The 2015-2016 Western Hockey League campaign commenced this past weekend which is always an exciting time for me as junior hockey is near and dear to my heart. The Regina Pats kicked off this 50th anniversary by partaking in an opening home and home series against their highway # 1 rivals, the Moose Jaw Warriors. The Pats accumulated two out of a possible four points, losing in regulation in the Jaw on opening night and two nights later upending those same Warriors in overtime. I will provide my thoughts on what I've seen from the Regina Pats over these two nights.
-Nikolai Knyzhov, the Russian defenceman who played last year in Arizona is not ready to play contributable minutes in the Western Hockey League. I look back to last year when John Paddock who at the time had a fresh outlook on this franchise elected to send home Maximillian Kammerer, the eighteen year old German who was a deer in the headlights throughout 2013-2014 was sent home in favour of the Regina Pats going in the direction of acquiring your second import via trade which happened to be the consummate fit in Pavel Padakin. I've read in reports, listened to radio interviews over the last several years, most notably from Red Deer Rebels coach and general manager Brent Sutter in which Sutter made the implication that if your import can't play a top six forward role, or top four defensive pairing there is no use for said player. If all your import is accomplishing is playing a bottom, lesser role, a North American who doesn't cost you that spot can fulfill the same role. The Western Hockey League and Canadian Hockey League at it's core is a developmental league so back to my original premise there is no need for Knyzhov on this team as transitioning from the offensive to defensive zones he is a hot mess. I'm upset that they re-assigned Ryan Krushen because what I saw last year was a young individual who fit in, and would've fit in Knyzhov's role. Ideally, what I would loved to see is the Pats ignore the temptation to bring in Aaron Macklin, who's play I will admit was commendable on opening weekend and thus opening a double spot for Rikard Bukarts(the assumption is that they would then cut ties with Knyzhov) and once Colby Williams an Taylor Cooper are healthy and ready to go you then trade a goaltender who I'm expecting will have decent value in Daniel Wapple.
-Riley Woods played alright in limited action. The expectation that I personally have is that Woods is holding down a roster spot until the aforementioned Cooper comes back and Woods role until that day arrives is a little foggy He's nothing more than a fourth liner when battling through five on five action but if you believe that his tremendous offensive escapades can be carried forward from Midget AAA that saw Woods lead the charge for the Regina Pat Canadians all the way to the Telus Cup to the dub level then time on the second power play unit is somewhere he can thrive. I've said many a times that Austin Wagner may be the Pats most productive player by years end but until Wagner's hands match up with his feet then it makes sense to implement Woods on the power play unit.
-James Hilsendager will be a name that Pat supporters, and observers from the entire league are going to become more familiar with. I was actually shocked that he was passed over in the past summers NHL entry draft because at being listed at 6'1, he's a great skater and is a budding star in the league. Although Connor Hobbs plays stood out in the Pats opener, it was my opinion that Hilsendager was the most reliable as he did nothing that will stand out but was a excellent stop gap to prevent the likes of Dryden Hunt to run silly(although I suppose he did in Regina). The Warriors have oodles of speed in the forward position which stresses the importance of strong back-end attention to detail, something James did masterfully.
-Going into the weekend and for obvious reasons, the biggest question mark was Lane Zablocki and for good reason. Involved in a very controversial trade with the Prince George Cougars that sent Jesse Gabrielle I was desperately hoping to be left in a positive light at games end, which unfortunately I was not. The scouting report coming in was that Zablocki possessed above average offensive instincts but lacked sound skating skills. Both reports after watching him play I can agree with the upmost certainty that these are accurate. However, for a player that was dealt for a future first liner I need to see more! Playing alongside Sam Steel which I'm presuming is the game plan Paddock will employ the rest of the way being as how the purported team philosophy is to throw all the eggs in the 2015-2016 basket and Zablocki's birth year of 1998 plays in Lane's favor as he can be Sam's running mate for a few seasons but will need to see more speed as he was consistently behind the play and by correlation caused Sam to slow down and not utilize his creativity at high speed which he is recognizable for. Goals aren't always the statistic that I clamor over as goals don't signal the players entire ability and though Zablocki scored, a more of a complete presence is required. As a Pats fan, I'm hopeful but would be a misnomer if I classified myself as optimistic.