Sunday, October 30, 2016

The 2016-2017 Western Hockey League Power Rankings(Volume 4)

Keep in mind when perusing through these rankings that the objective of this  article isn't to rank the teams based off of current position which would skew the rankings, it's a ranking where enlies my thoughts on where teams currently situate when assessing the likelihood or lack thereof of said team hoisting the Ed Chynoweth Cup.

1.Regina Pats(Last time #3)

The "hometown discount" aside, this selection for the top spot needs little reasoning. As we trotted through late September into early October, defensive issues were becoming more and more prevalent. The Goal against ratio, sitting second only behind the Calgary Hitmen who have to date played two fewer games is dissipating and a more complete game is being displayed due to it. John Paddock is as patient as they come in the business and while some advocated for an immediate defensive upgrade, John stayed the course and is now sitting pretty.

2.Seattle Thunderbirds(Last time #1)

Finally falling from the top grail, it was purely circumstantial that Seattle has been demoted a spot. Listen, Steve Konowalchuk's crew will be getting Matt Barzal back from the New York Islanders very shortly. He's been in and out of Brooklyn's lineup(mostly out) and Garth Snow is no idiot(the minority owner Charles Wong may be) and realizes that what's best for Barzal's long term development is another year of junior compounded by a leadership role at the upcoming World Junior Hockey Championship. Without Barzal, the one red flag has been the unproductive goal output. You read between the lines and there are a lot of professional scouts who are enamored with Scott Eansor's game but those same scouts are becoming more concerned daily with Eansor's refusal to reveal any offensive creativity. His trademark is his face off prowess and defensive aptitude but at some point the administrators at the next level need to see even a smidge of goal scoring acumen.

3.Everett Silvertips(Last time # 9)

One of the biggest jumps in this edition are the Everett Silvertips. The Tips since I can remember have had a hard working reputation who's diligent forecheck gets rewarded but a big thumbs up to General Manager Garry Davidson for injecting quite possibly the most feared Euro scorer into it's lineup. It's up for debate as to whether or not Dominic Zwerger can adequately withstand that praise but the playmaker that he's known by is exactly what this forward group needed. In my viewings of Dominic which are limited, I'd perceive him to be a pass first player which has Riley Sutter doing jumping jacks. I can guarantee Sutter has never had someone like this on a line that can thread passes right on his sweet spot. Sutter was a sixth round selection in the 2014 bantam draft and the pick is nothing but ingenious now.  What's startling about the way Riley plays is his penchant to mix it up in the corners with the league's veteran defenceman. To my knowledge, although could be wrong he has no relation to the famous Alberta Sutter clan, but if you didn't know any better with the way he conducts himself on the ice, you'd assume otherwise.

4.Kamloops Blazers(Last week #2)

Dropping back to the four slot is by no means an indictment on the state of the Kamloops Blazers. Well, let me refrain the above statement. If I was Kamloops fan, I'd be more than a little concerned with the play to date of netminder Conor Ingram. I know what most are surmising, "he just obtained a shut-out the night before", I'm aware of this factoid but that doesn't excuse the early inconsistencies. Further to the point, I doubt many would question that before this campaign began that Ingram had the inside track on the World Junior job. Now....I'm not convinced he's on the team at all.

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

Throughout my pre-season preview, I was constantly insinuating  that Sturgeon County native Parker AuCoin underwhelmed last season and Mike Williamson would be looking upon him to contribute a lot more. This year's version of the Americans is fast but a lot smaller than the last three to four renditions have been. Where Parker is effective is creating chances off the forecheck, a trait that not a lot of Americans possess. This is a group built around the perimeter and while that may serve the likes of Michael Rasmussen, someone like AuCoin who didn't inherit the same level of mitts has to work harder for his chances and it's the physicality that sets him apart from his counterparts. Also, kudos to Coach Williamson for accumulating his five hundreth win.

6.Calgary Hitmen(Last time # 8)

Simply put, the Everett Silvertips of the East. A lot of players, particularly forwards on this roster aren't blessed with the utmost skill but make up for it with an extreme work ethic. Also, to continue going with this vintage Everett comparison, the structure is impeccable. Without knowing a lot about Head Coach Mark French before his hire with Calgary, the importance he stresses on attention to detail in all areas of the ice I find fascinating. They say in sport, essentially in all sports that the key to success is playing within your means and this is unquestionably applicable in Hitmen County. Michael Zipp's future beyond this year is relatively unknown but even as last year progressed, you're always hearing rave reviews regarding Bean and the now graduated Keegan Kanzig but irrehensibly very little about Zipp.  His skating stride is silky smooth and his versatility to contribute on both the penalty kill and power play is a welcome to the coaching staff. The Hitmen will continue to fly under the radar at the expense of having much fire power, but as I've told many people already this not an organization I'd want to face come playoff time.

7.Prince George Cougars(Last time #5)

Perusing various message boards, I'm sensing a wide variance of skepticism which is surprising when accounting for their 13-2-1 start. My best guess is a lot of hockey pendants are timid to get behind this team as they've been burned so many times by past Cougar incarnations. It's been a long, tumultous road to get to this point but with stable ownership in the form of Dan Hamhuis and Eric Brewer, theirs reason to put aside the late nineties/early two thousand demons.  In the National Hockey League,  I can't help but feel we put too much stock into 'playoff experience', and that holds especially true in junior hockey league where player turnover is an inevitability. Sure, Jansen Harkins and Jesse Gabrielle don't have much in the way of playoff experience but teenagers generally are too naive to truly grasp the pressure that is bestowed upon them so it's a moot point from this bloggers perspective. A 13-2-1 record should deserve better than a rank of seven but I can't get past the goaltending tandem of  McBride and Edmonds. It's held up thusfar but will be the achilles heel when the stretch run commences.

8.Medicine Hat Tigers(Last week # 10)

Some will perceive this as for the second consecutive edition tooting my own horn when it comes to the prospects of Mason Shaw but I can't help but notice who's leading the league in scoring. In all seriousness, when handing out analysis for the Tigers, the consensus is and always has been the multitude of weapons they  have upfront will lead the charge but I'd like to touch base with this back end that has exceeded expecations time and time again this season.  Not only has team captain Clayton Kirichenko piled up the points(fourteen of this writing) he's putting his truculent frame to better use. I remember watching Clayton on a couple of occassions a year ago and my take away was that he took way too many dumb penalties, jumped into the rush at inopportune times but whether it was the guidance of Shawn Clouston or maturing on his own part, he's picking his spots wisely and has developed an all around game because of it. Playing closer to home as he hails from Sherwood Park may have eased his comfortability level but more importantly he's stayed within his skill set, a problem so many juniors deal with. Additionally, I've been critical of the coaching style Shaun Clouston has enlisted throughout the last couple seasons, but it's become noticeable that he's endorsing a more up tempo, free flowing game that is paying dividends in the standings.

9.Swift Current Broncos(Last time # 7)

I don't think I'm out of line to suggest that Manny Viveiros could be the early front runner for Coach of the Year. My next point I'm about to make may exude contradictory tendencies from my Calgary analysis but it's the change of philosophy in Speedy Creek, from Mark Lamb to Viveiros that has bred  a sudden winning culture in an organization that resigned itself to mediocrity the last four to five seasons. Earlier with my Hitmen synopsis I lauded Mark French for his attention to detail and revamping the system. In Calgary that works because the roster is filled with players that don't pride themselves on being the show stopper but for the crop assembled in Swift Current the overbearing structure would act as a detriment. Can you imagine a world in which the second coming of the Finnish Flash Alexi Heponiemi is asked to back check?? No sane person could which is why Viveiros' acceptance for defensive blunders to create added offence is flourishing. I've noted a couple times that the Broncos could very well be the league favourite in 2017-2018 and many have pointed out that the back end is young and improving but I myself view it as a glaring weakness. Dominic Schiemann is someone that I had sky high goals for entering the league(presumably so did Swift selecting him twelfth overall in '14) but I'm seeing a player that either has ZERO puck skills or in his second season hasn't buckled down and internally convinced himself he belongs in the league. Part way through last season I would've confidently vocalized they had a top two rounder on their hands, now as we're entering the third month of the season I doubt he gets drafted.

10.Lethbridge Hurricanes(Last time #6)

A loser of five straight has no business retaining a top ten spot in these rankings, correct? Not so fast! Over the last few days, reports driven by a interview conducted by CTV Lethbridge with Peter Anholt and speculation running rampant that there is some major turmoil in the Hurricanes locker room. My take on it is this. Winning equates to positivity and right now the losing culture that is spreading across the room is having  a negative effect on team morale.  The way this team has been built the harshest critics have been critical of however the the firepower in the stable is too much to like and whether or not they have to win games 7-6, or 8-7, the prowess is bound to exceed the defensive defiencicies that have reared their ugly head early on. Brayden Burke, shocking that he didn't hear his name called at the most recent NHL draft has the potential to win the scoring title and when paired alongside Giorgio Estephan, it has the making for a memorable dynamic duo. Anholt has been around in the business too long for him to just wait around and allow things to self correct themselves. Whether it's making a deal to improve team cohesion or make the long awaited defensive improvement, he's not naive enough to not capitalize on this small window the Hurricanes have been afforded.

11.Prince Albert Raiders(Last time # 17)

My wavering thoughts on the Prince Albert Raiders are not dissimilar to that of a yo-yo.  As the pre-season began, I was extremely optimistic about the Raiders chances but the unexpected(expected?) loss of Reid Gardiner put a damper on how P.A could perform this year. I skim the rosters league wide and with the exception of Prince Albert and Calgary, most teams are in the market for d-man as they have a surplus of scoring that can be exchanged for a defenceman but in the case of the Raiders they need scoring.....and badly. Even though they got back Nic Holowko in the trade that sent Zack Andrusiak's way, I didn't like it because Andrusiak was meshing well with his linemates and looked like a gem coming from the list player category. Trades haven't been Curtis Hunt's strong suit as I also didn't care for the Josh Maser acquisition as at  times in the pre-season, Maser looked to be the hardest working forward they had. I maintain that if Prince Albert doesn't sell off any further assets they'll be team that could slide into the second round as Brendan Guhle is back and revving in full form as he's looking to make a push to secure a spot on the World Junior team. Say what you want about Prince Albert but it's hard to argue that they lay claim to the league's best defender.

12.Brandon Wheat Kings(Last time # 16)

Going into this season, a lot of pendants familiar with pertinent Western Hockey League dealings misprognosticated the kind of offensive output Brandon product Tanner Kaspick was capable of. Admittely not the fleetest on foot, what basically happened was playing behind the likes of the Quenneville's, Jayce Hawryluk, and Tim McGauley it was hard to ascertain whether Tanner could admirably play alongside skill players. In the last two seasons, Brandon's pinnacle years he was essentially resorted to third/foirth line duty having to play with Linden McCorrister and if you believe message boards, which I don't as I feel most are selling this player short, "pylons" like Duncan Campbell hindered the statistical totals he envisioned but now supplanted as the Wheaties number one/two center, he looks tremendous accumulating sixteen points  The Nolan Patrick injury/ailment that the upper hierarchy has been  hush on is an excruciating blow for a franchise that with Patrick and the recently returned Reid Duke could wreak havoc if all healthy.

13.Victoria Royals (Last time #14)

On the plus side, a concern that I publicized in my pre-season preview pertaining to the depth issues on defence were perhaps overblown due to only allowing forty eight goals against however goal scoring droughts have become apparent. I was very complimentary of forward Tyler Soy in the last power rankings so at the avoidance of sounding like a broken record I'll focus in on other areas. In the opening sentence of this brief synopsis, I used the word that I was concerned with what was coming back to Victoria on the back end. I knew Marcel Ibragimov would be a shut down type again but would again have difficulty supplying any offence. What I didn't foresee was the play of twenty year old, Quesnel native Ryan Gagnon. I probably saw five to six games of Victoria last season and after every one of them I internally notated that Gagnon was the victim of several odd man rushes the other way in EACH game.  What I likely failed to recgonize with Ryan is that his skating is better than I gave him credit for and he's using his wheels to correct for his penchant on siding with making the aggressive, sometimes reckless play. I wasn't the biggest Joe Hicketts proponent but needless to say he saved Gagnon's bacon on several occasions and maybe without Joe he's embraced the leadership and has become a steadier force.

14.Spokane Chiefs(Last time # 13)

This may sound like a specific criticism and for that I apologize but the power play Don Nachbaur instilled is god awful. Suffice to say that special teams tinkering goes on daily at practice but in the couple Chiefs games I've seen the stubbornness to continually place sniper Kailer Yamamoto at the top of the blue line is counter productive because Kailer is not known for a quality short, he's renowned for the slick hands and the passing ability. Too many times they'd set up the box with the idea of handing it back to Kailer to the point which often resulted in a weak, wobbly shot to the net.  The aforementioned Nachbaur is a veteran coach of this league and surely he can find ways to better utilize one half of the Yamamoto brothers. As the avid readers already know, I had the Spokane Chiefs rated inside the top ten and one of the paramount reasons was the decision to bring in Jayden Sittler. Sittler not to mince any words has flopped with a .854 save percentage and has opened the door for fellow Red Deer product Dawson Weatherill to receive more playing time. Fun useless tidbit, the combination of Sittler and Weatherill are the first tandem to reside in the same city not named Calgary in Western Hockey League history.

15.Portland Winterhawks(Last time # 11)

The offense was supposed to run a little dry at the Moda center and for those who thought that and I'll clump myself in that category, you've forged a huge disservice towards seventeen year old draft eligible Cody Glass. I myself should've known better as with Mike Johnston back in the fold he will have demanded instant credibility and that's exactly what's played out. Knowing very little about Alex Overhardt going into the year and as I just mentioned providing a disservice towards Glass it was my position that Skyler McKenzie was set to rule the roost but what has transpired is Glass and McKenzie are feeding off one another which is not only boosting Glass' draft stock but also allowing McKenzie to get scouts attention. The Mike Johnston effect is paying early dividends as I know there were some who originally thought we were heading back to the '07-08 Richard Kromm years. Scary thought!tehey we

16.Moose Jaw Warriors(Last week # 12)

How do I best describe the plight of Zach Sawchenko? His record(4-1) is not correlating to his undesirable statistical line. The questions I posed with the Warriors going into this were outside the big three which includes Howden, Popugaev and Noah Gregor would there be enough sustainable offence? I cited the fact that coach Tim Hunter heavily relied on Dryden Hunt and Brayden Point last year whilst stuinting the development of others. However one name has defied the odds and is excelling despite limited playing time a year ago and that's Jayden Halbgewachs. An acquaintance of mine, a Moose Jaw resident premised that in his humble opinion that Halbgewachs was the WHL"s best penalty killer and while everyone else could agree that the statement is asanine it's a great story regardless as part way through last year we weren't sure if Jayden had a permanent home in the Western Hockey League as the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League was a distinct possibility. Wrapping this back around to Sawchenko, yes the Warriors received an honourable mention in the CHL's top ten and yes as earlier penned he holds a 4-1 record but I can't help but think that he's frustrated by the lack of respect he's receiving from Hockey Canada/NHL teams and deep down would welcome a change of scenery.  The Warriors I guarantee will be tentative to do this but because I enjoy tossing out a prediction now and then, Sawchenko is a Vancouver Giant/Kootenay Ice by January,

17.Saskatoon Blades(Last week #15)

An interesting dillema will ensue for Coach Dean Brockman, albeit a positive dilemma in how to fit in twenty year old Ryan Graham as he has just returned from a significant injury. Losing Nelson Nogier to the Red Deer Rebels when they were preparing for the Memorial Cup was a bitter pill to swallow for most Blades fans as Nelson was one of the better defensive that has come through the Saskatoon pipeline in some time but lost in the acquisition was the return of Mason McCarty.  The  production of McCarty has created the aforementioned dilemma in which Dean will have to decide if he'll choose to pair up arguably their top scorer with Graham at the expense of potentially disrupting the chemistry Braylon Shmyr and McCarty have formed. From my perspective I would throw Graham on a secondary line for the time being and wait until Cameron Hebig returns with the hope being here that they'll balance out scoring. Scoring depth has clearly been an early quandary but as some pieces filter back in, that'll be less and less of a problem. I won't leave the Blades piece unattended without an obligatory Logan Flodell shout out.  Flodell has been better then advertised and is the early front runner for goaltender of the year in the dub.

18.Red Deer Rebels(Last time #18)

At 8-5-1, I will be the first to admit I have been pleasantly surprised with the Rebels start to this campaign. However, by no means do I construe it as sustainable. The defence is a make shift unit and while that can be successful at times, quite frankly the offence can't score enough to offset the transgressions the back end will commit on a game by game basis. Throughout Red Deer's run as Memorial Cup hosts last year, the group put together by Brent Sutter had major deficiencies. Haydn Fleury a player I had reservations about earlier in his junior career was exceptional in the playoffs as was the aforementioned Nelson Nogier but with those two gone, the supporting cast this go around simply isn't there. Statistics will paint a picture that import Russia Alexander Alexyeev has been complimentary thusfar however in the games that I've witnessed I've thought he's been a step slow. I recall reading reports in the off-season that offered up opinions that Alexeyeev was a very good skater with above average hockey I.Q. While I admit that the hockey I.Q has been satisfactory it's the constant getting beat on one v one rushes that has me surmising that he has worse speed than Coltyn Bobyk and that's saying something.

19.Kelowna Rockets(Last week # 19)

I implied in my last edition that the Kelowna Rockets could be in danger of missing the playoffs and although the ranking of nineteen will suggest that I still have Kelowna on the outside looking in, it's not looking as dire as it was a couple of weeks ago. So what signs of improvement and regression am I seeing in Kelowna? I'll start with the improvements.  I'm going to assume without factually knowing that eleventh round Bantam selection Kyle Topping had not fully committed to the league or had manipulated it to a point where he forced every team but Kelowna to pass as he is nothing like a late round selection. These situations, going on a tangent for a second strike a chord with  me as the league needs to set guidelines, preferably opt-in guidelines to prevent this shady business from  happening but that's for another blog post another day.Topping for a rookie has shown capability to comfortably reside over the number two center position almost unheard of for a "11th round" selection. What stands out in relation to Kyle is the poise he plays with. Granted he's a lot stronger then he was compared to when he spent his sixteen year old season with Cowichan Valley of the British Columbia Hockey League  but it's his unheralded physicality that has entrusted Jason Smith to provide the Salt Spring Island product more playing time. Another reason for their sudden good play has been the noticeable development of Lucas Johansen and Bradyn Chizen. The first two to three games of the year Chizen in particular was rushing all of his decisions but you can tell the coaching staff has been working with Bradyn to slow down the thought processes and make the percentage play. I have a difficult time ascertaining who I could take out of the playoff picture to insert the Rockets so I think it'll be tough sledding.

20.Vancouver Giants(Last time # 21)

I know for a fact that there will be some in the business of hockey that when describing the play of Darian Skeoch will scribe that he plays with a reckless abandon but sometimes that 'fear' that Darian inevitably strikes into his opponents gives Vancouver a sizeable advantage. I'm not attempting to advocate that it should be okay for him to run around looking around to injure someone but identifying his sheer presence on the ice will have some of the smaller forwards think twice before challenging in a corner with him. I'm of the opinion that defenceman will be at a premium at the upcoming deadline so even though he's not a point producer I expect he could be a valued addition at the January trade deadline. Regina, Medicine Hat, and Moose Jaw could all be in the market for him. I'm convinced Skeoch can be a impact defender for a contender but it's the backend as a whole that has  Last year was a mitigated disaster on a variety of levels but new coach Jason McKee has stepped in and brought back respectability to this organization. Under Lorne Molleken there was no accountability to discipline but this year sans Skeoch high penalty count, there appears to be a cohesiveness and accountability spreading through the locker room. This year will prove to be long due to a lack of talent but with Tyler Popowich and Bowen Byram leading the way it won't be long before the Giants mimick their mid two thousand successes.

21.Kootenay Ice(Last time # 20)

Having tuned into approximately two to three Ice contests, it floors me that Chilliwack resident Austin Wellsby only has three points on the year. Other then Zak Zborosky, I always felt he was the second best forward but his output is not validating that opinion. Because he holds his own out on the ice I'm starting to speculate reasons for his offensive falures One thing that I'm pondering is if maybe Wellsby isn't committing to positional play thus not finding himself in prime scoring areas. The one game that I have the greatest recollection was then they were squaring off against the Saskatoon Blades where Wellsby was showcasing creativity beyond his years. He was driving the net hard, nifty with the puck and causing a nuisance to the opposition. A three point first eighth of the season is one of the early mysteries of the Western Hockey League.

22.Edmonton Oil Kings(Last time # 22)

To conclude this preview, we finish off with the City of Champions. In hockey, it's no secret that General Managers are stubborn as can be and hate admitting a wrong, In the case of Edmonton General Manager Randy Hansch, the sooner he admits his mistake in the colossal flop of Artyom Baltruk the sooner the Oil Kings can get on with their rebuild. It appears the stubbornness has reached unforeseen levels as just a couple of games ago he was listed as a first line winger so it's almost as if to say there protecting an asset that doesn't need protecting. Best guess is he's gone by Christmas and in fairness to Randy, the reports these GM"S receive are often manipulated by the players agent to make the player out to be much better then he actually is. I would suspect, and I can't say with complete certainy just penning an educated hunch that he never saw the player play and trusted a faulty source. The Import Draft is a flawed enterprise and needs refurbishing and in 2016-2017 has negatively effected the Oil Kings re-tool.

1 comment:

  1. Info on the Sutter's relationship...

    Brent Sutter, the owner, general manager and head coach of the Red Deer Rebels is an intense competitor. Hey, when’s the last time you saw him smile during a game? But if you’re in Everett tonight you just might see at least a bit of smile. That’s because his Rebels are up against the Silvertips, whose roster includes F Riley Sutter, who is a nephew. Ron Sutter, one of the twins, is Riley’s father. . . . “I think it’s definitely going to be exciting for sure since I didn’t get the chance to play last (season) against him,” Riley told Jesse Geleynse of the Everett Herald.“It’s going to be something to think about. You always want to beat your family.” . . . So what's his uncle like? "I don't think he's too much different than (his brothers)," Riley told Geleynse. "They're all pretty similar. All the coaches (who) are Sutters are pretty hard at the rink, but away (from it) they're nice guys."