1.Regina Pats:After perusing throughout this entire season preview, some may cite personal biases that I've ranked my hometown Regina Pats number one entering the year. Let me clarify, as we currently stand the Regina Pats are nowhere near the team to beat on paper but as I've emphasized on a few occasions this season preview was intended as a projection and it's inevitable after General Manager and Head Coach John Paddock makes his significant acquisitions that the Pats will be positioned to one up their final appearance from a year ago. I see first hand how this organization operates on ice and the direction this team has taken leading up to it's hosting of the 2018 Mastercard Memorial Cup and it's not without it's fair share of criticism. The imports brought over for 2017-2018 aren't nearly as prominent as they were when Filip Ahl and Sergei Zborovsky graced the Red White and Blue and to this day remain skeptical over the decision to exchange the most intriguing trade asset they possessed in eighteen year old goaltender Jordan Hollett for an overage forward I'm a fan of the hockey club so naturally want to see successes and as Paddock continues to look to bolster the roster those successes will come but don't mistake it for naiveness, the deficiencies are staggering and will need to be addressed. If not, it's a wasted forgettable year but if they honour their "all in" public persona then I rate their chances of hoisting two trophies in May quite good.
The eloquence and pure dominance Sam Steel displayed last year can't be overstated. When summarizing the year of Steel, almost everyone will point to his one hundred and thirty one point regular season that rewarded him with the league's Most Valuable Player honor but what this blogger left most impressed with was how Steel elevated his game over the course of the post-season that saw the St.Patricias decimated by key injuries. It was public knowledge that starting with the conference semi-final that the injury count was growing high and it was a lot of core players that were sent to the sidelines, particular past captain Adam Brooks who had two different bouts of injuries and speedster Austin Wagner who battled through the league final on a bum shoulder. It was Sam who was a rock out on the ice,often times having to double shift to make up for those aforementioned depth defencicies stemming from trips to the I.R. John Paddock at select moments throughout the playoffs admitted that the short bench that was being rolled out took a toll on Sam and wore down but through it all he exuded resilience and finished the post-season second only behind current Vegas Golden Knight Keegan Kolesar. He's small in stature but don't let his diminuitive frame fool ya, he's a nuisance out on the ice, never takes a shift off and battles and more than not wins puck battles allowing him to work his magic with the puck. His linemates last year were the now graduated Dawson Leedahl and Nick Henry but with Henry slated to miss the entire first half with an ailment, it'll be up to the coaching staff to supply #23 with linemates who can finish playoffs because at his core he's a playmaker first, goal scorer second. It's indeterminate how long a stay he'll receive at Anaheim Duck camp, one can hope it's not a lengthy visit but it's presumed when he's back he'll be encompassed by little known George King and new import Emil Oksanen which bluntly isn't good enough which as I previewed in the opening leads me to my next gripe, the suspect imports brought over. In a Memorial Cup year they recruited two non NHL drafted players as projects when if any year wasn't a year for development, 2017-2018 would be it! I thought to myself, "this can't be normal for Memorial Cup hosts to not attract established Europeans" and to ensure my line of thinking had merit, I've closely looked at the rosters of the last five Memorial Cup hosts.The Windsor Spitfires welcomed Duck second rounder Julius Nattinen on board. 2015-2016 saw the Red Deer Rebels lure Jet pick Michael Spacek. 2014-2015 saw Quebec pluck Leafs fifth rounder Dmytro Timashov with the Knights laying claim to future NHL all-star Nikita Zadorov the year before. Finally, the year before that in 2011-2012 the Shawinigan Cataractes were able to convince the polarizing one time Penguins pick Anton Zlobin to come over to North America. Lot's of examples to justify the frustration but do you not see the disconnect? Somewhere along the line the Pats management became oblivous to the notion that a high impact Euro needed to be selected to enhance this year's lineup. With all due respect to Oksanen who by the way was passed over in the NHL Draft and defenceman Igor Zamula, they don't belong in the same ballpark of those mentioned above and all it's done is require for a needless asset to be wasted via trade if one of the two can't cut it. From limited viewings realistically Oksanen could find a home on a third line whereas I have greater reservations over the Russian Zamula having the propensity to play Major Junior Hockey. The drafting strategy left me perplexed but in all reality doesn't alter the mantra that multiple trades must be consummated to stretch out this season as long as possible.One name that I perceive as a target for Regina is Spokane Chief Kailer Yamamoto. Spokane with inconsistent goaltending and a general lack of depth would be wise to restock their cupboards and what better way then to place Yamamoto on the open market. You're wondering, I know I was and that's who after exhausting their entire prospect pool in the Josh Mahura deal what does Regina have left to entice Spokane to such a trade? I may have exaggerated with the entire prospect pool however it sure felt like it but one name that is rising up hockey notoriety still with the Regina Pats is Logan Nijhoff. Logan was an eighth round Bantam pick but his ascension through the eyes of Western Canadian scouts has been astronomical. Long time readers of this blog, in other words no one would know that from a young age before he began to gain any headway amongst scouts I was endorsing the worth of Austin Wagner and I'm choosing to offer up the same recognition towards Nijhoff. At sixteen he's already listed at 6'0 and skates like the wind. If I was Chiefs General Manager Scott Carter I know the inclusion of Nijhoff would be a starting point in negotiations. I will go as far as to suggest, and this may sound outlandish but given the right furbishing Nijhoff will be a first round pick in the 2019 NHL draft.
If you haven't noticed by now a large part of the Regina Pat story orbits around trades and theme will be continued in the defensive synopsis. On January 2nd,2015, Paddock in his first year under the helm set the re-tooling in motion by trading sniper Morgan Klimchuk to the Brandon Wheat Kings for a young Jesse Gabrielle. Brandon at the time was in the precipus of their two year run which saw the Wheaties reach consecutive finals.Aside from the fact that Gabrielle turned into Lane Zablocki who later became Josh Mahura it's always been believed that John and staff patted the back of Wheat King management and a return of favour would come in due course. This is a 'professionally' run league and collusion isn't accepted and I'm not insinuating that the Wheat King formally owe Regina anything however with the shoe on the other foot Regina is geared for a run with Brandon entering a rebuild phase, a part of you wonders if the Wheat Kings will look to package Kale Clague at a discounted rate. Away from that and the primary reason I chose to include the name of Clague is because many in the know have matched Clague to the Pats as a possible destination. Clague who I already glamoured over in the Wheat Kings preview is a premier defenceman destined for a second straight World Junior Hockey Championship but it's arguable he's the type of skillet they should be coveting. Barring injuries the top four includes Josh Mahura, Dawson Davidson, Jonathan Smart and Liam Schioler. Three of which are smaller offensive minded defenceman that think the game a similar way as Kale and a more pressing need is adding truculence to the back-end. Schioler I felt was the Pats most improved defenceman as the year proceeded. He plays a basic steady brand that's compounded by taking zero risks. I commend those that rely on a simplistic structure but when you're too passive out on the ice problems begin to arise.Junior hockey is built around speed and while the Winnipeg native will never get caught out of position, he concedes too much room for the forwards and the more game planning opposing coaches conduct the more they will encourage their forwards to step up and pinch because they know Liam will never jump up in an attempt to keep the puck in. He plays a tenacious game in his own end but where it would be advised for the coaching staff to work with him is addressing his trepidness of engaging the opposition quicker and making his presence known. With confidence comes bravado and the hope from the administration is another year under his belt will boost that inner confidence. Normally I would advocate allowing Schioler to maintain a top four assignment and refine his puck skills but as repeated several times this 2017-2018 season is no ordinary year for the Regina Pats. Locating a veteran who can play a brute game such as Liam but can pair that with competence with the rubber is a top priority.This entire season preview has enabled me to closely examine each roster and after ranking the teams the way I chose to, differentiating the player who could be available from those who won't has become a slightly easier task. A name that check all the boxes in my humble opinion is Kootenay Ice Cale Fleury. I know I'm not the first pendant to suggest Fleury as a possible fit to Regina but his defensive awareness is first class where he could fulfill a top unit penalty killing role. Additionally by accumulating seventy six career points he wouldn't feel out of place under Paddock's systems as John is renowned for preaching quick puck movement.Jonathan Smart as indicated is pencilled in a premature top four but given his physical immaturity perhaps you look at moving him if he's not prepared to accept a third line pairing and in essence could develop chemistry between Schioler and Fleury. My impecccable would be Fleury, Mahura, Davidson,Schioler, Parker Gavlas and if you want to throw in Kale Clague I wouldn't ask for a return address!
To elaborate on what I meant when I suggested our most intriguing trade piece was unnecessarily sent away for a twenty year old in Matt Bradley from Medicine Hat I'll start by saying that I take no issue with Hollett being traded, in fact I credit Paddock and staff for honourably providing Jordan Hollett a chance to play every day. He was just drafted by the Ottawa Senators and needs to prove to the Sens that he selection was justified. Unfortunately when the off-season started the Pats didn't have a better asset to part with. I spoke of Yamamoto or really any other Western Hockey League superstar and it would've increased the odds of landing said player if Jordan were being dangled. Nothing against Bradley as I appreciate the intangibles he brings with him but I would've never cosigned dealing away a drafted, eighteen year old and former first round bantam pick for him. Hollett's absence means for a third full season Tyler Brown will be taxed with backstopping the Regina Pats in the Memorial Cup and judging from the ranking am expecting a deep playoff run en route to the Ed Chynoweth Cup. Not always the prettiest, Tyler's athleticism is his calling card. He has an outstanding glove hand with a reputation to at times get down too early leaving the top portion of the net open. That technical goaltender analysis while likely unfounded is what's come to my attention the last couple of seasons. In truth, this will be a cornerstone year for the Regina Pat organization. The last time one existed the infamous Chad Davidson nearly pulled off the improbable by losing a gut wrenching Memorial Cup semi-final against the Val'dor Foreur. Will Brown be served a better fate when going up against Ontario and Quebec's finest? Time will tell.