Thursday, October 13, 2016

The 2016-2017 Western Hockey League Power Rankings(Volume 3)

1.Seattle Thunderbirds(Last time #1)

I know most reading this will be utterly confused on how an organization currently situated at 2-3 can take top spot in my latest edition of the power rankings but allow me to give you the run down. The main sticking point is that with reports coming out of Islander camp that Matt Barzal in all actuality will soon be returned to the T-Birds, I have no doubt that Barzal's anticipated return will jump start a run that will separate themselves from the Western Conference pack. From the outset, it may strike you as peculiar that I'm using a probability as reasoning for the number one ranking but keep in mind this ranking is based around ranking teams that have the best chance to hoist the Ed Chynoweth cup. Seattle still provides me the most confidence.

2.Kamloops Blazers(Last time #4)

Don Hay has masterfully built this squad from the back-end up and it's slowly beginning to pay dividends. Hard hitting defenceman Nolan Kneen under the tutelage of Don Hay has developed an offensive repertoire, statistics may yet not portray this however it's the aggressiveness he's starting to orchestrate that illustrates he's gained more confidence with the puck. All the banter about Kneen heading into his junior career was that he was one dimensional, sought the hit and that was it but a well rounded player is being born before our eyes. On the negative side of the ledger, Summerland native Deven Sideroff is off to a sluggish start and I can't pinpoint why. If he committed himself better with the group he has around him, I have no qualms that he could be a top twenty scorer in this league.

3.Regina Pats(Last time # 2)

Having just fell victim to the high flying Portland Winterhawks, the following thought came to mind. As everybody knows, this group assembled is immensely talented but is experiencing difficulty sealing the deal late in the game. When you can send out Adam Brooks and Sam Steel on two separate scoring lines, scoring depth won't be an issue however defensive positioning has been a constant red flag.Connor Hobbs has possibly let the hype of him being selected to this summer's showcase get to his head as he's been a lost puppy on the ice. Connor's strengths are his Shea Weber-esque shot along with his great first pass but the nineteen year old has transitioned to become too individualistic and a veteran coach like John Paddock will identify this and correct it.  Big fan of what goaltender Tyler Brown has to offer but know he has more to offer than what is currently being produced.

4.Tri-City Americans(Last time #10)

I sit here this evening in amazement that as a 1999 born, Tri-City Americans prodigy Michael Rasmussen might already be the league's best sniper.  Nolan Patrick will deservingly  wear most of the headlines this season but fellow draft eligible Rasmussen shares a few similarities. The way they skate echoes similarities as their lanky skaters that visibly don't possess the most aesthetically pleasing stride but with a strong lower core it's very effective. Also, the two have cannons for wrist shots. Patrick will go # 1 but whichever team lands Rasmussen inside the top ten will reap the benefits for many years.  Aside from the superstar they claim to, this defence is exceptional. In the pre-season preview I was complimentary of Parker Wotherspoon but Juuso Valimaki and Dakota Krebs have added depth for coach Mike  Williamson and just like throughout his Calgary tenure, he's  a legendary defensive developer that a young lad in Krebs will love playing for.

5.Prince George Cougars(Last time # 5)

I was going back and forth a bit with this ranking. Yes, they get off to a 8-0-0 start but have since dropped two in a row. Yes, they're the number two team in Canada(those rankings are more skewed then what you see out of the CFB), and yes they have a veteran playmaking group up front but something just doesn't sit right with me pertaining to the nucleus.  I touched on my fear with the Regina Pats not having the fortitude for holding down leads and the same can be said for Prince George which is why they're involved in so many tight contests. Don't construe that as me indicting the play of the defence as I correlate to the lack of  back check commitment from some of the forwards.  I will preface the following by acknowledging that these are just teenagers but the back check aspect has never been  a strong suit of Jansen Harkins, Jared Bethune or Jesse Gabrielle and Richard Matvichuk has to do a better job instilling this. It's all fine and dandy to score ten a night but not when you're allowing nine. A recipe that will NOT work in the playoffs.

6.Lethbridge Hurricanes(Last time # 12)

An under reported transaction that took place a week and a half ago was General Manager Peter Anholt's vision to go out and acquire Balgonie,Saskatchewan resident Brennan Riddle from the Prince Albert Raiders. From a P.A perspective I hate the move and it speaks to why Prince Albert will continue to drop in these rankings but Riddle was the type of player needed in Lethbridge. Isn't there to provide offence as he's totalled a whopping eleven career points in one hundred and fifteen career games but he's a steadying presence for a group that notoriously been squirmish in their own zone. The offence has picked up where they left off last season(excluding the playoffs) but as a whole I'm sure the Skinner family is breathing a sigh of relief for the added defensive help as goaltender Stuart's NHL draft stock has been falling.

7.Swift Current Broncos(Last time # 6)

Residing in Regina, I'm hopeful that the Regina Pats will be provided the luxury of raising an East division banner next season however the Swift Current Broncos look to be the most staunch adversary in the division.  A pleasant surprise early on in the WHL has been the play of Arthur Miller. It's really a feel good story as he was never drafted, travelled across the country last season to find playing time with stops in Acadie-Bathurst and Kirkland Lake but has finally found comfort in Speedy Creek. Six points already has been a bonus for a Viveiros coached team that preaches creativity. I had a brief conversation via twitter with voice of the Broncos Shaun Mullin and shared my belief that their a little thin on defence, a theory that Mullin fairly didn't prescribe to but if they can land a top four defenceman that fits within their rebuild, watch out. Not a team I'd like to draw in the post-season.

8.Calgary Hitmen(Last time # 3)

I had them ranked three in my most recent edition of these rankings but what's alarmed me is the lack of pure scoring prowess. Jordy Stallard and Tyler Mrkjonic will confidently supply some scoring but where is the secondary scoring going to come from? I was optimistic that entering this campaign that 2014 second rounder Mark Kastelic would prove the doubters wrong but whatever off-season training he entered into hasn't materialized into a more complete player as skating issues still exist. Change of scenery is sometimes a necessity and for someone that hasn't been able to succeed under coach Mark French, perhaps it's time to call a spade a spade, use him as an asset in an attempt to locate more scoring because you'd hate to waste a year with the kind of defensive core fans in Calgary are privy to.

9.Everett Silvertips(Last time # 7)

Someone tell Patrick Bajkov that playing under coach Kevin Constantine is a death trap. Bajkov apparantly didn't get the memo as he's leading a robust Silvertips attack.  Even though the possibility exists that in  a few days they could stake claim to the league's most points, let's notate a few reasons for why I don't consider them legitimate contenders. You can only put on a facade for so long and with Constantine's defence first mentality, eventually the imagination that the Tips have exposed the league to will slowly dissipate and we'll be back to winning games 1-0 or 2-1.  Dominic Zwerger coming over from Spokane is as advertised, elite hockey I.Q.

10.Medicine Hat Tigers(Last time # 15)

I vividly recall receiving negative feedback over my assertion that Wainwright product Mason Shaw would win the Eastern Conference's player of the year. As of today's writing, twenty year old Chad Butcher is leading the team in scoring but it'll begin to balance out and just like last year, the offensive laurels will rest on the shoulders of the diminutive Shaw. In mock drafts that I've read, not many if any have Shaw going in the first round which I personally find puzzling. The best comparable to Shaw's game is Brayden Point. Seeing as how Point is fresh out junior hockey, the comparison is predicated on recency bias but if Shaw can maintain the type of career that Point paved out, the Tigers will, and I think they're already aware of this, have a gem for the next couple seasons. Aside from the Shaw commendation, European drafted defenceman Kristians Rubins is seemingly fitting in just fine adjusting to the North American game and has formed a nice one-two punch with David Quenneville.

11.Portland Winterhawks(Last time # 13)

47 goals for in ten games!. Just incredible, it's as if they've hearkened back on better Winterhawk times and were sent back Brad Ross, Ryan Johansen and Nino Neiddereiter. The new core revolving around Cody Glass, Ryan Hughes and Skyler McKenzie may never reach the accolades of the aforementioned three but are off to a nice start.  Mike Johnston has always been a coach that searches out team speed and this group's mantra is the up temp nature. They're willing to sacrifice defence in order to promote more odd man rushes and while a philosophy such as that has worked in the past for the Winterhawks, I'm just not sure they have the cogs to withstand a run and game. Look on the bright side, with Johnston back in business, cell phone sales in Oregon are sure to spike!

12.Moose Jaw Warriors(Last time # 19)

There's a few issues that I've taken with the Warriors. Noah Gregor was a player I was very high on coning out of the summer but he's exuding a very despondent attitude on the ice and being a recent San Jose Sharks selection I would've thought he would of cherished  a leadership role in the Jaw but I'm not seeing it. Maybe I'm at fault thinking he had pure goal scoring instincts but he's been too pass happy and not showing enough aggressiveness to my liking. At the professional level I view him as more of a power forward and like I just implied, I'm not discounting the possibility on Noah was simply incorrect. I'm left wanting more. My other issue is this content approach Tim Hunter is taking with the back end. The Warriors are  a fringe playoff team and should be looking to build towards the future and in what universe is allotting significant minutes to Matt Sozanski, Josh Thrower or Colton Paradis aiding this movement? Josh Brook and Jet Woo are here to stay but it's time that GM Millar and Hunter assess the deficiency on the back end and do something about it. On the bright side and the reason for the elevated ranking is my concern over Tim Hunter riding the top line too much last year whilst stunting the growth of the younger forwards has been put to rest. The depth forwards are contributing,

13.Spokane Chiefs(Last time # 8)

Eventually Ondrej Najman who is hovering the net will get rewarded. I'm beginning to form the impression, when I analyze the game of his that his shot needs major work. He's one of those guys that lives off the perimeter and on the bigger ice surface in Europe that's more favourable to success but in North America he needs to engage in the corners to create scoring opportunities, a trait that he's failed to show.  In the pre-season I thought their was a whimper of a chance that they could contend as early as this season but with Ty Smith getting a full year under his belt along with Koby Morriseau and Ethan McIndoe, the Chiefs will be a dangerous entity for 2017-2018.

14.Victoria Royals(Last time # 16)

Am I the only one who is left astonished that Tyler Soy was passed over in his original NHL draft year? Ninety four career goals and will certainly surpass one hundred when it's all said and done and when you watch him play, he controls the action and is the one that makes Matt Phillips and Jack Walker better hockey players. I'm left dumbfounded that for someone that played and excelled in an international under eighteen event that he gets such little love from National Hockey League clubs and the Anaheim Ducks got themselves a peach. Two other comments regarding Victoria, as I stipulated in the pre-season their defensive depth continues to scare me and lastly goaltender Griffin Outhouse isn't putting back to back good efforts together. He possesses electric intangibles but inconsistency is creeping through. The more acclimatized he becomes the better prospects the Royal will begin reaping.

15.Saskatoon Blades(Last time # 20)

It's been no secret that the Blades under this current ownership group have failed several times in convincing select players to come to Saskatoon so with that being said what you can ascertain from that is that to field a competitive team they have to go through more hoops then most.  The reason the Blades will find themselves on the playoff bubble is because they don't carry enough puck skill up front. Apologies go out to the surging Jesse Shynkaruk but I'm sorry, if you're reliant on Shynkaruk to provide top six forward minutes you're in a world of hurt. Defensively, I'll be the first to admit that I didn't get the unit the respect it deserves. The acquisition of Janzten Leslie was ridiculous from Everett's point of view(and yet the Tips are off to a scorching start). Lack of reps in the 2015-2016 campaign will surely hinder his draft status but for being seventeen he plays with such poise and physicality that I fully expect Jantzen to have his name called in the first three rounds. Compounding the play of Jantzen with a stellar bunch including Hajek,Reid and Rubinchik the Blades have a top three defence in the Western Hockey League. Only if the scoring woes could be corrected.

16.Brandon Wheat Kings(Last time # 11)

Message Board have been hot under the Wheat Kings collar asto why so many heralded prospects are electing to not report to the Wheaties and have preferences to play elsewhere. From Ian Mitchell to Bradley Goethal, their's an apparent disconnect with promises the Wheat Kings are willing to make and what these families want to hear because even though every team faces recruitment issues in the ever long battle with the NCAA, the Wheat Kings problems have come more to the forefront. I have a theory that goes beyond just brutal luck. The Wheat Kings have come in to the last two seasons as the league favourite and with that comes a veteran roster that stunts development from the sixteen-seventeen year old perspectives unless your name is Nolan Patrick. When families who are weighing the pros and cons look at this they ask themselves if going to Brandon will lead to riding the pine for the first two years vastly effecting their kids draft stock. The poster child for this argument is Stellio Mattheos. He was the first overall pick in 2014 and as of this writing I'll be shocked if he's one of the first ten WHL'ers selected for the upcoming NHL draft. Winning has a price and the Wheaties are paying  a tough dollar right about now.

17.Prince Albert Raiders(Last time # 9)

My perception of Prince Albert continues to suffer.  I did NOT see Reid Gardiner sticking with Wilkes-Barre of the American Hockey League so that's a definitive blow to the prospects. The loss of Gardiner is cruel and unusual punishment for a franchise that J had much higher hopes for.  The discussion that I've been privy to is that a lot of Raider fans are up in arms for why some of the younger defenceman aren't getting more prominent roles. Names such as Lane Kirk and Nick Heid are being thrown around in frustration because the consensus is that they have the capability to provide much more. The mandate from General Manager Curtis Hunt and March Habscheid is contradictory because on one hand they're willing to trot out underperforming veterans like Vojtek Budik and Nic Holowko signalling they're desperate to win right away but on the other and choose to throw away a valuable piece in Brennan Riddle. A firm direction needs to be supplanted in Hockey town North.

18.Red Deer Rebels(Last time # 17)

To use a stock analogy pertaining to the Rebels, I'd be selling low.  This is a big team that has developed the reputation of being slow on foot, particularly within their top six forwards and top four defenceman.. I've been a proponent of Evan Polei for some time now however his style of play isn't conducive to making others around him better. He's prone to the dump and chase style and is content working it down low in the cycle game but what he has to understand is he needs to be more cognizant of effectively mastering the breakout because often times their's no rhyme or reason to his thought processes. It cancels out any flow his linemates are attempting to construct. I know Polei and Adam Musil have played together for a couple seasons now but maybe the time has come to  balance out the attack and allow the likes of D-Jay Jerome and Dawson Martin to adopt a bigger role. Even though coach Brent Sutter prides himself on loyalty, with the team far from contending, I could see Musil on the trading block and view a team such as the Calgary Hitmen a nice fit.

19.Kelowna Rockets(Last week # 14)

Do we now live in a universe where the Kelowna Rockets could actually be fighting for their playoff lives. Say it ain't so Joe! The league's model franchise has found itself in a vulnerable position in the sense that we've hardly ever seen the Rockets in this position, something like missing the playoffs one time in the last fifteen or so years, just incredible. I think some pendants aren't sure what kind of identity the Rockets are striving for but really it's not hard to explain. This is a team anchored by one of the toughest guys ever to grace the National Hockey League in Jason Smith that advocates a mean game and being hard on the forecheck.  After a fourteen goal performance last go around, I've been extremely impressed with young Shaunavon forward Kole Lind. Kole has seized a bigger role with the absence of fellow  Saskatchewanian Rourke Chartier who has graduated to the American Hockey League. Kole's strengths are his speed and tenacity along the wall. Not the most pleasant skating stride I've ever witnessed but boy can he dash and if I were left to guess fans in the Okanagan did not expect to see such an offensive dynamo.

20.Kootenay Ice(Last time # 21)

Let's face it, their are certain markets that struggle filling buts in the seats and none are more prevalent then the Kootenay Ice so it was imperative that Head Coach Luke Pierce who by the way is not receiving the recognition he deserves as he entered an untenable situation in Cranbrook and is making the most of it. The cold hard truth is that the Ice are nowhere near a playoff team but unlike last year have been a tougher get. Last year too many times they'd roll over and get blown out of the water but this year the young kids are buying into the game plan and it's been more enjoyable hockey. There's been an added decree to push the play at all costs even at the expense at a higher goals against ratio. Someone who has defied the odds even to make it to the Western Hockey League is Ryan Pouliot. An eleventh round pick by the Saskatoon Blades, now eighteen has stepped in and comfortably fulfilled  a top four role. An adjective that stands out for Ryan is aggressive. He's joining the rush and while he's only responsible for two helpers thusfar, it's the presence of keeping up that has paved more open space for the forwards.

21.Vancouver Giants(Last time # 22)

It behooves me rhat with the amount of quality goaltenders securing back up roles that the Vancouver Giants haven't explored bringing somebody in because to put it mildly their goaltending situation is in dire straits.  Allowing thirty eight goals against in ten game is simply unacceptable and what I take from that is the tandem of Ryan Kubic and David Tendeck can't handle the load. Unless I had an oversight, the Giants only have two twenty year olds so wouldn't of Rylan Parenteau the goaltender just today acquired by the Tri-City Americans been the perfect stop gap to mentor Kubic and Tendeck headed into next year?  I think so, and even if they didn't want to haul in a twenty year old, goalies like Brody Wilms and Mario Petit are clamouring for a starting chance and would've done jumping jacks had they been acquired by the Giants. Goaltending transgressions aside, the back end isn't much better.  The constant hemming in their own zone has brought forth discipline issues and for a penalty kill that sits last in the league having not tallied a short handed marker, that needs to be altered ASAP. With the likes of Bondra, Benson and Ronning I don't feel as if scoring will be a detriment, however unless they're going to score ten a night this has the making of a real long year in Langley.

22.Edmonton Oil Kings(Last time # 18)

The league has become enamored with the play of Trey Fix-Wolansky, and rightfully so. The Muggsy Bouges of the WHL has almost immediately become a fan favorite in a city where it's difficult to manufacture headlines  having to play behind Connor McDavid. On a team that doesn't exude any offensive potential he'll be fortunate to reach the fifty point plateau and if their was one critique I could spurn out regarding his game, it's his aptitude to take the lazy penalty. The skill is evident but so is his refusal to buy into the team first concept.  There's an opportunity here, and for a team that has now been given the unfortunate honor of the dead last slot in these rankings, Trey could conceivably put the Oil Kings on his back and if begins to buy into a defence matters mentality then I don't see why he couldn't be a late round selection next June.

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