper expectations but with somebody with the enticing potential of a Connor Dewar, the sky is literally the limit and Connor looks to lead the next wave of up and comers. Dewar, already awarded with the Tips Rookie of the Year title a year ago was astonishingly a fifth round pick that Davidson hit a grand slam with, and not just any slam. a GianCarlo 584 ft type shot. What has me excited about the prospects of Connor is that not only does his game exude maturity of a nineteen year old in this league, there's the unspoken confidence that he recieved last year seeing tangible time on the power play. As talked about in these previews and more of a general observation is that too many sixteen year olds are pass happy but such is not the case with Dewar. He loves to score and has done so at every level. What could possibly hold him back this year you ask? The harshest critics of a Constantine coached team will opine Dewar will be coddled and held back which is a complete misnomer. Undeterred by this faulty logic I will again reference my opening where I stated that Constantine has overseen some of the league's most gifted scorers in recent memory and are we to blame him for failed professional progression, not a chance! That's like saying legendary Ontario Hockey League coach Brian Kilrea deserves blame that former OHL mega star Corey Locke didn't convert into a sniper at the next level. Completely ludicrous. I'm re-reading my opening and now am partially regretting even notating my advocation that Garry Davidson consider a coaching change to reinvigorate the culture. I do think Kevin is a quality coach, the premise I was attempting to represent is that perception is half the battle, and tactics aside, if parents and players coming through the ranks believe that they're not going to get the necessary exposure then Garry Davidson is fighting a losing battle and his hand will be forced. I unequivocally believe that with the anticipated power play opportunities, the penchant to want to shoot all bodes well for Dewar to accumulate a twenty five goal season.

Keep in mind I'm well aware I'm going to receive backlash for the following comment. Noah Juulsens; game leaves a lot to be desired. There I said it. I could go into detail about how with the current defensive depth the Montreal Canadians have compiled that Noah is no longer a worthwhile fit in Montreal but to keep this in an Everett realm, for those not familiar with the work of Noah or Everett as a whole, think former Swift Current Bronco defenceman Dillon Heatherington.  The biggest problem that I take out of the game of Noah is that he's susceptible to the costly turnover and doesn't have the foot speed to make up for his wrongdoings. Noah along with the coaching staff I'm sure has worked diligently in refining his puck skills where in reality from where I stand, if he simplifies his game the points will follow. He has a Ryan Pulock-esque shot, I don't think anyone would ever question me saying that but unlike Pulock he sacrifices the proper positioning on the ice to find the open shooting lane.  Entering his nineteen year old campaign,  he's bigger and stronger then most his age and with all that being said, if he lets the game come to him the team will be better served for it.  To toot my own horn for a second, my knowledge of the Western Hockey League is substantial and while I'm perfectly comfortable describing my thoughts on Head Coaches and prospects alike, I shy away from bringing the Assistant coach into the profile for the simple fact that there's a unfamiliarity with about 95% of them league wide. Mitch  Love though, someone I fondly remember from his playing days as a Swift Current Bronco and Silvertip could do wonders for Juulsen's development. Love had a reputation of being a trusted defensively responsible forward could teach Noah a thing or two about patience and defense first. I get rambly, loyal readers of this blog have long known this but there's a method to my madness and by referencing the strengths of Love, I'm implying that Juulsen's calling card should be that of a stay at home defenceman. His statistics back this up.. Twenty seven points in nearly a full season of work doesn't exactly scream offensive dynamo even though that's what he aspires to be. The age old dillema of doing what's best for the team opposed to doing what makes the most sense for you is the constant struggle and the hope is that Love and Constantine with a little guidance from the Canadiens can make him grasp the concept that at the next level you're not going to be a point producer and if he takes this advice to heart fans in Everett will react positively to a more all around game. The next defenceman I want to elaborate on is an individual that I wouldn't stipulate is even guaranteed to make the squad but it's time Tip nation acquaints itself with Gianni Fairbrother. If the reason why he fell to the fourth round in 2015 was due to NCAA temptations then good on Everett for taking a waiver but let me tell you folks, Gianni is going to be a monster in this league and I suspect we'll be hearing his name being called in the first round of the 2019 draft(late birthday). As I eluded just  a moment ago there may be some pressure from Tip management and the Fairbrother family to allow him to better season by playing another year of Midget but I myself am undoubting in my belief that he'd be ready to contribute this fall. Fairbrother's offensive game needs some fine tuning but in the videos I've watched on the player, I  literally can't remember seeing a fifteen year old exhibit so much poise. The game looks so slow, pressure from opposing forwards doesn't seem to bother him at all as I vividly recall one tape where I believe his team was killing  a penalty and the opposition employed what appeared to be a triple team forecheck and what did Fairbrother do....weaved his way through one of the forecheckers and then cut infront of his own net to evade the other two., He's a special player with that level of calmness. I will admit his skating needs work and the aforementioned offensive escapades will come with time and I keep reminding myself he's fifteen and will get stronger. I can't stress enough how when you see him in person, you'll be shocked by his hockey I.Q.

In net, to start what I wanted to look at is my befuddlement  I have with the Tips decision to acquire Lasse Petersen from the Spokane Chiefs. The reports I've received indicate that Mario Petit is more then a capable backup option for starter Carter Hart so it has you asking why the transaction was made.When I began these previews, in the very first one I did with the Kootenay Ice I was brainstorming goaltending upgrade options and listed Mario Petit as an option. This was all before I had a facepalm moment forgetting that the Ice already acquired their upgrade in former Giant and Oil King Payton Lee but my intuition that a trade is likely remains in effect. The problem becomes and I'm probably overvaluing Petit which team could use him to either fill a starting vacancy or upgrade the backup? I don't have a concrete answer for that because it's not as if he's overly young being nineteen and all but the one team that make sense is the Brandon Wheat Kings. He wouldn't start this year as Jordan Papirny remains in tow but would be the heir apparent for next season. The U.S Division looks to be decent, at least that's how I'm forecasting it and if that holds true the Silvertips will need Carter Hart to prove to the Philadelphia Flyers that a mistake wasn't made selecting him in the second round. Read my Lethbridge Hurricane preview and my true thoughts on goalie valuation will be known but getting this back to Carter, it's not unrealistic to suggest that it's nearly impossible for him to replicate his Canadian Hockey League goaltender of the year results from a year ago and that spells major trouble for Everett. Players entering a season naturally set goals for themselves and based with what he's got to work with, keeping his GAA under 2.50 and a save percentage over .900 should be attainable. Repeating as Goalie of the year is next to impossible but if Everett wishes to contend in the daunting U.S Division then this will be a pre-requisite.

12.Swift Current Broncos-An under reported story in Bronco land in recent seasons was the work now ex General Manager and Head Coach Mark Lamb put in adminstratively with some shrewd acquistitions.The ones that stick out are the 2012 trade that brought over Brett Lernout from the Saskatoon Blades and Carter Rigby coming over as an overager from Kelowna. I didn't particularly care for the value returned for sniper Jake DeBrusk but it went beyond just the trades he made. The bantam drafts over the last five years were stellar headlined by the incoming Riley Stotts who I'll feature shortly or how about landing Tyler Steenbergen in 2013. Steenbergen I understand is a polarizing figure that some fans in Speedy Creek haven't attached to but I like what I see. As a talent evaluator Lamb excelled at,  his head coaching responsibilities weren't always fulfilled as promised. I think throughout the course of his tenure which began in 2009 the team has struggled on the ice and his unwillingness to correct glaring transgressions didn't go unnoticed by this blogger. After a surprising promotion which saw him land a job with Tucson of the American Hockey League the reigns have now been handed over to Emmanuel Viveiros. Very little is known about Viveiros across North America hockey circles but one concept is clear, this  team has been left in great hands for Manny to put his own stamp on and after years of relative obscurity, a different message could be just what the doctor ordered heading into 2016/2017.

I want to begin this preview by enlighting you folks on the Swift Current Broncos sparse twenty year old situation. At this time barring trades the three twenties expect to be Prince Albert native Jordan Harris, Calvin Spencer and Austin Adamson. I foresee a strong likelihood that Swift Current will look to upgrade these spots early in this season as Adamson and Harris I'm unsure are the type of commodoties you want hanging around as an overager. Spencer on the other hand will fit in just fine as the Broncos desperately try to secure  a playoff position. I don't necessarily think it's even a question that they'll be dancing in late March but to be on the safe side, it's imperative they receive a weighty contribution out of Calvin. Without knowing the individual personally, I'm sure as an American born player there had to be mixed emotions leaving a Thunderbirds team that everybody and their grandmother knew was going to contend but I hope for his sake he appreciates the feeling of being wanted and embraces the challenge. Ideally when apprising his skill set, he's better suited as a third line center who can work his magic on the wall gauging from his lanky 6'1 frame.When I ponder the name of Calvin Spencer the first thing that comes to mind is work ethic. He's a tireless worker that will benefit from added playing time under a new coaching regime. When I look at how the depth chart is shaping up front, there's a lot of skill expected in the lineup but not a lot of truculence. I mentioned Stotts who I'm really high on and I'll feature after I finish up with Spencer but because Calvin has the size to match up with some of the league's bigger defenceman and relating this to the Eastern Division I think of guys like the Russian Rubinchuk who the Blades just secured a commitment from and Hilsendager from the Regina Pats, they'll need Calvin to wear these types out down low creating open space for the gifted players on the roster. I'm skeptical if aside from Spencer is this team is too small as a whole because even some of their "bigger" players play a softer game.Logan Barlage will solve some of those concerns when he debuts in 17/18 but for now I just wanted to illustrate the importance of Spencer. Riley Stotts.....what can I say. The 2015 Bantam Draft was a very deep one however I'm not ready to forgive every team not named the Spokane Chiefs for passing on Riley with the first twelve selections. Addison as depicted earlier on in this drawn out preview I'm giddy over and of course with first overall selection Ty Smith the Chiefs have the next Jared Cowen on their hands but for every other team from then until thirteen, all I can say is I shake my head! Because Smith and Addison are both defenceman and the only two I'd even consider ranking ahead of Riley, it's no secret that I perceive Stotts having the most skill. He's a game in every sense of the word, as an underager with the Winnipeg Wild of the Midget AAA league he scored a team high thirty one goals and the thing that impresses me most, and there's lots to choose from is his ability to make a play at top flight speed. I draw upon serious Tyler Seguin vibes as he reads the ice so quickly and his motor never stops, very much like Seguin. Also for a man of his stature, his shot is definitely WHL ready. If the Stotts' family was left blindsided by the Lamb resignation, I hope they read this entry because as much as Mark had a built in coaching philosophy, a fresh, younger perspective that Viveiros will provide I maintain is a better spot for Riley to thrive in. In 2016/2017, the intention is to make the playoffs, the 2017/2018 outlook will be conference finals and when in 2018/2019 Stotts is eighteen along with a seventeen year old Barlage, unquestionable league favourites. All day could be spent fantasizing over the deep prospect pool, it's  that good, best in the league with the only franchise that rivals the "farm" of the Broncos could be the Kelowna Rockets which is a scary thought as you'll notice Kelowna has yet to be mentioned in this preview, stocked now and in the future.  I won't go so far asto formally declare Stotts as my Rookie of the Year Pick, my awards will be posted after all teams have been completed but let's just day he's the heavy frontrunner.

It's been proven that some players just aren't prime fits with some coaches. Max Lajoie was touted coming into the Broncos system but solely judging off of his fifth round draft selection from the Ottawa Senators, it's been a disappointing go of things. At one point in time, and this assertion slowly faded as the 2015-2016 campaign sorted itself out that Lajoie may have been in the conversation as a possible first rounder. He has the tools that enable you to think that all is not lost and that the Senators hopefully for the Broncos sake stumbled on one of the year's biggest steals. What I thought was factual after watching him play in 2014/2015 actually warped into his kryptonite and that's his skating. I don't know whether he was experiencing nagging injuries because as I just indicated I bore witness to a truer skater two years ago, and if I come to learn he was it would explain a lot. Simplification is a coveted discipline from junior hockey players and it applies to the game of Max. If he could just learn to focus on making a good first pass, knowing when to back off when the opposition has  a comfortable opening pertaining to the breakout. These skills are taught to you in minor hockey and I'm not trying to come off as a hockey coach because I'm anything but it's infuriating at times watching Max because I see a complete hockey player that lacks consistency. In first two years, he's been a minus player and an internal goal should be to try and at the very least attempt to convert to 0. As a general statement the Broncos possess a deeper team and the record should reflect that, no reason why this isn't attainable. Another defenceman I'm choosing to chronicle is none other than Suhvan Khaira. Due to Mark Taraschuk abruptly choosing not to call Swift Current home, it's opened the door for an additional top four spot up for grabs, a position that Khaira is firmly in the running for. When I learned of the decision of Taraschuk I was left disappointed as Mark was caught in a numbers game in Brandon and was beginning to find his game in Speedy Creek. To go on another one of my tangents, I find that the Western Hockey League  as a whole has to do  a better job of retaining it's players who find themselves in situations they're less then delighted with. Continuing on with Taraschuk, how is a player like that supposed to deal by getting traded away from a perennial contender like the Wheaties last season to a team who essentially was riding out the year whist just trading their superstar DeBrusk. What I'm about to propose may seem extreme but a necessary evil to keep all parties motivated in our great league. Right now, the league's educational agreement is setup in such a way that guarantees a year of paid education for each year of service. In the current composition what's stopping players from playing a year or two in our league, deciding that the league for whatever reason is something they no longer want to pursue. Listen,we live in a country that supports freedom and for that I'm forever grateful being a Canadian citizen but I'm also a proponent of Major Junior and protecting our league. Okay, reverting back to my theory what I suggest that if a player voluntarily walks away from the league WITHOUT being dropped from the protected list and chooses to play in an ulterior league which may or may not be the case with Mark, he then automatically loses any CIS/technical college funding he may of had. I'm becoming aggravated that lately too many player are boycotting particular markets and the buck needs to stop somewhere. I hope you enjoyed my latest but not last tangent, it's a consistent feature of this blog.  The beneficiary of Mark leaving is the aforementioned Khaira. What an athletic specimen if I do say so myself. I spent a good portion critiquing the skating of Max but with Suhvan, skating is the least of his worries. I recollect a game last year where Swift Current was up against the Brandon Wheat Kings, stud defenceman Ivan Provorov was up to his usual antics dangling the entire line of defence and eventually found himself in a foot race with Khaira. Advantage Provorov, right? Wrong! I remember as Provorov was crossing the blue line in this one and one working left to right, he may of had an inch or two of room of Suhvan but he kept up stride for stride and knocked the puck loose.  You truly don't know how fast someone is until their up against arguably the fastest player in the dub(Austin Wagner may have something to say about that)  and then shows he can hold his own. I would imagine most fans attending Broncos games regularly have long admired his reliableness in his own end but the area that needs refinement, heck it needs a complete 360 done to it is his offensive awareness. Reading this you're surely asking what offensive awareness. Not to poke fun at Suhvan but I've seen defenceman in Pee Wee Hockey show more swagger when handling the puck. Speaking of someone I watched a lot in 2009-2010 with the Regina Pats, former Chilliwack Bruin Mitch McColm and you would shudder every time he tried to push the puck. Normally having someone on roster who is a one dimensional player can be worked through but Viveiros requires a top four role being filled, working on skill enhancement in training camp will be an urgent priority. Don't misconstrue my thoughts on the player, I'm liking what I see, it's just a tad humorous when reminiscing on his restrictions.

Training camp will pit Travis Childs against Taz Burman. If one of these goalies has already been parted ways with it, excuse my oversight but with slight blame going out to these websites as the lack of updates is alarming.  I made  a similar error when previewing the Kootenay Ice not realizing Payton Lee was acquired by the Ice and I'd hate to make the same mistake twice. Personal preference would have me leaning towards Burman but the truth of the matter is they're both nineteen and skated to similar statistics last season so basically flip a coin. I've been very complimentary on the Broncos chances,after all I have them ranked twelfth but the goalies in store scare me. Neither would be considered certifiable WHL starters and I'll again throw out the names of Brody Wilms(MJ) and Mario Petit(EVT) as plausible fits for the coaching staff as they look to find a two/three year starter. Predicting a trade in the Western Hockey League is about as likely as the placing a parlay of Major League baseball bets all of which are based off of not only who wins but by how much(would it kill the Blue Jays to lose by six tonight?) If the goaltenders stay the same, it'll be an intriguing pre-season battle but I'll look for Burman to capitalize on what he learned in playing for the Western Conference's best team from last year in Seattle and use that wealth of knowledge appropriately.

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