Sunday, July 5, 2015

2015-2016 Western Hockey League Preview:Teams 9 and 10

9.Everett Silvertips-  Team of transition would be a fair moniker for the young tips, with the ranking of number nine being very much intertwined to whether or not some of  the sixteen and seventeen year olds can continue with their progression and whether General Manager Garry Davidson will render successful in his recruiting pitch to lure in top prospects Auston Matthews and Tyson Jost. Coach Constantine's experience in the National Hockey League will be counted upon for a team that has a lot of promise from the younger crop but questionable expectations from the older players that will embark on a U.S Division crown.

As just touched upon, the escapades of the forwards will be largely dependant on whether Matthews and Jost make their way to Everett. The acquisition of these two would be a game changer but as of right now reports indicate that Matthews will buck a trend and forego his final junior season in North America and suit up for Marc Crawford's team in Switzerland with Jost favouring and honoring his commitment to the Penticton Vees of the British Columbia Hockey League with the intent of going the NCAA route. Understandably, this team will likely bet the toughest team to prognosticate due to the Silvertips either having it's two best players or not. Ninety points respectively are on the table for one side of the pond. As I survey the  Silvertips potential twenty year old situation, the way I predict it shaking out is the Tips retaining Remi Laurencelle and probably their best incoming 20, that being Saskatoon native Carson Stadynk. Stadnyk and Laurencelle are penciled in on the first line right now alongside with Stadynk's Saskatoon compadre Dawson Leedahl. Entering his nineteen year old season Constantine will expect him to build off of his thirty three point campaign and in an ideal world, the shifty Leedahl, who's brother Brett once tore it up for the Kindersley Klippers in the SJHL, to shoot for the stars for sixty. In summarization, this team will ride or die on the hinges of Matthews and Jost, with them the ranking too low, without the ranking likely far too high.

Defense is the reason I'm so optimistic with the Silvertips chances this year. As I hopefully made it glaringly obvious, the offense is a complete wildcard, the defense being a more stable commodity. First round pick Noah Juulsen will steal the headlines, but I'll  try my darndest to profile a couple of other defenders that one day may be getting their name called in the National Hockey League draft. The Everett faithful may no longer have Scherback to rejoice over, they now have a Scherbakov.Scherbakov at 5'11 is reportedly an excellent puck mover as when I observe the rest of the Silvertips who possess a lot of size, having a certifiable puck wizard is a terrific compliment ane purportedly desperately fills a team need. As much as Scherbakov could contribute and be a Silvertip Stallion, the young lad that I have sky-high expectations for is Jantzen Leslie who was selected fifteenth overall in the 2014 Western Hockey League Bantam draft. The city of Lloydminster has had a nice little run producing  defenceman in the last couple years producing Kale Clague who was the first round selection of the Wheaties in 2013 and now Leslie. For just turning sixteen Leslie already has tremendous size with 6'0 200 pound frame which has the making to draw comparisons to Adam Foote. Throughout his bantam tenure, he was already seen as somebody that could've shut down top WHL scorers at the age of fourteen, so one begins to wonder the epitude of his capabilities at sixteen. It wouldn't shock me if, by the end of the year Leslie is the Western conference nominee for Rookie for the Year. Leslie's offensive game needs some refining and the concern that I have is throughout the years, his coach, Kevin Constantine has contorted the reputation of being too defensive and sometimes doesn't do the best job developing offensive defincies, something Leslie will need work on over time.

With the imminent departure of Austin Lotz, if it wasn't already Carter Hart's time to shine, it is now. Hart came into Everett last year with Lotz controlling the net, but with a combination of injuries and suspect play, Hart got the majority of important starts down the second half stretch and eventually got the nod in the playoffs. Advancing his group to the second round is a nice Segway into this season as Hart will have to work hard in the off-season to avoid the infamous sophomore slump. Hart will have the advantage of playing behind a strong d core so the statistics he posted last year may pale in comparison to the statistical prelude he delivers this year.

10.Saskatoon Blades- After an eleven year rebuild(insert sarcasm hashtag here), the Blades have finally turned the corner under the tutelage of Bob Woods and an ownership group now committed to winning, and now have the recipe to contend and be a darkhorse in the Eastern Division. Expectations will be tampered solely because any Blades fan will have known what the customary results have been as of late but I'm telling you Saskatoonians...this team is finally legit and has a great young nucleus.

Up front, this team will be a very young group, a common theme when dissecting the entire Blades roster but there is some understated talent that may creep up and enter the top twenty of WHL scoring. On this line of reasoning, two names are on deck for ginormous years, those being Calgarian Ryan Graham and Cameron Hebig. Anytime I saw Graham play, it's evident that he has the power forward frame but it was the way that he handles the puck infront  of the net struck me with pure amazement. It's like taking  a little bit of Milan Lucic and sprinkling in some Martin St.Louis, and their ladies and gentlemen you have the game of Ryan Graham. Speaking on Hebig, it's clear the Blades haven't had a hometown kid with such hype since the days of Brayden Schenn. Since we're in the game of comparisons, Hebig reminds me of Hunter Shinkaruk because although both small, the main reason for the comparable is due to the tenacity that they play with. Shinkaruk had better teams around him with his time in Medicine Hat which allowed him to compile two hundred and twenty five points and while Hebig had to battle through another disastrous nineteen win fun filled year(again, reach for the sarscasm hashtag), Cameron along with this young group I foresee being playoff bound. "Playoffs, are you talking playoffs...I just want to win a game"-Jim Mora Sr. A player that with the way he plays the game of hockey will never get the recognition that Graham and Hebig receive will get a hearty shout-out, former Moose Jaw Warrior Josh Uhrich. A bland game if there is ever one, he's reliable in the defensive zone and not incapable of providing the odd goal. The fact that the Warriors threw away Uhrich blindly was one of the more inexcusable hiccups a franchise has made in recent memory.

I should've titled this blog the "Bolder and the Beautiful" or something, because here folks comes another wacky, bold prediction which I will try to prove has some merit. Nolan Reid, who hails from the place who is home to Southern Saskatchewan's nicest golf course, Deer Valley,Saskatchewan will win the defensive player of the year.  His point totals don't stand out at you, but let's remember that the Blades were a horrid team a year ago and everybody's stats are to bound to improve substantially. The way Reid skates with a good long stride allows him to jump into the rush something that I expect coach Woods will encourage more of this season. The power-play  minutes will increase as him, paired alongside Brycen Martin on PP1 who has a bomb for a shot will make the Blades power-play something worth chatting about. If this defence didn't already have you pondering what the limit for it is, well continue to ponder as in the Import draft they selected Czech Republican Libor Hejak who according to TSN's Craig Button(take what Button says with a grain of salt, just as take what I say with a grain of salt), could be a first round pick in 2016.  To the general public, the Blades defence houses no names of significance, not yet anyways as Hejak and Reid could be the breakthrough stars of the WHL, along with the one defenceman that you garner to say is proven in Brycen Martin and this defence will receive a lot of accolades shortly.

As much as I remain adamant that the forwards and defenceman have improved immensely, the goaltending still leaves plenty to be desired.  One could suffice that the reigns will be handed to someone surely a fan of the Melfort Mustangs, Nick Amundrud. It's incredibly hard to predict the 2015-2016 results for Amundrud because his stats were so poor last year playing behind a defence that was too young and clearly wasn't ready for the rigors of the dub.  With an improved d core, we will need to see a more complete game from Nick or there is no question that the Blades will be shopping for a goalie(Hello Austin Lotz?.....see above)

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