Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Knuckle Ball:Volume nine

Welcome to this segment that I call the "Knuckle Ball" where basically I spew off my thoughts on a few items in the world of baseball. In this entry, as per usual I will look into three matters in the world of baseball that have peaked my interest. In volume nine, what I expect to be the final regular season edition, I first admit a wrong and will give full credit to Ned Yost who has turned around the ship in Northern Missouri where the Royals have supplanted themselves in the wild-card picture and for someone in Yost who I thought wasn't a above average manager, I now carry a different train of thought with the work he's put in this year exemplary. Secondly, I put the Chicago White Sox on full blast for their direction, teetering the line between courteous to the veterans while diminishing the progression of the few legitimate prospects they currently own. As a long time White Sox supporter it does sadden me that this this once proud franchise has been run in the ground by Kenny Williams. Lastly, and a subject near and dear to my heart, I have strong views that the Little League World Series as we know it is a wrecked enterprise. The parody, particularly on the International side has evaporated and it's no longer who has the best "team", it's which country has tipped the evolutionary scale the furthest and have the most thirteen year old pitchers that are built like twenty five year olds. I share below, I thoroughly hope you enjoy.

Last year during which the Kansas City Royals were embarking on their second consecutive World Series appearance, my first observation was that any manager who was privy to the type of bullpen Ned Yost had at his disposal was any manager with even a resemblance of a brain could succeed with this group. In 2014, that saw the Kansas City Royals square off with the San Francisco Giants albeit in a losing effort was the coming out party for Greg Holland(his party was a short one), Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis. I understand that by the time the '14 playoffs commenced, Greg was already a two time All-Star but because he played in relative obscurity, A.K.A Kansas City he wasn't a household name. Going on a brief tangent here, but sometimes I find some individuals who don't have a deep understanding of the sport associate All-stars with certifiable sustainable stardom, and that frankly isn't the case.  I mean truly, who really remembers Ben Grieve or Randy Winn, they indeed were All-Stars at one point in the time. So reverting this conversation back to Kansas City Royal baseball. with the bullpen General Manager Dayton Moore had compiled literally any manager could've stepped in and accomplished the task. I don't remember much about the inner happenings of the '14 playoffs and the twists and turns KC took to reach the  pinnacle but in 2015 being as how the Toronto Blue Jays were involved in the pennant chase, my attention level peaked thus I paid closer attention to the type of team the Royals were illustrating. The lead-up to the playoffs was basic and forgive me if I'm coming across as too simplistic here saw them steal bases and pitch way their to victory and the playoff portion was no exception. In the divisional round series against the Houston Astros and further yet in the championship series which saw them unfortunately saw them prevail against the Toronto Blue Jays, the lineup stayed constant, the bull-pen stayed hotter then a Shea Weber slapshot and the athleticism the Royals showcased one through nine reared it's head in the post-season. When I internally seep through the past few World Series champions, the Giants in even years, the Cardinals and even the Red Sox won in a much different fashion then the way Royals propelled themselves. In last year's every day lineup and essentially the 2016 version that I will touch  on in a bit is no different where they didn't possess one player who's claim to fame is the pure power. Look at this even year Giant teams, they had the Pablo Sandoval and Brandon Belt's of the world that are quasi-sluggers or clearly with the Red Sox they had "Big Papi" David Ortiz and Mike Napoli among others where as the Royals, with the exception of maaaaybe Kendry Morales, they didn't have that guaranteed power that most championship calibre clubs have in their arsenal. I don't know how many ways I can keep attempting to say that the Royals had the perfect combination of the attributes required to win. Let's break it down series by series. Early in the American League divisional series which pitted them against the Astros, early on the 'Stros controlled the series due to an offensive black-out by Yost's crew. In game three, Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel was his dominant self, not sure where the magic went in 2016 but just like the Wild Card win against the Yankees, he was virtually unhittable. Game four of the series is where I effectively waved the proverbial  white flag in my confidence towards Ned. The game is a see saw affair up until the bottom of the seventh where the hinges abruptly began to fall off. The decision that would've maybe seen him handed a pink slip, inserting Ryan Madson into the ball game led to an Astros surge. Many around baseball, including some of the die-hard Royal fans thought their season had gone before there eyes. I do not understand, never will, why Ned Yost elected for Madsen in that spot where Kelvin Herrera or Wade Davis were available. It was an elimination game, and the rule of thumb that all hands are supposed to be on deck and yet they handed the ball off to Ryan Madsen, a bullpen arm they deemed expendable and rightfully so in the off-season.  If it wasn't for a bullpen implosion of their own which was brought on by usually reliable Tony Sipp the season would be over and who knows the narrative for the 2015 campaign. I could go on and on but to the day I maintain that Yost did nothing extraordinary in the World Series run HOWEVER after watching the Royals with Cheese(what the great Cam Stewart used to coin the Royals as) toil their way through injury after injury in 2016, I've taken a 180 towards my stance on the beleaguered manager. Entering the year again as the presumed World Series favourites, you couldn't of dreamt up worse luck. First they lost sure handed third basemen Mike Moustaskas to a season ending ailment, then it was who most pendants labeled the best closer in baseball in Wade Davis hit the D.L compounded by Alex Gordon going from an perennial all star calibre Left Fielder to a player who with a statistical line so abysmal is starting to look like a poor man's Preston Wilson and for those unfamiliar with Wilson this is not a favorable comparison. By saying all of this, the Royals got off to a miserable start and the more I think of it, perhaps more of the credit goes out to  Dayton Moore as his decision not to sell off assets when most General Managers would've assessed the situation and started at the bargaining table speaks volumes to the trust he had in his baseball operations. I don't have the exact numbers in front of me but at the July 31 trade deadline, the Royals were nowhere near competing for a postseason berth but that aforementioned decision by Moore was the kick in the pants they needed, that and the praying mantis to alter the direction of his talented bunch.,One of the main reasons I'm choosing to commend both Yost and Moore is due to the flexibility they've provided some of their top prospects like Raul Mondesi and Cheslor Cuthbert to learn from their mistakes and continue to receive regular playing time.What this has done is create a scary proposition for the rest of the American League as what it's done is you have your core in its prime of Hosmer, Moustaskas and Cain with a new emerging core of the aforementioned Cuthbert and Mondesi along with Paulo Orlando. Full disclosure that it's possible they won't be able to reach a long term agreement with Eric when his contract expires but the blow will be lessened by the re-assurance that they have with these younger commodities being Major League ready. Kudos to all involved and the Royals would be the last team I'd want to see in a one and done wildcard game. 

 What's happened to the south side of Chicago?  This once proud franchise is a shell of it's former self and nobody is to blame more the White Sox executive Vice president Kenny Williams. I harken back to preseason 2015 when I looked at the White Sox roster and declared them as my 2015 American League favourite. I suppose I could take some solace in correctly identifying the winning division but not much else as it's crystal clear my boyhood love affair with the Chisox clouded my vision and I couldn't look past the gaping holes this squad has and had. My infatuation with the White Sox began with them playing in the first game I attended live when they visited the old Metrodome in 1999.  Frank "Big Hurt" Thomas and Magglio Ordonez were prevalent for the White Sox back then  and throughout that tenure they were built around power. I know the following statement will frustrate some and prove to be gravely inaccurate but the White Sox were digging the long ball before that style of baseball was cool. Late nineties nostalgia aside, the current yield of Chisox had legitimate promise........that is until Kenny Williams thought it was a good idea to go against conventional wisdom and make short sighted acquisitions. The two that come to mind are Todd Frazier and James Shields.  Let's first discuss the reasoning behind James Shields. For an organization that envisioned contending this season, I can certainly buy into the justification of making a move for a starter, because for the at the time 29-26 unit, the rotationw as fairly thin behind Chris Sale and Carlos Rodon. It's so much about my displeasure towards why they got, it's moreso who they acquired that I refuse to accept the logic. Let's eulogize the career path of James Shields for a second. Not a popular opinion I'm sure but I think his contributions were overstated while a member of the Tampa Bay Rays as their was always someone who was ahead of him on the depth chart whether it was David Price or Scott Kazmir, the baseball world has yet to see him singlehandedly carry a pitching staff and that was part of the reason why, although his outings weren't unconducive to the Royals World Series short fall while Shields was Kansas City property, the "ace" they thought they were receiving was anything but. Full credit goes out to James Shields and he used the World Series appearance to mangle his way to a long term contract with the San Diego Padres, the Pads quickly realized, perhaps not soon enough that Shields wasn't going to be enough to turn around  a Padres franchise that hasn't been competent since 1997. The question I have for Kenny Williams is on what earth, basing this opinion off off James' recent workload was Shields a good fit for his club in desperate need of a top flight starter after getting knocked around so consistently in San Diego. Sometimes the old adage in sports is by making no move you're actually making the best move, case in point the resolution Dayton Moore came to that I already touched on.  The reason for feeling so strongly about withholding from making this transaction is due to the fact after closely examining the White Sox prospect pool, I've come to the determination that the best course of action would've been to let one of their top horses in the stable, Matt Purke stay up with the big club and start every fifth day. What angers even more and is one of the sole reasons for my disdain with Kenny is that any knowledgeable baseball official would've taken a quick second to look at the forecast of the American League central consisting of the defending champion Royals and the surging upstart Cleveland Indians and known that 2016 was not the year to make such an aggressive move. By holding on to the chips that it cost to make the trade which admittedly was not much  but nonetheless holding on too all pieces that would've aided a 2017 run was a much more beneficial strategy. It's rolling out Shields every fifth day that is going to set back the development of Purke and many more hurlers. Now with Todd Frazier, when you pull up his statistics it's easy to ascertain that he possesses desirable power numbers but his strikeout rate is alarming especially when you consider a few other members of Chicago's core have the propensity to strike out more than not, stalwarts such as Jose Abreu and Melky Cabrera have long carried the swing for the fences mentality. This kind of strategical linueup management can work in rare situations, ala the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays but their are more examples who try to load up on power and fall flat on their face, ala Shields former Padres and the Seattle Mariners. Another unpopular opinion(I'm just full of them today) is I wish they would have been more patient with Alexei Ramirez because if Williams could smell the roses and hire a hittiing coach with even a slight affinity to improve plate approaches something you would've thought current Hitting Coach Todd Steverson would be amicable to considering he learned his craft in the Oakland A's, small ball line of thinking. Steverson isn't vocalizing the message of improving approaches well enough and that has stunted the growth of a plethora of offensive talent, including Alexei who the staff couldn't reel in and now Todd who for all purposes has given up on hitting the ball the other way. To summarize this tangent, for Shields it's the wrong fit at the wrong time and for Todd Frazier, the decision to give up on Gordon Beckham at the expense of hauling in Frazier wasn't advisable as he's just another swing and miss bat for  a lineup that's filled with them already.

The Little League World Series is a unique yearly tradition that showcases eight international countries along with eight American states in a double knockout event with the end goal of crowing a "World Series Champion" This is an event I've tuned into for as long as I can remember because I enjoy the concept of these kids being thrust into the National spotlight and for 98% of them, experiencing their fifteen minutes of fame. Sure, there are exceptions such as Devon Travis, Jason Bay,Jurickson Profar, and Charlie Hayes among surely many others amounted to have formidable big league careers but like just mentioned, for most this is where the line ends.  Within the Little League Mission statement the word equality is referenced and judging from the last few series, the equality of competition has simply not been there. Not to create a cultural stereotype, but when pulling up stars from other sports,  a eery trend is being forged where the Internationals seem to develop quicker then others, look at women's's to no surprise that the Asian ladies find success quicker at younger ages then the average North American lady and at the avoidance of digressing, it's no longer a phenomen to witness an Asian Little League team, South Korea being the example this year where they fly into Wiliamsport, Pennylsvania and brush away the competition.  I have theory behind this. In North America, and as a multi sport athlete growing up I can speak from experience we get raised encouraged to partake in all sports, sports specialization is a rare breed here but over seas the kind of pressure to focus on one sport is foreign to us over in North America. I could continue to expand on my example, I already referenced the Asian domination on the LPGA but what about the finesse sports such as Diving and Figure Skating? You tell me, if you're a grade three student and skating for the first time with your elementary class and your teacher notices you're an advanced skater, is he or she going to tell you to try figure skating?? Absolutely not, hockey will get pushed because that's the Canadian way.In baseball, much more popular then the two sports I just mentioned but is played as a summer sport and unless you're residing in the deep south U.S.A your only participating for three-four months  a year. It's an anomaly when winter baseball clinics are offered and when they are they're generally targeting the high performance Bantam/Midget aged athletes IN the Dominican an Asia, the countries that have historically laid down the law in the LLWS are playing year long which leads me to my gripe with the current tournament structure, I was chatting with a friend about this and what I explained to him was that when you look at the 2016 World Series Canadian entry, a thirteen year old kid who absolutely lit the lamp on the mound by the name of Loreto Siniscalchi. He was a lanky righty who based on proximity could throw up 80 MPH and overpower these young kids, and the Japanese team learned this first hand. The problem however is with the format after a pitcher like Sinischalchi exhausts himself after the opening performance he must wait three days to pitch again which cripples the chances in a double knockout because the only reason he saw action again was a due to a fortunate rain delay. I didn't doubt, and I made this known to the buddy I was conversing with that any game that  Loreto sees the mound, Canada could reign victorious but the gap between him and the number two was just too great. A team like South Korea who was so forceful up until the championship final when they bowed out against New York had ten "Loreto's" and it honestly looked like a Midget AAA Travel team was playing against Canada when accounting for the size differentiation. So how could the tournament be improved, well for starters I'd love to see an alteration where Canada finds itself in the North American side and to even out the numbers include Mexico to and then add two addtional entries on the International side and make it a twenty team event.  Simply put, the novelty has worn off seeing Canada strike out fifteen times in a game against a superior bigger team. Alluding to the mission statement, it's time for Little League Inc. to sit down at the table, ask themselves how the tournament can become more competitive and starting initiating an action plan. The tournament is prestiguous, let's not lose that luster. 

Monday, August 29, 2016

2016-2017 Pre-season Western Hockey League Report(Team 3)

3.Kamloops Blazers-Aside from a small blip on the radar in 2012-2013 that saw J.C Lipon and Colin Smith carry the Blazers to the conference final, it's been wide spread mediocrity for nearly fifteen years. Don Hay who returned to the Blazers in mid 2014 after being the one that was the general during their early to mid nineties dynasty. When the Blazers were struggling with prolonged playoff appearances, the problem I was noticing that was that coaches such as Dean Clark and Guy Charron were unwilling to provide substantial ice time for some of the younger players. Two players stand out like a sore thumb in this analogy and those are Jordan Rowley and Alex Rodgers. Both Rowley and Rodgers were seen as having intriguing potential when they entered the Western Hockey League but both were never allowed to strut their stuff in Kamloops as the mandate was to squeak into the post-season and nothing else. In the case of Rodgers,it's no coincidence that the second he departed Kamloops and moved to Prince George that his personal statistics skyrocketed accumulating sixty one points. It's all about opportunity, or the lack there of in some of these younger players cases hovered around the 'Loops until Don Hay came back on board. Hay was very clear from the onset that if he was going to correct the wrongs, that he was going to do this right, no more of this acquiring veterans at the sake of barely landing in the playoffs. Patience was now going to be advocated and at no surprise over the last two seasons you've seen more rampant progression and if wasn't for a ridiculous goaltending performance from Kelowna Rocket Michael Herringer, who  knows how prosperous the 2015-2016 playoff run would've been.  The Blazers at least from this bloggers eyes enter this campaign as the clear Western Conference favourites and it really starts from between the pipes with Connor Ingram. Not to give away spoilers but injuries would be the only way where I don't declare Ingram as the goaltender of the year.

The Kamloops Blazers administration has had relative success with Europeans in the past while. Look at this crop they've currently assembled, Ondrej Vala is back for another year along with newly acquired Latvian Rudolf Balcers. and Balcers comes into this season with high expectations. For an organization that is on the brink of doing something special, it's as of no surprise that they went in the direction of an accomplished nineteen year old in this past summer's Import Draft. Rudolfs who played on Latvia's division one World Junior entry was a dominant force, easily their best player and that provides me room for optimism for where he could fit within the top six forwards.  The truth about the Blazers forward formation is that they have  a plethora of "grinders" but aren't endowed with many pure playmakers and that's where Balcers will come handy. My only viewings of Balcers were at the aforementioned Division 1 Junior championships and although the calibre of competition isn't great, the most apt way to compare is saying that it's similar to what you would see out of most WHL second lines but that's alright because the biggest takeaway from the event was that he played with no fear and would sacrifice anything to make a play. I'm skimming the projected depth chart and am curious on where he could best utilized and after careful consideration I've come to the belief that he could be the most effective on the left side with Garrett Pilon. Pilon and Matt Revel inevitably will be the top two centers for this club and because Revel favours the pass moreso then the shot I maintain that Rudolf would be better equipped dishing off the rubber to Garrett. A 1A/1B combination involving Revel/Shirley and Balcers/Pilon  would balance the attack for Don Hay. Revel's game has been filled with inconsistencies but with newly minted captain Collin Shirley riding shot gun to Matt, one of the league's most revered snipers should hide any transgressions in Revels game. With Garrett Pilon, Id find the partnership with Balcers captivating.  Unless I'm way out to lunch, the backend of this group is its identity so by saying that somebody such as Garrett holds high importance. Garrett is destined for a break-out season, not withstanding the fact that I anticipate his linemate being Rudolf but he's that one guy entering his eighteen year old season coming off a summer where the Washington Capitals showed enough confidence in his abilities by selecting him in the third round that could take the bulls by the horn and before you know it may tally a eighty point + season.  I'm not exactly sure for why he wasn't in the league at sixteen, assuming the body needed to physically mature but as a rookie in 15/16, he displayed a disposition of always being in the right areas in the defensive zone, it doesn't hurt growing up watching your NHL father Rich(granted he was three when Rich retired) and was able to pick up on tendencies on how to approach situations when their's a size mismatch and how to spin off to create an advantage something the elder Pilon did masterfully. It's amazing that for how aware he is in securing his assignments that he can quickly engage in the rush and become a formidable scoring threat. He gets down real low and trucks up the ice. Not the most talented individual but it goes to show what a little hard work can amount to as Garrett blossomed with the Saskatoon Contacts of Midget AAA and didn't miss a beat at the Major Junior Level. I alluded to the patience of Don Hay in the opening and that aforementioned patience defines the handling of Pilon. Whatever the reasons were for his extra year in Midget, chalk it up to another Don Hay doozie. I also spoke to the fact that he would be assured a top two center role, likely the second line but someone that will conceivably grind away on the fourth line is Carson Denomie. A later round gander in 2014, Denomie was able to score at will in Bantam Hockey playing in his hometown of Regina but when the transition was made to Midget AAA, the scoring wasn't as accessible for Carson but he developed a predilection for killing penalties, something as a fringe fourth liner he'll asked upon as seeing power play time on a team expected to compete for a championship isn't realistic.  A tremendous skater with a pre-conceived nose for the net. I can guarantee Denomie will be in and out of the lineup, and if an impact transaction is made I could see him getting re-assigned back to Midget. An impact transaction would be advisable as this club is genuinely one upper echelon forward away from being the conference favourite. I doubt the Victoria Royals would consider making Tyler Soy available but if so, that's the piece Kamloops is missing.

No worries, none whatsoever. Just by proximity of depth, you'll see a lot of 2-1,, 3-2 victories because this defence is about as stout as they come. Let's call a spade a spade by saying that most nights this group will put you to sleep, and that is not intended to be an insult whatsoever, it's just the observation that this back end is filled with stoic, stay at home defenceman. Normally I would advocate that the management group go searching for a natural puck mover, but just like in show business when they say its imperative you know your crowd, in building a hockey team you must understand the complexion of your team and because they have rock solid tender Connor Ingram backing up this already elite core they know sacrificing offence for a bunch of Bryan Marchment types(apologies go out to those that viewed Marchment as a point producer). Let's first embark on the player profile of Moosomin, Saskatchewan product Dawson Davidson. Other then the Blazer I will profile next who I absolutely think has NHL stardom upside,  Dawson is as close to a safe bet to flourish professionally as their is. I think a player like Dawson, and this definitely is nothing new came into the league expecting to contribute offensively but what a lot of players don't bargain for is that this league is a different animal and just because you were a mainstay at a lower level, case in point for Dawson, doesn't mean that's type of player you need to be or that your coaching staff necessarily wants you to be.  Dawson is and always has been an excellent skater and what's he learned in  his year and a half in Kamloops that taking care of your own end singularly translates into offensive opportunities as the the thirty nine points he tallied astonished me. Those that have closely followed Davidson's career when examining his numbers won't be shocked to read that 33 of the 39 points were helpers as he's an exquisite passer of the puck. I'm not here though to repeat what the majority who are privy to Western Hockey League happenings already knew, a part of his repertoire that most will not be familiar with is his penchant battle with players much bigger then he is. Luckily for the coaching staff Dawson grew marginally between 14/15 and 15.16 and now he can comfortably handle his own in front of the net. I remember watching a game last year where Kamloops was taking on the Vancouver Giants, and there was a point in the game where the Blazers were pinned in deep, Dawson was on the ice and notorious power forward Tyler Benson was going to work along the boards. After a couple twists and turns behind the net,  Dawson created an angle where he was able to cut in front of Tyler and muscle the puck off his stick. A couple of years ago, this simply wouldn't of been possible so partial credit goes out to the Blazer conditioning staff for providing him the proper training regimen. The last note I had regarding Dawson, after watching a series called the "Blazer Report" that I stumbled upon to via YouTube, it doesn't take long to notice he;s a happy go lucky guy that has a great passion for the game of hockey and I don't think I'm out on a limb when I proclaim that we could be assessing the team captain in 2017/2018. Okay Blazer fans, and I really could've started a whole new paragraph parlaying the excitement I have with this next Blazer, Nolan Kneen.  He's a polarizing figure out on the ice and to those who cover the daily beat as he provides virtually no scoring prowess but once again need I remind you that his skill set meshes admirably because they're not looking for somebody who can tear apart a stat sheet.  The gosh darn analytical statisticians will have a field day with Nolan because he doesn''t shoot the puck, in fact I'm unsure if he's shot a puck since Peewee hockey. Okay so maybe that was a slight exaggeration but the intensity he brings with him to the rink is unprecedented. He reminds me of, and now I'm just name dropping at no end, of a young Colton Teubert which yes when we recollect how Teubert's career played out this is not exactly the most flattering comparison but the reason why I bring up Colton's name because he took no prisoners and dished out big hit after big hit, a trademark of young Nolan's game. As I've mentioned far too many times already, just keeping the puck out of his own net will be the mandate and if you. Adjustments for rookies, now a second year player can be daunting but from the people that I talk to, the game of his never changes, From the get go, their was no fear, from opening night of his rookie season he interjected a level of physical intimidation that frankly you just don't see out of sixteen year olds.  If I was a player, and my humour is in full display here, I wouldn't be too keen getting close to Kneen!  For an overall summarization, when Don Hay has a defence at his disposal that includes Davidson, Kneen  Ondrej Vala and Joe Gatenby the only difficult job he'll face is allocating enough ice time to keep all of these youngsters satisfied.  Buckle up Kamloops you could be in for an extended playoff run,

The superlatives that precede goaltender Connor Ingram are endless. I plan to dish out award predictions at the end this preview which is beginning to wind down and unless hell freezes over, Ingram will be named the leagues top goaltender and getting chosen as the Canadian Hockey League's top goalie wouldn't surprise most. When people bring up the name Carter Hart out of Everett, I hear "only reason he puts up the number he does is because of the trap Coach Constantine configures) well to that I call B.S and for the minority that wants to criticize Connor with similar justification, they may as well stop reading this now. Defensive systems aside, it's the flexibility that allows him to stand out. Great blocker, steadily improving glove hand thanks in large part to the tutelage of Goalie coach Dan De Palma.  Best Loops goalie since........Devan Dubnyk, or to take it a step further and Blazer historians may cringe, best goaltender in franchise history, even ahead of the great Rod Branch? That' kind of praise shows how highly I think of Ingram.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

2016-2017 Pre-Season Western Hockey League Report(Team 4)

4.Prince Albert Raiders-It's been about twelve years since the Prince Albert Raiders entered a campaign with a realistic shot at contention but with this veteran group in tact from last year, General Manager Curtis Hunt should be applauded for turning around a franchise that was marred in obscurity to where they find themselves now. The 2015/2016 campaign was quintessential for the skeptics to get past this mindset that top flight players want no business with the city of Prince Albert. The truth is, top flight players aspire to win, and if the Raiders field a winner which projects to be this season, highly recruited players will have no issue signing between the dotted lines. A defensive player of the year candidate in Brendan Guhle will spearhead the back end whilst Humboldt, Saskatchewan product Reid Gardiner will be the cusp of a fifty goal season barring injuries. There's a lot to like and it'll make my job easier profiling some of these individuals as it's all glowing remarks from here.

Not the fleetest on foot group as a whole, but the size and commitment to driving the net will differentiate this forward group. I noted in my Calgary Hitmen preview that I despised the trade that handed the Hitmen Matteo Gennaro but as much as I'm a proponent of his talent, the depth that Hunt and Habscheid orchestrated may have left Matteo as the third line center. Something I should've specified in the opening, as you'll be able to see the Hitmen were ranked fifth, but I definitely foresee a significant gap between Calgary and the Prince Albert Raiders/Regina Pats who are included in my top four.It is unfortunate that Prince Albert resides in the East division as I firmly prescribe to theory that the Pats should meet the Raiders in the Conference final but with the divisional alignment sadly won't come to fruition. Up front, Curtis Hunt will have a decision to make with his twenty year olds, The way I see it playing out, Reid Gardiner, Tim  Vanstone, and Austin Glover should all have a spot on this squad but by virtue of this, defenceman Dalton Yorke's(now been traded to Tri-City) inclusion could be in jeopardy. I think it comes down to between Vanstone and Yorke but from a personal basis when I look at some of the pieces retained on defence Vanstone holds more importance then Dalton.  Also, I can't imagine the Raiders would take the P.R hit by releasing their newly minted captain in Vanstone..   An early storyline in camp will be who secures the number one center assignment.  With Gardiner and Stransky  having tied down the top winger positions, I have a couple different theories as to who could emerge as the top man in the middle.One option that I'm sure Habscheid will look at closely is transitioning Stransky into a centreman. I'd prefer they attempt this will Simon over Reid due to Gardiner's board play is leaps ahead of Stransky and that Simon is unquestionably the better skater and could breeze his way back to the defensive zone assisting his imperative defensive responsibilities in the slot. By playing Simon at center,  this may open up the scenario presuming he shows competence at camp that 2015 first rounder Cole Fonstad could immediately see an expanded role,  Gone is the era where a sixteen year has to pay his dues by grinding on the fourth line and if his performance dictates see occasional power play time. From Jordan Weal to Skyler McKenzie, the elite sixteen year olds can step in and play quintessential roles on their respective squads. Fonstad is no different. The other theory I have for the # 1C is Austin Glover. Even though Glover has been primarly been used as a winger while a Raider, his previous stop in Kelowna saw him dapple into the faceoff circle and with that experience he may be looked upon to fill the void. If faced with the two options, I would roll with the Stransky at centre ice and allow the sniper Gardiner to feed off Stranky's wheels. A forward I want to discuss this evening is Josh Maser. On the surface it would appear as if that Josh is the prototypical type of forward Habscheid would like to have entrenched in the lineup but the situation is complicated by the fact his twin brother Tyler has similar aspirations and with Josh being the more skilled commodity, I'm beginning to doubt if their's room for two Masers in 2016/2017. Josh is emphatically more skilled then Tyler and the problem becomes if Josh is assured a spot but Tyler's not,  does Josh elect to head back to British Columbia to continue suiting up with his brother. It's quite the dillema for the Raiders administration. With Josh's speed and goal scoring acumen, he would be a welcomed asset within the top nine but where could Tyler hypothetically slot in? Sometimes in junior hockey, you have to bend backwards to make particular parties happy and I'm sure the Maser family would be appreciative if an agreement could be made to assure Tyler of sporadic fourth line duties. This is the likeliest scenario. Aside from his speed, as I'm not going to focus too much on Tyler, where else can Josh be an immediate strength for this club? For starters, there are some players, and keep in mind that he's a 99 born that are blessed with electric speed but aren't strong on their skates. This can't be applied to Josh as he has a strong lower core that makes it difficult for the puck to be knocked off his stick. The one area where he could use improvement is his commitment to defence. Growing up in Houston, British Columbia I'm sure he dominated the local minor hockey scene in the rural community and by doing so very little attention needed to be brought to his backchecking assignments. This happens all too often where  a young lad who scores at ease gets promoted to Major Junior and because he was never forced to focus on the shut down facet becomes lost when it comes to the art of defensive positioning. Let's hope that's not the case for young Josh and with no non-sense coach Habscheid in the fold, he won't accept this lack of all around commitment. Based off this ranking, the obvious assetion that one will make is that I'm extremely high pertaining to the prospects of this team but a hole that will need filling in order to stymie some of the Eastern divisions elite scorers is the shut down role of Craig Leverton. Leverton who's now aged out was ever reliable and a trusted presence for Marc and regimes before him.  Someone who will receive a hard  look will be none other than Levi Glasman. Those closer to the Raider training camp surroundings will explain to you that Levi still has some ground to make the starting lineup but it's his style of play that could comfortably replace the efforts of Leverton.  Early indications are that he work ethic is second to none....sounds a little bit like Craig's attributes doesn't it? If Levi does battle his way onto the team he'll likely resort to holding down the fourth line center job, a duty that Leverton held down while a member of the Lethbridge Hurricanes. I'm not totally sure what kind of offensive upside he possesses but if he can show early on while some of the other more prominent Raiders are gone away to NHL camps that he can be an effective Penalty killer and present a suitable level of discipline, this is how he sticks the entire year. I know Leverton spent the majority of the 2015-2016 campaign with the Melfort Mustangs of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League so he wasn't a primary reason for Prince Albert's sudden turnaround but was paramount in transitioning the culture that for a long time had been one of player isolation and hopelessness. Obviously I can't speak to the personality of the player but the work ethic drives the comparison and I expect a lot of Raider fans by the end of the year will consider Levi Glasman one of the unsung heroes.

I was going to begin the defensive profile gushing over my thoughts towards now Tri-City American defenceman Dalton Yorke and I guess that's what you get for finishing your forward synopsis and then waiting a couple days to start penning the defenceman musings. The twenty year old situation has sorted itself out and now it's time to pick apart a group that just due to perception won't receive the credit it deserves. The essence of this group is a puck moving propensity and constantly will jump into the rush, virtually one through six.  I've gotten fairly far in this preview, only three teams to go after P. A is finished and it's struck me that there aren't many backends, if any at all that are more mobile than what Prince Albert has compiled. At least from my vantage point. Prince Albert's defensive foundations of yester-year were incredibly slow, undisciplined,  susceptible to the costly turnover, three descriptors that cannot be applied to this year's nucleus. It'll sink or swim under the hegemony of Brendan Guhle. I've prefaced a few defenceman by saying they're a candidate for defenceman of the year, and leaving Brendan off the candidacy list would be doing him an injustice.  By rule of thumb, Hockey Canada tends to favor the NHL first round picks or highly recruited players, and this is nothing new I'm spewing out but has sealed the deal on Brendan having any chance to crack the upcoming World Junior team, and simply  put this angers me. I value the chance of Brendan being invited to the selection camp at about 60% which is an atrocity as the game of Guhle would lend itself well to the International game. When you're in attendance for a game of his, you come away with the impression that he's not being challenged, whether it be due to his powerful skating, relative ease making a pass and bouncing into the rush or bailing out his partner in debilitating odd man rushes, it just looks so easy! Where Guhle can be faulted, and this is grasping at straws here is he takes his superior skating for granted and I find gets caught pinching and under appreciates the speed of the opposition heading back and leaves his partner in an unenviable situation. He's talented, and if simplification can be instilled in his repertoire, he'll be better for it. Not about to imply that Guhle and Philadelphia Flyer property Ivan Provorov are carbon copies of one another but I honestly think because Brendan has had the privelege of skating alongside Ivan in the Eastern Division numerous times that he's picked up some idiosyncrasies from him that that he simply doesn't have the skill set for, particularly when leading a breakout I find, not always, but two to three times a game he'll attempt to individually weave around the opposition when if he adhered to the aforementioned simplification, it would amount to a more consistent attack because it's not as if he's got pylons around him. Reverting back to my original premise, I'd love to see Brendan buy into this team attack because possibly unbeknownst to him, the potent sharpshooters around him in Northern Saskatchewan are endless.Motivation will be no issue as  aside from being the one that could right the ship, a strong first half could merit a phone call from Hockey Canada in December. As much as I'm right in my criticism in the acquisition that sent Gennaro to Southern Alberta, ironically another trade featuring the Hitmen and Raiders allowed P.A to fleece their trading counterparts. Acquiring Brennan Riddle from Calgary for a multitude of mid round draft picks was highway robbery. His statistics don't come anywhere near eloquently telling the story regarding Brennan as my take away from Raider games from last season were " Wow, Guhle is solid and what a smart hockey player Riddle is". I'd be curious to know if my observations with Brennan are shared by a lot of Raider supporters as from what I see, he's never out of position and is particularly effective at clearing the dangerous areas in front of the net.  He's not flashy, not overly exciting to watch but trust me when I say it's important to enlist in a few players that are content with making the safe play and aren't concerned with seeing their name in the paper the following day. By no way shape or form is he considered  a small defenceman being listed at 6'2 but he plays bigger then that. When I was reminiscing on what I vividly remembered about his game, I was trying to harken a fair comparison for who he played like, and within a WHL realm the best answer may very well be former Prince George Cougar Ty Wishart. Wishart played a mean game as does Brendan but the area I'd like to see refinement in that would better match the outlook of Wishart would be to shoot more. Doesn't carry a terrible shot in the arsenal and what Wishart did masterfully over the course of his Western Hockey League career was know when to let one loose while never losing sight of responsibilities when the play headed the other way. They think the  game the same way but being how we're not endeavouring in Brennan's nineteen year old season, taking chances in the O-zone  will be asked from the staff as that passive approach that hung over his head last year won't be tolerated for a player of his age. Perhaps the best way to put is we need to see a greater level of versatility and because he'll be slotted within the top four, he's going to quickly experience more high octane moments where as last year he may have been sheltered in those very same occasions. You tell me fans of the dub, does a top four of Guhle-Budik-Riddle and Cody Thompson not sound pretty good or what? I'm excited about the prospects for this team as with skating savvy defence along with the size up front, this is the best Raider team to roll through Prince Albert in some time.

Now for the hard part. At what point do you sacrifice the "now" to look after the "future?  The now I'm referring to is of course Rylan Parenteau with the future obviously being 2014 first round selection Ian Scott. Parenteau, and I don't think I'm going out on a limb when I say he's a top five goaltender in the league is well within his right to expect to start 55 + games but when you have unarguably the best seventeen goaltender in the league, the predicament becomes how do you work Ian in enough games to keep him satisfied? A lot of questions and not many answers especially when mentioning that  Scott is headed into his NHL draft year and will want to play  a lot to showcase his talents. I'm torn because I'm sold that the Raiders are a perennial contender and Rylan gives them their best chance to succeed but am also aware that Scott's talent are unmatched for his age as he stood out in his Hockey Canada invites this spring/summer. The solution......well you allow the veteran Parenteau who's beginning his final season of junior eligibility to take the bulk of the starts early on while sprinkling Ian in here and there and IF by the trade deadline you've seen enough to be assured that Ian can handle the full time load you then look for a trade/re-assignment for the Saskatoon product. There aren't a lot of questions from this bloggers perspective towards defined roles in the forward and defence departments but there will be  a lot of sleepless nights when deciding what to do with this goaltending conundrum.  Also, please don't construe the dillema they currently find themselves in with me proposing they look at shipping it out Scott as that would be franchise roadkill. It's either let Ian ride the pine for another season with the intention of starting him for 17/18 or getting rid of Rylan now and allow the ninth overall pick to fight through growing pains this season. As much as I wold understand the decision, it would pain me slightly if this was the road the Raiders took as I don't believe Scott, no matter how special he is, is the right option for a team that if they receive a few timely breaks could stumble upon a league final appearance.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

2016-2017 Pre-Season Western Hockey League Report(Teams 5 and 6)

6.Spokane Chiefs-Kailer Yamamoto is the only Chief that could be classified as resembling any sort of star power but the theme of this 2016/2017 group is team depth and grittiness in all capacities. I will admit I was one of those last year that had a vast amount of concerns with the scoring depth heading into last season and I saw enough out of their younger crop that eased my question marks heading into this campaign. Jaret Anderson-Dolan was a revelation, an individual that can slot in as the number one center with no qualms from the coaching staff. I recollect following the Bantam Draft live in 2014 and when the fourteenth selection had arrived based on team depth and already having Kailer Yamamoto, I would've favoured the Chiefs selecting defenceman Jantzen Leslie. Knowing what we  know now,  with Ty Smith being picked as the first overall selection the following year the need for a defenceman subsided not withstanding the fact that Anderson-Dolan is unquestionably the more polished player. The question some are posing is a core revolving around Yamamoto, Anderson-Dolan and Smith be the building blocks required to contend as early as this season. Judging from my ranking, you can safely make the ascertation that I believe they can and will.

The devastating loss of European Dominic Zwerger will be difficult to overcome. I should've clarified in the opening as much as I do maintain Anderson-Dolan has been a revelation for this group, he's struggled with inconsistencies but Zwerger on the other hand was the model of consistency. It's,rare that a European sticks around for three seasons as was the case with Dominic so the question now turns to who'll consistently provide the secondary offence needed for Kailer? I'm not suggesting that my first profiled player will instantaneously fill the shoes but as a sixteen year old who in all actuality will be overshadowed by the prodigy of Ty Smith, but if I was a hardcore Chief supporter I'd be optimistic towards  Colum McGauley. McGauley without stumbling upon any tangible proof I'm presuming is the brother of former Brandon Wheat King star Tim has me insinuating that he could be, in a couple of years or so, equal to the elder McGauley's production. Residing in Southern Saskatchewan allows  my take on Tim to be pretty substantial where I find Tim was reluctant to pushing the pace, on many two on two, three on three rushes he'd use his speed backing up the defenceman but would then slow it down losing all momentum his linemates had skating with him. Colum on the other hand isn't as passive and is more compliant to accelerating in the offensive zone and not resorting to older brother Tim's decelerating approach. You could see as many as three sixteen year old forwards crack the lineup with the aforementioned McGauley, Camrose product Damon Zimmer and Koby Morriseau. Personally, although patiently developing a first round bantam pick never happens any more, I feel as if Morriseau out of the trifecta is the furthest away from chipping in significant numbers. Colum would be likely explain that he had a disappointing campaign with Notre Dame of the Midget AAA league last year, but it's the McGauley reputation that ingratiate himself to the Don Nachbaur coaching staff. Only eighteen points in Midget, call me crazy or not but with Spokane'e spare amount of gifted scorers, I don't see why Colum can't immediately contribute in the top six. I'd like to analyze the structure these Chiefs forwards will be asked of, Under Bill Peters that translated into immense results catapulted by the Dustin Tokarski led 2008 Memorial Cup Championship, Spokane exhibited a wheeling and dealing brand when the proper nucleus on board was difficult to stop. Hardy Sauter had the daunting task of replicating results of the legendary Peters and failed because what Hardy knew to work was better suited to maximize results in the mid nineties, unfortunately his style has fallen out of favour. I have to surmise that because he looked down his bench each night and saw Jared Cowen on it, he figured that employing the trap thus allowing the defensive depth they possessed to go to work and mitigate scoring chances was a winning strategy. Sauter's trap imposed outlook was not a welcome fit for the fan base, led to no playoff tribulations and received a pink slip because of it. Don Nachbaur has since come in and credit to him that under his tutelage the Chiefs have never engaged in a losing season. Positive accolades not withstanding, something about his philosophy rubs me the wrong way, and in some cases players the wrong way, notably Reid Gow. He's a veteran coach that demand a lot but, and bear in mind just an opinion galvanizes individualism to a fault. I didn't follow the Western Hockey League close enough in the early 2000's to know whether he instituted a similar ideology in Kennewick, but resting all your laurels on the likes of Mitch Holmberg and Tyler Johnson, allowing them to run free while ignoring the systems put in place hinders overall team performance. I'm certainly not the only one that feels that Anderson-Dolan showed flashes of brilliance but was riddled with inconsistency and I begin to opine if the reason for that is due to no positional discipline. I love this roster, envy the results they could post this year but do fear if Nachbaur is the right candidate to work with the players trying to make a name for themselves. I hate to ask, but I will, has the league passed Don by?  Coaching questions aside, continuing with player analysis, let's introduce to you newly drafted European Ondrej Najman. I echoed that replacing the import production of Zwerger could prove to be herculean but I truly feel Ondrej is up to the task. First things first, I've been informed that Ondrej has committed to Spokane but with the lack of website updates league wide, I've been unable to confirm this. If he declined the invitation, this is all for not. Secondly before I keep on, I'd like to remind the readers that seldomly will I analyze a European because I have no knowledge of the player but pertaining to Ondrej I'm comfortable with my information to proceed.  At the past  under eighteen tournament, Ondrej was arguably Team Czech Republic's best player.  Literally the first shift I witnessed Najman play in, I got instant flashbacks to Jere Lehtinen. Lehtinen wasn't the quickest player on the ice, nor is Ondrej however the shots they have in their arsenal convey fear to opposing goaltenders. It's just not the shot that drew the likeness, it's the soft as butter hands near the net that is most uncanny. Chiefs fans, I guarantee that if he reports and I'm told that he will, you will have never seen a player who can be in front of the goaltender causing havoc and on the most innocent rebound make  a play out of nothing. The hand eye coordination is exceptional.  Needless to say the home that Pat Falloon built(that may be a stretch) landed on a coup presuming his presence.

To throw grammar out the window...."me really like this defence". It's mobile, tenacious, and poised beyond it's years. I spent considerable time worrying if Nachbaur's careless systems have  a negative effect on the organization, and when you have your forwards scrambling around more than Michael Vick in his prime, this creates gargantuan problems.  Prior to this year, the back check was non-existent which puts added pressure on this back end. Not that they can't handle it thought. In my viewings, it's rather the title of best defenceman can safely be awarded to Tyson Helgesen. Tyson, a fifth round Bantam select is the quintessential late bloomer. The board work that he showcases is phenomenal, with being a lankier frame listed at 6'2,190, he uses that long stick to his convenience. A negative connotation implored on Tyson's game however is his lackadaisical demeanor. I don't buy into this premise at all, some kids are just bred that way where  for some a lack of emotion equates to one's compete level. Aside from this false "accusation", his offensive chops aren't half bad either. I wish I could give myself a dollar every time I referenced the faulty setup the Chiefs are beginning to be notorious for, but it's this last man back necessity that crutches his potential on the stat sheet. Twenty six points a year ago, albeit twenty three of those were assists, the shot needs work! Sometimes particular acquisitions help players and the very same acquisition will hurt others.I for one think if Spokane were to go out and acquire somebody from a non playoff team like David Quenneville out of Medicine Hat who is more confident with the puck on his stick could teach Helgesen the all around fundamentals because I know he has it in him.. I understand he had the opportunity to pick the brain of Jason Fram the last couple of years but with Jason acting more like a rover, not the best game to model yours after. I don't know whether Jake Harrison has completely ruled out NCAA hockey in his future as he has yet to sign an educational agreement with the Chiefs, but if the new management group in Spokane sans long time stalwart Speltz can talk Jake into joining the program, you can chalk up another quality prospect waiting in line. Jake's older brother Luke was an alumnus of a defying six WHL clubs although it could be questioned with the way Luke was tossed around offer if that's a mark in the NCAA column for young Jake. Say what you want about Luke who coincidentally spent a cup of coffee in Spokane, Jake's game at sixteen exceeds what Luke could conjur up at twenty. On a couple of occasions throughout this lengthy preview I've mentioned that Junior A hockey is a different animal and for Jake to step in so seamlessly speaks to adaptability. What kind  of player is Jake you ask?  Not afraid to join the rush, a staple to get on Nachbaur's good side, he's someone that refuses to back up defensively which is commendable for being a smaller d-man. The essence of Harrison's abilities are to be right up in your face, look for the  poke check and off to the races we go. I've been fairly complimentary regarding his skill set but looking at the projected six, I do stupor at where he would fit in and whether  a straight out re-assignment could make the NCAA-WHL decision an easy one for him. Ty Smith, first overall pick, he's going nowhere. I also foresee the remaining four being Helgesen, Toporowski, Evan Fiala, and Matt Faith. Additionally, if my premonition is correct about them wanting secure a puck moving defenceman I do wonder where that leaves Jake in these muddy waters. I could see one spot up for grabs between Jake and Matt Leduc.

With Lasse Petersen shipped out to Everett, this is Tyson Verhelst's job to lose. I don't have much to say about Tyson(shocking right?)  other than to say that indisputably has a WHL starting goaltender acumen. From what I've seen of his and honestly it's been very little, he's good laterally but is suspectible to getting beat up high. The expectation is that goaltending coach Ryan Cyr will have worked with him this summer forcing him to stand more upright.  The.892 save percentage needs some work but for a team, accounting for an underrated 1999/2000 class and anchored by Kailer Yamamoto, a hot Tyson will soon be having Spokane supporters verbalizing "Dustin Tokarski who?"

*****In my never ending battle with website competence, it was oversight on my part that Jayden Sittler was acquired in an off-season trade with the Lethbridge Hurricanes. Verhelst has since "retired" from hockey. I can only store so much in the ol' memory bank, having websites with updated transactions would be a start......the acquisition doesn't change my outlook on Spokane as a whole*****

5.Calgary Hitmen-I've been griping a little bit about some of the team's websites,well the Calgary Hitmen's new design takes it to a new low.  We live in 2016, for a Major Junior franchise to have such a user unfriendly page is unacceptable. I digress but to access information is like jumping through hoops. The Calgary Hitmen are an interesting team to assess, Defensively, they own the rights of a few "names", but some of these supposed impact defenceman I'm not particularly fond of. Conversely with the forwards they don't have the same level of stardom but the list includes names like Matteo Gennaro(what an awful trade for Prince Albert) and Jordy Stallard who are a couple quality nineteen year olds in this league. Experts will attempt to convince you that the team's strength lies in the back end but I'm here to tell you it's the Calgary forwards that will stampede their way all the way to a Conference title perhaps. By process of elimination you'll notice that the only Eastern Conference teams remaining are the Regina Pats and Prince Albert Raiders but by virtue of this ridiculous divisional playoff format, dare I say the Hitmen have  a bye to the Conference final?

****UPDATE RE WEBSITE: Im now under the impression when I was compiling research the site was fighting through technical glitches. Site is user friendly, apologies***

I just signalled that I'm much more optimistic regarding the forwards and I'll try to eloquently address why. For a team that was a year away last year in Prince Albert for them to trade away a pending nineteen year old, a serviceable nineteen at that in Gennaro is troubling at every turn. Gennaro is versatile enough where he can be a top line penalty killer and for someone who's accumulated eighty nine  career points, he's no slouch  in that area. Gennaro is from Alberta, so that makes you wonder if a trade was requested but if not unforgivable from a Raider P.O.V. Matteo. A prototypical penchant out of a Calgary Hitmen hockey club is a fast, explosive team and Gennaro fits into that culture just fine.  A crash n bang player with premier skill and I honestly believe the reason his offensive statistics haven't been greater are due to the fact that he's so conscious of a defensive assignment that we lose a bit of that aggression, I'll be curious where Head Coach Mark French utilizes Gennaro in this attack.He's a centremen by trade but with the surplus of depth down the middle I wouldn't discount the strategical maneuver of transitioning him to wing allowing him time with Jordy Stallard on the top line. He can't really go wrong either way, either he shift into more of a shut down second line which his speed allows or becomes a first line left winger.  Moving him over to the left side could be a major success story especially when you consider that Karnaukhov can catapult his husky frame on the off wing as it seems from my viewings that even when placed on the LW, he constantly weaves to the right side bringing his preference into question. I was reading on a message board today actually that there's some contractual faux pas with a club team in Russia that could prevent him from coming back to North American but I expect being as how Pavel has NHL aspirations, a Flame prospect at all that he'll find his way back to the Saddledome. I want to ensure I give Matteo his full due and the one facet where the Winnipeg Jets, who selected Gennaro would like to see improvement would be to bulk up. He gets knocked off the puck a lot in junior and if the body doesn't mature this will become a fall back for his progression.  I could now go in the direction of either Stallard or Jakob Stukel, however a trademark of this blog is to focus attention on less heralded commodities so why don't we profile Mark Kastelic. From what I was hearing last year some apparant dissension existed amongst the Hitmen fans for the amount of playing time Mark was receiving. He'd see the lineup, albeit in a meager fourth line role ahead of more deserving individuals but I can totally side with the reasoning the coaching staff laid out for why he was seeing the ice frequently. For starters, even though the Hitmen fought their way to a conference semi-final, no write off, Mark was the highest selection they had in the 1999 born draft so it was imperative Mark get thrown in the fire as he's a catalyst going forward. These same cynics of Mark point at the atrocious skating as reasons for why he didn't warrant the playing time they receive. I won't dispute the skating deficiency however for the doubters, look at the projected lineup for a second. Hockey is a game that is evolving into a pure speed game, understood but with the Hitmen who will be no different, its always advantageous to have a balanced attack and Mark will once again add some needed size. In the Central Division, they'll be pitted against the Colton Bobyk's and Jesse Zaharichuk's of the world a tall order and having Mark's bullish frame to send out will benefit the aforementioned Gennaro's as no liberties will be taken, fewer anyway. And for the record, when I insinuate the Hitmen have smaller forward group, I'm not referencing height, just a lot of  players who have yet to fill out. He's more of a methodical player that will need to work on adapting to the speed of Major Junior Hockey. It's not a coincidence that last campaign was permeated with struggles as what I often times notice is a player that plays minor hockey in  a "foreign land" which for Phoenix includes hockey and even though you'll dominate in your region it doesn't always translate into true to type performance at this level. This primarily is why so many Americans either immediately flourish or flop. If you have it you have it and statistics will be proof in the pudding or you'll be so overwhelmed that a team won't retain your services the entire season.  I could cite countless examples, for example reminiscing back to my Tri-City preview we have Justin Togiai and closer to home with Nikolai Knyzhov who technically was born in Russia but relocated to Phoenix and played relatively well only to fall flat on his face in Regina. This is a make or break season for Mark, I think he'll turn it around but if he doesn't frankly he won't last the year. Not for a team that aspires to be in the thick of the playoff race like Calgary.

When I penned my annual NHL draft grades entry, I was very critical of the Carolina Hurricanes decision to draft Jake Bean as high as they did. Listen, the jist on Bean is he's entering his third season and as was the case last year, he'll get by on pure moxie. He's talented, some what of a risk taker at the blue line but that truthfully what has set him apart thus far in his junior career. He plays with the behaviorism that he has nothing to lose, and can you really blame him for this attitude? He was completely passed over in his Bantam year, was a walk on to his hometown Hitmen and persevered all the way to a National Hockey League first rounder.  I keep asking myself, because I cannot overstate my tentativeness I have with Jake's upside, what is is that serves as my prelude pertaining to my disdain for his game?  Well, I sort of just touched on this but it's the river boat gambler mentality that I know won't carry over to the next level. When I "scout" some of these drafted prospects, I take that into consideration. Sure what he does works fine and dandy now but no way does pulling the coined P.K Subban"subby-doo" will jive. He does the spins under close proximity now but he tries that in the NHL, he'll be sent to Charlotte of the AHL quicker then the National Basketball Association pulled their own all star game from said location. He's the John Daly of the WHL, someone who displays things that others simply can't do but goes to the well so regularly that by the end of the round you look at the scorecard only to read 83 and start to ask yourself what happened. Bean is definitely capable of tallying  a 90 point season, especially with the nucleus around him but he would be better advised to shore up the intricacies of this game because if the desire to be in the NHL by 20 is there, he can't be so one dimensional. Last season he had Travis Sanheim to follow, this go around he's the unquestioned leader with players Ty Prefontaine and Layne Toder looking for guidance. Will the absence of Sanheim effect numbers? Normally I would say absolutely but with the aggression he plays with the name on the back of the sweater of his defensive partner holds little relevance as he's not a player who uses his partner to push the envelope. Speaking of prospects, let's deliberate the merit of the aforementioned Toder as he stands a good chance of cracking the squad this year. A fifth rounder in 2015, he had a marvelous year with the Yellowhead Chiefs in the Manitoba Midget AAA league. For starters, what's with Calgary's infatuation with hauling in kids from Elkhorn, Manitoba. Travis Sanheim also from Elkhorn is set to depart onto greener pastures but in comes another Elkhorn product Toder. You know how when you drive into a town the big sign will read" Town of ...... home of......,well soon when you drive into the rural Manitoba community, it'll read "Welcome to Elkhorn, home of Calgary Hitmen prospects". In all seriousness the fact that Toder had such a great year in Midget AAA raised eyebrows with Calgary's management staff as with the depth they have on the blue line I don't think they envisioned saving room for a sixteen year old fifth round. A remotely good training camp and he's on this team. I mentioned the name of Ty Prefontaine, well him and maybe Jakob Lapointe may want to look over their shoulders as his presence could cost a spot on the team. Toder is small in stature but plays a monstrous game. His offense will bloom over time and with Jake Bean in the fold I guarantee Mark French will be looking for reliable defenders as opposed to the former. He'll ease his way onto the third pairing and if I'm correct in prognosticating a valiant year for Cow town, he'll acquire invaluable experience moving forward.  The franchise defenceman in the couple years as twenty one other General Managers are kicking themselves for not taking  a gander on him earlier.

One of the more enchanting battles this fall will involve the young lads fighting for playing time in the Calgary net. Cody Porter is entrenched for the time being but don't sleep on the brother of Minnesota Wild defenceman and former Red Deer Rebel Matt Dumba's brother, Kyle.  Last season they had a collection of five goaltenders suit up at different times but this campaign is a little clearer to read. I suggest Dumba is in line to be in Calgary for the simple reason that not alot of Major Junior franchises care to employ two nineteen year old goaltenders. Right now Nik Amundrud was brought in half way through last year, also nineteen, is nowhere near the goalie Porter so I couldn't fathom Amundrud being kept around to back up. I hinted at my thoughts that Dumba could soon overtake Cody but that will only happen if he gets off to a sluggish start. He was a sole proprietor at times last year  and handed the Hitmen the utmost confidence. I only raise the thought of Dumba getting significant playing time is because historically the Hitmen are the Philadelphia Flyers of the dub with the backstoppers. Can never find one they like. The Flyers finally landed on Michal Neuvirth and to clarify if Cody comes anywhere close to the numbers put up last season, all that does is justifies my ranking of number five for the Hitmen!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

2016-2017 Pre-Season Western Hockey League Report(Team 7)

7.Kelowna Rockets-Before I divulge into my thoughts pertaining to the Kelowna Rockets, let me take a second to pat myself on the back for correctly identifying Jason Smith as a plausible coaching candidate for the Kelowna Rockets. Reminiscing all the way back to the Summer of 2015, in a piece I called Kelowna's "Rocket Man" (,I created a blog post labelling five coaching commodities who could've been stellar fits for the Rockets, now granted at that time they went ahead with the ill advised decision to hire Brad Ralph, a year later they came to their senses and hired a man primed to do great things with this organization.  Jason Smith is about as hard nosed as they come, a quality that wasn't applicable to the ECHL tested Ralph but somebody who's come in at the right time in Kelowna as the superb skill is evident, the question or concern that some would have is if there's enough pugnacity on the back-end to compete with the Seattle's and Kamloops' of the world. With the impending losses of  Rourke Chartier, and Tyson Baillie, two key cogs that carried the Rockets attack the last two seasons, the narrative will be centered around Arizona Coyote property Nick Merkley who after an injury plagued season will be counted upon to produce gawdly numbers.

I find the twenty year old situation intriguing in the Okanagan. Assuming Rourke Chartier is gone to the American Hockey League, which I believe is a formality being as how he's signed by the San Jose Sharks, the three twenties will all be forwards in Riley Stadel, Justin Kirkland and Rodney Southam. Kirkland along with the aforementioned Merkley will be the catalyst of this offence so he's locked in to the top three. Stadel with his versatility has to find his way on this squad but the one where I do opine whether an upgrade would be advisable is with Southam.  Rodney who had the captaincy label bestowed upon him last year which could be his saving grace.for staying with Kelowna but don't shoot the messenger when I say I'm not so settled that Southam is Major Junior talent and that there should be an upgrade possibility on the open market. Let's talk further about Riley Stadel. Having only watched about three to four Rocket games last season, I'm puzzled asto what happened to his offensive levels. From forty three points in 2014-2015 to a whopping eight in 15/16.  Yes,I'm aware that Stadel often alternates between forward and defence and that attributes to the penal statistics but aside from that recognition, I think I've pinpointed for why Stadel's numbers stalled. Under Brad Ralph and  much will be the same with Jason Smith. he inherited more responsibility and forewent the desire to jump into the play and took more pride with protecting a overhauled defensive core, as was the case last year and helping out a young, inexperienced goaltender in Michael Herringer. The old rather be safe than sorry approach. I also find the increase in penalty minutes perplexing to Riley. Prior to this past season, Riley was a trust worthy presence under Dan Lambert but when Ralph began to call the shots, the discipline went out the window and that's partly why I believe General Manager Bruce Hamilton moved in a different direction, their was a lack of respect between player and coach. I'd be remiss if I didn't discuss the legendary work ethic Stadel carries with him to the rink each night. It's a rare occurrence that Stadel quits moving his feet, although you could argue last year the complication was that he left his feet too often attributing for the high quantity of penalties. It was a repeated observation that Riley and coach Ralph weren't a match made to succeed, but rest assured Jason Smith was made to develop players like Riley. In his NHL career Jason Smith was a rugged defenceman but let's not overlook the fact, at least from my vantage point had some puck skills, unfortunately for him had a shot that would make Charles Barkley proud(queue the Barkley-Kypreos video from last year's all star game). If he had any resemblance of a shot whatsoever we have may seen thirty to forty point seasons consistently  This attention to detail whilst encouraging enough freedom will be a welcome system for Mr.Stadel.  I preface the profiling of Stadel by saying by a wake of a miracle and Rourke is returned, Stadel conceivably could be on the move. All the chatter before the 2014-2015 season was how excited Rocket fans were with the pending debut of Dillon Dube. The scouting report that I read was insiders marvelling about his all around game but from what I've seen, I'm highly questioning this assertion. The first name that comes to mind regarding Dillon is Mike Fisher. Is Dillon set to wed an attractive up and coming country artist, you never know but it's the propensity to favor the pass even in paramount shooting areas that confirm the comparison but with the role he'll be asked to play,by Smith, somehow they have to re assure him that he's one of the leaders and Dube needs to add a selfish proponent. I find that on the power-play the unselfish reputation that he possesses is a hinderance because he seems to find the open areas with relative ease but then makes the unnecessary extra pass. The back checking component is also where Dillon could improve and more than anything that's where Jason will be an asset. Dillon and Stadel are at opposite ends of the spectrum in how the buy in to the defensive philosophy. This was accepted(at times) last year because their was an influx of scoring but with goal guarantees expected to deplete, he has to be 1000 X more consciousness of looking after his assignments in the defensive zone. He was seen as a potential first round pick in last summers NHL draft, and I tend to believe it was his one sided game that dropped him to late in the second rounds. Concerns about being too small upfront are had by more than me correct?  With who I anticipate to return, fore checking and picking apart a defence will be a difficult task. Hamilton's teams were big and fast in nature especially up front, but this group will rely on finesse and positioning. The most staunch Rocket supporters won't be used to this structure but sometimes you have to adjust to incorporate the skill set you've been handed.

All Kelowna does is  produce defenceman right? This is a long standing misnomer as sure they've sent the likes of  Luke Schenn, Shea Weber and Tyler Myers among others to the National Hockey League but in all actuality and feel free to disagree. the forwards have mostly driven the organization but not this go around. After last year was a transitioning year which saw Devante Stephens, who I'll get to in a New York minute, Cal Foote and Lucas Johansen step into leadership roles with the club and in year two of this movement much more will be expected.  The back end unequivocally is the calling card for Kelowna and is only bolstered through Smith's experience. I already was fascinated with how good Devante could one day become and with Jason on board the sky is literally the limit. I  recall I fantasized over his plight in last year's preview and would say he had a C + plus season after having the Buffalo Sabres pick him in the fifth round. There's just a little something missing in his game, it's hard to illustrate but there wasn't enough decisiveness in his repertoire. He has top end speed but the problem facing Devante, a problem facing many other juniors his age is that he hasn't figured out when and when not to jump into the play, It's not an exact science I'll admit that but I would anticipate that Smith will teach him that he can attack more frequently due to his speed. I admittedlty saw more Kelowna contests the year before last and would say their that Stephens was more engaged in all facets, and the compete level fell of a tad under Ralph. I don't know how many times I can stress that Ralph and Hamilton stated as much, the right fit at the wrong time for where they were in the program. Smith's tutelage for Devante is practically invaluable and I guarantee we'll see him reach the thirty point plateau without evaporating the punishing style Rocket fans have become accustomed to. Another decorated defenceman the Rockets have their hands on is none other than Adam Foote's son, Cal. All it took was one International Summer tournament for my opinion on the player to drastically season. After flirting with NCAA commitments, Cal joined Kelowna as a seventeen year old and left a lot to be desired. I thought he was slow on foot(forgive the pun) and didn't exude a National Hockey League prospect. What a difference  a summer makes as he went from an afterthought to someone I'm genuinely excited in watching this year. Cal was invited to Hockey Canada's summer showcase which consisted of exhibition matches against the Americans, Fins,etc etc and was extravagant to put it mildly. Thomas Chabot I would probably consider Canada's top defenceman in these brief viewings but conversely I have no problem proclaiming that Foote may of been the second best d-man there. I was taken away by his performance. This slow footed, stationery defenceman that I was privy to last season transformed into a puck moving defenceman who wasn't  a liability in his own zone. Perhaps I watched Cal's off nights  as these performances are seemingly a thing of the past and although I'll reveal my awards after the preview is completed has been shortlisted for Defenceman of the Year. From a top three perspective, the way I see things dusting off are Cal slotting in as the number one, the brute physique in Stephens as the number two and the offensive dynamo as the third on the depth chart. Pair these three with Jonathan Smart and you all of a sudden have a very formidable top four, a top four that goes unrivaled by anyone else. If they address some offensive shortcomings I foresee then I will be the first to fall on my sword and indicate I've rated these Rockets too low. The Kamloops Blazers, a team for which they just handed off Joe Gatenby, a deal made possible from the aforementioned tremendous depth will be the top challenger in the division and we could see another year of captivating Blazer-Rocket rivalry hockey.

On multiple occasions, I referenced the fact that there are select teams in the league that have staggering depth between the pipes and a handful of teams that could be in need of one, I choose to include the Kelowna Rockets in this list. After Jackson Whistle prematurely put a halt on his junior career due to an injury, the team called up Brodan Salmond from Camrose of the Alberta Junior Hockey League, but the front page story is what to do Michael Herringer. Is Herringer worth making one of Stadel or Southham expendable? If that's the mindset of the organization, I simply do not agree. I eloquently laid out the role of where I see Riley fitting in and Rodney is the heart and soul of the franchise. Let's face the facts here, Herringer was given ample playing time and frankly didn't make the most of it. Full disclosure that he shockingly transitioned into a poor man's Kelly Guard when they narrowly escaped the Victoria Royals in what unquestionably was one of the more epic series in some time, but it was the regular season splits that leave me skeptical. Ignore wins and losses as team quality will dictate that but there were waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too many games that Michael forgot to show up and would lay a stinker. For a team that I would hope has championship aspirations this lack of consistency can't be tolerated. If I was Hamilton, this is the direction I would me Salmond showed enough in limited action that ideally if needed he could start thirty games for you and there's a kid out of Moose Jaw who no one  talks about as he'll again hide behind Zach Sawchenko in Brody Wilms that would be the exqusite fan in Rocket land. I'm telling you all, this guys a stud and it would be a better use of asset management going to war with Salmond-Wilms opposed to the alternative. Herringer has a noble and loyal member of the organization but unfortunately falls victim to more pressing team needs.

#bb18 Power Rankings(Week of August 21st)

The twists have interfered with the game. It's that simple. I didn't think it was humanly possible for this many twists to continually benefit James and Natalie. From James cancelling two votes that essentially sealed Zakiyah's fate, a player that along with Paulie would've been opposed "Jatalie" in the end game then to have Michelle win the American's care package that allowed herself to win co Head of Household working closely alongside Natalie is a dream scenario for the duo. At this rate, this season has gotten more convoluted then Big Brother Canada 3, a look I would've thought CBS would have attempted to avoid. A James-Natalie final two, however improbable would be an appropriate finish to Bachelor in Paradise on CBS(O wait, this is Big Brother?).

7.James-Here's the god honest truth, and I alluded to this in my opening, James is probably going to win the game. By saying that, I don't respect any phase of his game. His affection for the girl has greatly assisted Natalie's potential and has him riding coattails. In the season of twists this riding coattail "strategy" that James has endeavoured upon is infuriating for the viewer. If he wins, or comes anywhere close to winning America's favourite player, then I question the legitimacy of the voting as everything I've read on social media has Mr.Huling getting panned for this game play. Frankly, I'd be more comfortable endorsing Corey for AFP compared to him. Back to a game play perspective, Michelle's co HOH is massive for the duo as in fairness to him, I think the idea to target Victor(although this morning I'm reading the target may have changed back to Corey) is their right game move, next Thursday's Buy Back not withstanding. A showmance keeping another showmance in the house is an apt thought process and I think at least for the time being, keeping Nicole and Corey in the house increases Jatalie's longevity. The latest feedback I've received that Corey is now in danger is fitting and speaks to the incompetency of his game.

6.Victor-In a season that featured a Calafiore, it's ironic that their is somebody playing a vintage Calalafiore game, and it wasn't Paulie.....that mantra belongs to Victor. His insistence to ride to the end with Paul is identical to the way Cody was blindly willing to run with Derrick. Paul will beat Victor in a final two scenario, something that no one can truly refute. Aside from how I feel about his game I will vocalize that his image has taken a complete 180 turn. From the goofball, so far removed from the inner happenings of the house edit he received in the first two weeks to now, a relateable character who has chanelled a Malcom Freberg competitive spirit. How can Victor maneuver his way to the top of the standings? For one, he has to survive this eviction and even though right now the house has flipped back to the Texan Corey my internal gut says Victor will be the one sent back to the second buy back competition. If my gut is correct, could you imagine how hilarious that would be if VIctor reigns victorious again and re-enters in the house? He has two strikes, but they say you're not out until the third.

5.Michelle-It's been one wild roller coaster this summer pertaining to my thoughts of Michelle. From declaring her a winner's threat three weeks ago to then siding with RHAP correspondent Alex Kidwell that his "drawing dead" remark had merit to then based on the double eviction outcome transpired echoing that she had a chance to as we currently stand. She's back to drawing dead unless another twist is announced that plays to her benefit. I'm sure she was jumping the joy over being awarded the Care Package from America but sadly she misused the power egregiously. I know there will be some reading this that the way she used was correct, but I vehemently disagree. Not to sound like I'm contradicting myself but the person she should've nominated was James and I'll explain why. By addressing the threat of James, she would've then opened up the window to exclusively work with Natalie and she would've been amicable being as how she's all about girl power this season. I can agree with the premise that being in the middle of two showmances can be advantageous to a certain point but that point has now passed. It's the time to target one of the couples and for Michelle it would have made more sense to push James out as opposed to Corey due to the relationship with Natalie being more stable compared to her bond with Nicole. Also, and I can't stress the importance of this a James ouster by Michelle would've elevated her all the way to the top as I can't get over my disdain of James. This is a comparison that I haven't penned but I've thought for a long time, James is to Big Brother as Rupert Boneham is to Survivor.

4.Natalie-Fate is largely relevant in the Big Brother house. For Natalie, from what I've heard and read, if either Bridgette or Michelle had won the veto during the Double Eviction Corey would've replaced the nomination with Natalie and the back door was in motion. That didn't happen, Natalie is alive and well and now has won her first H.O.H of her Big Brother career. Paul being a popular character aside, like I already mentioned the decision to nominate Paul and Victor was strategically sound as it kept the alternative couple in the house as bait for next week's Head of Household. In a final four consisting of James/Natalie/Paul/Michelle, a real possibility I don't for a second believe that Paul would side with Jatalie, would clearly arrange a final two deal with Big Meech. This is where being  in a Big Brother relationship can be crippling. No one in their right mind will want to discuss any final two arrangements because you're locked in with your partner.  I've been crucified for my negativity regarding Natalie but here's the unvarnished truth, I want you any of you to provide me with a feasible theory with how she wins the game? Does she beat James? No, even though her game is superior, Paulie, assuming he doesn't re enter his game has a polarizing personality that will push his will on fellow jury members to award James with the 500K. Does she triumph over Michelle? If the brief jury segment was any indication then the infatuation they have over Michelle is greater then the most? And to quickly run down the rest of the list, doesn't beat Corey because Mr.Brooks is getting a misleading edit, Nicole will have the Paulie and Corey factor in jury and Paul doesn't lose to anybody. I'm convincing myself as I type this that Michelle should be ranked four with Natalie five.

3.Corey-Remember and I've stated this a few times, my rankings don't always reflect the climate in the house, the rankings are formulated in such a way with all things being equal who has the best chances to win. Corey is likely going home this week but I'm hoping James will come to his senses and make the right decision. To best describe Corey's game, he's loyal to a fault, entered into an alliance and really has been the only one all season who has never wavered. As someone who dreams over the possibility of playing Big Brother(Canada) one day it disturbs me with the image the show has created of him. I'm not saying I'd enlist in the same game play as Corey because our personalities are vastly different but what upsets me is that not once have they showed the audience a segment where he's rolling ideas off his alliance mates. He's a quieter individual so it's more difficult to portray, I get that but that doesn't mean he's not contributing ideas to the group. If you watch the jury segment closely, when Corey is shown to have won the H.O.H in the double, Da'Vonne hints to the fact that he's finally showing his true colors as if to say that the impression of most houseguests had towards him was that he was playing an under the radar game with "playing" the operative word. Houseguests know he's not just some door knob and has substance. If the cards align right this week and he's allowed to continue using Nicole as a shield, I'm not discounting a win just yet.

2.Nicole-She's a good, borderline great week in the house. You're wondering how when Corey is imminent danger could this be a good week? For the same reason Natalie's chances improve if James leaves, a similar train of thought could be parlayed to Nicole if Corey exits. Nicole has NOT been good television this season and if you're on Team Sabrina from Big Brother Canada two, you know that we want good T.V, but from a game perspective, she's nicely positioned herself. This petty tiff with Natalie seems to be a thing of the past and her relationship with Victor is, if for no other word, "fixable". Paul made a move calling out Nicole and Corey, obviously to save his own ass and his sermon may have followers as Michelle is for the time being ready to say see you later to the duo. The thought process behind ranking Nicole at two is due to the fact that IF Corey goes, and I'm caving into the if game here Nicole can side with James and Natalie because once Nicorey is broken up, the third tight bond will again be targeted leaving Nicole as a valuable free agent. Nicole wins this game if she does the only beneficial strategical procedure and cuts Natalie and takes her fellow veteran James to the finals. A Nicole/James final two, great if CBS wants their lowest ever television audience.

1.Paul-Natalie had me worried that Paul was set to jetisson out of the house. Luckily Paul squeaked out the Veto win and is securely fastened up ready to make  a prosperous run in this game. Anyone not considering Paul the favourite(*cough, Taran Armstrong, cough*) is about as perceptive as Buffalo Bills former running back Karlos Williams who thought he made the valiant decision to come to training camp 50 pounds overweight. Not a smart move! Paul averted danger, may of left Victor hanging but Team Friendship is no worse for wear. The only guaranteed all-star out of this season but then again I said the same thing about Johnny Mac last year and look what that got me, a James return!?! There are a plethora of reasons to be enamored with Paul not the least of which is his ability to make savvy game moves but then not hold personal grudges. Case in point last week where Paulie was out the door and could've been a real jackass and aleniate the New Jersey native like most did but he took the time to reinvigorate the friendship and if Paulie's the one who wins the buy back, then a noble tip of the cap to the 2017 America's Favourite Player and Big Brother Champion.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

2016-2017 Pre-Season Western Hockey League Report(Team 8)

8.Tri-City Americans-Long gone are the days where the Brooks Macek and Johnny Lazo led Ams paved their way to a league final in 2009-2010. I found it surprising after doing research for this piece that the Americans haven't had the honour of hoisting the League Championships in their twenty seven year history. From Stu Barnes to Scott Gomez to Daymond Langkow, Tri-Cities has had a celebrated past producing players to the next level headlined by current Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price. In the last three to four seasons, the American franchise has teetered with ambiguity as the direction they were headed wasn't a path normally taken as General Manager Bob Tory ventured into an unorthodox approach,  an overture that the American franchises have the advantage of doing by stockpiling Americans knowing that they're more responsive to staying south of the border as opposed to relocating to Western Canada. Unfortunately for Tory,  Brandon Carlo was the only American who materialized in  any way shape or form(position players). To name a few, Justin Gutierrez, Brian Williams(sans 2013-2014) and Justin Togiai are players that were touted commodities that likely otherwise wouldn't of considered other markets but flamed out in Kennewick. Due to the repeated failures of Americans it's as of no surprise that they've scaled back the American implosion and on the 2016/2017 roster, I only project four Yankees. Some will suggest I'm coming off a  little unhinged for ranking Tri-City this high, but those that don't view these American markets a lot don't appreciate the fact that some of these players are vastlly underrated and if they played somewhere that received more Western Canadian media attention you wouldn't be having this level of skepticism.  How I would define the Ams would be an incredibly big, persistent forechecking team who will wear you out. Truly the issue over the past couple seasons has been the sheer inexperience. They've imposed their physical will last season but Coach Mike Williamson just couldn't find the right message to nurture the youthful excitement and stress discipline. Hockey has become such a special teams oriented entity that to accumulate six hundred and twenty eight penalty minutes cant be accepted again. I saw signs of this group ready to burst forth consistent performances, didn't quite happen but I'm confident this is the year where they shore up the lapses and meet the expectations I had for them last year.

I alluded to the "youthful excitement" that the Americans exhibited at times last season but after doing  a double take on the roster, it donned upon me that last year's team wasn't as unripe as I first believed. The implication here is that the onus is on Mike Williamson to better choose a leadership group that will buy into the importance of discipline while not straying away from the trademark run and gun style Mike has implemented. Up front, I don't want to say the offence starts with this individual because that  belongs to Jordan Topping but it's imperative the Americans get an increased contribution out of Morgan Geekie. I'm probably overrating the offense Morgan's capable of but in my limited viewings, I've noticed that one similar observation remains in tact and that's that Morgan eliminates any offensive creativity that he has in the tool box and over expends himself trying to mimic the techniques Coach Williamson has instilled, always laying the heavy hit at the expense of making a play. When a young Geekie is on the bench watching the likes of Taylor Vickerman and Michael Rasmussen run a player out of the Toyota Center, he naturally wants to replicate what he sees but what he forgets that for in the case of Vickerman, a player with noted off ice leadership I would expect to return this season, his veteran presence allows him the knowledge of when to pick and choose when to  be aggressive and when to assist a linemate in a puck battle. Rasmussen on the other hand and this may sound like a bold proclamation but has had an excellent summer in Hockey Canada opportunities and is a darkhorse for the Western Conference player of the year can fall back on extreme skill that makes up for that fine line between aggressiveness and excessive force. Can you really blame the kid though? This is an eighteen year old who just finished his first full season in the league and will do anything and everything to impress the coaching staff. What I'm hoping Morgan will get out of watching tape is that he was too out of control at times, and I don't know why I remember this but because I do I'll reference a game I was watching on WHL live featuring the host Americans versus the Kamloops Blazers, and Geekie was blazing down the right wing about to challenge Kamloops' European defenceman Vala, Vala who realized was under pressure quickly wrapped the puck around the net right on the stick of another American, and while a more offensively aware specimen  would be rushing to the net captivated by a scoring chance, Geekie elected to finish the check on Vala whilst not providing a passing lane for his winger. It's this responsive hockey that he didn't pick up on throughout the last campaign. Reeling this combativeness will be on the docket for the coaching staff this fall. Another eighteen year old highlights why I'm so optimistic pertaining to this unit. That would be Parker AuCoin. With fellow four year stalwarts in Beau McCue and Parker Bowles, the Calgary native AuCoin after two years of "rotting" on the fourth line is at a climatic point in his WHL career. Can I just say before I continue on with my profile of Parker, before I forget is that it's my estimations that the Americans may in fact have the best crop of 1998's in the league and add that to the ledger for why I have them rated so exquisitely. AuCoin is clearly frustrated by the lack of playing time? Can you blame him, not necessarily because the Americans have been retooling their core around this 1998 age group but yet Parker has been hidden behind older, less impactful players and hasn't been given the leeway to grow from mistakes. Like the old adage states, you can't do what you're not allowed and Parker has been on such tight restrictions that he's timid when he does see rare ice time. The 401 on AuCoin coming into the league from his Minor Bantam days was that he was a scoring chance, potting 63 in his draft year which preceded his fifteenth overall selection. AuCoin isn't exactly a Mike Williamson type of player but every team requires variance and AuCoin does covet higher end foot speed but he has the mitts that a lot of others in his age group aspire to have. I just spent time theorizing on how Geekie can become a more effective WHLer and that was through slowing the game down and being more cognizant of where the puck was. Conversely with AuCoin his natural instincts are sufficient for the Major Junior Level but conditioning could come into question. There are alot of American fans questioning expending the first round pick on Parker in what amounted to be a very deep draft class but I want to caution against completely turning against the player. The term late bloomer is prevalent across Canadian Hockey League circles. I reminisce back to,keeping this line of thought entrenched in the WHL, Michael Ferland and T.J Foster as players now maybe not as revered as AuCoin coming into the league but found their stride later on. I can guarantee the frustration isn't a one way street as Am management who's in desperate need of offence need at least a proficient level of production out of Parker or they will have to look at upgrading that slot. I personally would view a trade of Parker a mistake as I just referenced two late bloomers and there are many others Patience is a virtue that the American hierarchy should adopt. Essentially as evidenced from my lofty ranking, I'm not calling a league championship but if the development of some meets their criteria, a league title in 2017/2018 is within reach. Carson Focht coming in this year and a player I regret not analyzing in Sasha Mutala who in my eyes should've been the number one overall pick in this past May's Bantam Draft compounds what projects to be a very bright future.

Brandon Carlo's presence will obviously be missed but with the up tempo nature prescribed, the argument could be made that the cerebral nature of Brandon's game wasn't the ideal fit for this nucleus. Not intending to rag on Brandon's game as he'll do just admirably spending next year in Providence of the AHL but my  point stands of his game not meshing with what the Americans envision in their number one defenceman. The fact of the matter is Carlo's strengths were to slow the game down and methodically assess where the optimum place to distribute the  puck was but in actuality it was this mindset that screeched the offense to  a halt and took away any fluency.  Everyone that I talk has nothing but positive remarks for Parker Wotherspoon. The entire organization last year had tempered expectations and I truly believe if they would have found the appproriate asking price for Brandon they would've made the move by acknowledging the level of confidence they had in Parker. Wotherspoon in many respects, particularly when Carlo was away playing for team U.S.A at the World Juniors evolved into their number one defenceman and this assertion could be backed up statistically. Just like his older brother Tyler, former Portland Winterhawk his superb offensive instincts. The jury is certainly still out on whether or not he possesses the body maturity to be an every day player at the National Hockey League, already at nineteen undeniably it has not come yet. but his power play quarterbacking ability gives him a leg up on the rest of the WHL competition. I just finished referring to the question marks I have with his physical maturity and for that reason I refuse to classify him in my top five current defenceman but he could very well have the best offensive chops league wide coming from a d-man. This may be a pipe dream but with the forwards expected to blossom I wouldn't rule out the potential of Parker(what's with all these Parkers?) surpassing the eighty point  plateau. I genuinely dou if we'll ever see a closer carbon copy of  a Mike Williamson coveted defenceman. All the boxes get checked off. Next p is another 1998 born, Nanaimo native Dylan Coghlan. While Wotherspoon is very much a rover, Coghlan is more comparable to what Carlo delivered. I referenced in the opening that the Americans were built ginormously, case in point unless Seth Bafaro cracks the lineup which remains a slight chance at best, then EVERY defenceman will be 6'0 or taller. Coghlan's attributes lend itself to a simple game, he'll sit back even when the time calls to jump into the rush. It's the passive approach that in my mind is selling himself short.  He has the aptitude to be more assertive in the other teams zone as he really does have a tremendous wrist shot, maybe not the most firm shot but accurate. This is a summarization that is applicable to a lot of junior aged defenceman but if  he just let his natural instincts kick in, his efficiency would sky rocket as he's already polished defensively. His ceiling is the aforementioned Carlo and he'll have hopefully learned enough from his predeccesor and apply himself as a top two defenceman this season.

Tri-City supporters have been spoiled by the riches of past goaltenders, Eric Comrie and Carey Price notably but rest assured Ams, incumbent Evan Sarthou is no slouch. In fact, Evan's presence is largely why I'm so confident, a lot more than others heading into this season.Sure, the likes of Carter Hart and Zach Sawchenko will still the national headlines but it won't be before long that Sarthou is enshrined in that same category. Internally Evan knew he had what it took to be an above average starter in this league and I'm sure left the Toyota Centre angry some nights feeling he deserved more starts playing behind Winnipeg Jets prospect Eric Comrie. What he may not have realized at the time that I'm hoping he's appreciative of know is learning from one of the best goaltenders to grace our league was a blessing and the skill set is better for it. Goal support during last year's run was hit and miss but for a team that didn't qualify for the post-season, his statistics were admirable, As the team's expectations rise so should Sarthou's. With minimal attention from NHL teams, conceivable Evan should hang around for his twenty year old season and by that juncture competing for a conference championship will be the goal from the onset. To have rock solid option in Evan is a luxury not gone unnoticed for Bob Tory and staff.