16.Prince Albert Raiders:Since approximately the 2003-2004 season,there is finally a sense of optimism buzzing around the Art Hauser Center because after a long stretch of incompetence, Curtis Hunt and Marc Habscheid have orchestrated a nucleus that has the potential to contend in the not so distant future.Given the state of the Eastern Conference and particularly the East division, they're certainly not going to short sight themselves knowing that organizations such as the Regina Pats and Moose Jaw Warriors are primed for deep runs so it's best advised to take a passive approach and be cognizant of the 2018-2019 season and beyond, where realistically they could put their best foot forward at a league title then.
Recognizing the scouting staff of the Raiders becomes imperative considering they have built from my perspective the best collection of 2000 born talent in the Western Hockey League..This hits home when analyzing Cole Fonstad and Spencer Moe. Along with Lane Kirk on defence and Carson Miller, this core HAS to be the group that Hunt zeroes in on and makes moves to assist the effort. I want to first touch on Moe. Spencer, from Calgary had fourteen points which in full honesty can't be extrapolated in any great detail with the team he had around him. I'm willing to ignore last year's point totals and instead recollect on the impact he had on games and what he'll be able to do with more experienced linemates. Here's a hot take for you, and I know to receive this honor he's contending with the likes of Tristen Nielsen out of Calgary, and Riley Stotts out of Speedy Creek but I think it stands to reason that Spencer Moe is the best 2000 born forward in the dub. I'll take it a step further in suggesting that regardless of where Moe has landed in glacially early draft rankings that he'll be a first round pick in the National Hockey League. The infamous kid line of Moe,Miller and Fonstad that was put together at select times will be a year older and expect to see all three point totals sky rocket. I'm looking at projected lineups they could ice and despite the aforementioned meager total of fourteen points, he'll lead the Raiders in scoring this season. What initially could be construed as an outrageous prognostication, keep in mind that out of expected returning forwards, forty three points was the high courtesy of Parker Kelly so it's not such a reach. When changing the tune to veteran forwards, the coaching staff will need to see strides out of Sean Montgomery. Pertaining to Montgomery, no denying his current trade value is obsolete and in a dream world they'd see Sean fly out of the gates to make him an endearing asset for clubs looking for those final upgrades in pursuit of the playoffs. In the category of disappointments, perhaps no one bigger then Montgomery because I distinctly remember him being a force in his rookie season and I wasn't witnessing the same level of drive in 16/17. Last season the cause for drop off was simple, his skating prowess deteriorated. It's one of those things that you can usually correlate with a nagging injury but with the fact that he nearly played a full schedule(suited up in sixty nine games) either conditioning was up to snuff for which I'm not directly implying or he channeled his inner Ken Daneyko and fought through every sweltering injury. This WAS a talent deprived team, emphasis on was because as I alluded to earlier the scouting staff has done a remarkable job and the influx of promising youthful talent is unprecedented. Whether or not he gets dealt at some point remains to be seen but with all these young guns competing for jobs and that goes well beyond the aforementioned kids line that was referenced at the top. I sound like a broken record commending the Regina Pat Canadian midget program but Eric Pearce is another remnant that will surely battle for a permanent position. I understand veterans are needed to stay afloat but with all of these studs chomping at a bit I tremble to think what the future holds for the Raider forwards. Nothing but up as Hockeytown North has something to cheer about.
As I probably excessively harped on in the forward forecast, the forwards will drive this team in years to come but when assessing this years version of the green and white, the defence is a noted strength. Not known for generating offence, this group as a whole is a steady Eddy and can be counted on making a crisp first pass. An interesting training camp battle will involve what to do with the two overagers Lochlan Morrison and Nick Heid. Presuming that Curtis Miske and Jordy Stallard have spots locked or at least should judging from the below average offence they project to fight through, Heid and Morrison will be in tough to crack the roster. Max Martin and Czech Republican Vojtech Budik will be the anchors, Lane Kirk and Zach Hayes will require everyday assignments, and 2016 first round pick Rhett Rinehart will be seeking a promotion to the Western League so that leaves little room for a twenty year old and that's not even including Brayden Pachal. This is the forward dillema all over again with the need to weigh this campaign against the future. I personally like Heid. I did a lot of reading last year and felt the most stout Prince Albert supporter was unnecessarily hard on him and seemingly could never do right(how I feel about this blog sometimes). Don't even dare attempt citing the +/- as a tangible argument as for the 94,532nd time I'll repeat that there's no more meaningless statistic in hockey, completely team dependant. My viewings were painting a picture of Heid's partners often time prone to the catastrophic turnover leaving him in no man's land.So to summarize sheer numbers have left Heid's roster spot in peril but the abuse he withstood last go around was unwarranted. Profiling someone that does indeed have a spot in the lineup sewed up, why don't we forecast what to expect out of Max Martin. Martin was the catch for the management staff that sent Brendan Guhle to the Prince George Cougars but the question I pose that viewed this team on the daily, did Max live up to the billing because from an outsider perspective I didn't leave all that overwhelmed. I just finished going on a tangent towards making Nick Heid a escape goat but wasn't Martin equally as guilty but is absconded by the fan base. Double standards if you ask me.The fact that Max went undrafted will (hopefully) lead to inspired hockey because I'll be the first to openly opine if Max was enough of a cornerstone player at the expense of the future Buffalo Sabre guilty. I was at the time in the camp of not liking the trade for P.A and nothing I saw in the second half calmed my fears. The coaching staff needs to stress the significance of simplification for Max because I don't doubt for a second that the potential isn't there but it's untapped. This is worth discussing because once Vojtech departs, Max transistions to the number one defenceman on the depth charts with the difference being the year Max is in charge will be the focal point for all preceding transactions. If they truly feel he can be that franchise d-man in 2018-2019 then all the more power to them but if not a mistake in his evaluation could lead to a lossed opportunity in a year where if things go right then the Ed Chynoweth Cup is in sight.
After further deliberation at least from a depth perspective, the goaltending position could project as the strength heading into 17/18. I spent the entire Prince George preview(see # 18) chronicling my belief that a fit exists amongst current back-up Nick Sanders and the Cougars so I won' go down that path again but I'll just say it's a nice scenario to have for Prince Albert giving them some much needed flexibility. Ian Scott was constantly peppered with rubber, averaging about 37 shots a night which isn't sustainable for someone looking to pad his statistics. Fortunately for Ian the Toronto Maple Leafs saw enough to use the one hundred and tenth overall selection on him. Over and above getting drafted, the Winnipeger has reached a point in his development where he's starting to garner international interest in the Hockey Canada program of excellence. Barring a miracle the 2018 World Juniors aren't in arms length but if his game is raised which should happen given the improving condition his junior club is in then the 2019 Championships hosted by Vancouver/Victoria should be an attainable goal of his.