6.Spokane Chiefs-Kailer Yamamoto is the only Chief that could be classified as resembling any sort of star power but the theme of this 2016/2017 group is team depth and grittiness in all capacities. I will admit I was one of those last year that had a vast amount of concerns with the scoring depth heading into last season and I saw enough out of their younger crop that eased my question marks heading into this campaign. Jaret Anderson-Dolan was a revelation, an individual that can slot in as the number one center with no qualms from the coaching staff. I recollect following the Bantam Draft live in 2014 and when the fourteenth selection had arrived based on team depth and already having Kailer Yamamoto, I would've favoured the Chiefs selecting defenceman Jantzen Leslie. Knowing what we know now, with Ty Smith being picked as the first overall selection the following year the need for a defenceman subsided not withstanding the fact that Anderson-Dolan is unquestionably the more polished player. The question some are posing is a core revolving around Yamamoto, Anderson-Dolan and Smith be the building blocks required to contend as early as this season. Judging from my ranking, you can safely make the ascertation that I believe they can and will.
The devastating loss of European Dominic Zwerger will be difficult to overcome. I should've clarified in the opening as much as I do maintain Anderson-Dolan has been a revelation for this group, he's struggled with inconsistencies but Zwerger on the other hand was the model of consistency. It's,rare that a European sticks around for three seasons as was the case with Dominic so the question now turns to who'll consistently provide the secondary offence needed for Kailer? I'm not suggesting that my first profiled player will instantaneously fill the shoes but as a sixteen year old who in all actuality will be overshadowed by the prodigy of Ty Smith, but if I was a hardcore Chief supporter I'd be optimistic towards Colum McGauley. McGauley without stumbling upon any tangible proof I'm presuming is the brother of former Brandon Wheat King star Tim has me insinuating that he could be, in a couple of years or so, equal to the elder McGauley's production. Residing in Southern Saskatchewan allows my take on Tim to be pretty substantial where I find Tim was reluctant to pushing the pace, on many two on two, three on three rushes he'd use his speed backing up the defenceman but would then slow it down losing all momentum his linemates had skating with him. Colum on the other hand isn't as passive and is more compliant to accelerating in the offensive zone and not resorting to older brother Tim's decelerating approach. You could see as many as three sixteen year old forwards crack the lineup with the aforementioned McGauley, Camrose product Damon Zimmer and Koby Morriseau. Personally, although patiently developing a first round bantam pick never happens any more, I feel as if Morriseau out of the trifecta is the furthest away from chipping in significant numbers. Colum would be likely explain that he had a disappointing campaign with Notre Dame of the Midget AAA league last year, but it's the McGauley reputation that ingratiate himself to the Don Nachbaur coaching staff. Only eighteen points in Midget, call me crazy or not but with Spokane'e spare amount of gifted scorers, I don't see why Colum can't immediately contribute in the top six. I'd like to analyze the structure these Chiefs forwards will be asked of, Under Bill Peters that translated into immense results catapulted by the Dustin Tokarski led 2008 Memorial Cup Championship, Spokane exhibited a wheeling and dealing brand when the proper nucleus on board was difficult to stop. Hardy Sauter had the daunting task of replicating results of the legendary Peters and failed because what Hardy knew to work was better suited to maximize results in the mid nineties, unfortunately his style has fallen out of favour. I have to surmise that because he looked down his bench each night and saw Jared Cowen on it, he figured that employing the trap thus allowing the defensive depth they possessed to go to work and mitigate scoring chances was a winning strategy. Sauter's trap imposed outlook was not a welcome fit for the fan base, led to no playoff tribulations and received a pink slip because of it. Don Nachbaur has since come in and credit to him that under his tutelage the Chiefs have never engaged in a losing season. Positive accolades not withstanding, something about his philosophy rubs me the wrong way, and in some cases players the wrong way, notably Reid Gow. He's a veteran coach that demand a lot but, and bear in mind just an opinion galvanizes individualism to a fault. I didn't follow the Western Hockey League close enough in the early 2000's to know whether he instituted a similar ideology in Kennewick, but resting all your laurels on the likes of Mitch Holmberg and Tyler Johnson, allowing them to run free while ignoring the systems put in place hinders overall team performance. I'm certainly not the only one that feels that Anderson-Dolan showed flashes of brilliance but was riddled with inconsistency and I begin to opine if the reason for that is due to no positional discipline. I love this roster, envy the results they could post this year but do fear if Nachbaur is the right candidate to work with the players trying to make a name for themselves. I hate to ask, but I will, has the league passed Don by? Coaching questions aside, continuing with player analysis, let's introduce to you newly drafted European Ondrej Najman. I echoed that replacing the import production of Zwerger could prove to be herculean but I truly feel Ondrej is up to the task. First things first, I've been informed that Ondrej has committed to Spokane but with the lack of website updates league wide, I've been unable to confirm this. If he declined the invitation, this is all for not. Secondly before I keep on, I'd like to remind the readers that seldomly will I analyze a European because I have no knowledge of the player but pertaining to Ondrej I'm comfortable with my information to proceed. At the past under eighteen tournament, Ondrej was arguably Team Czech Republic's best player. Literally the first shift I witnessed Najman play in, I got instant flashbacks to Jere Lehtinen. Lehtinen wasn't the quickest player on the ice, nor is Ondrej however the shots they have in their arsenal convey fear to opposing goaltenders. It's just not the shot that drew the likeness, it's the soft as butter hands near the net that is most uncanny. Chiefs fans, I guarantee that if he reports and I'm told that he will, you will have never seen a player who can be in front of the goaltender causing havoc and on the most innocent rebound make a play out of nothing. The hand eye coordination is exceptional. Needless to say the home that Pat Falloon built(that may be a stretch) landed on a coup presuming his presence.
To throw grammar out the window...."me really like this defence". It's mobile, tenacious, and poised beyond it's years. I spent considerable time worrying if Nachbaur's careless systems have a negative effect on the organization, and when you have your forwards scrambling around more than Michael Vick in his prime, this creates gargantuan problems. Prior to this year, the back check was non-existent which puts added pressure on this back end. Not that they can't handle it thought. In my viewings, it's rather the title of best defenceman can safely be awarded to Tyson Helgesen. Tyson, a fifth round Bantam select is the quintessential late bloomer. The board work that he showcases is phenomenal, with being a lankier frame listed at 6'2,190, he uses that long stick to his convenience. A negative connotation implored on Tyson's game however is his lackadaisical demeanor. I don't buy into this premise at all, some kids are just bred that way where for some a lack of emotion equates to one's compete level. Aside from this false "accusation", his offensive chops aren't half bad either. I wish I could give myself a dollar every time I referenced the faulty setup the Chiefs are beginning to be notorious for, but it's this last man back necessity that crutches his potential on the stat sheet. Twenty six points a year ago, albeit twenty three of those were assists, the shot needs work! Sometimes particular acquisitions help players and the very same acquisition will hurt others.I for one think if Spokane were to go out and acquire somebody from a non playoff team like David Quenneville out of Medicine Hat who is more confident with the puck on his stick could teach Helgesen the all around fundamentals because I know he has it in him.. I understand he had the opportunity to pick the brain of Jason Fram the last couple of years but with Jason acting more like a rover, not the best game to model yours after. I don't know whether Jake Harrison has completely ruled out NCAA hockey in his future as he has yet to sign an educational agreement with the Chiefs, but if the new management group in Spokane sans long time stalwart Speltz can talk Jake into joining the program, you can chalk up another quality prospect waiting in line. Jake's older brother Luke was an alumnus of a defying six WHL clubs although it could be questioned with the way Luke was tossed around offer if that's a mark in the NCAA column for young Jake. Say what you want about Luke who coincidentally spent a cup of coffee in Spokane, Jake's game at sixteen exceeds what Luke could conjur up at twenty. On a couple of occasions throughout this lengthy preview I've mentioned that Junior A hockey is a different animal and for Jake to step in so seamlessly speaks to adaptability. What kind of player is Jake you ask? Not afraid to join the rush, a staple to get on Nachbaur's good side, he's someone that refuses to back up defensively which is commendable for being a smaller d-man. The essence of Harrison's abilities are to be right up in your face, look for the poke check and off to the races we go. I've been fairly complimentary regarding his skill set but looking at the projected six, I do stupor at where he would fit in and whether a straight out re-assignment could make the NCAA-WHL decision an easy one for him. Ty Smith, first overall pick, he's going nowhere. I also foresee the remaining four being Helgesen, Toporowski, Evan Fiala, and Matt Faith. Additionally, if my premonition is correct about them wanting secure a puck moving defenceman I do wonder where that leaves Jake in these muddy waters. I could see one spot up for grabs between Jake and Matt Leduc.
With Lasse Petersen shipped out to Everett, this is Tyson Verhelst's job to lose. I don't have much to say about Tyson(shocking right?) other than to say that indisputably has a WHL starting goaltender acumen. From what I've seen of his and honestly it's been very little, he's good laterally but is suspectible to getting beat up high. The expectation is that goaltending coach Ryan Cyr will have worked with him this summer forcing him to stand more upright. The.892 save percentage needs some work but for a team, accounting for an underrated 1999/2000 class and anchored by Kailer Yamamoto, a hot Tyson will soon be having Spokane supporters verbalizing "Dustin Tokarski who?"
*****In my never ending battle with website competence, it was oversight on my part that Jayden Sittler was acquired in an off-season trade with the Lethbridge Hurricanes. Verhelst has since "retired" from hockey. I can only store so much in the ol' memory bank, having websites with updated transactions would be a start......the acquisition doesn't change my outlook on Spokane as a whole*****
5.Calgary Hitmen-I've been griping a little bit about some of the team's websites,well the Calgary Hitmen's new design takes it to a new low. We live in 2016, for a Major Junior franchise to have such a user unfriendly page is unacceptable. I digress but to access information is like jumping through hoops. The Calgary Hitmen are an interesting team to assess, Defensively, they own the rights of a few "names", but some of these supposed impact defenceman I'm not particularly fond of. Conversely with the forwards they don't have the same level of stardom but the list includes names like Matteo Gennaro(what an awful trade for Prince Albert) and Jordy Stallard who are a couple quality nineteen year olds in this league. Experts will attempt to convince you that the team's strength lies in the back end but I'm here to tell you it's the Calgary forwards that will stampede their way all the way to a Conference title perhaps. By process of elimination you'll notice that the only Eastern Conference teams remaining are the Regina Pats and Prince Albert Raiders but by virtue of this ridiculous divisional playoff format, dare I say the Hitmen have a bye to the Conference final?
****UPDATE RE WEBSITE: Im now under the impression when I was compiling research the site was fighting through technical glitches. Site is user friendly, apologies***
I just signalled that I'm much more optimistic regarding the forwards and I'll try to eloquently address why. For a team that was a year away last year in Prince Albert for them to trade away a pending nineteen year old, a serviceable nineteen at that in Gennaro is troubling at every turn. Gennaro is versatile enough where he can be a top line penalty killer and for someone who's accumulated eighty nine career points, he's no slouch in that area. Gennaro is from Alberta, so that makes you wonder if a trade was requested but if not unforgivable from a Raider P.O.V. Matteo. A prototypical penchant out of a Calgary Hitmen hockey club is a fast, explosive team and Gennaro fits into that culture just fine. A crash n bang player with premier skill and I honestly believe the reason his offensive statistics haven't been greater are due to the fact that he's so conscious of a defensive assignment that we lose a bit of that aggression, I'll be curious where Head Coach Mark French utilizes Gennaro in this attack.He's a centremen by trade but with the surplus of depth down the middle I wouldn't discount the strategical maneuver of transitioning him to wing allowing him time with Jordy Stallard on the top line. He can't really go wrong either way, either he shift into more of a shut down second line which his speed allows or becomes a first line left winger. Moving him over to the left side could be a major success story especially when you consider that Karnaukhov can catapult his husky frame on the off wing as it seems from my viewings that even when placed on the LW, he constantly weaves to the right side bringing his preference into question. I was reading on a message board today actually that there's some contractual faux pas with a club team in Russia that could prevent him from coming back to North American but I expect being as how Pavel has NHL aspirations, a Flame prospect at all that he'll find his way back to the Saddledome. I want to ensure I give Matteo his full due and the one facet where the Winnipeg Jets, who selected Gennaro would like to see improvement would be to bulk up. He gets knocked off the puck a lot in junior and if the body doesn't mature this will become a fall back for his progression. I could now go in the direction of either Stallard or Jakob Stukel, however a trademark of this blog is to focus attention on less heralded commodities so why don't we profile Mark Kastelic. From what I was hearing last year some apparant dissension existed amongst the Hitmen fans for the amount of playing time Mark was receiving. He'd see the lineup, albeit in a meager fourth line role ahead of more deserving individuals but I can totally side with the reasoning the coaching staff laid out for why he was seeing the ice frequently. For starters, even though the Hitmen fought their way to a conference semi-final, no write off, Mark was the highest selection they had in the 1999 born draft so it was imperative Mark get thrown in the fire as he's a catalyst going forward. These same cynics of Mark point at the atrocious skating as reasons for why he didn't warrant the playing time they receive. I won't dispute the skating deficiency however for the doubters, look at the projected lineup for a second. Hockey is a game that is evolving into a pure speed game, understood but with the Hitmen who will be no different, its always advantageous to have a balanced attack and Mark will once again add some needed size. In the Central Division, they'll be pitted against the Colton Bobyk's and Jesse Zaharichuk's of the world a tall order and having Mark's bullish frame to send out will benefit the aforementioned Gennaro's as no liberties will be taken, fewer anyway. And for the record, when I insinuate the Hitmen have smaller forward group, I'm not referencing height, just a lot of players who have yet to fill out. He's more of a methodical player that will need to work on adapting to the speed of Major Junior Hockey. It's not a coincidence that last campaign was permeated with struggles as what I often times notice is a player that plays minor hockey in a "foreign land" which for Phoenix includes hockey and even though you'll dominate in your region it doesn't always translate into true to type performance at this level. This primarily is why so many Americans either immediately flourish or flop. If you have it you have it and statistics will be proof in the pudding or you'll be so overwhelmed that a team won't retain your services the entire season. I could cite countless examples, for example reminiscing back to my Tri-City preview we have Justin Togiai and closer to home with Nikolai Knyzhov who technically was born in Russia but relocated to Phoenix and played relatively well only to fall flat on his face in Regina. This is a make or break season for Mark, I think he'll turn it around but if he doesn't frankly he won't last the year. Not for a team that aspires to be in the thick of the playoff race like Calgary.
When I penned my annual NHL draft grades entry, I was very critical of the Carolina Hurricanes decision to draft Jake Bean as high as they did. Listen, the jist on Bean is he's entering his third season and as was the case last year, he'll get by on pure moxie. He's talented, some what of a risk taker at the blue line but that truthfully what has set him apart thus far in his junior career. He plays with the behaviorism that he has nothing to lose, and can you really blame him for this attitude? He was completely passed over in his Bantam year, was a walk on to his hometown Hitmen and persevered all the way to a National Hockey League first rounder. I keep asking myself, because I cannot overstate my tentativeness I have with Jake's upside, what is is that serves as my prelude pertaining to my disdain for his game? Well, I sort of just touched on this but it's the river boat gambler mentality that I know won't carry over to the next level. When I "scout" some of these drafted prospects, I take that into consideration. Sure what he does works fine and dandy now but no way does pulling the coined P.K Subban"subby-doo" will jive. He does the spins under close proximity now but he tries that in the NHL, he'll be sent to Charlotte of the AHL quicker then the National Basketball Association pulled their own all star game from said location. He's the John Daly of the WHL, someone who displays things that others simply can't do but goes to the well so regularly that by the end of the round you look at the scorecard only to read 83 and start to ask yourself what happened. Bean is definitely capable of tallying a 90 point season, especially with the nucleus around him but he would be better advised to shore up the intricacies of this game because if the desire to be in the NHL by 20 is there, he can't be so one dimensional. Last season he had Travis Sanheim to follow, this go around he's the unquestioned leader with players Ty Prefontaine and Layne Toder looking for guidance. Will the absence of Sanheim effect numbers? Normally I would say absolutely but with the aggression he plays with the name on the back of the sweater of his defensive partner holds little relevance as he's not a player who uses his partner to push the envelope. Speaking of prospects, let's deliberate the merit of the aforementioned Toder as he stands a good chance of cracking the squad this year. A fifth rounder in 2015, he had a marvelous year with the Yellowhead Chiefs in the Manitoba Midget AAA league. For starters, what's with Calgary's infatuation with hauling in kids from Elkhorn, Manitoba. Travis Sanheim also from Elkhorn is set to depart onto greener pastures but in comes another Elkhorn product Toder. You know how when you drive into a town the big sign will read" Town of ...... home of......,well soon when you drive into the rural Manitoba community, it'll read "Welcome to Elkhorn, home of Calgary Hitmen prospects". In all seriousness the fact that Toder had such a great year in Midget AAA raised eyebrows with Calgary's management staff as with the depth they have on the blue line I don't think they envisioned saving room for a sixteen year old fifth round. A remotely good training camp and he's on this team. I mentioned the name of Ty Prefontaine, well him and maybe Jakob Lapointe may want to look over their shoulders as his presence could cost a spot on the team. Toder is small in stature but plays a monstrous game. His offense will bloom over time and with Jake Bean in the fold I guarantee Mark French will be looking for reliable defenders as opposed to the former. He'll ease his way onto the third pairing and if I'm correct in prognosticating a valiant year for Cow town, he'll acquire invaluable experience moving forward. The franchise defenceman in the couple years as twenty one other General Managers are kicking themselves for not taking a gander on him earlier.
One of the more enchanting battles this fall will involve the young lads fighting for playing time in the Calgary net. Cody Porter is entrenched for the time being but don't sleep on the brother of Minnesota Wild defenceman and former Red Deer Rebel Matt Dumba's brother, Kyle. Last season they had a collection of five goaltenders suit up at different times but this campaign is a little clearer to read. I suggest Dumba is in line to be in Calgary for the simple reason that not alot of Major Junior franchises care to employ two nineteen year old goaltenders. Right now Nik Amundrud was brought in half way through last year, also nineteen, is nowhere near the goalie Porter so I couldn't fathom Amundrud being kept around to back up. I hinted at my thoughts that Dumba could soon overtake Cody but that will only happen if he gets off to a sluggish start. He was a sole proprietor at times last year and handed the Hitmen the utmost confidence. I only raise the thought of Dumba getting significant playing time is because historically the Hitmen are the Philadelphia Flyers of the dub with the backstoppers. Can never find one they like. The Flyers finally landed on Michal Neuvirth and to clarify if Cody comes anywhere close to the numbers put up last season, all that does is justifies my ranking of number five for the Hitmen!