10.Lethbridge Hurricanes:I'll take this moment to pat myself on the back here as over the last two seasons I've correctly the eventual final matchup in the pre-season. I'm going for the three peat and although the Hurricanes don't quite make the grade I will be the first to admit that although my hometown Regina Pats were my pre-season pick in 2016/2017, I backed off that prediction a tad and indicated to a couple close friends of mine shortly before the post-season commenced that I changed my stance and thought Lethbridge was going to reign supreme in the East. The Canes endured a valiant playoff effort, battling all the way to game six of the conference final. It shows how strongly I feel about this organization moving forward. Local folk hero Tyler Wong has left junior hockey behind onto professional pastures but not before narrating one of the most poetic careers in franchise history.New leadership will need to be identified.
Through the epic Conference final featuring the Hurricanes and Pats, one thing was abundantly clear and that was without the heroics of goaltender Stuart Skinner that the defence would've been exposed far greater then it ended up being. Numerous times were odd man rushes created stemming from a lack of size on the back end only to time and time again get bailed out by the Edmonton product Skinner. The root of the issue that hurt them last year and I project to cripple them again is they're egregiously undersized truly one through seven. The one exception to that rule would've been Balgonie,Saskatchewan stalwart Brennan Riddle who was in competition for one of the overage spots but I've been led to believe that the team and himself have mutually parted ways, was it due to the training camp injury or confirmation that a spot wasn't going to be set aside, I'm not exactly sure but either way the calling card on Brennan was his physicality, a trait sorely missing from the rest of the Hurricanes D. My last point on Brennan before I transition to other defenceman is if the parting ways wasn't in lieu of injury then I can't help but feel that signalling towards Brennan Menell over Riddle is a lapse in judgement as the skillset Menell provides can be found from many others in the Canes arsenal whereas as I mentioned, the strengths of Riddle are more of a novelty.The one player who could conceivably replace the shut down role of Riddle is someone I'm very with familiar with, that being former Regina Pat defenceman Brady Pouteau. Hearkening back to last January everyone and their grandmother knew there was a logjam on the Pat D core and someone had to go.That someone ended being Brady which is fine as I figured a change of scenery would equate to more playing time but what I hated was the compensation. He's a certifiable WHL'er and bluntly a seventh wasn't enough. Devout Hurricane and Pat fans that had their eyes glued to that aformentioned series would surely all cosign that at different points Pouteau was the most consistent defenceman in Brent Kisio's stable.The perception was that the more ice time and responsibility he was awarded that his confidence would continue to grow. It's a scary proposition for fellow Eastern conference participants that the unspoken confidence is bound to again prosper as barring a pre-season meltdown we can pencil him in as a top four defenceman. Daring proclamation here, the type of proclamation that will throw Hurricane fans up in arms is I'm not at all sold on their resident golden boy, Calen Addison. For this piece I re-examined the order of the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft for which he went second overall have concluded that in a redraft he goes number fifteenth maximum.Here's my paramount concern with Calen, being as how he's a defenceman by definition, I'm privy to zero defensive discipline. Now before you throw your tablets to the ground after reading this, try to decipher my explanation. He's sixteen, kids develop at different paces, I'm on board with all of that and even with that the sore point is when they're stapled in their own zone, he's NEVER positioned correctly, a lost puppy would be an apt analogy. I'd love to be a fly on the wall inside the Hurricanes film study with Calen to observe what message is being pressed down because right now whatever message is being sent,it hasn't been received. You begin to opine if Kisio's systems are too complicated for the now second year and I truly think this has merit as when I viewed this summer's Ivan Hlinka tournament, an event because of the sparse preparation time doesn't utilize complex game plans in a week and a half event. In this event, Calen was masterful, he exuded an inner belief and was flying all over the ice and importantly in response to my criticisms his attentiveness to the defensive game was more purposeful. This has me theorizing that dumbing down the structure should transcribe to a more complete dominant player and when I pen my 2018/2019 preview nothing but positive things to write about Addison.
I feel as if this particular team preview is full of unpopular opinions which won't lose this blogger any sleep but I'm just clamouring to the hope that the opinions, while borderline absurd can be met with deep thoughtfulness and begin to engage in these stimulating conversations which will elicit a wide variety of point of views. After all, in my synopsis for this season preview I did promise a "likely way out to lunch" preview so I'm relatively confident I'm holding up my end of the bargain. Here's another one, even though in the realm of this 2017/2018 the worth of Tyler Wong is rendered irrelevant, I'm convinced that the most important forward on last year's squad and again this season was and will be unsigned Buffalo Sabre prospect Giorgio Estephan. Although many adjectives are fair descriptors for Giorgi, the one that pops up in the top of my head is composed. The uninitiated may transpose Estephan's non existent emotion on the ice as disinterest but from my perspective he may be the best in the Western Hockey League in slowing the game down and letting nothing fluster him. In a round about way he reminds of a lesser Jason Spezza. When you watch Spezza play, at least when I watch Jason go to work he doesn't exactly wow you with flash or exuberance but it's a calmness and not allowing defenceman up in his grill to distract him while making a rushed play. Not just in hockey but in society when you deal with 16-20 year olds it's about unmasking the immaturity of that individual and resigning to their eccentric, often times devilish antics. This relates to the game of junior hockey because when you assemble twenty two teenagers together there's always going to be a glimmer of trying to one up each other, whether that means outdoing your teammate in a goal celebration or which teammate can dish out the hardest hit, seemingly these kid like tendencies don't faze or motivate the 20 going on 40 year old Giorgio. Now, it's not all hunky dory in the Estephan camp as a reason rumoured for the Sabres choosing not to sign him to a entry level deal is that he doesn't adapt to the flow of the game all that well. He from the outside looking is a hard minded player that once he has something ingrained in his head he chooses to hold to those principles at all costs against the betterment of the team. It was clear as day that a tactic used by Pat head coach John Paddock in that conference final was to engage physically at every chance and nothing I saw showed Estephan attempting anything to counteract that. When a player gets harassed in the corner or is getting hacked in front of the net a proven counter measure is to hit back and in situations such as this I really wish the league would track stats as I can safely if recorded the tally would be zero.He has impressive puck skills and a maturity that is beyond his years but in order to secure a pro contract next spring it's crucial he develops an all around game. The 2017/2018 season will not be the las we hear of Giorgio Estephan. Mark my word! Next on the docket has to be 2017 playoff revelation not named Carl Stankowski in Whitehorse native Dylan Cozens. To put it mildly he captured the imagination of all Western Hockey League fans by accumulating eight points in twelve playoff games.....as a fifteen year old. What jumps off the page first is his height at such a tender age. Measured out at 6'2, 159 LBS for his Midget season which saw him suit up for the Yale Hockey Academy, presuming that measurement occured in the pre-season, the sky is literally the limit and I couldn't even hazard a guess to the height limitations in the future. Getting away from his legendary playoff romp continuing down this height angle, most would raise an eye over a fifteen year old who's already 6'2 and guaranteed to keep growing if said player's growth spurt would ultimately effect his coordination and skating. From my vantage point, for a tall fellow his skating stride is satisfactory and it's the way he motors up the ice eases any future concerns over a proverbial wall being hit. Speaking of hitting a wall, when the scoring dried out Coach Brent showed no hesitation in inserting Dylan into a top six assignment and when weighing the impact of the loss to Tyler Wong due to graduation, a hole has opened up for the number one line right winner. Dylan enters camp as a center but it's not uncommon for teams to experiment with line combination and positions so if it's determined that their's not a plausible fit on Giorgio's right side than all of a sudden young Dylan becomes a prime candidate. IF he receives considerable playing time on the top unit it'll justify having him on my short list for the Rookie of the Year award.
You can blame my buddies for this abbreviated goaltender prognosis for Lethbridge as I'm tired and ready for bed! We engaged in a spirited debate over the handling of exiled former Baylor Football Head Coach Art Briles and the decision that saw the Hamilton Tiger Cats hire but later rescind the contract offer amid intense fan and media backlash. While I personally commend all parties finally choosing to come to their senses, although no credit given to the Tiger-Cat organization as this was a disaster from minute one, Mr.Briles is a pig who overlooked sexual offences that took place on his campus and has no business associating with the Canadian Football League, at it's core family entertainment. This is a polarizing topic and with my group of friends immersed in all sorts of different opinions on the subject matter, the long winded discussion cut back on my allotted time to focus on the Hurricane netminders. I'll quickly summarize by saying this, it's no secret Stuart Skinner fights inconsistencies which is a paramount reason for why his draft stock slipped in the National Hockey League having his name called by the Edmonton Oilers seventy eighth overall where back last fall some scouts had Stuart Skinner ranked as high as a late first rounder. When those purported inconsistencies are behind him there aren't many in the business better and what must eat away at him is knowing full well that there's nothing he can do in the first half to supplant a spot on the 2018 World Junior team. The elephant in the room in Carter Hart isn't going anywhere which hinders any possibility of Stuart getting the nod internationally.