Thursday, January 12, 2017

The 2016-2017 Western Hockey League Power Rankings(Volume 7)

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.Seattle Thunderbirds(Last time #1)

There will naturally be plenty that will scoff at the laudy ranking when pointing out that the T-BIrds were inactive in the trade deadline proceedings unlike a lot of their Western Conference combatants. To that I'll remind those that back in their hay day in the mid to late nineties the Detroit Red Wings constantly preached  inactivity at respective trade deadlines and made out just fine. There is no other way to slice it, Ryan Gropp did not have the first half he envisioned only accumulating twenty six points through his first thirty three games played and Coach Konowalchuk will need to see a lot more down the stretch run.Gropp is a terrific compliment to Matt Barzal because at his core Gropp is a shooter where as from what we saw out of Barzal at the just completed World Junior Hockey Championship he's very much a pass first player so just like last season played out, a Barzal-Gropp partnership will wreak havoc on the Western Conference. Aside from the two that will receive the accolades in the aforementioned Barzal and Gropp, from this bloggers perspective the  X factor may very well be Alexander True. True showed exemplary abilities representing Denmark at the WJHC and I would imagine unless Konowalchuk has ideas of re jigging the line combinations will be called upon to anchor the second line. Alexander's a big,powerful skater who for his size(listed at 6'5 on has deceptive hands and when I examine True I unequivocally foresee  a future in the National Hockey League.  Defence isn't as much of a red flag as certain pendants will have you believe, the Seattle Thunderbirds.....Windsor,Ontario bound in May of 2017.

2.Everett Silvertips(Last time # 2)

The Everett Silvertips will not reach the Conference Finals. The Everett Silvertips are a top two team in the Western Hockey League. The 'Tips have no one to blame but the divisional playoff format for why a deep playoff run may not be in their cards this spring. Notwithstanding the number two ranking I've graced Everett with, I have a few concerns with the make up of this 2016-2017 squad. First off, the acquisition of Edmonton's Aaron Irving is a tremendous as an offensive defenceman(I guess he's one this year) is exactly what the doctor ordered. When assessing the rest of the Green and White's backend, the likes of Noah Juulsen and Lucas Skrumeda instill conservative tendencies where as now with Irving he'll be able to push the pace whilst keeping the aforementioned two in their comfort zone. The issue becomes however, when the games become pressure packed who's going to light the proverbial lamp?  I've been critical of the Silvertips Front Office regime throughout the years as I feel the mantra has always been to add players conducive to the coaches style as opposed to recruiting players that can succeed in the most tenuous moments however let's take a second singling out the players that the Silvertips could have in their stable but don't. Tyson Jost, Auston Matthews and Nick Henry were all identified as core pieces but none of which committed to the organization. The adverse argument is that when you swing for the home run you're more often to miss but for the fan base it would've been nice to land at least one. By saying all of that, considering how many home run swings have missed in the last couple years to still compile a 27-4-6-1 record is extraordinary.

3.Prince George Cougars(Last time # 6)

Unquestionably the out of left field(apologies for the plethora of baseball puns) came the Nikita Popaguev transaction.I'm still unsure if I understand the move from Moose Jaw's point of view but nonetheless the Cougar brass has their hands on the special draft eligible Russian. The aftermath of the trade has seen a lot of Warrior fans come out of the closet lamenting over Nikita's poor defensive work ethic however as a  point of reference to the criticism is that the Warriors the entire season have fielded a suspect D so naturally fans will look to scape goats attempting to excuse the defensive deficiencies. Moving away from Popaguev who no doubt will be a welcome addition for Jansen Harkins AKA a poor man's Matt Barzal, where I'm most excited for the Northern B.C constituents is on defence. Everybody clamours over Brendan Guhle and rightfully so but two names that are as important but don't receive near the same respect are Tate Olsen and Ryan Schoettler. I've touched on Olsen previously but with Schottler, I'll come right out and say Ryan was the steal of the 2014 Bantam Draft getting nabbed in the seventh round. The Lloydminster product continues to thrive under the tutelage  of former Dallas Star Richard Matvichuk. Because they've collected a veteran group he'll remain on the third pairing but from my viewings defintely has #1-2 potential as early as next season. I was reading somewhere that on average the Cougars boast the oldest lineup in the league, 18.48 or in and around there so the fact that the seventeen Schoettler is able to crack the lineup most nights is a testament to him.

4.Swift Current Broncos(Last time # 9)

Unlike a few teams in this league, everything that Director of Player personnel Jamie Porter has touched has turned to gold.  From the obvious in hauling in Ryan Graham, Ryley Lindgren and now netminder Jordan Papirny to the less obvious in Jake Hobson and Kole Gable, the holes that needed plugging have now been fulfilled and what has happened is Speedy Creek is now poised to make a memorable playoff run. I won't even get into how the Broncos may match up against some of the Western Conference powers in a finals scenario but surveying their chances against the beasts of the east, they're favourable to put it mildly.  Ryan Graham, the former Saskatoon Blade and Glenn Gawdin, the St.Louis Blues prospect are thorns in the side to play against as they excel in the cycle game and are nearly impossible to knock off the puck.  The Broncos are structured as such that they're polar opposites to much of the conference. The contrasting styles would make for an entertaining playoff series and a scary one because I can't think of one formidable East foe that has the defence to match wits with that style. It's for that reason that I can visualize a spot in the finals.

5.Kamloops Blazers(Last time # 4)

Rampant speculation on message boards existed that the Blazers were looking to unload World Junior goaltender Connor Ingram but the second Lane Bauer was brought in to the fold that vetoed any inkling anyone may have had about acquiring Connor. At 25-15-1-2, they stayed above water during his absence and that can be largely thanked to the play of  Dylan Ferguson. It was truly Ferguson's play that increased the volume on the Ingram rumours and what this means for the sustained longevity of the franchise going forward is that they have a valued off-season trade asset but in the immediate it won't cause panic if the unthinkable happens and Ingram suffers an injury.  Very much like how I attempted to explain the strategy of a team like Swift Current, Kamloops will look to pound you inside with a cerebral forecheck. Jermaine Loewen probably couldn't of landed with a better organization pertaining to how he looks to play the game. He's hard nosed, one could describe him by saying limited offensive potential but I fret to think what a line consisting of Loewen and newly acquired center Luc Smith could look like. A nuisance for opposing defenders to put it lightly. Additionally, I'd be remiss if I didn't follow up with something that was discussed in an earlier synopsis and that's the play of Nolan Kneen. Joe Gatenby and Ondrej Vala would continue to inherit the heavy minutes but the play of Kneen has instilled a trusted top four for Don Hay. A player that was probably on the fringe of getting drafted has firmly supplanted his draft status come June 2017.

6.Regina Pats(Last time # 3)

In a recent article courtesy of the Regina Leaderpost, Head Coach and General Manager John Paddock was quoted as saying that he owed it to the veterans on this team, most notably Adam Brooks and Connor Hobbs, to go "all-in". Judging from a spotty Trade Deadline performance I can unfortunately now assert that he flat out lied. No moves that were made yesterday, the day before yesterday and before that were made with this year in mind. Josh Mahura is an excellent addition but Paddock's verbage that he's already a top ten defenceman in the Western Hockey League is non-sensical. The question I've had for a long time and possbly why I'm so upset with how the Pats administration are approaching this stretch run is who's going to provide secondary scoring beyond the top two lines? Nothing against Jeff De Wit or Wyatt Sloboshan, but on an elite hockey team they're fourth line players. It infuriates me that someone with tenacity like a Adam Musil or Jakob Stukel weren't brought in. And don't understate the importance of the loss of Luc Smith. At the time I was indifferent about the transaction because I just assumed his big body would be later replaced but now that hole remains void it's highly probable the Patties are going to get pushed around.

7.Brandon Wheat Kings(Last time # 8)

Without a doubt the Brandon Wheat Kings enter the second half of the campaign as the league's most feared team solely from an unknown perspective. Consensus first overall pick Nolan Patrick is slated back next weekend and right there enough is strike fear into opposing coaches trying to game plan the Wheaties. The bigger question should probably be what we should expect out of Nolan in the second half. Over the last couple of days I was looking to conjure up the best comparable to Patrick and after careful consideration I've enlisted the name Joe Niewendyk. Nolan isn't going to wow you with exceptional foot speed but has a  long stride and can make up ground quickly. Everyone looks at Nolan and considers him a pure shooter which he is but the characteristic that doesn't get enough play is his playmaking abilities. Getting sparse time with in my opinion last year's best pure sniper in Jayce Hawruyluk he was able to showcase his pristine passing ability. The tell tale sign will be if he can admirably feed some of the lesser talented forwards on the roster because as good as they can be in this second half, the complexion is nowhere near the way it was last year.

8.Lethbridge Hurricanes(Last time # 13)

It was no secret that their were some premier overagers on the trade market this season. However, based on how rosters looked a week ago I didn't expect the Hurricanes to be one of those organizations in the market and even if they were, totally didn't expect them to chase more forwards as a lack of competence on the back-end is a clear defenciency. When all the dust settled, it was the Hurricanes that picked up not one but two overage forwards in Kootenay's Matt Alfaro and Zak Zborosky. Not that I had any idea before but I can officially opine that I have zero idea on the direction being forged by Peter Anholt. You already boasted Tyler Wong and Giorgio Estephan, two  of the league's elite players and yet you still feel the need to go out and bolster your lineup with more goal scoring while laying claim to arguably the league's worst defence? I'm sure you're utterly confused after all of the negative connotations that I've still ranked the Hurricanes this high. Well, it speaks to the fact that the Canes reside in this year's laughing stock division and I fully anticipate them to eventually surpass the Medicine Hat Tigers. I wish them luck though because if I were a fan heading into the playoffs I wouldn't be feeling very confident with a defence being led by Brennan Menell and Calen Addison. If a twenty year old was going to be acquired, Aaron Irving had to be who they needed to target. Time will tell if they can outscore their future playoff opposition out of the building.

9.Victoria Royals(Last time # 10)

Riding a ten game point streak heading into January 11th's tilt against the Kelowna Rockets, it's safe to say that defenceman Chaz Reddekopp used my analysis that he may be potential trade bait as motivation as he's been on a tear the  past while. Appraising the worth the Royals has been a difficult task because on one hand I really like the group of forwards spearheaded by Matthew Phillips but on the other hand the depth they possess on defence worries. The sudden Mike Green-esque offensive production of Reddekopp has subsidized those concerns but even with Chaz's hot streak  in play, the jury is still out if they can compete with some of the B.C division's dynamic offences. From my viewings and this  is presuming my premonitions on where these teams should situate is anywhere close then a potential first round playoff series against the Kamloops Blazers could spell trouble as where Kamloops flourishes, the down low game is where Victoria is constantly victimized. The Euro Ibragimov will have no qualms withstanding the physicality of the Collin Shirley's and Jermaine Loewen's but I have reservations if the suddenly turned dynamo Reddekopp can rise to the occasion over the course of a seven game series.

10.Kelowna Rockets(Last time # 11)

Jason Smith must walk into his office lately and sit down and refresh his memory on all the names of his kids because their has been a exodus of talent coming in and out of the Rockets dressing room over the last while to a point where the team is almost unrecognizable. I was not high on the outlook of the Rockets in the first quarter of the season evidenced by my near basement ranking in an earlier volume. To review the change of philosophy, at least for this season, out are Jonathan Smart,Riley Stadel, Jordan Borstmayer and Jake Kryski among others while James Hilsendager, the Gardiner brothers(Erik and Reid), and Carsen Twarnyski have arrived in Kelowna revamping the team's identity. Touching on Hilsendager and Twarnyski specifically, these two fit the mold of a Jason Smith type player. In your face, take no liberties out on the ice and look after their own end before having thought of jumping into the rush. Lastly, and I fully understand the WHL is a business and these types of decisions are made on a yearly basis but it's still unfortunate to see a twenty year old in Riley Stadel, a heart and soul player who's been a loyal soldier for the Rockets for a good five years get the raw deal and now forced to end his junior career with a team in Edmonton with little playoff aspirations. It's a difficult meeting for Bruce Hamilton to have surely but I suppose the point I wanted to make is it's too bad Hamilton couldn't of slotted Riley in a situation with even a faint hope of the post-season.

11.Medicine Hat Tigers(Last time # 5)

This season in Medicine Hat has been one unpredictable rollercoaster ride. As this blogger predicted in the pre-season draft eligible Mason Shaw is well on his way to garnering consideration for the Most Valuable Player award but maybe what this blogger couldn't foresee was the rash of issues this club would have protecting it's own net. These issues have now been substantiated with the purported season ending injury to New York Islander prospect David Quenneville.  A lot of Tiger supporters woke up this morning disappointed that they stood pat and didn't address a glaring weakness even before Quenneville went down..  I'll be blunt, a legitimate championship contender for which maybe at one point I thought the Tigers were CANNOT accept 150 goals against. It's hard to say whether Head Coach Shaun Clouston isn't voicing the message loud enough and don't let the thirty four points fool you but Clayton Kirichenko has been a hot mess in his own zone and doesn't seem to be held to any level of accountability.  I thought in the first fifteen or so games, Kirichenko's play was outstanding but in the last 2/3rds he seemingly has stopped caring about attention to detail  I'm befuddled at the lack of activity on several fronts but none more so then couldn't the Tigers upper manangement see the division they played in and realized picking up a defenceman or two would've assured them a conference final berth.. Now I eagerly wait for that hotly contested Lethbridge-Medicine Hat second round  playoff series where every game projects to be 12-11. Take the over!

12.Tri-City Americans(Last time # 7)

The Americans continually drop in these editions of Power Rankings and I'll enlighten you as to why. It's not as if they've fallen off a cliff however there is something missing with this group and until very recently I wasn't able to discover what. Michael Rasmussen is the second rated eligible draft prospect in the WHL but the issue I've began to notice is he's too individualistic and from my vantage point the reason why is because there's a lack of structure in how they operate. Tyler Sandhu, credit to him, is as unselfish as they come but the problem there is he's got players like Rasmussen running around wildly not adhering to any kind of breakout and that is stiffling puck movement from the other four players on the ice. Because Sandhu is willing to dish the puck at no end,  I do think it's wise to keep sending out Tyler and Michael together but what that line needs is a coveted puck retriever. After analyzing the roster a player who I think could comfortably line up alongside those two is Carson Focht. This in before the skeptics run over the idea by mentioning he's only sixteen and has no business being on the top line but where Carson would serve some benefit is he's willing to buy into the coaches system, would allow the aforementioned two to focus on what makes them star players in the league and I think at the end of the day would make the group a more cohesive unit. He's the future captain of the team and similaily to what Saskatoon did with Matt Revel when he first entered the 'Dub,, throwing him to the wolves early in his career will teach him the ropes,and hey....if Focht can forge a comparable career to that of Revel then nobody in Kennewick will be shedding tears.

13.Moose Jaw Warriors(Last time # 12)

The removal of Nikita Popaguev from the Warriors roster will be a tough pill to swallow for a lot of Warrior loyalists however when you break down the transaction you have to give full credit to General Manager Alan Millar for  identifying they'd be better served putting their best foot forward next season as opposed to this one. The Regina Pats appear to be the cream of the crop but judging from my rankings I choose not to take the Broncos and Wheat Kings lightly so props to a team that could've played the desperation card and tried to stay in the elite ball park. Prosperity is in the horizon. Until this past week it was confusing to understand the direction ie bringing in Brayden Burke when they did however after observing the roster again, presuming that Burke and Jayden Halbgewachs are returned to Junior Hockey similiarly to how Adam Brooks was for Regina then it's not out of the realm to suggest that if  Regina is fortunate enough to be awarded the 2018 Memorial Cup that  two Southern Saskatchewan teams could represent the WHL in the Pats and the Warriors. One can dream.

14.Saskatoon Blades(Last time # 19)

I get it.Conventional wisdom would dictate that a team currently sitting at ninth in the conference sell off their valued assets in an attempt of looking towards the future but when you're a franchise like the Saskatoon Blades recognizing that the a playoff position is within grasp is enough reason to stand pact. This is an organization that has missed the playoffs the last three seasons and has not won a playoff round since 2011-2012 so in order to acquire that valuable experience for the likes of Josh Paterson and Jake Kustra it's imperative that Dean Brockman find a way to sneak Saskatoon into the playoffs even if it means a dismantling at the hands of Regina in the first round. Edmonton native and seventeen year old forward Paterson has been a revelation for the franchise as the 2014 second rounder is increasing his NHLdraft stock daily as before the year began it was questionable if his name would be called at all, fast forward to today where he could be summoned in the fourth round. Ironically player development I didn't correlate as one of his strong suits as with his past employer the Humboldt Broncos of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League he consistently was blessed with veteran laden lineups so an adjustment was needed as he walked into this Blades job as when he took over the job the roster was stripped down, something he never lost sleep over in Humboldt.Kudos to  Brockman for getting this  club back into playoff contention.

15.Spokane Chiefs(Last time # 14)

Coach Don Nachbaur is a long time veteran coach in the 'dub so generally when he speaks up you listen, but his latest public comments may have crossed a line when he criticized his own General Manager Scott Carter. His latest criticism was that the team was too 'young and small' but newsflash Don, that type of roster make up is the way hockey is evolutionized particularly in junior hockey where an intimidation style has gone by the way side. Some of Nachbaur's Tri-City teams in the mid two thousands were built around grit and tenacity but it's all about adjustments and I'm not seeing enough out of Don.Not to say that GM Carter has done an exceptional job as he's not without transgressions. Being a long time fan of this league there's a certain frustration when I see a superstar player for which Kailer Yamamoto is not being supported with enough comparable talent to flourish in his hometown. Yamamoto to be blunt should have the wherwithal to accumulate 100 + points yearly regardless of the fact that he's in the gauntlet,A.K.A the U.S Division but in order to achieve those lofty goals needs further contributiions from Jaret Anderson-Dolan. Anderson-Dolan is one of the leagues greater enigmas due  to being a world beater when he's engaged in the  play yet looking like a glorified fourth liner when he checks out. I think back to last season when he in his rookie season he jumped out a brazen start only to mellow out the rest of the way to a meager twenty six points. This year it's been mostly the same song and dance superb start only to be immersed in another puzzling two goals in eight games rut. Playing alongside Yamamoto is a privelege, Anderson-Dolan for a lack of a better description is testing fate.

16.Portland Winterhawks(Last time # 16)

Straying away from the Western Hockey League for a second, I can recollect a countless amount of players that were relative unknowns in their respective leagues prior to reaching a certain level of stardom at the World Junior Hockey Championships. The Danish delight Joachim Blichfield fits right into that category. The Danish entry was the cinderella story throughout the entire tournament upsetting the likes of Finland and reaching the quarterfinal and Blichfield was instrumental in leading the Danish charge. Not having seen a lot of Blichfield before the tournament commenced but he was more then impressive as his speed was ever noticeable. To the point of it's rather surprising that with his club team in Portland he's only put twenty eight points to date.As I referenced in my opening though, a European player takes a while to get acclimatized to the Canadian Hockey League as I can remember Lukas Kaspar who before he entered the World Junior Hockey Championships in 2005 was struggling to adapt to new surroundings with the Ottawa 67's, however it was like a new player was born when he got back as he mustered 75% of his points in the second half. Don't expect anything less with Blichfield.

17.Red Deer Rebels(Last time # 17)

At last count I had read that Brent Sutter had made something along the lines of twelve trades this season which for purposes of Junior Hockey is an astronomical number. It's astronomical from a sheer quantity perspective but when you account for the fact that it's becoming more difficult to recruit players into the league with the raging war against the NCAA fully in tact, welcoming that many kids into your "instiitution"only to part ways with them later is a dangerous precedent to set moving forward. Now when analyzing some of the trades made when it relates to this season, there's a lot to like for how Brent has reconfigured his group. The blockbuster that got everybody talking was the Josh Mahura to Regina deal that that brought in Lane Zablocki and Dawson Barteaux a long with two draft picks. Complete heist by the Rebels. You could call Zablocki for De Wit a wash although De Wit is an arguable downgrade but when assessing Barteaux + 2 firsts for Mahura, a player who at times was in Sutters dog house is unthinkable. The way the Rebels have transistioned from the 2016 Memorial Cup hosting year is noteworthy because in less than  a year they've rebuilt an aging defence into something they can genuinely look forward to for the next couple seasons. Picking up Brandon Schuldhaus was also an underrated addition. I tend to think unloading Adam Musil who surely is bound to play professional hockey next fall would've been a wise maneuver but overall am taken a back hoe well Sutter and the Rebels have positioned themselves beyond next season.

18.Calgary Hitmen(Last time # 15)

Devastating news out of Calgary this week losing goaltender Cody Porter to a season ending injury which forced the hand of Hitmen management to sign overage netminder and former Rebel and Blade Trevor Martin. Martin has certainly paved an interesting journey this year. Starting the year in Red Deer he was eventually dropped so Red Deer could dwindle their 20 surplus but from there Trevor ventured into the QMJHL with Baie-Comeau and reportedly had an offer to continue with the Val'dor Foreurs before trekking over to Calgary. Atypical journey aside it's a blow to the Hitmen whose identity revolved around Porter. My pre-season preview paints the picture that I expected much more out of Calgary coming and as I've griped a few times during the season the missing link was not having  a finisher up front. In this era where a literally a million goals are being scored a game, not having that reliable point producer isn't sustainable. By saying all of that underperformers have flooded the Calgary lineup none moreso than Vladislav Yeryomenko. Perhaps I'm not in line to the logic of the current day Junior Hockey administration.Yes these are primarily teeagers that you're mentoring but at the end of the day this is a cut throat business, at least it used to be and if you have an underperforming import which undoubtedly the Hitmen do than you are better served allocating that ice time to a sixteen year old North American. Brent Sutter once said it best when he quipped "if a European can't play in the top six D or the top  four D then he doesn't belong on your team".This is logic I can get behind and it befuddles me how Yeryomenko is still employed in Cow Town.

19.Vancouver Giants(Last time # 22)

Glenn Hanlon meet Brent Parker. Folklore will have you know that back in the 2009-2010 season the Brandon Wheat Kings who were preparing to host that May's Memorial Cup has offered the Regina Pats three first round picks along with current Ottawa Senator Mark Stone for Jordan Eberle and Colten Teubert. It's important to note that at this time the Regina Pats were on the outside looking in and ended up missing the playoffs.It was a rejected deal that set them back years, truthfully until John Paddock was hired on by new ownership. I bring this up because a similar circumstance arose with the Giants who had a dilemma on their hands not knowing what to do with Tyler Benson.In the end as reported by Steve Ewen of the Vancouver province it was decided to hold onto Tyler and only time will tell if the right decision was made.  The way I break it down, the prudent play was to trade Tyler because even though he's expected to return to the WHL next season, chances are the Giants will be in the way of being competitive.  The return could've been extraordinate at this deadline but now they move on and aspire to recuperate what's left of this troubling season. My hope is and I'd imagine that this the mandate being dropped down from ownership is to push the growth of future franchise stalwart Tyler Popowich. I'm having difficulty understanding how Popowich has tallied such elementary numbers, only skating to five goals thus far. In the two games I've had the pleasure of watching him in full on two occasions, once versus Regina and the other facing off against Calgary and on both occasions he's looked dominant. When he gets stick on the puck it's near impossible to remove and maybe Jason McKee needs to sit down with him and remind him why he was picked high in the first round. I clearly won't have followed him as closely as those in Langley will have but is it possible he's not being abrasive enough when he reaches the prime scoring areas? Just a thought.

20.Kootenay Ice(Last time # 21)

The Peyton Krebs era in Cranbrook has officially started......O wait,I suppose that'll have to wait until September 2017 however the removal of Zak Zborosky and Matt Alfaro, two loyal soldiers out of the Kootenay locker room has signalled a new page in this franchise's storied history and the curiousity from my end stems from how they'll manage to stay afloat the rest of the way which limited talent and WHL capable bodies. As cringe worthy as these decisions are for the Chynoweth family trying to bring this organization back to respectability, the trades of Zak and Matt were necessary evils. No one likes to see losing on a nightly basis. The question is, who's Luke Pierce going to count on to step up and eat those hard minutes that both Zborosky and Alfaro prided on consuming? Even though Colton Kroeker technically sits as the team leader in points, the realms in my mind have been firmly handed to Vince Loschavio.  The eighteen year old Winnipeg product probably didn't have any visualizations that by this January he'd be called upon to be their best player but when you're eighteen on a revamping team sometimes that comes with the territory.On multiple radio broadcasts, Regina Pats play by play man Phil Andrews was complimentary of Loschavio's performances.Maybe I'm a harder one to please because everytime I've witnessed the game of Vince I'm left underwhelmed which is why it's such a scary proposition that he is now Cranbrook's new crusader.

21.Prince Albert Raiders(Last time # 18)

Junior hockey has become a society enamored with entitlement. It's no secret that in all three leagues, coaches and general managers are forced to coddle players to keep them happy. Often times the resolution results in a trade which in large part is due to kid not receiving enough ice time, sick and tired of losing, wanting to be closer to home. I bring this up because it's refreshing that a future NHL'er,or at least who I suspect will be one recognized that Prince Albert is, to quote a constant quip of TSN's Jamie McLennan, "dumpster fire" and yet Simon Stransky set out to be the solution opposed to the problem. There are so many things wrong with the way this team built. Was their some bad luck along the way case in point Reid Gardiner spending unexpectedly the entire first half of the season before getting shipped away to Kelowna? No question about it but it doesn't excuse Curtis Hunt and Marc Habscheid making bettter hockey personnel decisions.  One particularly still has me scratching my head and that is the decision to trade Josh Maser to Prince George. Everything I've seen and the reports that I've read all pointed to Maser being a bonafide WHL'er and for PA to give up on the player so prematurely is unforgivable. Onto this year's version. one of the bright spots(and forget about the +/-) has been Sean Montgomery. Montgomery is relishing under a top six role and when I broke down the probably lineup down the stretch it donned upon me that Montgomery and newly acquired Jordy Stallard go together like bread and butter. Montgomery is more of a thinker then a doer and when you put him beside Stallard who has the propensity to drive the net hard, well all I'll say to that is that has the making of being a formidable second line next year. Who sees time on the first line next season I don't think is answerable yet.

22.Edmonton Oil Kings(Last time # 20)

Captain Aaron Irving has left has the City of Champions, as has Lane Bauer but where there is loss there is newfound opportunity. The player I want to profile this evening is someone I almost definitely provided a disservice to in earlier renditions and that is Will Warm. After all the trades have shook out in Edmonton, the four defenceman they will look to build around are Brayden Gorda, first rounder Ethan Cap, newly acquired Conner McDonald and the aforementioned Warm. Anytime you're a fifth rounder in the Bantam Draft for which Will was, any tangible contributions are considered a bonus and you can completely chalk this up to pristine scouting by Randy Hansch and company. Edmonton fans will be patient as evidenced by continually flocking Rexall while the Edmonton Oilers were the league's laughing stock and those same die hard fans  won't forget that before the Oil Kings plan ultimately led to the 2014 Memorial Cup they experienced similar if not worse growing pains. If the rebuild ends up fruitul players like Warm will be part of that core. Staying within WHL circles the player Will reminds me of most is former Kootenay Ice John Negrin. The way Negrin deceptively threw around his body while at the same time contributed admirably in the offensive zone is the way I foresee his career unravelling. Bright future ahead, sadly not too many sunny times the rest of this winter.

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