Sunday, September 3, 2017

2017-2018 Western Hockey League Preview(Team 5)

5.Kelowna Rockets: When I conducted a deep dive on the chances of Kelowna Rockets chances this season, a couple things came to mind. For starters, things would have t really go off the rails for another division banner not to be hanging at Prospera Place and secondly their may not be a more complex twenty year old dilemma in the Western Hockey League. Team owner and General Manager has always been a stingent recruiter and he's had to be with the impending losses of so many significant pieces including Nick Merkley, Devante Stephens and Lucas Johansen. Restock and reload has long been the mantra for this organization as even with the aforementioned departures, there's plenty of skill to go around along with the knowledge that they have a weak(er) British Columbia division to contend with. O and did I mention that I have a strong suspicion that they likely boast this year's league M.V.P?  Keep reading below to find out who but any Kelowna Rocket supporter should know this Calgary Flame prospect is on the precipus of having a campaign reminiscent of something you may have seen from the likes of Justin Keller(03/04) and Colin Long(07/08)

Naturally most casual fans will be familiar by now with the name of Cal Foote and not just because of his famous father Adam but due to over the course of the 2016/2017 season his production raised to an unprecedented level. I vividly recall the moment when Hamilton selected Foote in the 2013 Bantam Draft forty third overall that they landed the steal of that May's draft. Now, the 2013 Bantam Draft turned out to be historically strong with a group revolving around Sam Steel and Nolan Patrick and I'm not even necessarily insinuating that Cal would've been deserving of a top five selection but it was widely speculated that if Cal was open minded about the other twenty one organizations that he was a certifiable first rounder. By no means am I scathing the Rocket organization for shady business tactics because at the end of the day why wouldn't you take a leap of faith on a probable first round NHL talent. Some will cite unfair recruiting advantages but from this bloggers perspective, there's no other way to summarize it other then smart. A similar maneuver transpired this past May when in the second round, thirty ninth overall they took a waiver on Ethan Bowen. Bowen is said to be leaning in the direction of the NCAA but if Kelowna puts forth an endearing pitch then nothing is saying he won't frequent WHL circles just like his big brother Ryan. I have the exact theory in the import draft where if I was in charge or roster structure I'm NEVER throwing away a second round import player on someone who tops out as a twenty point guy. Let me swing for the fences and if my home run breezes foul I'm better served allowing a sixteen/seventeen year old to allocate that very role. Back to what Cal can contribute out on the ice, I'll be the first to admit that notwithstanding all the hype surrounding him  I was left lukewarm over his progress in his rookie season. I have no issue admitting a wrong after the fact because lord knows I've been incorrect plenty of times before but  in that 2015/2016 rookie season of his as the Rockets went through their bi-annual Saskatchewan swing I was failing to understand the build up over this player. He wasn't sound defensively, wasn't Nostradamus with the puck and generally exuded a fairly mundane presence. That was 2015/2016 of course and in hindsight I'll chalk it up to rookie nerves because in his draft year he picked it up several notches. I always get the two summer International tournaments mixed up but at one of the two where the elder of the two Footes suited up for Canada, in retrospect it was a pre-cursor for what was bound to come as the exploits shown there were a platform to what he had in store with Kelowna in his second full season. Aside from the obvious increase in the points department what I appreciated most was how hard on the puck he had gotten. It was eerily similar to the career father Adam paved out for himself, taking liberties at appropriate times(or in Adam's case when referees had turned their back) and amazingly even with the improved physicalness his discipline didn't suffer. He was one of the least penalized Rockets which bodes well as he'll be dedicating the first half of the season attempting to impress Team Canada World Junior Head Coach Dominique Ducharme because as we all know,penalties at the christmas time tradition is code for getting stapled to the bench(see Jake Virtanen in 2016). The next defenceman worth spending some time analyzing is St.Albert product, nineteen year old Braydyn Chizen. Chizen is an interesting case in the sense that his function on his team is largely dependent on what Jason Smith and company elect to do with their two overage defenceman Gordie Ballhorn and James Hilsendager. It's more complicate then usual because not only do you have a European two spotter in camp in Tomas Soustal, there's Carsen Twarrnysko who's guaranteed to stick pending a signed professional deal and goaltender Cody Porter who's in camp on a tryout. My thoughts on this are Twarnyski is a must, Soustal who by eliminating him you'd be losing a total one hundred and eight points so I don't see that happening and because of the depth on the backend from pupils such as Chizen and Kaeden Korczak you're probably losing one of Ballhorn or Hilsendager. The emergence of Chizen was a rewarding for the coaching staff because I know for fact there s a fair share of detractors as he's not the smoothest skater. If you're expecting Brayden to frequent the scoresheet then you're sorely mistaken but what can't be forgotten is when the Rockets met the Portland Winterhawks in the post-season, Winterhawks now former PBP announcer Todd Vrooman did a radio interview where he singled out Braydyn for his defensive reliability. My take away from hearing this is he rises in the important contests and should be counted upon to play a large role on this year's penalty kill

I teased in the opening that the Kelowna Rockets in all likelihood possess the league M.V..P in 2017/2018 and that happens to be Dillon Dube. I always knew Dillon had the repertoire to be a special player in this league but to be perfectly honest until recently I was timid in labelling Dube as a pure playmaker. That all changed in December 2016 when Dillon(surprisingly?) cracked the World Junior team. As Coach Ducharme began to laud the attributes of each player fortunate enough to make the team he was adamant that Dillon won a job by being someone who was versatile and could kill penalties Much to my,Ducharme's and the rest of Canada sans fans in Kelowna who were privy to seeing him daily astonishment he was creating scoring chances consistently at the top international level. A great comparision to him happens  to be one of his teammates on that 2017 Team Canada edition in Tyson Jost.They're true kindred spirits on the ice as if you took numbers off the back of their sweaters it would be difficult to discern the two. Tyson is a litle more polished probably holding on  to a harder shot but in all other facets there equals. That type of praise eludes to the heights I believe Dillon will reach this year and who knows, if it wasn't for him nursing a few injuries in the season's first half then what I'm forecasting now may of already been a reality. There's not one reading this that can sincerely question the decorated career Dillon has carved out but there could be some and deservedly so that will ponder if the absence of running mate Nick Merkley who's destined for Tucson of the AHL will obstruct Dillon's point tally. Judging off of  my assertion that  a M.V.P trophy is in his sights then you can safely assume I don't hold any of those reservation as Kole Lind and Kyle Topping with the possibility of Soustal will supply him enough breathing room. After I scoured the team statistics of  a year ago the Rockets racked up the league's third best power play throughout the season which surely will be difficult to replicate especially after losing one of the league's top passers in Merkley the onus will be on Kyle Topping to make the most out of an expanded opportunity and likely anchor the second power play unit. There's always those situations where players get placed in sticky situations with no chance to thrive but with Kyle I'm getting the impression his draft year has come at just the right time condtional on a consistent role. I can recollect hundreds  of examples where players are on successful teams through their first couple seasons but as their draft year draws near the state of the team dwindles and a drop in production decreases their draft stock and in some instances effects them getting drafted all together. I think back to someone like former Saskatoon Blade Ryan Keller who the year before he was eligible mapped together a seventy nine point season only to follow that up with a forty four point campaign. Certain scenarios have to fall in place and while for Ryan they didn't, the hope is the late 1999 birthday Topping can live up to his projected third-fourth round status.He may see playing time with veterans like Twarnyski and Soustal which drives home my opinion that whether fair or not, being in the right place at the right time is half the battle.

Technically a goaltenders competition does exist in the Okanagan but it's my belief the whole premise of bringing former Calgary Hitmen netminder Cody Porter is to butter up his value in hope that he can land on with a rival club in the Western League or the OHL/QMJHL. I implied as much in earlier previews that Cody's best bet is to follow the footsteps of former Brandon Wheat King Jacob De Serres and latch on to a team in Eastern Canada thus taking advantage of the final year of the scholarship agreement and get all five years of post-secondary paid for. Cody's a quality goaltender who was wrongfully cut loose by Calgary, unfortunately Kelowna just isn't the appropriate fit.Too many other paramount overage options. This is Brodan Salmond's time to shine and lead the Rockets all the way to the conference finals if I've prognosticated the British Columbia division correctly.

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