Saturday, October 1, 2016

The 2016-2017 Western Hockey League Power Rankings(Volume 2)

What I plan to complete is a power rankings every couple weeks or so in the Western Hockey League regular season. Now, certainly I won't go in as much detail as I did in my Pre-season preview but I will provide a brief synopsis behind each ranking.

1.Seattle Thunderbirds(Pre-season #1)

Mystery remains regarding New York Islander property Matt Barzal but even without the crafty playmaker, team depth will elevate the team through his absence.  Through a couple games, rookie and Edmonton native Elijah Brown is receiving glowing praise and if he continues strong play then Head Coach Steve Konowalchuk will be left with no choice but to make room in the top six.

2.Regina Pats(Pre-season #2)

Through three games this squad has, and will continue to score in bunches. However, as much as the offensive side will come second nature to John Paddock's regiment(see what I did there), defensive liabilities and goaltending struggles have reared their ugly head early on. Paddock will be patient but there will come a time that if things don't correct themselves that he'll look to the trade market to shore up this deficiency.

3.Calgary Hitmen(Pre-season # 5)

Simply put, something  I eluded to in my Pre-Season preview was that although the Hitmen don't possess a lot of names up front, a plethora of unheralded commodities will continue to thrive through obscurity. A solid 2-0 start without Carolina Hurricanes first round pick Jake Bean is an added bonus and with Jake expected back  later this week it will take off some pressure from Michael Zipp and with what seemingly has been a Hitmen staple the last few years will be no different this season.

4.Kamloops Blazers(Pre-season # 3)

The 1-2 start doesn't faze me at all as the stingy defence that I advertised in the pre-season has lived up to expectations.I went into great detail penning my fascinations towards Latvian forward Rudolfs Balcers and he's verified my beliefs with his blazing start to the campaign. The European combination of Balcers and Ondrej Vala can only be rivaled by Swift Current's Minulin and Heponiemi but unlike Swift Current the boys from the interior are more well rounded and poised for a deep run.

5.Prince George Cougars(Pre-season # 10)

If I were to seed solely off record, then Prince George would be the unquestioned number one in this entry. I had them pegged tenth in the pre-season because I wasn't sold on the McBride/Edmonds goaltending tandem and if we're being completely honest it's not as if they're exuding much more confidence than I had heading in, The difference has been this late 1990 Detroit Red Wing-esque offence that prides itself on puck possession and surprises have arose aplenty up front. None more than Colby McAuley. Some following the Cougars closer could've suggested an upgrade may of been in store for the twenty year old McAuley. Guarantee that's no longer being bantered about.

6.Swift Current Broncos(Pre-season # 12)

Upon completing my preview, I immediately explained to a friend that I undersold the prospects of the Broncos entering this campaign and deserved  a higher ranking. This second edition of the rankings does that. The aforementioned European duo of Heponiemi and Minulin has been enticing combining that with complimentary play from netminder Travis Child and there's enough reason to get excited in Speedy Creek. New coach Manny Viveiros has implemented an up tempo culture that these kids will love playing to.

7.Everett Silvertips(Pre-season # 13)

I'll tell you what, if at any point Everett begins to fade then nineteen year old Matt Fonteyne could present himself as the most intriguing trade chip on the open market. The consensus in the pre-season is that this team couldn't score and while that may hold true in the grand scheme, players like Fonteyne and Patrik Bajkov are holding down the fort admirably. General Manager Gerry Davidson pulled off the biggest trade to date filling out their imports by acquiring Dominic Zwerger. For a team who purportedly will have trouble finding the back of the net, the acquisition of Zwerger may be just what the doctor ordered.

8.Spokane Chiefs(Pre-season # 6)

One lop sided loss for a team that I valued highly coming in won't negatively effect my opinion overly much. The exodus of solid contributors in recent seasons has rendered me concerned(Reid Gow and now Tyson Verhelst) but the young core that ex General Manager Tim Speltz assembled has made the job easier for the incumbent. I think most had an idea as to what the Yamamoto brothers would provide in 16/17 but did everyone think right out of the gate that franchise Ty Smith could immediately supplant himself as the number one defenceman, He did, and I'll call it right now, Smith, one of a long line of Lloydminster defenceman will have his name called first in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. Think Aaron Ekblad.

9.Prince Albert Raiders(Pre-season # 3)

A precarious beginning to the young lads who call the Art Hauser center home to say the least. I saw a couple of pre-season contests and something that raised an eyebrow was Habscheid's insistence even in the pre-season to rely heavily on the veterans who were still in camp whilst ignoring some of the younger individuals who inevitably needed more coddling. Josh Maser is someone I profiled in the pre-season and it behooves me why he has yet to be inserted into the lineup. Brendan Guhle who surely will receive  a long look with the Buffalo Sabres will be a calming influence to the back end who to date has looked scrambly, A frustrating debut for Raider nation but once some of these rookies/second years who didn't recieve appropriate ice time in the pre-season become acclimatized it will be smooth sailing.

10.Tri-City Americans(Pre-season # 8)

Just another day at the office for stud Michael Rasmussen who accumulated a leisurely five goals in two games. I was hypothesizing who Rasmussen reminded me of and not meant to be an indictment towards Michael but I get Kyle Beach vibes for the way he played in junior. Let's hope Rasmussen has a more engaging attitude than Kyle did but the sharp shooting acumen draws the similarity. The meat behind this quasi hefty ranking is the defence who draws a lot of skepticism from league pendants I maintain is the strength of this club is on the back-end. Parker Wotherspoon and Dylan Coghlan are two players I had some background on but Dakota Krebs has been the pleasant surprise in the early going. Seventeen years of age and showing rapid growth.

11.Brandon Wheat Kings(Pre-season # 9 )

The Thompson saga in Brandon was a short lived one. Not exactly sure what led to their dismissal but for a team that was already going to have depth issues, it's a costly departure. A lot of fans in Brandon have long panicked over the state of their defensive core and as I touched on in my earlier preview there seems to be a lot of disagreement over the handling of Shael Higson, Shael found himself in McCrimmon's dog house throughout last year's championship run. He's a polarizing figure as the talent is abundant but it's putting forth a consistent effort that has stymied his development.

12.Lethbridge Hurricanes(Pre-season # 16)

To say the Letbridge Hurricanes are who I thought they were is wholeheartedly accurate. The defence is comparable to the current state of the New Orleans Saints while their offence can be construed to the way Tom Brady and the New England Patriots can manufacture points. The decision to land Jesse Zaharichuk looks genius by GM Anholt but the distress that still exists in the Windy City is protecting it's own goal. Stuart Skinner is a goaltender with a great future, or so I'm told as I have yet to see it and the onus will be on the Hurricane administration to fix a glaring weakness on the back-end if they aspire to seriously contend for the Ed Chynoweth Cup.

13.Portland Winterhawks(Pre-season # 20)

I should've known that a Mike Johnston coached team wouldn't accept mediocrity. I knew little about Alex Overhardt coming into the year and at this point he's channeling a certain Washington Capitals sniper initialed A.O. I didn't realize he was such a trusted two way player, not only has he been a constant threat in the opposition's end but he's the first one back on the backcheck showcasing underrated speed. I knew the potential Skyler McKenzie had but it's players such as Overhardt and Evan Weinger who will be required to step up and are.

14.Kelowna Rockets(Pre-season # 7)

I'll provide criticism when it's called for and for as much as the absence of Nick Merkley could be used as an excuse, their defensive structure under new Head Coach Jason Smith has been disastrous. Cal Foote unexpectedly is off  to a tremendous start but it's the rest of the group that has left me underwhelmed. In the first week and a bit, Devante Stephens' play has regressed to a point where at one point last year I ascertained the notion that he'd be a darkhorse defenceman of the year candidate to  now where players like Braydyn Chizen and Jonathan Smart could pass him by.  A long way to go but he better re assert himself or else he could find himself in Coach Smith's doghouse real soon,

15.Medicine Hat Tigers(Pre-season # 17)

The forward group is particularly deep. Mason Shaw who I firmly believe is a Most Valuable Player candidate has more of a supporting cast then I ever imagined. Only the one goal thusfar but Ryan Chyzowski has been a dominant force and that confidence has parlayed onto a lot of the other forwards.Kristians Rubins was touted coming out of the Import Draft and hasn't disappointed but as an overall judgement, defensively is where coach Shaun Clouston will have to put in the most work.

16.Victoria Royals(Pre-season # 15)

Experts actually think Victoria is a championship threat? I'm sorry, but I just don't see it.  I read the reasoning on why particular experts were leaning this way. I probably drank the kool-aid too much so that I thought they were going to have a fairly easily time putting the puck in the net but even that has proved to be a herculean task. Matthew Phillips back from NHL camp made his mark in his regular season debut and Ryan Peckford has shown flashes but I'm not ready to declare the seventeen year old Stony Plain product the next Ryan Getzlaf just yet. Griffin Outhouse had a rocky beginning when he ran into the Cougars conglomerate(who hasn't) but settled down to stifle the Blazers for the team's first win. If consistently winning hockey games 2-1 and 1-0 is a recipe for success in this league I better update my cookbook.

17.Red Deer Rebels(Pre-season # 11)

In the pre-season preview I completed by no means did I misconstrue Red Deer as a contender but maybe I thought they'd get out of the gate smoother than this. Michael Spacek is still away at Winnipeg Jets training camp which is a substantial  blow to a team that has lost ALOT offensively. I know for readers that have kept tabs on my work then you won't have forgotten that I actually thought their was a chance Jake DeBrusk could get returned which in all reality inflated my ranking of the Rebels. Don't I look foolish now?  No DeBrusk, still no Spacek and the reliance for offensive production out of Musil and Polei who are better suited for griding, shut down roles.

18.Edmonton Oil Kings(Pre-season # 14)

Remember earlier when I admitted to conversing with a friend of mine that I ranked Swift Current too low? that very same conversation I feared I ranked Edmonton too high and although the record is at a serviceable 2-1, the fact that those two wins happened last weekend where essentially all teams were missing key NHL components, it doesn't speak too highly of the future ahead.  Some twenty year olds in this situation will sulk but the hometown Robertson is embracing the leadership role bestowed upon him and his statistics back up the leadership qualities that he'll be looked upon for. I've always been a huge fan of Roberton's game but in the back of my head always wondered whether he was the benefactor of elite linemates, I no longer share this belief and playing primarily with inexperienced players the entire year may open up some professional possibilities when looking ahead to 2017-2018.

19.Moose Jaw Warriors(Pre-season # 19)

What do you know, the ranking matches where I placed Moose Jaw in the pre-season. Listen, I think Tim Hunter is a fine coach but the way he orchestrated his lineup management last season will have negative connotations this campaign. He rode Brayden Point and Dryden Hunt for all they were worth but now it's impossible to forecast if the likes of Tanner Jeannot and Jayden Halbgewachs can step up and fulfill a top six role. Because they were sheltered throughout all of last year it's difficult to assess but will be given every opportunity to thrive. The experience Tanner received at Minnesota Wild camp will prove invaluable. I don't think I'm going very bold here when I say watch out for Nikita Popaguev, I anticipate a monster season.

20.Saskatoon Blades(Pre-season # 18)

For whatever reason, generic Western Hockey League message Boards are flooded with  Blades paraphernalia and it's for that reason I've kept  a close eye on Russian defenceman Mark Rubinchik and he hasn't disappointed. Being only seventeen may hinder his chances but I do think he has a realistic chance of playing for the Russian World Junior team this coming winter.  A great first pass has been noticeable from what I've observed. The entire defence core as a whole has left room for optimism. Hajek has a figurative flight booked to the NHL and along with Nolan Reid and Jake Kustra there's  a lot to like. Unfortunately for Blades fans, that's where the praise ends as I'm doubtful that the tandem of Brock Hamm and Logan Flodell can handle the load and aside from former Brandon Wheat King Braylon Shmyr, there's,not a lot of natural offence to go around.

21.Kootenay Ice(Pre-season # 21)

The interesting storyline in Cranbrook, interesting at least for me anyway was the inclusion of Fedor Rudakov., At first I was confused how he was on Kootenay's roster due to having the knowledge that Klim Kostin had elected not to come to North America. After digging into his background, he's,a Russian born, Ontario developed player drafted by the Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League.At some point the family must of re-located to Calgary thus cementing his WHL eligibility. Maybe it's a sorry state that I find this interesting but in all truth there's not too much else to clamor over in what projects to be a long year for the Ice.

22.Vancouver Giants(Pre-season # 22)

And here I thought Lethbridge had an unfixable defence, If the Lethbridge Hurricanes defensive exploits are comparable to the current state of affairs of the New Orleans Saints,then I suppose the Vancouver Giants could be compared to the University of Charlotte defence. The back story here is that Charlotte in week one of the 2016 NCAA football calendar lost 70-14 to the University of Louisville, Offensively, the Giants have some workable pieces as they're still awaiting the return of Tyler Benson but seventeen year old Dawson Holt has led the charge in the first week and although his name isn't showing on the stat sheet, Tyler Popowich has been flying all over the ice. The paramount issue thought is goaltending. It's a trainwreck and I can't but help but posture that a certain Moose Jaw Warrior goaltender in Brody Wilms assuredly is available and could be the perfect match for Vancouver that I would imagine just strives to be be a competitive opponent each and every night. The premise of making the playoffs with this particular entity is an afterthought.

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