Saturday, September 2, 2017

2017-2018 Western Hockey League Preview(Team 6)

6.Medicine Hat Tigers: Any time you lose four of your top five point producers from the year before the consensus is that said team is due for a drop-off. In the case of the Medicine Hat Tigers that's not the case as the influx of up and coming talent actually outweighs some of the players lost to graduation/trade. It was my perception last year that the Tigers were an organization synonymous for icing a team full of obscure names not well known in Western Hockey League circles and in instead scouted out diminutive  talent that had  a knack for being persistent on the forecheck and never let off.  The predilection of the nucleus was consistently putting forth sixty minutes and were the hardest working team in the Western Hockey League. The pressing question heading is we know about the aptitude of Mason Shaw, can others behind him step and contribute for  a Tigers team seeking  a consecutive division banner.

Having what they classify as a 'two spotter' where a player takes up an import and overage slot is never ideal but barring a philosophical shift this will ring true for the Tigers this fall as Latvian Kristians Rubins is back for another year in the Hat. I happen to be very complimentary of Rubins' game so it's not as if the Tigers are carrying around a liability however it's common sense being able to fill an import and overage position separately makes you a more competitive hockey club. We saw this scenario develop last season with Dmitry Osipov who traded his time between Brandon and Vancouver and while not totally a fair comparison as these two teams respectively were at different points in their development cycles opposed to Med Hat, hauling around a two spotter didn't improve the standing of the team. What Rubins advertised throughout his freshman campaign was a pugnacious style and surprisingly disciplined considering the no prisoner approach he took guarding his own net. He earned the respect of the league's officials probably getting away with petty infractions based off of reputation alone. Piling up the third fewest penalty minutes in the league benefitted this group immensely as with how specialty teams are deciding games as of late and with how lethal some power plays are, not dishing six or seven power plays a night allowed the defenceman to stay in a rythym and maintain chemistry laden partnerships which had a ripple effect through the lineup. With last year's captain Clayton Kirichenko gone to the University of Alberta,  it'll be up to Rubins and New York Islanders seventh rounder David Quenneville to lead the charge. As I mentioned Rubins is more of a defensive minded defenceman whereas David is always thinking offence. When Quenneville broke his leg last January the immediate thought was that it was going to ravage the d-core and send him off to the sidelines for the rest of the year but what a dedicated recovery he instrumented as he was back playing by late February. That's Gregory Campbell-esque(suited up for the Boston Bruins in their 2013 playoff run with a broken leg). I was lukewarm on David's play prior to the injury, the generalization was that he was getting beat on routine foot races and was simply not strong enough battling the league's top nineteen and twenty year olds. It was if a light switch went off in his head after the recovery finished, he was no longer passive fending off opposition, everything in his repertoire was seemingly crisper. His production really raised at the tail end of the regular season into that first round series he was electric. He sure gave a how do you do to the Wheaties in game one of the quarterfinal, managing  a six point output. Head Coach Shawn Clouston had to be elated and I would imagine(yet to see any confirmation) that David is a leading candidate for 2017-2018 Tiger captaincy. The Quenneville lineage is alive and well in the dub. A training camp battle to watch intently is the status of seventeen year old Layne Matechuk. Layne along with super rookie Logan Barlage navigated the waters for the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Prince Albert Mintos and really got more and more refined in this d-zone awareness as the year progressed. Four spots are sewn up on the Tiger blueline and I truly believe Layne has to be a frontrunner for the five or six assignment. He naturally won't receive much playing as this Medicine Hat club has the making to be elite but just soaking up the winning culture will benefit him immensely. Eventual Kelowna Rocket franchise defenceman Lucas Johansen rode the pine during their 2014-2015 championship drive and I'm sure some at the time were perplexed for why he didn't receive another year of training in Midget but in lieu of prospering in a winning culture he ultimately had his name called by the Washington Capitals. Not claiming that Layne is on the same ascent as Lucas but he's ready to play in the Western Hockey League, irregardless of role.

No question depth is a little thin upfront. What the likes of Chad Butcher and Steven Owre were able to provide for someone like Mason was time and space because coaches knew if they game planned around Mason, who is no slouch on his skates I may add then they would get taken to the cleaners as I genuinely don't think one team could match up foot for foot with Med Hat. As long as I can remember as far to the era of Kris Russell, Cam Barker and Darren Helm speed has always been prevalent in team dynamic. .As rivals became more familiar with the attack of this rendition, the correlating effect was that it shied away an intense forecheck as almost always you had to have a third man back to contend with the counter-attack. The only thing upfront working against this group of forwards was a purported lack of finish. Speed for days but often times speed without purpose. They would comfortably enter the zone and usually with numbers on their side but would be rendered helpless not knowing where to distribute the puck to. Don't get me wrong, if I'm a general manager with this many options I'm not complaining but the current setup is conducive to regular season success(scoring 350 goals is no fluke) but not capitalizing on the premium limited chances in the post-season was deflating. The question needs to be asked, is the make-up of the roster too small? In the second round series versus Lethbridge Brady Pouteau and Brennan Riddle were having a field day with the forwards and no body would mistake those two for the next Duncan Keith. The x-factor in this report is the abilities of German newcomer Mick Kohler. Kohler has big shoes to fill as the exiting John Dalhstrom nearly cracked Sweden's World Junior roster and was one of their better finds in years.Judging his statistics playing for Kolner in Germany it is evident that he prefers passing the puck, forty assists to sixteen goals a year ago and every recorded year has accumulated more helpers then goals and heavily noted is his height. For a team flooded with a bunch of Mugsy Bogues(Basketball reference) it's nice to see they've finally identified a Manute Bol to compliment that. Terrible basketball comparisons aside a better balance is needed to prevent the size issue that was the elephant in the room over 2016/2017. Ryan Chyzowski certainly given his pedigree in Bantam someday has aspirations playing professional hockey and making   a household name for himself. Well this summer his cousin stole the spotlight as young Kyle Chyzowski participated for Team Canada at the Little League World Series and as  a member of the team nearly created history almost becoming the first Canadian entry to advance to the International final, Kyle has the baseball gene downpact(although according to ESPN is contemplating quitting baseball in favour of hockey) but now it's Ryan's turn to show that the Chyzowski brand can flourish in the world of Junior Hockey. An eighteenth overall selection in 2015 suffice to say I believe Ryan fell short of expectations and in his draft year will need to illustrate a more complete game. Tentativeness would be the word of the day when describing Ryan. We've spent much of this preview fantasizing over the sheer speed and at least thusfar Ryan doesn't fit into that mold which could explain the "disappointing" year he experienced. It's no secret Clouston advocates for a high tempo brand so it's up to him to put in the work and prove to the coaching staff that he belongs in the top nine. Sadly while a first round NHL selection dream is a thing of the past I think that another slow start out of the gates, to the fault of Ryan or not then a change of scenery may be needed. Sometimes, and it has nothing to do with a players abilities but sometimes a fit is just rotten, and this is one of those instances.

Michael Bullion was........just okay as the Tigers bowed out of the playoffs by the way of the second round and that mediocrity forced the hand of the Tiger administration to bring in a netminder and his name is Jordan Hollett, formerly of Regina. For clarification Bullion remains in camp(as of this writing) but will be phased to the Junior A ranks in all likelihood. A high draft pick himself, Hollett was coveting an expanded role and with Tyler Brown in Regina for one more year Pats General Manager was fair to his player by shipping him off somewhere where playing time has been set aside  The irony here, if my prognostications are correct about Med Hat being the best team in the division and with Regina campaigning for my #1 ranking, a Hollett-Brown conference final dual would be great theater and happens to be quite realistic. I wish Jordan all the best in Southern Alberta, he landed there at just the right time.

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