Tuesday, August 9, 2016

2016-2017 Pre-Season Western Hockey League Report(Teams 17 and 18)

18.Saskatoon Blades-When Bob Woods arrived in Saskatoon, the expectation was that he with his NHL coaching experience having most recently been employed by the Anaheim Ducks would incorporate some of these professional mannerisms into the Blades culture. While the win totals did progress from year one to year two in his two year tenure, the issue  I took was the insufficient prospect development with a lot of the players Saskatoon was hoping to build around. Two players stand out nailing down this point. Nolan Reid and Luke Gingras. Both entered the Western league with reasonable outlooks and yet both in my opinion have faltered in reaching the potential  many sought after. Dean Brockman, former Humboldt Bronco Head Coach in the Junior A ranks who I have a relatively high familiarity from my time following the SJHL from 06-10 is a solid hire from a technical perspective but my worry here is whether an obscure name to most of Western Canada has the ability to recruit and convince those wavering to make the trek for the further western provinces and Western U.S.A. I know for  a fact this hire will do wonders for the likes of Cameron Hausinger and Jantzen Leslie, somebody who I profiled last year as a member of the Everett Silvertip should metamorphose into trusted commodities thanks in large part to the work of Brockman.

 Residing in the Eastern division, I have the luxury of baring witness to quite a few Saskatoon Blades games and let me tell you, electric speed upfront is the common denominator for this group. It starts, not necessarily finishes with local product Cameron Hebig. I made sure I included in my lead up to Cameron as the one who doesn't necessarily finish because that's exactly what he is, a play maker that needs that blazer down the wing to be effective. Last year, he had it in Connor Gay and even though Gay will never be confused for a speedster he was the terrific compliment for the pass first happy Hebig. It's no secret that Hebig has followed a different career path then say Adam Brooks and Lethbridge Hurricane Brayden Burke there is one concrete similarity that will eventually play it's way out and that's like both Burke and Brooks being an overaged draftee consideration by the National Hockey League appears to be in the cards. It could be disputed if Woods was the right coach for Hebig although his statistics remained stellar I do know when reminiscing back to Brockman's coaching style that Cameron's skill set will play just fine with the structure I anticipate he'll implement. I harken back to the 2008-2009 Humboldt Broncos of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League a team for which Brockman oversaw and they had these twins in particular, the Schroeder twins that Dean rode to the League Championship. The attributes of the aforementioned Schroeder twins are eerely similar to Cameron and I remember the way Brockman utilized them in Humboldt was with a lot of stretch passes which opened up space and their speed took care of the rest. Cameron's speed is even greater and his penchant for the long pass will allow Cam just enough time to institute the wheels and go to work. I'm curious who'll be inserted on his wing this year, got to think Ryan Graham is the leading candidate. Another forward deserving of some recognition is someone that saw two games as an underager,eighteenth overall pick in 2015 Chase Wouters. I think Chase's upside at the WHL level is a defensive minded second line center. I would suspect Wouters will be used on the wing for his rookie season as is usally the case as it's a rarity for a rookie ton be entrusted handling faceoffs. An adjective often used to define Chase is aggressive. The aggressiveness gets him trouble but in the Midget AAA league he was able to overcome his shortcomings there but that for a lack of a better word  out of control propensity won't be accepted at the next level and it's imperative he slow down his thought processes. Wouters won't do anything flashy but it's the hard work that will quickly endear himself to fans in Saskatoon. The bigger picture question I have for Toon town is if there's enough scoring to last an entire season. Sure Hebig will tally his fair share along with Ryan Graham but what's next?? When I peruse Social Media the consensus seems to be that "the Blades will be better as we've compiled a ton of young assets". Fair but shortsighted. As evidenced by the Edmonton Oilers your whole organization can consist of young players but if it's not built like a team and a bunch of individuals then it's never going to work. Perhaps my gripe is aided by this blogger being  a sorry Edmonton Oiler fan but the point I'm attempting to imply is that what you see on paper doesn't always translate onto the ice. Players like Braylon Shmyr who was a prized acquisition from the Brandon Wheat Kings needs to realize he no longer can fall on the laurels of Peter Quenneville, Jayce Hawryluk and has to assert himself into a leadership position. He has a golden opportunity here in Saskatoon, he may  not realize this but the increased playing time he'll be receiving can shape up a reputation that NHL scouts won't ignore. Accept that you're no longer on a powerhouse, put in the work and buy in to the team concept and you'll be alright.

If I remember correctly, I pumped Nolan Reid's tires up fairly significantly in last year's preview and I hate to rag on a kid but I was left disappointed. I saw so much lurking potential but at the end of the day I noticed a disinterest in his play. When you watch Reid play, on a night where he's dialed in he does everything well. You can watch him play once and you'll discern that he's an exceptional skater, makes a first pass that would have Nik Lidstrom in awe and he he's aware enough offensively that he can be used on the power play. However like I just implied, there were too many nights where he'd vanish and show a lack of compete.  A new coaching regime may have been what the doctor ordered but unfortunately what it won't do is supplant him to the top of the depth charts as with his disastrous year in the 15/16 campaign, too many others have passed him by. I hope for his sake he figures it out because's he better then playing bottom line minutes on a likely non playoff team. One of the many players that passed over Reid on the depth charts last season was Czech Republican, 2016 second rounder by the Tampa Bay Lightning Libor Hajek. For obvious reason Hajek jolted to the top of herd and will only continue to climb up the TBL prospect chart. Blades fan will disctinly remember Finnish defenceman Jyri Niemi for that shot. I'm not willing to stack the shots of Hajek and Niemi on the same tray but they're closer then some will suggest. Hajek with that shot playing against juniors will rake because let's face it when you have a physical advantage you're always going to have a leg ahead however my concern when he reaches the professional stage is does he have enough of a well rounded game to be competent at the next level. I'm not as giddish as some when it comes to his all around game but because we're forecasting the plight of the Blades, he undeniably is a number one defenceman on the 2016/2017 Blades group but because I pride myself on assessing talent at this level, let's examine ways where Hajek can improve his skillset. Coaches at the National Hockey League level will tell you, and this is partly why there was a disconnect in Montreal with P.K Subban that you can be a talented star such as Subban but if you don't know how to corral yourself and use that coveted skill at optimum times, you then become a hinderance to the team, Hajek and with proper tutelage this is attainable has to know the time to push and the time to scale back. A coming of age process if you will.

Literally, and correct me if I'm wrong but the Blades employed a thousand goaltenders last season. Okay, so maybe I'm twisting the truth a tad but in recent memory it's staggering how many goaltenders have come in and out of the Blades system. Four goaltenders used at different times last year but Brock Hamm by the end of the year broke away from the pack.  I would assume that '14 third rounder Dorrin Luding will answer any questions Blades brass had on who would serve as Hamm's backup but honestly, based on how I see this team performing smart money would be on  Luding receiving thirty or so starts because as good as the Saskatoon product Hamm has been at times, you have to keep one eye on the future and Luding is unquestionably the goalie of the future. A veteran goalie who in all reality is a better option for this coming season losing starts to a project in Luding is frustrating for Hamm's camp but as is the nature of the junior hockey climate.

17.Medicine Hat Tigers-The Clouston name is synonymous with.......sadly chaperoning losing Western Hockey League clubs as during Shaun's brother Corey's short stints with both the Brandon Wheat Kings and Prince Albert Raiders, the consistent outcomes were that of the losing variety and Shaun hasn't fared much better in Medicine Hat. The program that Willie Desjardins oversaw that consummated in a league championship back in 2006/2007 has slowly evaporated under the leadership of Clouston. From Kris Russell to Stefan Meyer, the stars of yesteryear, star power has been missing over the last couple seasons and I anticipate another long painful year to come. Medicine Hat supporters reading this assuredly enter this season more optimistic than I am, but the honest truth is I'm second guessing that at #17 if I've ranked this squad too high.

Remember that time when Medicine Hat would enter your rink and you just prayed that by the end of the night you'd avoid any major injury scares because the reputation Tigers teams had for a long time was vicious, in your face and big. The 2016/2017 version, really the last few versions have been  as small as Muggsy Bogues(my dry sense of humor reaming through). Up front, take a look at their core validating my point. Their three top forwards headed into this season expect to be Chad Butcher, Mason Shaw and Matt Bradley. 5'10,5'8,5'11 respectively. Hockey has evolutionized to allow those who are vertically challenged the chance to prosper but the problem with these three is their soft as butter. In these league wide previews I told myself going to to focus on the positives and if at all possible stray away from the negatives but at some point I have to squarely point the onus on the people in charged of poorly constructing this team. I don't have a lot of time for Shaun Clouston the coach and after deeply surveying the roster, Shaun Clouston the General Manager deservedly  has earned criticism. Ideally, you'd play your top three forwards together but that could be construed as counter intuitive as they need somebody on the top line that can retrieve pucks. I'm going to share my thoughts on the diminutive Shaw shortly but  a player who likely won't see his name on a headline this season and is worth profiling is Tyler Preziuso. Here's how I feel about Preziuso(good luck if I was forced to pronounce that) he finds himself in an unenviable position due to his lack of height gelling in with the rest of the Tigers. He's a top six player, as early as this year perhaps but not until they better organize their depth charts. It defeats the purpose having Preziuso on the second line this year when one would imagine Clouston would want to employ somebody who to steal a Brian Burke coinage "truculence" to offset the timidness the first line will present. Preziuso isn't going to be able to provide that needed truculence this season so unfortunately I can see him being resorted to the third or fourth lines but if he plays his cards right, second line power play minutes should be a given. Only scoring three goals last year as  a sixteen year old is fine as what I learned is some players hyped or not develop at different paces and even though I'm sure if you asked Tyler he'd of expected more, this screams a motivated player for 2016/2017. A great shot, and an individual who I'm excited to catch a glimpse of heading into this campaign. So as promised, I would be doing an injustice if we didn't touch on Mason Shaw. Shaw, who enhanced his skills playing in the Lloydminster Hockey Association would've grown up playing with/against Kale Clague might very well be the better prospect between the two. I'm not convinced he's first round material, but would be stunned if he fell through the first two rounds. The Tigers inherited a gem. Simply put. The first game I watched of Shaw, and I'm not exaggerating in the slightest when I say this, vivid memories of Avs star Nathan MacKinnon come to mind. Not attempting to launch unfair expectations for Shaw but when I visualize the game of Shaw and MacKinnon, more similarities exist than the casual fan may want to believe.It's the puckhandling while displaying full speed that brings forward this apt comparison.  MacKinnon was miles ahead at the same age when comparing poise and the penchant to control the game but the comparison was applicable for the energy they skate with nothing more. I referenced that Preziuso could be a motivated player but conceivably Shaw has more on the line. I stressed that I don't have Shaw penciled in as a first rounder now but he's definitely in the conversation so he'll be on his best behaviour each night. If Shaw can hit the centennial mark this by extension would boost the statistics of Bradley and Butcher and you don't need me to understand that such a domino's effect makes the Tigers instantaneously more competitive.  One last inquiry regarding Med Hat's forward group, I eloquently(hopefully anyway) detailed what I thought Preziuso could be moving forward and if they entertained the idea of shipping twenty year old Chad Butcher to a contender, that's a best of both worlds scenario.

Unlike the Clouston's, the Quenneville name is synonymous for all the right reasons. Peter and John were staples in the Brandon community, excelling in both on and off ice endeavours. John Quenneville you might remember scored a goal for the ages at this past Spring's Memorial Ciup when he went through the legs top cheddar in what amounted to a garbage time goal against the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. Youngest brother David doesn't have the flash or goal scoring abilities like his brothers but with the constant praise hes received from Hockey Canada over the last couple seasons, the future is indeed bright for the third Quenneville. I went into the 2015-2016 season not so high on the game of David but through and thin, I was finally able to see what Hockey Canada saw long before me.What a smart hockey player! He isn't going to wow you with overzealous speed but like mentioned, the I.Q is off the charts. The one knock on his game is sometimes I feel he backs off in the corners. Could this be attributed to being a seventeen year old playing older, more physically players, perhaps but I just think that it's one thing to think the game but it becomes detrimental if you choose to not exert yourself in the "tougher" areas. Also, because he doesn't possess that brazen speed it might surprise you to know that one of his main strengths is his power play quarterbacking acumen. Not an overly feared shot but it's the tape to tape passes and knowing where to position himself to create an opening for his teammates. Ryan  Giant" Chyzowski, or at least that should be his nickname when eluding to his monstrous 6'0, 175 pound frame, and he's entering his rookie season to boot ! He's a heralded prospect being selected fifteenth overall in the 2015 Bantam Draft. I don't have a overly extensive knowledge about Ryan but everything I hear, the Tigers have a building block to start fresh and to assist the Mason Shaw led forward group. You start to wonder though, who's going to take Chyzowski under his wing this season? This is shaping up to be a very young D core and I don't doubt for  a second that Quenneville can handle them number one duties, eighteen year olds aren't generally in the business of taking on a mentoring role Every touted d-man in recent memory has had that someone to look up to, whether it was Logan Pyett watching out for Colton Teubert or in Spokane when Justin Falk took care of Jared Cowen, it's insulating  the rookie into the team culture that is vastly important and the jury is out if Medicine Hat has that individual. Not knowing the thought process of General Manager Clouston, my inkling is that with Chad Butcher and Steven Owre virtually overage locks and Mowbray all but assured, it'll be hard to justify holding onto Clayton Kirichenko although for leadership purposes it may be a requirement to retain Clayton. This just furthers my theory that unloading Butcher to a contender is a sound strategical process.

When the Medicine Hat Tiger-Regina Pat trade involving Nick Schneider first happened, I recall immediately telling my brother that the Tigs just acquired the future  World Junior goaltender. Looking back I amount my failed prophecy to continuously overvaluing Regina Pat prospects but then again with what he showed during his brief time in Regina, I can't exactly say I was grasping at straws making this bold prognostication. Schneider came to Medicine Hat at a time where they were making an conscious effort to contend for a championship but never could secure the crease because European netminder Marek Langhammer was still with the team and had the utmost confidence from teammates. Don't get me started on the ridiculousness of European goaltenders no longer being eligible in the Canadian Hockey League as that's another blog posting for another day but for whatever reason with the limited playing time, Nick lost all confidence and it carried forward to 2015-2016 when he was awarded the starter reigns. The Leduc, Alberta product struggled so mightly at times that it led management to bring a twenty one year old in on two separate occassions in Austin Lotz and Mack Shields. I can't portray the level of anger I have with these transactions as what kind of message did it send Schneider? If you wanted to bring in another goalie who was younger because you no longer believed in Nick that's one thing as he finished 21-26-1 with a .896 save percentage but to bring in two veterans for a fringe playoff team made no sense and set back Schneider's confidence even further. It should be noted though that his play picked up immensely at the tail end of the season so I pen to you that there's some promise coming into training camp.He's proved me wrong several times over the course of his career, may as well prove me wrong one more time, in this instance for all the right reasons.

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