Hello all and welcome back to another edition of what projects to be an informative, yet a likely way out to lunch season preview of the Western Hockey League. In the preview, I go in depth with each team whilst chronicling my thoughts on the teams forwards, defenceman and goaltenders. As a disclaimer I rank teams in 2017-2018 by deciphering how I view their chances of hoisting the Ed Chynoweth cup. Teams will be pegged in ascending order from one through twenty two. Twenty two will be the organization who unfortunately could find itself stuck in the basement to the number one team who I've identified as the team to beat this winter. This forthcoming dub campaign no doubt will be an exciting one as the Canadian Hockey League is set to celebrate it's one hundreth anniversary. And to conclude this very brief synopsis, I'd like to thank those who took the time to scour through this "comprehensive" preview and strongly encourage any type of feedback/word of mouth you could provide this preview. Thanks a ton and thoroughly enjoy!
22.Edmonton Oil Kings: Aside from the inevitable expansion rut the 2007-2008 campaign brought them, the Oil Kings have been a model of consistency from the outset. That was until a needed rebuild was implemented by General Manager Randy Hansch last season. Tremendous growing pains were had from the Oil King brass in 2016-2017 and while some see reason for optimism, in all actuality this group is still a year or two away from renewed relevance. In last year' s second half, statistically Edmonton was the league's worst ultimately sliding to a twenty three win season and the initial worry I have is are there enough horses in the stable to overcome last year's disappointing tenure, this blogger doesnt't believe so.
There's a new sheriff in town on the backend and that is taking nothing away from the smooth skating Will Warm but incoming 2001 born Matthew Robertson takes the realm as the organization's new franchise defenceman. No question about it, the Robertson lineage is deep in Oil Kings county with brother Tyler a graduating member of the organization a year ago. What I expect the mandate to be this season,or what I hope it will be any way with both General Manager Hansch and Head Coach Steve Hamilton respected hockey men is that they will allow Matthew to sink or swim under pressure because in a couple years time the expectation will be that Matthew can lead the blueline to the type of prominence that the likes of Keegan Lowe and Cody Corbett bestowed on the 2013-2014 championship unit. While Matthew develops a well rounded game, the coaching staff will need the aforementioned Will Warm to steaily improve and in all reality become this team's number one defenceman. If I'm an Oil Kings fan, Warm is the player that provides the most intrigue as in select viewings last year he was unquestionably their best defenceman, most certainly after Aaron Irving was dealt away to Everett. He's an offensive defenceman, I fully understand some may scoff at the notion but those same skeptics please keep in mind that Edmonton was an offensively starved group generally speaking and while no doubt it could be most of the same again that can't change the perception of the type of player Will is and it irks me that his lack of statistical accolades may have robbed him of hearing his name called at this summers draft. I'm about to go on a bit of a tangent here but the further down you read the more and more you will know that this is a common occurence but what grinds my gears are some programs perceptively receive preferential treatment when it comes to players from their team getting selected. The London Knights and Quebec Remparts are the poster child for this tangent and it isn't right that just because Warm resided on a struggling team that for a lack of a better word he should be "victimized" pertaining to draft prospects. Is he a different player last season if he's on the Regina Pats or Seattle Thunderbirds? No chance which is why I'm banking on Warm playing with a chip on his shoulder and continually elevating his play.
It's no secret that the kryptonite of last year's squad circled around the clubs inability to put the puck in the net. In my viewings last season and I will again preface that they were limited the one forward in particular who left me unenamoured was local product Trey Fix-Wolansky. Forgive the pun but there's a lot in his repertoire that needs fixing. Here's another fact, Trey will enter training camp as the team's most dynamic forward which will surely cause headaches for Hamilton and staff. My biggest take away when watching Fix-Wolansky is his defensive game needs major refinement. Taking nothing away from his sparkling creative toolbox but someone in the regime has to hammer down that the best offence is a good defence and being their best forward he has to develop a propensity to become trusted to kill penalties A lot of these younger forwards were blessed to receive tutelage from one of the best two way forwards in the dub, that being Lane Bauer who finished his career off in Kamloops and the player I feel is best suited to fulfill what Lane left behind is Davis Murray. Murray who primarily was used as a fourth liner is entering his eighteen year old season and plays with and edge, a trait sorely missing for this regime upfront. Murray has a sound structured game but the age old question is can he score at this level? The reason I vouch a firm yes is because by being given an increased role throughout the lineup naturally he'll see time alongside more talented players and I scoured his statistics before coming to Edmonton he was a serviceable offensive specimen in his Sherwood Park minor midget days. The telling sign will be whether he's willing to show a little more flare and creativity as last year he was resigned to abbreviated shifts with the occasional scrap. I have faith Davis can put it all together and so should the City of Champions. To finish off my forward evaluation, after I detailed what a projected lineup could look like it's become apparant to me that the blue line has enough depth that it may be worthwhile to expend some of that depth in order to bring in another forward. With Robertson,Warm,Ethan Cap and Brayden Gorda expected to eat up the majority of the top four minutes, I'm speculating that it could make sense to explore the trade market of the Kyle Yewchuk's or the newly acquired Conner McDonald's of the world to open up some playing time for stalwarts such as Jayden Platz and more importantly to address a greater deficiency
It's my belief that the Oil Kings and overage netminder Patrick Dea have parted ways. If this has proved to be incorrect than my information is faulty but for the time being I'm operating under the principle that a different direction is being paved and I expect that path to be manned by Josh Dechaine. Critiquing a goaltender when immersed in a rebuild is a near impossible task but the nineteen year old St.Albert native who posted a .876 save percentage over seventeen starts in 16/17 at the very least can be a bridge for the highly touted A fourth round bantam pick over early NCAA fears, everything I've heard and read that without the NCAA fish dangling in the pond that he would'e been in the first round radar so whether or not he receives many starts in 17/18, the 2018-2019 campaign is the beginning of the Boston Bilous era.
21.Kootenay Ice:The new Matt Cockell led ownership group has restored faith in the dwindling Cranbrook fan base and while 2017-2018 will be flooded with transition, this is genuinely the first time in three to four years that a tangible, supported plan has been put in motion. Until the last couple seasons, the previous Chynoweth family owned operation was a model of consistency. Historical revisionists seem to have forgotten that what the Chynoweth family did for the city of Cranbrook was unprecedented as from the 1998-1999 season up until 2015-2016 jaunt, the Ice went seventeen years without missing the post-season. It was an incredible feat and while the road has been recently bumpy met with inconsistent attendance the hope here that rock bottom has passed and it's nothing but up for the beautiful city of Cranbrook.
I'm no Montreal Canadien fan to put it mildly but don't take my reservations of Cale Fleury as a correlation with the team that drafted him. I'm not as feverish over the game of Fleury as most are. I spent some time in the Oil Kings breakdown griping over my feelings that some programs in the Canadian Hockey League seem to have a reputation which increases the amount of drafted players so forgive me for contradicting myself as the Kootenay Ice can never be accused of a drafting bias but with Fleury the reputation isn't exactly attached to the logo on the front of the sweater but more precisely with the name on the back as his older brother Haydn was a first round selection of the Carolina Hurricanes. Wasn't a proponent of Haydn throughout his draft year and the same visible flaws apply to the game of Cale. Plus/minus I've stated a plethora of times is a meaningless stat in my books but that doesn't mean to say that a glaring propensity of the younger Fleury is to jump into the play at inoppportune tmes. I get it, the cynics of mine(which are plentiful) will argue that this new brand of hockey necessitates the needs for aggression but defensive awareness remains paramount and this is an area Cale needs to latch down at. A year older, a year more mature and he'll have to be as at this current juncture I fail to zero in another top pairing defenceman and that's if you consider Fleury to be one. Unfortunate circumstances have hindered the Ice d-core by the loss of Troy Murray and I won't begin to speculate the reasons for is absence are but regardless the potential overage defenceman won't be with the Ice and I'm grasping at straws piecing together a top four. Slovakian Import Martin Bodak elected to report to Cranbrook but I couldn't begin to forecast what type of defenceman he is but I would hope Cockell and his staff did the necessary homework before bringing him over. As I see fit currently, Fleury will be flanked by Bodak,Dallas Hines and forme Medicine Hat Tiger Jordan Henderson and with Krebs and McClennnon the future upfront the question that needs to be asked who's going to be manning the blueline in 2018-2019?
The aforementioned youthful movement is upon us and this latest cycle will be spearheaded by first overall pick in the 2016 Bantam Draft Peyton Krebs and not too far behind will be 2002 born Wainwright,Alberta product Connor McClennon. The question in the present is what will newly minted Head Coach James Patrick do to properly acclimatize Krebs into the league while ensuring that one eye is focused on the now while the other is cognizant of the future. The presence of Vince Loschavio is a great springboard for young Krebs to witness what it takes to succeed at the next level. With limited offensive adversaries a year ago, I was amazed at the fortitude Loschavio displayed when some may look at he was left with through transition and begin to sulk but what Vince did was admirable in the sense that he embraced the leadership role particularly in the second half. In 2017, there were only three regular season contests where he was held off the scoresheet and considering he was consistently matched up against the opposition's top pairing defenceman that revelation holds that much more credence. The sticking point for the organization will be what to do with the nineteen year old Loschavio as the trade deadline nears. An interesting connotation this winter will be that of who was selected as Head Coach, that being the uncle of Nolan Patrick, James. James saw first hand what it took for his nephew to battle the pressures of a NHL draft year and I'm not comparing the plight of Nolan to Vince but entering this fall the sole mission of Vince is to turn the heads of NHL scouts in what will be his third crack at the can. What both parties are praying for is a exceptional first few months to raise the asset value and cash in on a January package. At this current time I view Tri-City and Everett as great fits especially if the premise is to trade him out of the conference. The second part to the Loschavio equation is the effect it hopefully will have on Krebs. I think back to yesteryear and remember specific situations where players entered the league with lofty accreditation and were mentored by cagey veterans. Whether it was Jordan Eberle looking after Jordan Weal, Jeremy Colliton overseeing Kyle Chipchura or Max Reinhart coddling younger brother Sam, mentorship is the name of the game and will be crucial for the sustainability of Krebs that players such as Loschavio and Colton Kroeker correctly show him the ropes. Another player I was extremely complimentary of a year ago was Barrett Sheen however when I let his performance with Kootenay sink in as a whole I was left underwhelmed. His brother Riley was a workmanlike soldier with not much in the way of offence but doesn't excuse Barrett who was formerly of the Lethbridge for only producing a meager eighteen points. The skating has always been strong, it's a mark of the Sheen lineage but with that skating he needs to develop some hockey IQ in the other teams end. It's just not the stone hands that concern me with Barrett, it's the discipline. In the current brand of hockey, one hundred and twenty nine penalty minutes is unacceptable and under a new coaching staff that won't be tolerated. Playing on the edge has it's advantages but a fine line must be drawn between being on the edge and crossing it. As a league veteran now, adapt or he may get on the wrong side of James Patrick.
There doesn't appear to be any goaltender competition at camp as with twenty year old Mario Petit being shipped over via trade and Langley native Jakob Walter established behind them, these two will be between the crease come late September. The acquisition of Petit I find fascinating as I remember murmuring two years ago that with Carter Hart comfortably patrolling the Everett crease that Mario would have himself a new home much sooner but for whatever reason that just didn't happen. Part of the reasoning of why this was is due to the fact that Petit's play levelled off with the Silvertiips and that perceived trade value dipped. I have a theory for why this is/was. Carter Hart is a world class goaltender, no such bold proclamation is being made here but in fairness to Mario when you know you're saddled behind someone that refuses to leave, I can imagine it could be quite difficult to maintain focus. Last year,11-5 record not withstanding could be chalked up as disappointing but as he plays for a pro contract in his final junior season he has a new lease on life.
20.Spokane Chiefs:Let me preface this by saying that by no means on paper do I think the Spokane Chiefs enter this season with the league's third worst roster but part of this preview prides itself on projections and one of the primary reasons for such a pourous ranking out of Spokane is what I view as the organizational mandate as the campaign is set to conssumate. You won't have me arguing over the core that is Edmonton Oilers first round Kailer Yamamoto and Jaret Anderson-Dolan however when assessing the long term sustainability of the franchise, it's paramount that relatively new operating general Scott Carter puts his defining stamp on the team because I'm of the viewpoint that what this Chiefs team could top out at is mediocre and that is no way of overseeing a hockey team. Given the climate of the U.S Division, with the core players in tact I see Spokane finishing no higher then third which begs a riveting question, is this outlook enough to convince Carter that the time may be of the essence to explore trading the likes of Yamamoto and Anderson-Dolan? I'm banking on the fact that this administration will come to it's senses and for the sake of team success two to three years down the line that the necessary steps are taken in what I'm construing as a transitional year.
While some of you out there could perceive the forward group as the strength of this club(see below), I have a differing perspective when it comes to the nucleus of this squad. It's no secret that this is a very important year for the draft eligible and former first overall pick Ty Smith. Additionally, I would imagine he's going to play with a giant chip on his shoulder as summer draft polls have rated Moose Jaw Warrior defenceman and rights holder to the league's greatest name in Jet Woo ahead of Smith which has to light a fire under him. No denying that Woo had a fantastic Hlinka tournament but I don't think it's fair for either Jet and Ty that theyr'e getting compared because the harsh reality is their different defenceman. Strength, as is most often the case with sixteen year olds was a daily hurdle for Smith and him getting pushed around in his own zone wasn't an uncommon occurrence. For myself personally, I believe a more apt comparison for Smith is Brandon Wheat King Kale Clague and what's funny about that is I spent the first year of Clague's junior career contemplating what all the fuss was about but the more you watch him play the more you gravitate to the opinion that he may never be proficient in his own zone, you can only hope that'll mature with age but he's great with the puck and that shouldn't be overlooked. I reckon what I'm about to say may be met with a hint of snorty derision but his ultimate upside has Duncan Keith written all over it. Was Keith a coveted junior, not necessarily and by virtue of this more scouts practiced patience and even though Ty was bantam dynamo out of Lloydminster that doesn't mean that us in the hockey community can't do the same. Different development for everyone. Another backender I'm giddish about is Deer Valley,SK product Nolan Reid. Contrary to popular belief the community of Deer Valley is known for more than it's scenic golf course. Fact or fiction Reid was the prized acquisition in the Saskatoon trade that cost them Evan Fiala. I've been plauditory of Reid the second Nolan set foot in the Western Hockey League. This is my third league preview and I'm fairly certain in each one I've spent far too much time dissecting his positive attributes. With the Blades I slowly began to form the impression that the coaching staff grew tired of his gambler-esque routine on the ice but as I've touched on a few times already throughout this preview, defenceman such as Nolan that takes risk are essential in this offence or bust era that we live in. A Dan Lambert-Nolan Reid partnership is intriguing to this blogger.
I could go into further detail of where I visualize both Kailer and Jaret ending up but that's not the purpose of this entry. We must ascertain what next move enlies and which youngsters could seize the moment and earn proverbial brownie point for new bench boss Dan Lambert. From what I recollect, Lambert's teams in Kelowna were fast and full of aggression so I expect more of the same as he witnesses first hand what he has to work with upfront. Off the cusp a player that seemingly fits the mold of a Lambert coached hockey team would be Riley Woods. In Regina, the parting ways of Woods(albeit with Wyatt Sloboshan the return) was viewed with a myriad of controversy because hockey pendants in Southern Saskatchewan considered Woods as a potential building block for Regina's 2018 Memorial Cup pursuit. I'm sure I'm already preaching to the choir with this 'astute' observation but when you watch him play, isn't he partially reminiscent to say that of former Prince George Cougar Troy Bourke? Similar in the way they have that small yet evasive stride and they're always thinking pass. What Riley didn't get in Regina but was coveting was opportunity. Before the trade deadline as the Pats were marred in injuries Woods begun to receive power play time and did not look out of place. The jury is still out on how Lambert intends to utilize him and in Riley's defence I don't think former coach Nachbaur did a great job maximizing Woods' skillset and as I mentioned at the top, the speed and moxy he showcases offensively is right up Lambert's wheelhouse so from an outsiders perspective this appears to be a great fit. Assuming he's entitled to the appropriate amount of power play time, we could see an astronomical jump in production. Thirty four points in 2016-2017, topping sixty is within reach. To call the Import Draft an actual draft would be a disservice to all other drafts conducted across other sporting leagues. I've previously shared my grievances on how I feel the Import Draft is a flawed process that doesn't equate to equal opportunity for all teams Canadian Hockey League wide. By saying that, the Chiefs are one of the few teams in recent memory that have been accustomed to some good fortune with the Europeans. Sure, they've experienced some duds along the way as all teams have but scouting reports indicate that they've hit a home run with Milos Fafrak. Early on this season once Kailer is back from NHL camp, betting money would tell you that Milos will receive ample time flanking him until the organizational hierarchy is better straightened out. What does that exactly mean for Milos? Well, it's simple, feed Yamamoto the puck and soak in the brilliance that #17 plays with because it will only help his own professional prospects by picking the brain of a sure fire NHL'er. Expect to see Fafrak get plenty of T.V time playing for the Slovaks at the 2018 World Juniors in Buffalo!
The all Red Deer goaltending battery of Jaynen Sittler and Dawson Weatherill is a thing of the past. What happened to Sittler's statistics a year ago remain an anomaly but no looking back, it's all about pushing forward. The incoming goaltending battle projects to feature Weatherill and Declan Hobbs. The poker hand hasn't been tipped as of yet however it's my belief Dawson is deserving of another full year between the crease. The G.A.A of 3.58 I indirectly blame to the coaching style of Nachbaur. Dawson will be the first to admit that last year was down all around but I think Nachbaur had mentally checked out at some point in the realm that some of his defensive implemenation were counter productive to team success. Nachbaur will be better off back in the pro ranks(or so I think) but more importantly as stalwarts such as Ty Smith physically mature, the numbers of Weatherill will naturally increase and I'd wager that by the end of the year he'll be considered a top 10-15 goaltender in the Western Hockey League.