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.

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