Monday, July 6, 2015

2015-2016 Western Hockey League Preview: Teams 15 and 16

15.Prince Albert Raiders- For as much as I saw the Raiders last year, what stuck out at me was the lack of cohesion and jump that they possessed, or more aptly put didn't possess. This can be completely understood as last year saw a big shake up with team chemistry particularly after the Raiders decided...well actually the Edmonton Oilers decided that star German forward Leon Draisatl should play somewhere else(another story for another day) with the Raiders shuffling the deck and bringing in a lot of players after Christmas which you embark to imagine made for trying times in the second half. What I see in the Raiders as we fastly approach the 2015-2016 campaign is the Raiders have a flux of marginal talent and it will be up to newly appointed General Manager Curtis Hunt and Head Coach Marc Habscheid to right the ship that has gone down the wrong river so many times in the last ten years to instill a repeatable structure and turn this marginal talent into a group and program that can consistently contend.

As teams put away the sticks and gloves for the woods and irons, upper management of every CHL franchise asks themselves the question of what is needed from each individual, creating a formulated plan for each player to grow on what they already excel at and trying to abstract what programs would be suitable for said player to become more serviceable at a line of weakness. The Prince Albert Raiders throughout the last ten years or so have seemingly been abstracting a lot more then they have building on strengths. For a player like Tim Vanstone who perplexingly didn't live up to the bill of being an all around complete player last season has got to shore up on the foot speed. The old saying of "you have it if you have it" does have validity but at the same time especially chronicling teenagers I feel as if kids can be taught a  better fitness regimen so getting back to a player like Vanstone, can become a much more fluent skater. Team speed as a whole with the exception of maybe Kris Schmidili is an issue. Schmidili who hails from Zurich, Switzerland was brought over from the Kelowna Rockets in the trade that sent Draisatl the other way, averaged a point per game in his seventeen games with Prince Albert. Schmidili is a small figure but I feel the problem here is how hre Raiders utilized him last year. Last year's team 's reputation was that of dump and chase, defence first, making offence a bonus commodity and that style doesn't mold what Schmidili does on the ice at all.  The guy's skating would put Kenny Wu to shame is all about flash and dash and if I was a Raider supporter I would hope that Hunt from the top down encourages more chances be taken. This unfortunately for the fine folks of the North will most likely not true as Hunt naturally relies on the defensive exploits and doesn't exactly echo an offence first game. From what I know of Habscheid, he's a little more prone to promote offence so it'll be curious on how the General Manager and coach mesh. Can Matteo Gennaro increase his numbers by parlaying the fact that he was drafted this summer by the Winnipeg Jets into an increased sense of confidence? I think he can, but as an overall generality, once again this team has  a lot of pieces, it's the unknown size of the pieces that creates the mystery.

The theme of the Raiders will be overcoming loss.  Unless you witnessed more then a handful of Raider games last year, then you wouldn't begin to understand the ginormic loss of Sawyer Lange. Lange was Mr.Everything for Prince Albert as he brought that sultry combination of pure offense with stingy, Barrett Jackman-esque shut down ability. Who can replace the minutes of Lange? Two names jump out and those are Brendan Guhle and fresh from the import draft, Vojdech Budik  You could make the case that Brendan Guhle is the best skating defenceman in the entire league and it's that very skating that makes him a dual threat because he can afford himself more risk, because by him getting caught up ice can be easily overcome. The thirty two point total that he posted a year would normally be satisfactory for most d-man, but for Guhle I view this statistics a tad underwhelming because I know he is capable of so much more. If he improved on his shot, that would just be one more tool in his already eclectic box. Being how the Raiders employ former Dallas Star Dave Manson as an assistant coach, you would think this is something they will work hard on with Brendan this off-season/pre-season. Budik, the seventeenth overall selection in June 30th's Import Draft, the buzz is high for this Czech Republican as Dale Derkatch, Director of Player Personnel labeled him as one of the best players available from the draft class. The scouting report on Budik is that he's an excellent skater just like Guhle so at least from a defensive standpoint, the speed portion will be the least of the Raiders concerns. Also, and I'm only throwing  this out there because it fits with the title of my blog, the "Flying V", but projected, although not set in stone twenty year old Hunter Warner is from Eden Prairie, Minnesota a town which has strong ties with the legendary Mighty Ducks: D3, so I thought that deserved a hearty shout-out!

Nick McBride or Rylan Parenteau? Rylan Parenteau or Nick McBride?  That is the ultimate question correlating to the Raiders goaltending situation. Or is it that simple...because entering this year will be 2014 first round Bantam pick Ian Scott. Scott was the ninth overall selection who is from Calgary you figure is in line for one of the two spots. For a team that struggled that mightily last year, a lot of Raider fans will begin to inquire if letting Ian Scott take his lumps this year is the proper strategy after all, because let's face it when I say the only real expectations the Raiders have is to maybe squeak into the playoffs, so is it really worth stunting Scott's development for the aforementioned reasons? At the very least, I expect that in the first half you will see Scott split time with whichever of the two goalies they elect to keep, then if the year becomes an abomination, I would fully foresee Scott getting, to steal a football reference, most of the reps.

16.Vancouver Giants-A mid two thousands dynasty has worn off that prestige in a hurry by in the last few years digesting themselves in a mutiny of questionable managerial and player personnel decisions. Now on to their third coach in the last year, is there enough of a faction within the Giants locker room to breed back that winning culture that was such common place when GM Scott Bonner originally took over the realm of the organization?  A nice bright spot for  the G-men is that from a marketability stand point, they have no worries as they are being led by seventeen year old super prospect Tyler Benson. Whether they have the fortitude to go 72-0 (which they don't, nobody does) or having the ineptitude to plummet to 0-72(never say never, in jest of course), they will sell tickets because there hasn't been a player entering the Western Hockey League with as many accolades in quite some time, maybe since former Giant Gilbert Brule as there has been with Benson.

I could spend this entire forward preview pumping up Benson's tires, but I won't. Instead, we will analyze the supporting cast, or lack there of that will be running shot gun for the Edmonton native this year. For starters, let's say kudos to General Manager Bondra for attracting such a low profile name to such a small marketplace. Obviously, I'm joking around when I refer to Vancouver as a small marketplace, but along these lines of the Giants drafting and securing a commitment out of Radovan Bondra is the very problem I have with this "draft", and if you want to read more about my frustrations and ways to fix a long broken entity, go to my main page and scroll down to the article titled " Import Draft Improvisation". Anyways, they picked up Bondra from the draft, and Bondra and Benson with the size of the two could very easily mimic the great tandem that was Dean Portman and Fulton Reed with the Bash Brothers. The "Bash Brothers 2.0", will certainly reek havoc on opposition defences with the aforementioned size, but both possessing booming shots.Carter Popoff who will likely fill one of the twenty year old positions, will be asked to provide needed leadership to coddle the likes of Benson and Bondra who lack the same level of experience. On the ice however, this Richmond,BC roadrunner will need to become a more consistent presence as although I would consider sixty four points commendable, it was a drop off in production from 2013-2014 and that will need to be rectified. A diminutive frame which effects his ability to physically impose, it will be important being now he is carrying leadership responsibilities that he corrects his +/- of -9 from last year and provides new coach Lorne Molleken the confidence to throw him over the boards no matter down or up 3-2.  Some strong NHL bloodlines are in tact for the Giants, which is no real surprise as a city like Vancouver usually attracts talent that may be considering the NCAA because of where geographically situates. Bloodlines this year belong to Ty Ronning, son of Cliff, and Parker Smyth, nephew of Ryan. Is anybody else amused that you will see a Smyth suit up for Vancouver considering his uncle was public enemy # 1 for years? Young but intriguing is how I would classify the Giants forward class.

Mason Geertsen leads the G-men on the backend.  A mini "Giant" at 6'4(fitting pun) will lead the charge, but what kind of offence exactly will Geertsen "lead" with? This Rocky Rapids, Alberta stalwart accumulated thirty eight points a year ago which is fascinating due to the frame and other areas that he's considered stronger at.  Not afraid to drop the gloves will serve the Giants well because other plays may, I mean will take liberties with Tyler Benson so to have a 6'4 gentlemen standing in the way of protection will have otherwise willing combatants back away. A point of contention though, why on earth did the Colorado Avalanche not sign Mason after selecting him 93rd overall in the 2014 NHL draft? Until observing their roster, I had no idea Geertsen was just one of the many physically imposing defenceman they rostered. This also applies to third year Russian Dmitriy Osipov.  The one thing I've heard time and again about Osipov is for having that kind of frame, he shows no willingness to fight for the puck, so there appears to be no comparable between him and Geertsen. Osipov will have to put the work in this year because considering  he was the Giants first overall selection back in 2013, and I'm not going out on a limb in saying that anytime you're selected first overall, the expectation is that you'll be one of the teams best players, this does not apply to Osipov.

A mirky goaltending situation coming into 2014-2015, is anything but this go around. Ryan Kubic is the goaltender of the future and of the now. In my opinion, due to the Roman Cechmanek struggles of Payton Lee, who with a .891 save percentage last year has done nothing to deserve the starting gig again. Nor has Cody Porter, who with an.888 SP posted even worse statistical numbers. If the Giants are serious about building around Benson which I believe they are, the time is now to hand over the net to Kubic. If you have a gem, which my gut says they do then it's all hunky dory but if Kubic flames out, then at least Scott Bonner will have enough time to formulate a contingency plan to find another goaltender to pair with the ever dangerous Benson(apologies for referencing the player that much but he is worthy of this kind of hype).

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