Friday, September 2, 2016

2016-2017 Pre-Season Western Hockey League Report(Team 2)

2.Regina Pats-Let's be honest, for any millennial out there, we haven't seen the Regina Pats field a competiitve entry in our life time. Sure, those that have loyally followed the Pats through the past twenty years or so, we've seen names such as Josh Holden, Brett Lysak and Jordan Eberle sprinkled in but the permissibility of any of these stars catapaulting the club to any tangible team success just wasn't realistic as whether it was due to a lack of team depth, coaching limitations or lack of commitment from management to engage in the necessary acquisition, Pat teams of yester-year were always held back for one reason or another. I'll be the first to admit that after the 2013-2014 season had completed and the ownership change was in the process of being completed, I was skeptical when they came to the decision to release Malcolm Cameron from his coaching threshold and hired an individual who had a bundle of experience coaching professionally but was unfamiliar with the junior climate in John Paddock as the coach and General Manager. The hire has obviously turned out wonderful but after  a 2013-2014 season that saw the Pats lay claim to the Eastern Division crown, it was an interesting time to be a hockey fan in Regina as the casual was up in the arms for why we handed a pink slip to somebody that reached a near pinnacle but truth be told, the brilliance of Paddock is in his player development. He rolls four lines constantly, as opposed to Cameron's reluctance to roll anything out but his top unit, and players have thrived because of it. Austin Wagner and Adam Brooks jump out in this analogy as both were after thoughts under Cameron but now are two of the most feared players in the league. The times keep getting better in Regina.

In this strenous journey otherwise known as the WHL off-season, from the people I've spoken to and I certainly have the luxury of being right here in Regina the consensus seems to be that the Pats could use one more top six forward. It's an interesting debate as the need is no longer as severe with the announced signings of both Nick Henry and Bryan Lockner, Henry particularly was heavily weighing an offer from a NCAA program so securing his services was paramount and it signals the respect hockey pendants across Western Canada have for the program Paddock has implemented. The 2004/2005 Pats would've not been able to land a player of Henry's magnitude. The first forward I want to spend some time with is Lane Zablocki. Shortly before the commencement of the 2015/2016 season, this blogger was not a happy camper when news broke that Jesse Gabrielle had been sent to the Prince George Cougars for Lane Zablocki. From my vantage point for an organization that was ever so close to climbing over that bridge it was a risky proposition to deal away a capable point producer entering his eighteen year old year for a soon to be seventeen year old who had yet to step foot in the dub. My worries were slowly but surely put to rest as Zablocki came as advertised, He's not afraid of the rough stuff, and is a terrific compliment for what Pat fans hope to be his center again in Adam Brooks, although not guaranteed as that will dictated by Toronto Maple Leaf management.,Lane is someone who if I had to pick out a weakness it would be his shot. Even though his bio doesn't indicate he plays with a bulkier frame and for someone that plays a "heavy" game a more brazen shot would be expected. It was either inaccuracy or rolling pucks onto the net that prevented him for reaching his self imposed statistical goals. A clear improvement through the campaign was that he began to use his linemates more effectively. I found early on in the process he was far too willing to accept a pass, and either try to beat the defender individually or dump and chase it himself which often resulted in a turnover because his shoddy skating stride wasn't leading to puck retrievals. I'm assuming(and you know what they about making assumptions) that at some point close to Christmas Paddock has a heart to heart conversation with Lane because what Pat fans were privy too in the first half was a far cry from what we saw as the stretch run approached, for the better. Something that a lot of Junior hockey players fall victim too is they start to read their own press and in the pre-season there was waves of undeserved positive praise because a lot of uneducated Regina sports media read the clips that Zablocki is a heralded prospect and thus the forecast was that he could immediately replace the production from Gabrielle. The misnomer was that Zablocki wasn't a 'A' prospect, in all actuality he was better suited as a 'B: and if this would've been widely reported a lot of people in an around Regina likely would have tempered expectations. Once Zablocki finally woke up and realized that he wasn't going to be handed a first round slot in the 2017 NHL Mock Draft, he instantaneously morphed into a dangerous player, someone that could be trusted in a top six role. An area that I intend to pay close attention to is the skating prowess. As it stands right now, if this were Bob McKenzie's yearly draft ranking, under the skating category he would be handed a "C". Lane has found himself on a squad that has now strengthened it's wing depth by the aforementioned Lockner and Henry signings so the assurances aren't as set in stone. If Zablocki gets off to another sluggish start he could easily find himself on the third line. Championship teams don't settle for mediocrity and there are too many players chomping at the bit for coach Paddock to settle for unresponsive combativeness.  Anyone that has watched the Pats over the last couple of seasons will attest that the forwards revolve around team speed, Zablocki doesn't necessarily fit in within that culture but Austin Wagner certainly does. I was going to profile a different player because I generally stay away from stalwarts that accompany an important role on their respective team but my fascination with Austin spreads too deep for me not to analyze this future NHL star. In the past, I've considered him the fastest skater in the Canadian Hockey League and while this cannot definitively be proven I can say with full certainty that Wagner is the fastest skater in the WHL.  He reminds me, drawing back to my fandom of the Mighty Duck trilogy, of the great Luis Mendoza. He may have the capability of stopping but his effortless, Darren Helm-esque skating fortitude while possessing hands of steel drive home this comparison. I said it after the 2014/2015 season and again after the 15/16 campaign, "how good could he be if he had hands?".Everyone lauds the performance of Adam Brooks last year and rightfully so but I should fairly point out that alot of open space Brooks found was due to the respect opposing defenceman had to show towards Austin. There was one game specifically against the Brandon Wheat Kings, where a standard two and two rush was developing, Brooks had the puck on his stick just reaching the center ice rush, it was at that moment that Wagner turned the jets on and went full speed ahead. The defenceman covering his side of the ice, I believe the left side, followed proper protocol and stayed with Austin but it was the right side defenceman that was forced to respect the top flight speed of Austin and began to lean his way thus backing off Adam Brooks, and keep in mind this was a late season regular season contest, so the same Brooks who was contending for the scoring race.  The reverence opposing coaching staffs have for Austin is through the roof and will only substantiate as he grows stronger. Adam Brooks is a talented kid, statistics speak for themselves and his ability to pick apart a defence is extraordinary so it begs the question, has the need to pair up Brooks and Wagner  subdued?  I'm starting to think that Brooks doesn't need Wagner and vice versa. If I was filling out the lineup card, I'd give strong consideration to having Wagner skate with Jake Lescyshyn to reinvogorate his offensive potential while sliding up a less talented winger, somebody like Rykr Cole if he sticks with the team on a line with Brooksy.  Creating more balance could go a long way.

Defensively, the Pats employ less "names" but arguably more depth. Connor Hobbs is an unquestionable stud and will be looked upon to anchor the back end, but the pieces behind him shouldn't be overshadowed, One of my curiosities entering this year is how patient will John Paddock be with some of these younger kids on the back-end, specifically Dawson Barteaux?  In doing research for this piece I was surprised to find out for the  last six seasons or so Dawson was affiliated with Regina hockey legend Mike Sillinger while playing on different AAA teams so you could entertain the notion that it may have been Sillinger who recommended the selection of Dawson to the Pats. I like what I see out of Dawson. From my viewings, I'm not sure we're looking at someone that will ever surpass the thirty point plateau in this league but for a sixteen year old won't run into the  physical drawbacks that associate a player of his age, The last sixteen year old defenceman that came in with such a renowned physical toolbox was probably Swift Current's Dillon Heatherington. In a highlight video I witnessed, albeit a while back I came away with amazement that for being so young that his reads off his defensive partner were so professional like, I love the anticipation that he always accounts for. When Dawson delivers a shaky pass, he knows to stand back because he's able to prepare for the puck remaining in his own end. Another sound trait he occupies are his pristine passes. Tape to tape, crisp and I keep retrograding to the way he thinks the game. Putting on weight was a goal of Dawson heading into the off-season and if he put the appropriate time in the gym he'll be able to fulfill a consistent shift at the Major Junior level. Barteaux is young, but one of the few "defensive" defenceman John has at his disposal, the other one, and his veteran experience is invaluable is Russian Sergei Zborovoskiy. Sergei's at his best when he simplifies his thought processes. At times last season I took issue when he would try to individually breakdown the neutral zone clog. He has the skating propensity to outskate most but doesn't have the requisite puck skills to accomplish his. His patented off the board to himself play wore thin to the coaching staff because that was contributing to abundance of goals against, a number of 253 that will need to be cut back this season. There are so many characteristics to like which attributed to the New York Rangers expending a third round selection, but call me hard to please if you wish, I think there is sooooo much more that he could offer. I hate ragging on junior aged players, something I've stated on more than one occasion but most nights I leave frustrated watching Sergei not withstanding his admirable statistics. I can't exactly pinpoint why I feel this way, is it because he exudes such disinterested approach? I alluded to Connor Hobbs being the leader of this back end but for the sake of clarification Zborovskiy has the best chance of succeeding at the next level. Some motivation is needed and what's greater than seeking the opportunity of suiting up for your native homeland at the World Junior Hockey Championships?  The WJHC is the great equalizer for players that don't feel the Major Junior scene is challenging them enough, think back to Mitch  Marner last year Mitch would've been a lost puppy if the carat of a World Junior appearance didn't exist and I'm forming the impression that Sergei desperately needs that international exposure to stay fresh. I have no idea where he sits on the Russian defensive depth charts but it would great news for the Pats if he got to play in Toronto/Montreal as it could set up a tremendous second half.

If you read this blog enough, you'll understand my reservations when any team in the sport of Hockey drafts a goaltender in the first round. It grinds my gears to no end. The Pats continued this tradition in 2014 when Jordan Hollet was a first round choice of the St.Patricia's. Tyler Brown will be given ample opportunity to seize the load again which opens the door for an interesting possibility. I've ranked Regina #2 for a reason and that's because they have the desired scoring, serviceable defence and a capable number one netminder, I'm not really seeing a spot for seventeen year old Hollet, are you? With Kurtis Chapman and even Paddocks nephew Max waiting behind him, if I was involved the hockey operations department I'd be dangling Jordan in a pursuit to land another top nine forward. If this ownership group is serious about fielding a winner pronto than having a seventeen year old goaltender backing up defeats the purpose. An organization such as Vancouver Giants who coincidentally reside in Hollet's home province would be a great fit and maybe just maybe the Giants have that forward that could immediately pay Regina dividends.

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