Thursday, August 31, 2017

2017-2018 Western Hockey League Preview(Team 8)

8.Victoria Royals:The ranking of eight with Victoria scares me due to the increasing amount of uncertainties around roster deployment. On the surface I'm convinced if Victoria returns all of their pieces that are eligible then it's within reason that they could compete with Kelowna for the B.C division crown but on the other hand if those surrounded with the clouded future don't get returned to the Island then this particular rendition will be better situated around the ten to twelve position. The pleasant attribute about the Royals last year was that the younger players on the team, the bottom six forwards and bottom defence pairing were immediately proficient in their own end but the trick this year will be if some of them can contribute on the score sheet.The Royals were very top heavy a year ago and that'll have to change as the less headway perennial superstar Matthew Phillips is privy to the more first year Head Coach Dan Price will be reliant on the likes of Eric Florchuk and Kaid Oliver, two individuals that struggled to remain in the good graces of Dave Lowry who was notorious for strictly depending on two lines. O and did I mention that the status of Tyler Soy remains up in the air? Not  a more difficult organization to pin down a placement.

I know the following should be centered around the forwards and in a roundabout way it but as I implied in the opening the fact that this Royal regiment was so top heavy falls squarely on the shoulders of the former coaching staff for which I'm aware Dan Price entered the bench as a first year assistant a year ago but the defincicies this team is destined for are a result of some of the younger forwards, I mentioned a couple in Oliver and Florchuk who essentially rode the pipe and had their development stunted.  I still think the former thirteenth overall pick Fort Saskatchewan native has high potential but in reality for the sake of long term production would've been better served spending another year in Midget as opposed to sputtering on the fourth line, receiving in the ball park of seven to eight minutes a night. The coaching presence on Lowry who I know has moved on to the Los Angeles Kings struck me as a coach who sided with veterans with merit or not wasn't in the business of furbishing future Royals. An apt comparison when comparing this within Western Hockey League circles would be former Kootenay Ice head coach and more recently Erie Otters bench boss Kris Knoblauch. The 2010-2011 championship version of the Ice was an antagonistic bunch that was a nuisance to play against with their relentless speed and their penchant for skating right on that fine line between discipline and senselessness judging from the vast amount of penalty minutes it accumulated.  The game wasn't as free flowing  as it presently is but nonetheless they teetered that line whilst using intimadation tactics all the way to the Ed Chynoweth Cup. You're reflecting internalizing that a league championship was won so where there's no harm there's no foul which looking at short term stands correct but where the shortsightedness stemmed from was that particular team trotted out three lines the entire regular season through the playoffs and the few kids that were kept around for the run sans Sam Reinhart were stymied in complacency, they  weren't getting any better. Adam Rossignol and Erik Benoit had high pedigree rising into the major junior ranks but were spectators for the first two years which in a convoluted way set the Ice on path they've been on for the last six years. The difference between this regime in Victoria and that nucleus in Cranbrook was a league championship. No one is questioning the Royals' competence over this stretch as they've fielded competitive teams but I just hope Lowry' s insistence to ride the veterans hasn't set new Head Coach Price back too far. Speed game has been prevalent on the Island with the now graduated Jack Walker getting the bulk of recognition in that facet but the speed skating torch if you will has been passed over to Dante Hannoun. Hannoun, the modern day Colton Yellow Horn doesn't pack a big punch, a 'McGregor punch' if you will but boy can he fly.. For me in my viewings of Hannoun he has trouble mapping together a sixty minute game. When Dante is engaged in the play and showing emotion by throwing the body around every once in a while there ain't many better but when he settles for being a perimeter player scoring chances aren't being created.  The interesting thing about Hannoun is his playing style is eerily similar to Matthew Phillips and because Matthew has forged a  much more consistent career to date you begin to question if that's the reason he's been bypassed the last two NHL drafts. His numbers, fifty eight in 2015/2016 jumping up to sixty four last season are the type of output that should go hand in hand with a NHL draft selection. The stance most scouts are conceivably taking is because Hannoun is playing second fiddle to Phillips which can't be denied that he's drawing preferable assignments which again can't be argued but my rebuttal to that is what can you change? Unfortunately even though at it's core the Canadian Hockey League prides itself on development it's also a business and for ownership to prosper financially it needs to field a winning product which is why the legitimate hockey fan would know that getting Dante off the second line and permamently clearing a position beside Matthew would pad his stats because by virtue of doing this you've decimated any semblance of depth.Besides Phillips and Hannoun on together 5 on 5 isn't practical as although they're both world class players some sand paper is needed for puck retrieval. Look at the peculiar alignment of Sam Steel and Dawson Leedahl. Dawson could come nowhere near the skill level of Sammy in fact I'm not even sure Dawson could go toe to toe with infamous enforcer John Scott. These examples are being cited to illustrate that the dream alignment of Phillips and Hannoun may be desirable to the fan base but Coach Price will know that he'll need the two of them to  lead their own lines especially if Tyler Soy doesn't return.

As just stated the uncertainty of Tyler Soy's home this winter will cause many a sleepless nights for Cam Hope and Dan Price when the deadline comes to submit their opening day roster. Inexperience on the back end is ubiquitous as they've said final goodbyes to last year's number one defenceman Chaz Reddekopp. As the Royals bowed out at the hands of the Everett Silvertips in the Western Conference quarterfinals the consensus was that he probably wouldn't be back but some were still clinging onto hope that would change. That shimmer was optimism was erased in mid April when Chaz earned an entry level deal with the Los Angeles Kings. The ironic turn of events here was that his Coach was hired on by the Kings a month and a half later so that presumed good repoire he and Dave had could lead to a quick ascension through the farmhand. Based off of the fact that the signing was consummated in April it gave the organization ample time to assess it's next move and they chose to scour the trade market landing Anthony Bishop from Seattle at the expense of Blake Bargar. With Bishop I'm mostly unfamiliar because even though I saw Seattle plenty in the league final his role was so minimal that it was impossible to gauge his upside. As I griped about pertaining to the Rebels and in fairness to the Rebels they're committed to seeing the youthful cycle through for a team in Victoria that finds themselves in a weak division, only two nineteen year olds and no current twenties won't cut it as they refuse to let the now slip by. Who out there could be available you ask?  The frame of mind of Saskatoon Blade management is not yet known but if you take these rankings and preview with a grain of truth(I'll let you know in early November if you can) that Saskatoon projects out as a midpack team especially when you account for that within my top seven you're going to have three teams from the East division not to mention the fact that the team out in the Queen City will be making a hard push with the Memorial Cup carat in site then when an internal evaluation of their own team is complete dangling Evan Fiala may be a wise maneuver and if so Victoria should be running to  the phones. Fiala would be a nice contrast for this edition as the theme of the forward group will be skillfulness and speed and Evan is going to always attend to his own zone and to be afraid to send a message to opposition which would be a welcome site for the aforementioned. Continuing down this Fiala angle there is NO chance the Blades will even entertain moving Evan until closer to January because for too long the franchise has hovered around mediocrity not having hit the thirty win plateau in five years so they'll be patient......until reality sets in that meddling in mediocrity is inevitable again. When discussing defenceman who are currently on roster,as pre-season commences my math dictates that two spots are up for grabs. Scott Walford, Ralph Jarratt, Bishop and Mitchell Prowse are assured roster positions so their will be a select few grasping for limited spots. One of those names is Jonny Lambos. Full disclosure this may be all for not as I can't discern whether Lambos has agreed to a standard player educational agreement with the club so if he hasn't and is pursuing other options then I apologize but if he's vying for a roster spot then it's my perception he has the upper hand. The inclusion of Lambos would be an important one as a lot of what they possess on the back end are defensive minded mentalities, hardly any pure offence. He looks to attack at every opportunity and if he does land a roster spot look for him to be handed second unit power play assignments. The one knock on him is a lack of physicality which from a managerial perspective wouldn't concern me as he's only sixteen and growth and physical maturity will come with age. I could've sworn I read or heard somewhere that he wasn't sold on the major junior route which has prompted trepidation on my part even profiling but if he indeed is island bound then it'll be even sunnier in already beautiful British Columbia.

To insinuate that the goaltender position is an area of weakness would be a boldfaced lie. In a span of two years in the league with only one year as a starter,  Griffen Outhouse has quickly become one of the league's best goaltenders, only arguably behind Everett's Carter Hart and Lethbridge's Stuart Skinner. He in my books was already an elite goaltender but he made headlines nationally due to his heroics in that first round playoff series against Everett. In the sixth and final game of the series, the one that went into the sixth overtime and set Canadian Hockey League records, Outhouse recorded an unbelievable seventy five saves in the loss. If he wasn't a known commodity then he most definitely is now. As I attempted to imply, likely rather poorly the defence isn't the fleetest of foot which means an increased amount of odd-man rushes that will force Outhouse to be even more spectacular.  The heir apparent to Outhouse is no slouch either in Dean McNabb from Davidson,Saskatchewan. If some remember the surname McNabb it's because his older brother Brayden once starred for the Kootenay Ice(jeez, lots of Ice references in this preview). His 2016/2017 team, the Regina Pat Canadians another team who throughout the course of this season preview I feel like I've advocated for a lot was a model organization last season thanks in large part to the play of McNabb. McNabb rose to the challenge and was outstanding in the playoffs into the Hockey Canada Telus Cup and if anything it showed the Royal administration that he's a big game hunter and will have no problem comfortably handling the reigns once Griffen turns professional.The last point I wanted to make with Victoria before I sign off is that through this preview I stressed uncertainty but with a second place division all but locked up it would be calculated to take advantage of this and not sell off in a year where you're virtually guaranteed a second round berth.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

2017-2018 Western Hockey League Preview(Team 9)

9.Red Deer Rebels: Huge props go out to Owner/General Manager/Coach Brent Sutter for adequately restocking the shelves so soon after making a serious push as host team at the 2015 Memorial Cup. Brent wears a lot of hats within the organization and knew what the mandate was as that 2015/2016 campaign pushed forward, stockpile as many assets as possible without keeping a watchful eye on the future. We're going to see more of the same this year out of Regina, the May of 2018 hosts of the Canadian Hockey League championship but where I must give Brent full marks is restoring relevance for this franchise in such short order. Naturally last year was a rollercoaster as the team had limited resources to choose from but when I project this year's edition any acquisition that was completed for that special season bares no real consequence when addressing the depth of the Rebels.Not rushing players who were fringe on reaching the league and shrewd trades has meant that there's no doubt in my mind that Red Deer will prove to be competitive and we're arising to the point in these rankings where the number nine rated Rebs are in the darkhorse classification. A few timely bounces go their way and a spot in the Conference final is an attainable goal.

Two years ago, the reputation this organization had developed was one of truculence. They were big, difficult to play against and didn't take any short cuts. Two of my favourite Western Hockey League players over the last decade were Adam Musil and Evan Polei. As this league and hockey in general is evolutionzing into a speed and skill game, Musil and Polei were throwbacks and bucked that trend. For nostalgic reasons and it's easy to ascertain judging from the title of this blog that  I was/am a huge fan of the Mighty Ducks trilogy everytime I witnessed Adam and Evan step out on the ice I immediately reminisced. the infamous Bash Brothers. From all accounts both Evan and Adam displayed exemplary leadership on the ice and if you were on the fence as to whether that was true, the awarding of captaincy for the 2016/2017 to the big #25 Musil should cement that thought. They were always the spark, when they got down a crash N' bang shift lifted the morale instanteously. The legendary Dean Portman and Fulton Reed fulfilled the same semblance. That's a long tangent for two players that are no longer with the organization but the importance of that inclusion is because that WAS how the incarnation of Rebel teams conducted themselves but with the group assembled, the game plan will be a far cry from yesteryear. The 2017/2018 cast of characters upfront will be built around finesse. The only current top six forward that plays with even a little bit of sand paper is Lane Zablocki and as Lane illustrated during his magical playoff performance he has the propensity to fire a puck or two in the net.  The theme of finesse could be directly correlated to their blockbuster summer acquisition, re-acquiring former Rebel Mason McCarty from the Saskatoon Blades. The trade took me by surprise, not necessarily because Saskatoon shipped him out which was forced due to a influx of quality twenty year olds on Saskatoon's roster but mainly because  I didn't expect Red Deer to be active seeking veterans. Before the McCarty trade I saw promise but I would qualify that by saying that best case scenario would've been a first round playoff exit at the hands of the Lethbridge Hurricanes to now like I forecasted earlier will be in competition with Medicine Hat for a conference final berth. It does beg the question how Sutter intends to use his former pupil.Even though he's listed as a right winger courtesy of, I know factually that he has played some center past, the extent of that center repetition I can't explicitly say but because Lane Zablocki is better suited remaining at  right wing thanks to the advantages he creates retrieving pucks from the corners based off of his size, I suffice to say that on this team transitioning to a permanent number one center is a safe bet.  For someone who purportedly despises the Import 'draft'(don't we all) he's had a recent string of good luck. From Michael Spacek who enjoyed two monstrous seasons in the black,red and white to Alexander Alexeyev who I'll share my thoughts when the defence analysis commences, finding one yet alone two impactful imports is unique but another one has entered the stable who has thick NHL bloodlines with Robert's son Kristian Reichel entering the fray. Two immediate thoughts when it comes to Robert's kid and that is for starters for WHL standards it's becoming rarer and rarer for teams in the league to recruit kids with World Junior experience for which the Czech Republican has in spades, in other words it's reassuring for the coaching staff and the fan base that someone with a solidified track record is coming over and be counted on to play top line minutes.Robust Red Deer supporters along with essentially all other markets throughout the CHL have seen Europeans come and go that they didn't know a lick about prior only to see them fall flat on their face and look completely out of place.. Remember the likes of Tomas Polak and Alexei Zhurba? No, well Brent Sutter wishes he didn't either. Secondly with Kristian's birth year being 1998 it signals a  sign of confidence from Brent to the rest  of his players that he strictly believes that his troops have what it takes contend otherwise he would've settled for a younger, developmental piece. The momentum it should provide the locker room will hopefully have a ripple effect as the McCarty's and Zablocki's of the world can grasp on meaningful hockey potential while inserting another 1998 into the lineup leaves breathing room for the future in a point worth repeating that the more capable veterans you have the better some of the incoming rookies and second years will be for it. Two of the more captivating prospects are Justin Svenson and Chris Douglas and getting tutelage from someone like Kristian who is slated to again suit up for the Czech Republicans for a second consecutive efforts will only reap benefits.

The Red Deer Rebels barring any more trades will unquestionably ice the youngest blueline in the league come opening night and that's not meant as a negative connotation. No twenties, two nineteens but one of which is Jared Freadrich who could be argued he's destined for a 4/5 role, the rest of the crop is eighteen years of age or younger.  Trading Josh Mahura was a necessary evil at the sake of long term betterment which opened the door for some that maybe didn't expect to compete for top four minutes so soon. At the top of the barrel(I feel like I'm using rural references too often, no idea why) is someone that rose to the occasion of lofty expectations until sustaining a freak lower body injury that shut him down for the second half of the season in Alexander Alexeyev. Aside from and I concede this is high praise but aside from Edmonton's Will Warm and Moose Jaw's Josh Brook he's a top three 1999 born defenceman in this league.  This hulking 6'3 186 pound defenceman plays mean and towards the end of his shortened campaign I was beginning to notice he was growing a penchant for controlling the puck, making calm passes inside the trolley tracks and beginning to evolve into more of a complete player whereas in the first handful of games he just sat back and didn't get involved in the offensive zone.  A player that came into his own during this rookie season in the Dub was Carson Sass. In a regular season game against Regina at a juncture where Red Deer still laid claim to Mahura there may have been an injury or two which elevated Carson in the lineup and let me tell you he didn't look out of place and at least from my inspections this was his coming out party. Ironically enough for Pat fans he spent most of the game paired alongside Mahura and it was one of those afternoons where Mahura couldn't do anything right but the seventeen year old Sass was the last line of defence and worked his team out of unenviable positions. Regina won the game but Sass may of won the proverbial war as perhaps Sutter  saw enough out of the Melville,Saskatchewan product that day that he felt the need to allocate more playing time which in the long run saw Josh switch addresses. Sass wasn't drafted last year much to my chagrin but a full year healthy because keep in mind that Sass spent his sixteen year old season in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League so my working theory is that National Hockey League scouts need  to see more of him to justify a selection. With Alexeyev a lock to have his name called next summer and Dawson Barteaux a high probability if Sass can work his way into the good graces there's an outside chance that Red Deer could have an unprecedented three defenceman drafted from the same class heck maybe even if a fourth if former sixteenth overall Bantam selection Jacob Herauf blossoms into a consistent WHL'er. In summarization, there likely isn't a brighter defensive core league wide and you can presume that the ranking of ninth means it'll be a tall order to catch the league's elite this winter but if the defence continues to gel together around the 99/00 age groups then we'll be discussing the strength of the team that could catapult them to a 2018/2019 league championship.

Grayson Pawlenchuk and Mason McCarty are virtual overage locks and there's one other headed to camp this fall, that being Danish Lasse Pettersen. Now because they've only enlisted three twenty year olds to training camp, technically they don't have to make any rash decisions with Lasse however by saying all of that it would be a backwards decision to retain an overager as a back up by virtue of Riley Lamb back in the fold and it's my vantage point that Riley is deserving of another full year between the pipes.  A winning record of 14-12, a save  percentage of .899 on a team that had  a minus nineteen goal differential is respectable and when you compare those to Lasse's numbers his record and save percentage were inferior so I can't fathom the purpose of holding onto him. The optimal solution for Lasse is spend the first month or so being a  supportive battery mate of Riley until the Rebels administration can scour the market for another overage position player and if he performs well you never know how the goaltending is going to shake out in the markets of Moose Jaw or Tri-City so a door may open unbeknownst to him. The likely more important justification for not securing Pettersen's services for the duration of this year is because of who's next in line, this is a young individual who I'm prematurely labelling the next Carter Hart in Byron Fancy. The truth of the matter is universally goaltenders are not ready to play at the age of sixteen but when you're dealing with the best goaltender to come out of the Bantam Draft since, as I said Carter Hart then it becomes imperative to slowly work him in. This is how I foresee the dilemma panning out, it'll be a three goaltender rotation for the first month until a propitious destination for Pettersen is agreed upon and from that point forward Byron can learn the league while being mentored by Lamb. Once the year of mentorship has been exhausted then you're probably staring your 2018/2019 starting netminder in the face. Again, tremendous upside and depth for this organization in all facets. This season will be good, next season promises to be extravagant.

Monday, August 28, 2017

2017-2018 Western Hockey League Preview(Team 10)

10.Lethbridge Hurricanes:I'll take this  moment to pat myself on the back here as over the last two seasons I've correctly the eventual final matchup in the pre-season. I'm going for the three peat and although the Hurricanes don't quite make the grade I will be the first to admit that although my hometown Regina Pats were my pre-season pick in 2016/2017, I backed off that prediction a tad and indicated  to a couple close friends of mine shortly before the post-season commenced that I changed my stance and thought Lethbridge was going to reign supreme in the East. The Canes endured  a valiant playoff effort, battling all the way to game six of the conference final. It shows how strongly I feel about this organization moving forward. Local folk hero Tyler Wong has left junior hockey behind onto professional pastures but not before narrating one of the most poetic careers in franchise history.New leadership will need to be identified.

Through the epic Conference final featuring the Hurricanes and Pats, one thing was abundantly clear and that was without the heroics of goaltender Stuart Skinner that the defence would've been exposed far greater then it ended up being. Numerous times were odd man rushes created stemming from a lack of size on the back end only to time and time again get bailed out by the Edmonton product Skinner.  The root of  the issue that hurt them last year and I project to cripple them again is they're egregiously undersized truly one through seven. The one exception to that rule would've been Balgonie,Saskatchewan stalwart Brennan Riddle who was in competition for one of the overage spots but I've been led to believe that the team and himself have mutually parted ways, was it due to the training camp injury or confirmation that a spot wasn't going to be set aside, I'm not exactly sure but either way the calling card on Brennan was his physicality, a trait sorely missing from the rest of the Hurricanes D. My last point on Brennan before I transition to other defenceman is if the parting ways wasn't in lieu of injury then I can't help but feel that signalling towards Brennan Menell over Riddle is a lapse in judgement  as the skillset Menell provides can be found from many others in the Canes arsenal whereas as I mentioned, the strengths of Riddle are more of a novelty.The one player who could conceivably replace the shut down role of Riddle is someone I'm very with familiar with, that being former Regina Pat defenceman Brady Pouteau.  Hearkening back to last January everyone and their grandmother knew there was a logjam on the Pat D core and someone had to go.That someone ended being Brady which is fine as I figured a change of scenery would equate to more playing time but  what I hated was the compensation. He's a certifiable WHL'er and bluntly a seventh wasn't enough. Devout Hurricane and Pat fans that had their eyes glued to that aformentioned series would surely all cosign that at different points Pouteau was the most consistent defenceman in Brent Kisio's stable.The perception was that the more ice time and responsibility he was awarded that his confidence would continue to grow. It's a scary proposition for fellow Eastern conference participants that the unspoken confidence is bound to again prosper as barring a pre-season meltdown we can pencil him in as a top four defenceman. Daring proclamation here, the type of proclamation that will throw Hurricane fans up in arms is I'm not at all sold on their resident golden boy, Calen Addison. For this piece I re-examined the order of the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft for which he went second overall have concluded that in a redraft he goes number fifteenth maximum.Here's my paramount concern with Calen, being as how he's a defenceman by definition, I'm privy to zero defensive discipline. Now before you throw your tablets to the ground after reading this, try to decipher my explanation. He's sixteen, kids develop at different paces, I'm on board with all of that and even with that the sore point is when they're stapled in their own zone, he's NEVER positioned correctly, a lost puppy would be an apt analogy.  I'd love to be a fly on the wall inside the Hurricanes film study with Calen to observe what message is being pressed down because right now whatever message is being sent,it hasn't been received. You begin to opine if Kisio's systems are too complicated for the now second year and I truly think this has merit as when I viewed this summer's Ivan Hlinka tournament, an event because of the sparse preparation time doesn't utilize complex game plans in a week and a half event. In this event, Calen was masterful, he exuded an inner belief and was flying all over the ice and importantly in response to my criticisms his attentiveness to the defensive game was more purposeful. This has me theorizing that dumbing down the structure should transcribe to a more complete dominant player and when I pen my 2018/2019 preview nothing but positive things to write about Addison.

I feel as if this particular team preview is full of unpopular opinions which won't lose this blogger any sleep but I'm just clamouring to the hope that the opinions, while borderline absurd can be met with deep thoughtfulness and begin to engage in these stimulating conversations which will elicit a wide variety of point of views. After all, in my synopsis for this season preview I did promise a "likely way out to lunch" preview so I'm relatively confident I'm holding up my end of the bargain. Here's another one, even though in the realm of this 2017/2018 the worth of Tyler Wong is rendered irrelevant, I'm convinced that the most important forward on last year's squad and again this season was and will be unsigned Buffalo Sabre prospect Giorgio Estephan. Although many adjectives are fair descriptors for Giorgi, the one that pops up in the top of my head is composed. The uninitiated may transpose Estephan's non existent emotion on the ice as disinterest but from my perspective he may be the best in the Western Hockey League in slowing the game down and letting nothing fluster him. In a round about way he reminds of a lesser Jason Spezza. When you watch Spezza play, at least when I watch Jason go to work he doesn't exactly wow you with flash or exuberance but it's a calmness and not allowing defenceman up in his grill to distract him while making a rushed play. Not just in hockey but in society when you deal with 16-20 year olds it's about unmasking the immaturity of that individual and resigning to their eccentric, often times devilish antics. This relates to the game of junior hockey because when you assemble twenty two teenagers together there's always going to be a glimmer of trying to one up each other, whether that  means outdoing your teammate in a goal celebration or which teammate can dish out the hardest hit, seemingly these kid like tendencies don't faze or motivate the 20 going on 40 year old Giorgio. Now, it's not all hunky dory in the  Estephan camp as a reason rumoured for the Sabres choosing not to sign him to a entry level deal is that he doesn't adapt to the flow of the game all that well. He from the outside looking is a hard minded player that once he has something ingrained in his head he chooses to hold to those principles at all costs against the betterment of the team. It was clear as day that a tactic used by Pat head coach John Paddock in that conference final was  to engage physically at every chance and nothing I saw showed Estephan attempting anything to counteract that. When a player gets harassed in the corner or is getting hacked in front of the net a proven counter measure is to hit back and in situations such as this I really wish the league would track stats as I can safely if recorded the tally would be zero.He has impressive puck skills and a maturity that is beyond his years but in order to secure a pro contract next spring it's crucial he develops an all around game. The 2017/2018 season will not be the las we hear of  Giorgio Estephan.  Mark my word! Next on the docket has to be  2017 playoff revelation not named Carl Stankowski in Whitehorse native Dylan Cozens. To put it mildly he captured the imagination of all Western Hockey League fans by accumulating eight points in twelve playoff a fifteen year old. What jumps off the page first is his height at such a tender age. Measured out at 6'2, 159 LBS for his Midget season which saw him suit up for the Yale Hockey Academy, presuming that measurement occured in the pre-season, the sky is literally the limit and I couldn't even hazard a guess to the height limitations in the future. Getting away from his legendary playoff romp continuing down this height angle, most would raise an eye over a fifteen year old who's already 6'2 and guaranteed to keep growing  if said player's growth spurt would ultimately effect his coordination and skating. From my vantage point, for a tall fellow his skating stride is satisfactory and it's the way he motors up the ice eases any future concerns over a proverbial wall being hit. Speaking of hitting a wall, when the scoring dried out Coach Brent showed no hesitation in inserting Dylan into a top six assignment and when weighing the impact of the loss to Tyler Wong due to graduation, a hole has opened up for the number one line right winner. Dylan enters camp as a center but it's not uncommon for teams to experiment with line combination and positions so if it's determined that their's not a plausible fit on Giorgio's right side than all of a sudden young Dylan becomes a prime candidate. IF he receives considerable playing time on the top unit it'll justify having him on my short list for the Rookie of the Year award.

You can blame my buddies for this abbreviated goaltender prognosis for Lethbridge as I'm tired and ready for bed!  We engaged in a spirited debate over the handling of exiled former Baylor Football Head Coach Art Briles and the decision that saw the Hamilton Tiger Cats hire but later rescind the contract offer amid intense fan and media backlash. While I personally commend all parties finally choosing to come to their senses, although no credit given to the Tiger-Cat organization as this was a disaster from minute one, Mr.Briles is a pig who overlooked sexual offences that took place on his campus and has no business associating with the Canadian  Football League, at it's core family entertainment. This is a polarizing topic and with my group of friends immersed in all sorts of different opinions on the subject matter, the long winded discussion cut back on my allotted time to focus on the Hurricane netminders. I'll quickly summarize by saying this, it's no secret Stuart Skinner fights inconsistencies which is a paramount reason for why his draft stock slipped in the National Hockey League having his name called by the Edmonton Oilers seventy eighth overall where back last fall some  scouts had Stuart Skinner ranked as high as a late first rounder. When those purported inconsistencies  are behind him there aren't many in the business better and what must eat away at him is knowing full well that there's nothing he can do in the first half to supplant a spot on the 2018 World Junior team. The elephant in the room in Carter Hart isn't going anywhere which hinders any possibility of Stuart getting the nod internationally.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

2017-2018 Western Hockey League Preview(Team 11)

11.Calgary Hitmen: Entering last year I was under the stern belief that the Calgary Hitmen were contenders which was met with plenty of questioning.  In fairness to the readers of this blog they were 100% correct. I didn't envision the goal scoring to be so anemic with Cow town only accumulating two hundred and fifteen goals, fifth worst in the conference. The defence held up to expected standards but weren't assisted consistently enough by the forwards which led to a decidedly titled time of possession in the defensive zone. Puck control was a glaring red flag. Some changes were administered in the front office with long time Kootenay Ice owner Jeff Chynoweth now overtaking the General Manager's position and NCAA convert Dallas Ferguson coming over from Alaska-Fairbanks. I know virtually nothing pertaining to Ferguson's coaching style but one thing is for certain, putting a premium on offence is imperative. The brand implemented particular in 2016/2017 won't suffice in the run and gun genre of hockey that we currently reside in. I respect the fact that the strength of this club is on the back end but basic offensive fundamentals must be preached or they will stay entrenched in this rut.

Am I out of line comparing this Hitmen organization to that of the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the sense that Tampa Bay who called upon Brad Johnson under center that year was solely reliant on it's defensive escapades while employing Pop Warner football tactics to make due offensively.Whatever structure former Head Coach Mark French encouraged last year must be scrapped and somehow,someway there's got to be a philosophical shift in getting this group of forwards to play with speed. I grant that could be because the cast of characters didn't allow a different configuration to deployed but aside from the counter productive game  planning most nights from my viewings they looked very lethargic.After analyzing the depth charts it is true that they don't possess a wide array of team speed so we must dissect what can be done to rectify this issue. Stretch passes are becoming the norm in this era and by opening up the ice surface it'll force the oppositon defence to back off and in lieu of this should allow further free spaces for the centers cutting through the middle. The irony of me critquing the overall velocity of this group is they do lay claim to one of the Western Hockey League's finest skaters in Matteo Gennaro. It was a general observation the lineup as a whole but certainly doesn't apply to Matteo. I was listening to an interview between Hitmen play by play broadcaster Brad Curle and  the 'Pipeline Show' host Guy Flaming(great interview btw) and Brad was fairly confident as am I that Gennaro will return for his twenty year old season. In the same corresponding interview Brad shared his thoughts that four guys were battling for three positions and that there was the assertion that him and I respectfully disagree. From my vantage point IF Matteo continues down the junior route then it becomes three guys for two spots. With all due respect to fellow overagers Jakob Stukel, Brady Reagan and the newly acquired netminder Nick Schneider they are not on the same level and I'll take it a step further by classifying Matteo as a top three twenty year old league wide. The beauty about Gennaro is his acumen for excelling in all areas over the ice.  He's made seismic leaps in the O-zone with as he increased his goal output from eighteen in 2015/2016 to forty three last year. It's not just that for why I consider him a special player, he also  is a 'world class' penalty killer. My adage(it's not mine at all, I ripped it off somebody) is that you find me someone with superb wheels and I'll point out a great penalty kill and that description fits him to a T. A full healthy season and the coveted fifty goal mark on an improving Calgary team isn't out of the realm of possibilities.  Matteo is the present but who exactly the future? That honour gets handed to Fort St.John,BC masterpiece Tristen Nielsen. Don't let the 2016/2017 statistics paint a picture that doesn't exist as the point total doesn't match up with on ice performance. It's actually quite astonishing that when you do the post-mortem on his season that he only computed seven points,  unfathomable really! If I had to sum up Tristen in a short sentence it would be doesn't back down.Rarely will you see a player that exudes such tenacity, nevertheless a sixteen year old rookie. There are a multitude of reasons I wanted to profile him but not the least of which was wrapping this around to my original hypothesis of the Hitmen notoriously playing at a dinosaur pace. Tristen can skate and I begin to wonder whether part of the problem a year ago was that his linemates couldn't  keep up and the hope is that coach Ferguson notices this and lends a hand to Nielsen's development by testing him alongside Gennaro. A mentor aiding the student scenario.  It's not uncommon for coaches to place highly regarded prospects with veterans often times yielding positive results. I'll never forget that during the 2011-2012 WHL playoffs a fifteen year old Moose Jaw  Warrior by the name of Brayden Point was called up for the playoffs en route to the conference final and saw time with Quinton Howden and Justin Kirsch. His play was garnering such good reviews that he begun to inherit significant power play time. If Nielsen playing beside veterans can translate to a career in the Brayden Point ball park then Hitmen supporters will be through the roof.

I'll repeat my stance that defence is where it all starts for Calgary. Carolina Hurricane prospect Jake Bean naturally plays a big role in that but he's not the sole contributing piece at their disposal. I thought Belarusian Vladislav Yeryomenko was fantastic in first year venturing into North America  Not to label an entire continent one way but it's my experience that Europeans,  especially European defenceman come in and during the rookie seasons play with a severe level of tentativeness. That supposed adaption period memo seemingly didn't reach Vladislav. His adaptability learning new systems, languages and cultures was expedited. Where I'll give former coach French credit and I'm curious to see whether Ferguson carries similar principles is the decision to eventually pair up Bean with Yeryomenko was brilliant.  You can say what you want about Jake and I've definitely been harsh in my assessment over the past couple years but coupling the two together is the perfect contrast as with Bean joining the rush at every chance, Vladislav can be the last line of defence, a role he's very comfortable feeling.  By saying that what would happen sporadically is the back check would zone in on Jake so much so that they would ignore the Belarusian(I grew tired of typing out the name) and he'd swoop in and for a "defensive defenceman" he recorded a commendable twenty five points.  I spoke earlier to my insistence that the Hitmen would have three overagers competing for two spots but to clarify barring an unforeseen circumstance(trade, pre-season injury etc) that the decisions have likely already been made. Stukel and Gennaro are too important for the offence and Nick Schneider was an off-season  acquistion so it appears Brady will have to latch onto somewhere else across the league or else pursue the Junior A route. That compounded by the realization that ice time needs to be found for young studs in Drea Espositio and Jackson Van der Leest, the writing is very much on the wall. Let's talk about Drea Esposito from  Winnipeg who fell to the fifth round of the 2015 Bantam Draft.Van Der Leest will deservedly receive increased attention over his own draft position but I argue that Esposito is in a position to pitch in extensively. Another own end minded defence, like seriously Bean may have to direct all scoring chances himself, similarly to Yeryomenko(ok I typed it one more time) he takes care of his own end before averting his attention to other aspects and although some may view this as an unfair comparison, the only thing separating Vlady(18) and Drea(17) are age. Truthfully carbon copies of one another.  As a member of the wildly successful Winnipeg Wild Midget program,  I think I may of cited this already once or twice he did register above average levels of scoring touch so it'll come down to whether or not they're ready to push Drea up the depth charts so his own inner confidence can rise. It'll be a tough ask with Bean,Yeryomenko, Jameson Murray and Van Der Leest by virtue of draft position pre ordained inside the top four. It'll take a stellar first couple months combined with Drea capitalizing on an increased assignment while Jake tends to an extended look at Hurricanes camp/World Juniors.

The goaltending position for Calgary is where I hold my hottest take. If Cody Porter at the time of this writing has landed on his feet with a different Western Hockey League organization then I congratulate him but to my knowledge he hasn't. To put it bluntly Porter was handled very poorly by this team on levels that we haven't seen since maybe Isiah Thomas with the Boston Celtics(or, did that just happen?) For Porter to be discarded only to eventually bring in another twenty year old in Nick Schneider is inexcusable. He'd be the first to admit that 2016/2017 was an injury plagued campaign however by working his way back to be physically ready for playoffs when he could've just as easily mailed it in shows resilience and how was he paid back you ask? That's right......with his outright release. Like I implied I have no idea what options exist for Cody, sometimes overagers get contacted by teams from the O or the Q in search of  a goalie and I'm hopeful something will materialize because when 100% he was one of the best tenders in this league. Schneider and Porter's save percentages were virtually identical the last two years and it can't be argued that Porter backstopped an inferior team. Schneider had such little support amongst Medicine Hat Tiger hierarchy that they were left little choice but to haul in Mike Bullion from Portland in an attempt to save the season. This is the guy you're choosing to "upgrade" with? Give me a break!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

2017-2018 Western Hockey League Preview(Team 12)

12.Brandon Wheat Kings:What the Brandon Wheat Kings were able to accomplish over the course of a two year stretch dating from the 2014-2015 campaign through 2015-2016 was nothing short of extraordinary reaching back to back finals, ultimately conquering the competiton in 2015/2016. The consistency shown over those two seasons is rare and the expected turnover heading into 2016/2917 tempered with realistic achievements and it showed marred in an injury plagued year from Nolan Patrick led Brandon to a feeble first round exit at the hands of the Medicine Hat Tigers. The questionable return of now Philadelphia Flyer prospect will be a storyline worth following for Wheatie fans as the permanent loss of Patrick will not only rid themselves of a valuable trade asset but immediately leave the season in peril. Remember, this is a projection on how the season is 'projected' to shake out as the Wheaties on paper are better than the given ranking of twelve.

It's been said 2016/2017 was a great evaluation tool for the Wheat Kings coaching staff spearheaded by David Anning as for most players on the squad, true colors were shown without the likes of Jayce Hawryluk, John Quenneville and Tim McGauley to disguise individual mistakes. When comparing some of the key players statistics to the next, a chunk of the core failed to meet with requirements when pressed with larger assignments. The carat of playing alongside Nolan Patrick not withstanding how little he played(only suited up for thirty three regular season games) was a significant one but also something where I felt the coaching staff erred in. As training camp approached a year coming off two banner seasons and given the state of some of their divisional rivals, the Swift Current Broncos and Regina Pats to name a couple, the decree should of read one of development. When focusing in on the forward group there wasn't a lot of development going on. Did the sheer potential of a conference championship three cloud the judgement of those in charged? I doubt it but for most hockey observers we weren't able to get a good or any read at all on some of the future including Caiden Daley,  Connor Gutenberg and Cole Reinhardt. Too many times Anning would resort to three line hockey leaving those mentioned in the dust of playing time. The follow up to all of this is whether enough was shown of those three when did they receive their limited ice time. First with Caiden Dailey and I know he was highly regarded out of the 2015 draft but hockey intelligence was sparse. I saw a player that consistently would pursue an aggressive forecheck which is a posiive but when he got the puck never knew what to do with it. If he can pair the visible aggression with the prolific he showed as a member of the Winnipeg Wild then I think they have something to write home about but until it's all put together, Anning will rightfully be tentative in allocating increased ice time. As much as I'm trepadatious with the 2017/2018 outlook of Daley, Gutenberg has sixty point potential as early as this season. Although as I opined in the opening the chance does exist that Patrick could get sent back to Brandon but whether he does or not he'll be rewarded with an extended look in the NHL thus opening the door to top line minutes for Connor. Tanner Kaspick will be pencilled in as the Wheaties forward but in my eyes not the most talented, that approbation gets bestowed upon the eighteen year old Gutenberg.  The difference amongst Kaspick and Gutenberg is night and day. Connor with his bull dog north south game is a puck hound that if not this year in the near future could reach the forty goal plateau. Whereas with Kaspick, the recognition he's given as a third line checking center is just and it's that very skillset that may propel Tanner  to a spot on the World Junior team. What plagued Tanner was he tried to do too much last year as he figured with the injuries building up, namely Patrick that he had to take on a purely offensive role which by virtue reduced his defensive propensity. His penalty killing prowess which some would have you believe was in the upper echelon league wide became out of sync. My fondest memory of Tanner was during his seventeen year old season him and the beleaguered Duncan Campbell formed of the premier shut down duos. Getting back to basics will open doors for Tanner that he doesn't currently see. Wrapping this back around to Gutenberg, the fact that both he and Tanner are natural centers will complicate matters when Anning pieces together a lineup but given any other options, lining up Kaspick and himself on the first line appears to be his only play.

Referencing back to my 2016/2017, I echoed the notion that I had some reservations over Kale Clague and as last season progressed those fears were quickly erased. In fact as an eighteen year old setting foot in his third full season I knew that Kale wanted to infiltrate himself into more of a leadership role after primarily being utilized as a third pairing defenceman throughout Brandon's championship run. The departures of Ivan Provorov and current Binghamton Senator staple Macoy Erkamps could've left the back end in shambles but Kale took charge and inserted himself as the number one rearguard in short order. His first half was so successful that it led to a World Junior selection camp invitation eventually winning one of the seven spots.  The reason for the aforementioned reservations as last season began were due the proneness of getting beat on routine one on one battles often times at the expense of an inferior player. Additionally, his lauded shot wasn't anything spectacular but that was until then as seemingly after hearing his name called by the Los Angeles Kings his confidence skyrocketed. The point total dropped from forty three to forty which should be taken with a grain of salt as the state of the team worsened but I can't be the only one who noticed more purpose in his game. The passes were crisper, the shot was getting through and physically he was holding his own efficiently in important puck battles. His arch reminds me of former Calgary Hitmen and Vancouver Giant Paul Albers. The assumption is that he'll pave out a greater professional career then Albers given his lofty NHL draft status but just in the way they initially disappointed at least through my eyes only to become dominant in all facets once provided  tangible role. I spoke about possible transition with the Wheaties and a snip it of that is about the probability of Clague eventually getting traded. It'd be a difficult acquisition to sign off on with the meager outlook of those behind him on the back end but a necessary one as again with the Regina Pats,  Moose Jaw Warriors and Swift Current Broncos projected to very strong playing for fourth can't be the goal. The Regina Pats gift wrapped Morgan Klimchuk to Brandon when their push was made, it wouldn't surprise me to see the favour reciprocated with him being sent to the Queen City. There or PDX.  Irregardless if Kale leaves or not, the depth is thin and it'll be up to the coaching staff to identify Western Hockey League calibre talent. Someone like 2016 first round bantam selection Braden Schneider may be thrust into the spotlight sooner then ready but as I've already talked about a couple times over the course of this preview, in today's NCAA-CHL raging war, a first round nod all but assures a roster spot at sixteen. Haven't seen much of Braden other then the Saskatchewan Midget AAA playoffs. The Prince Albert Mintos, his club team were the favourite in the provincial Midget league but essentially skated to mediocre results followed by a unfortunate playoff showing.The reports on Braden were that he joined the rush frequently and has a work in progress shot. Does that sound like someone you may be familiar with? It should as Kale Clague had a similar scouting report out of Lloydminster. Opportunity aplenty for Braden or at least there better be with aside from European Daniel Bukac the other four positions are very much in limbo? An upgrade in the overage department is likely recommended because with Logan Thompson clamping down to the starting goaltender assignment, General Manager Grant Armstrong may scour the league for upgrades over current options James Shearer and Kade Jensen. A young player like Braden has drawn in at the perfect time and hopefully if the cards are played right we're talking about him in the same light as we're talking about Clague.

At the sake of not repeating myself, winning the Lotto Max may be prove to be an easier task then locating a capable goalie in this league. In no way shape or form do I believe Logan Thompson has what it takes to carry the load but who does? Logan had his moments last season and his size, listed a 6'2 is definitely advantageous but he was ripe for the catastrophic rebound and that is something that will have to be fined tuned with Goalie Coach Tyler Plante. Unless goalies are growing off trees then it'll be another long year between the pipes. The re-emergence of Plante would be kind of cool, eh?

Thursday, August 24, 2017

2017-2018 Western Hockey League Season Preview(Team 13)

13.Everett Silvertips: The Kevin Constatine era is officially behind us. Constatine was a controversial coaching figure in the state of Washington as he was often chastised for his trap coaching tactics.In all fairness to Constantine,who's now went to coach overseas this clouded perception he built up througout the years was outdated as over the last couple seasons the goal output from the 'Tips was in the middle half in 2017-2018. They were a team a year ago that pushed the pace enough to exceed their 229 goals for total and the bigger issue was they were talent deficient in the forward core. In comes Dennis Williams and I don't know exactly what kind of structure he prefers but regardless of the coaching philosophies, because the organization went all out in pursuit of the Ed Chynoweth by bringing in the likes of Aaron Irving, they're ear marked for a transitional season. In all likelihood I've seeded Everett too high but we'll see what Williams can pull out of his hat.

It goes without saying that the departures of Noah Juulsen and Aaron Irving are impossible shoes to fill. You can't continue on seamlessly when you lose arguably two of the top five defenceman in the dub last season but after examining who's coming back and which fresh faces will arrive and contend for a top six role I've come to the surmisation that the long term outlook is favourable. Primed for a breakout season is Gianni Fairbrother. I originally thought after the heroics he displayed for the Burnaby Winter Club that he would be a prime candidate to be a unforeseen roster inserton but evidently after reading between the lines it was clear that Everett was not in favor of having a sixteen year old back there when in their heart of hearts thought a pinnacle season was on the horizon. Fairbrother didn't sulk and headed back to a North Vancouver Midget club and showcased the type of talent and vision Silvertip nation can expect for years to come. In Silvertip terminology filtering way back in the archives the best comparable may be Shawn Heshka but with more offensive potential. If Williams wisely slows Fairbrother into the regular rotation he over the next year will evolve into a more consistent 5 on 5 player but where he'll be able to chip in right away is on the power play. A problem from my memory was under Constantine's 2016-2017 edition they had no threat from the back end on the power-play.Anyone who reads and claims Montreal Canadian prospect Noah Juulsen was proficient on the power play is delusional because as good as Noah in all other facets, generating offence on the man advantage is an area where Noah couldn't pull his weight. With a very young defence in the cards, Kevin Davis being the only true veteran with tangible WHL experience,coach Dennis will present plenty of specialty time for Gianni.It's his spot to lose. Speaking of that Kevin Davis, when he looks around at his counterparts he'll start thinking he's a senior citizen or something My projections have Davis(20), a probable team captain candidate,Wyatte Wylie(18), Fairbrother(17), Jake Christiansen(18), Montana Oneybuchi(17) and Ian Walker(17) which for Major junior standards is very young. Two initial thoughts....1)the ever hyped Max Goldade can't come soon enough and 2)Unless their's a disconnect between coaching staff and franchise goaltender Carter Hart then General Manager Gerry Davidson better find a way to snag a veteran over or Hart(and Davis) are going to receive enough bumps and bruises that will last a lifetime. Back to Davis who had an exceptional season will have to replicate the successes and act as a mentor for the youngens on this squad. Davis is Mr.reliable that without any hesitation can say will be on the top power play and penalty kill units. Logging 35 minutes a night is not out of the realm of possibilities.

The childlike defence will have to be buoyed by the forwards, but can it after equal amount of turnover upfront? Dominic Zwerger as an import was never coming back for his overage season however the loss of Eetu Tuulola stings because the decision to stay overseas wasn't a sure bet when the off-season began. Granted the Silvertips have two new imports scheduled to arrive in Pavel Azhgirey and Martin Fasko-Rudas and realizing one of the two has the chance of meeting or hopefully surpassing the value of Tuulola you always felt Tuulola was a safer bet as the Calgary Flames saw something they admired expending the 156th overall selection in the summer of 2016. The theme of this forward synopsis and realistically the entire organization will be proven talent. We know the galactic levels Patrick Bajkov can reach after finishing an outstanding season which saw the Nanaimo native lead the team in points with seventy eight but can he duplicate the feat with a different set of linemates? Conventional wisdom would state that the logical iniative would see him get paired with Matt Fonteyne on the top unit but taking into consideration the amount of inexperience throughout this lineup,will Williams split them apart searching for balanced scoring? Personally I would as even though they have pre existing chemistry, it's important for both Patrick and Matt to spread the wealth and show the ropes to some of the younger folk. A beneficiary of this line of thinking could be Ethan Browne. Browne not only is the brightest rearguard they possess in the farm but given the cyclic nature of junior hockey he will be counted on to be the present aswell. What if he's not ready you ask? Doesn't matter and can't matter and here's why: The NCAA-WHL recruitment war is at an all time high and simply put teams throughout the Western Hockey League can't afford a patient development because they know without assurances of prompt playing time it'll burn bridges that aren't repairable. To make matters worse in 2017 because this is a growing trend in Western Canada with these hockey academies laying claim to 95%(if not more) of the top prospects, word of mouth spreads fast and if a players family feels slighted by said organization then they will share their disappointment to the next parent who in all actuality will disapprove of their kid comittting to the league. Is it right or healthy for the game that this is happening? No and for someone like Browne who I'm not at all insinuating that he has extraordinate guarantees in place but to set an example for down the line. The sad reality as well is that often times jumping in when not ready drastically stunts development. I think back to the case of 2008 Kootenay Ice selection Brendan Hurley. Hurley throughout his turbulent tenure with the Ice demonstrated some endearing power forward tendencies and it did seem with the proper tutelage he could've thrived in the Western League but with Brendan thrust in as a sixteen year old he lost confidence early and never recovered. I hope the insistence to throw Ethane Brown in the fire won't prove to have the same consequences.  A storyline I'm looking forward to following during training camp is the progression of Orrin Centazzo. Centazzo in a limited role showed signs of capability and what really stuck out like a sore thumb was the shot in his arsenal. The role he'll be allocated will be determined in the pre-season but similarly to Fairbrother whether or not he sees regular even strength action, put him in the hash with that Corey  Perry-esque wrister and he instantly becomes an asset for the coaching staff. Skating needs work.

You can ascertain after scouring through this preview that problems and decisions are present throughout the lineup but the goaltending position ain't one of them. There's only one team a year that can lay claim to the Canadian Hockey League's top goaltender and the Silvertips have been blessed with that distinction the past couple of seasons and a three peat is destined. That is unless an intriguing scenario presents itself. For you friendly chaps that have been following this preview dilligently then you'll notice that the Tri-City Americans haven't been rated yet and spoiler alert....they're not coming any time soon. Where I'm going with this is, is it at all possible that two 'hated?' divisional rivals would engage in a blockbuster that could see Carter Hart get shipped off to the Ams to put the finishing touches on their championship run? It's been reported that after news broke that Americans goaltender Evan Sarthou chose to attend school and forego his last season and Patrick Dea now in camp, it's not a impossibility that if Dea can't shut the door a uniform change for Carter should at least not be laughed at.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

2017-2018 Western Hockey League Preview(Team 14)

14.Vancouver Giants- I'd sincerely hope for the patrons that have taken the time to thoughtfully read over this season preview to date haven't found any one criticism too harsh but that's bound to change after finishing scouring through the profile of the G-Men. It's my position that under this Glen Hanlon managed regime has been grossly mishandled. The common belief as the off-season began was that former first overall pick Tyler Benson could present himself as the league's most attractive trade chip as 2017/2018 got under way but after the mind boggling acquisition of twenty year old Brad Morrison, the question in Langley that is now repeatedly getting asked is if the Morrison hauls signals a shift in philosophy and if Tyler Benson will spend the duration of his career with the Giants. If you would've posed this question to myself in early May I would've been blunt by unhesitatingly  stating a Tyler Benson trade(the Memorial Cup host Regina Pats were salivating) was inevitable and a proper retool around the enigma himself Tyler Popowich and 2016 Bantam Draft third overall selection Bowen Byram was in store but after all of this tomfoolery transpiring within the Giants administration I'm doubting any one of the tradeable chips get moved. Congratulations Vancouver, by staying pat you've secured the ranking of fourteen in a year that should've had you around nineteen or twenty. To repeat,I apologize for my direct criticism but I didn't feel as if providing a false sense of confidence to the Langley fan base was at all beneficial. If  a mediocre team is what you want.....well a mediocre team is what you'll get.

I've hopefully clearly illustrated my stance that the likes of Tyler Benson, Brad Morrison and Ty Ronning presuming he returns and I've heard nothing to the contrary should be dealt but none of the rhetoric put out by Glen Hanlon and coach Jason McKee is backing that narrative so instead we'll spend some time profiling the young pupils who will be here beyond this campaign. The opening saw me label Tyler Popowich an enigma so it's only fair that I elaborate on that.Any one who watches Tyler out on the ice knows the talent is undeniable but what residents of the Greater Vancouver area(is that what folks of Langley call themselves?) are seeing isn't meeting the eye when glancing the scoresheet. Additionally you can't use lack of playing time as an excuse as although I just cited a stubborness for not unloading some veterans particularly in the second half Coach McKee allocated reasonable minutes, reasonable enough that accuulating nine points will not cut it. Popowich was a standout with the Okangan Prep Academy but without knowing difintively I'm wondering if a late growth spur led to the style change he was forced to implement. The scouting report coming out of his draft was that he was a swift skater that excelled in creativity. In this instance the provided report greatly differs from the way he's forced to channel himself now. Giant fans, does that sound like anybody you might know,er...maybe your team captain? The comparables between Popowich and Benson are uncanny and I'm not for a minute suggesting their bantam numbers are similar because as we all know Benson received national praise going as high as receiving a shout out from TSN icon Bob McKenzie when Tyler was fourteen. Simply put, the Oiler prospect Benson has been called the second greatest Bantam from Alberta with only Ty Rattie surpassing him in reputation. Kids his age as Benson progressed to the dub eventually caught up with him and wrapping this back around to  Popowich, that's exactly what's been happening to him. To differentiate himself now it's important that he take lessons from his captain and implement a truculent brand of hockey because that's how he'll get noticed from NHL scouts in his draft year.As a general rule we see this time and time again where a player goes through minor hockey scotch free but reaches the Western Hockey League and doesn't know how to adapt. Against(insert any Surrey,BC minor hockey player here) he'll win a one on one battle in his sleep but when pitted against some of the Western Conference's stellar defenceman, Juuso Valimaki, Cal Foote and Chaz Redekopp to name a few he'll be taken to school and you best believe as his profile rises you won't see too many opposing coaches not respond back with their top pairings. Some time in the proverbial classroom will be of great benefit to him.
Continuing on the theme of Tyler's next on the docket is someone who received a cup of coffee with the club last season but will be looking to cash in on a double double this year in Tyler Ho. I hope I can get through penning my thoughts without growing tired of typing the name Tyler but this Prince George Cougar draft pick was the sticking point in negotiations at the deadline that ultimately saw Radovan Bondra head over to PG and I'm genuine in my approval of this trade as Hanlon and co made out like bandits. Assuming he does stick around the entire season but you truly never know with this organization then I think he immediately becomes a breakout candidate for this team. An interesting tidbit about Tyler, well there's actually a couple in that with his October 2000 birthdate he's not eligible until the 2019 draft and that piece of information alone insinuates the sky is the limit and if he can contribute consistently for the next two seasons which I have no doubt about then a first round bid won't be farfetched at all. Secondly, in addition to attempting to impress not only his own coaching staff and NHL scouts he's mindful of even a greater opportunity down the road, five years to be exact. Ho's family applied for a program sponsored by the Chinese hockey federation to attend a camp that has the goal identifying young talent for the 2022 Winter Olympic in Beijing. With Ho's Chinese ancestry and early inclusion on the Chinese hockey radar in a few years we may look back fondly and remember him as Giants star, NHL star and international pioneer for an infant hockey program.

It'll be up to the likes of Darian Skeoch, rising star Dylan Plouffe and incoming future franchise bluechipper in  Bowen Byram who comes in with assurances to fulfill a top four assignment to rectify what was a hot mess defensively. The Giants allowed a conference worst two hundred and ninety six goals against which can't be tolerated for a playoff aspiring unit. For starters and full dislcosure a struggling penalty kill isn't always due to an anemic d-core but the problem with the make up last year at least from my perspective was that it didn't bother hatching down on key assignments instead grew a penchant for running around recklessly and getting caught with numbers flying down the other way. In my viewings the two players most directly responsible for the aforementioned reckless nature were Skeoch himself and Marcus Kichton. In earlier previews I endorsed aggressive hockey because that breeds winning hockey but there are a multitude of cases where some of the league's greater defenceman such as Nolan Foote, using his name for a second time, won't hesistate to join the rush but only after the job is completed in their own end. Knowing when to assist the forwards is an art for and the Foote's and Josh Brooks's have mastered the craft but hopefully McKee and assistant Dean Chynoweth can accenuate the importance of playing physical but to play within yourself. As someone who could tell my hometown Pats were on the verge of something magical last season one of the names I was advocating to my friends as to who they should bring in for the playoff run was Skeoch. Purportedly well received in the locker room, he has earned the reputation as one of the feared defenceman with his monstrous hitting ability but as a 20 in this league and I suppose I should clarify that I'm assuming he'll win a job as an overager and really when looking at projected depth charts it's really a no brainer. In fact if the long awaited Benson trade ever does materalize then he's the logical replacement to fill the captaincy void. My plea to Darian is this, your reputation precedes you, players grow timid when engaging in the corner against you so use that your advantage. The sheer threat of being hit is more powerful then the hit itself and as a leader taking an egregious penalty kill knowing your squad kills penalties at a 72% clip is not advised. On a brighter note,does anyone else subscribe to the theory that a fault of National Hockey League teams is they tend to prematurely write off players from non playoffs in the second half of the season.It's the only plausible explanation for why Dylan Plouffe didn't have his name called! Purely unexplainable! While Skeoch exudes physical components that Plouffe and most other defenceman are envious of, it's Plouffe's polished repertoire at the tender age of eighteen that leaves me in amazement. I don't think I'm straying out of line by pronouncing Plouffe as the overall defensive M.V.P for the club a year ago. The one knock and likely the reason he was left undrafted professionally was because he has to pack more punch to his game. I can recite countless examples of kids who head home after their seventeen year old season concludes and come back a different looking player physically. A more recent example of this would be Medicine Hat Tiger Ty Schultz(jeez, another Ty). Throughout his first couple seasons Ty would routinely get pushed off pucks and wasn't strong enough to make up for his mistakes on the backcheck. Fast forward to a couple years later and Schultz protected the puck more confidently and Shawn Clouston could safely use him in any situation. With age comes experience and this is exactly why Giant faithful should expect more from a player that was already fairly spectacular. His hockey I.Q is through the roof and is already a silky smooth skater. Teams may have had apprehension this past June but NO chance he goes undrafted. Anchor this defence and he could go as high as the third round.

It's Ryan Kubic's job to lose but not necessarily by choice.You ask any WHL observer and the consensus there may have never been a year like this where the goaltender market is so thinned out. If a more enticing option comes along naturally you would see the Giants jump all over it but the truth is right now,he's the best option and that's sad state of affairs. An .895 save percentage at first glance doesn't look to good and what Ryan(and the coaching staff) are petitioning for is a sounder defensive structure which will have a ripple effect on his numbers.Barring a miracle this will be Ryan's last kick at the can in the dub so he should soak it all in.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

2017-2018 Western Hockey League Preview(Team 15)

15.Saskatoon Blades: I'll be the first to admit that when I was organizing this preview that out of all the teams I had some of the most difficulty deciding where to place the Blades. The best way to give some background on how I rated these teams would be to say from the 22nd ranked Edmonton Oil Kings to the 16th ranked Prince Albert Raiders, this group of seven teams are the furthest away from  contention and would construe that they have 0.00% chance of hoisting the cup. To focus this back on Saskatoon, they teeter just on the brink of being excluded from the pretender classification and arguably just latch on the pack from now until approximately eleven that given a smooth set of circumstances could win a playoff round but realistically aren't in a position to give the top ten teams any scare. If management elects to pull back and part ways with some veterans then they'll likely be closer in calibre to the bottom seven. Part of the complication with this incarnation is after an initial glimpse at the roster it's actually quite veteran laden which will mean excruciating decisions for the Priestner's as they figure out which direction is taken for this year's squad.

Once again the Blades will carry a heavy European influence on the backend, particularly with those inserted at the top of the depth charts.It's rare although probably becoming more common that a single import sends as many as three seasons with the same organization and that's where we'll begin with Libor Hajek. Hajek, who had his name called by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2016 is now preparing for year # 3 in Toon town. After accumulating twenty six points respectively the last two campaigns, more offence will be expected out of Libor as the scouting report consists of someone that is a puck mover. I'm not insinuiating that 26 points is a concerning production level but for  someone that will be called upon to be the top billing again, Head Coach Dean Brockman will be counting on Libor to push the pace a tad more consistently this winter. When doing a deep dive into Libor's statistics the most surprising revelation is that he's only produced seven goals. Everything you were hearing and reading and I believe it was Craig Button for TSN who during his draft year marvelled over the booming shot he carried in his repertoire but evidently isn't using it enough and in the games I've had the fortune of watching him play I can say he needs to let loose more and quit worrying so much about making the conventional, safe play. If he's doing it to appease the Lightning then he's going about it the wrong because in today's NHL where goal scoring is at a premium often times the 'safe' play is the wrong one because the transition game is far too prevalent to pass on grade A chances and this goes far beyond my personal viewings but when you're averaging 3 goal/27 assists season, it's a commendable season but more assertion is unquestionably needed. Not knowing the complete rosters for teams out east in the Ontario and Quebec leagues I can't factually state this to be true but I'm going out on a limb by saying that the Blades defence core will be part of a small percentage that has two Europeans on the top pair with the other needing to be profiled in Mark Rubinchik. No doubt in my mind that natural progression will one day see Libor but conversely with Mark that's an interesting case study. Rubinchik was bestowed the honor of being Saskatoon's seventh overall selection in the 2016 Import Draft as a seventeen year old in his draft year but I think if you poll the majority of Blades fans, what was advertised didn't come to fruition. First of all, let's re assure those that are reading this for the first time that the Import Draft isn't a fair enterprise.It's a agent negotitated draft so the underlying point here is that by no means in a real draft does Mark go seventh. I mean, Nico Hischier who later was the 2017 first overall pick in the National Hockey League draft was pegged fifth in the Import  draft so that tells you all you need to know. I just finished theorizing that Rubinchik may see time on the top pairing but that's not me suggesting he's the Blades second best defenceman, that goes out to #47 Evan Fiala but is a good compliment for Hajek because by giving Libor the assurance that he has a defensive rock playing alongside him(ala Rubinchik) the expectation there is that the Czech Republican World Junior hopeful can join the rush much more frequently. From time to time for Europeans who enter their rookie season, they play timid and tentative and that was abundantly apparent with Mark. His calling card is his defensive escapades and even though that's a positive attribute to possess too many times last season and this inevitably drove Coach Brockman through the wall was his propensity to sit back and back off on routine 2 on 2/3 on 3 situations. His timid nature was the sole reason why he was passed over in the draft. Brockman will need to drive home the mindset of a lot more physicality. His 6', 181 LB frame has to be more imposing. Lastly on the defence and touching on something penned in the opening, best case scenario they could crack the top ten in the league, worst case is they join the likes of Spokane and Kootenay near the bottom so with all that being said could a overage veteran such as Evan Fiala be an attractive trade chip especially when you account for the other twenties in contention for spots are Cameron Hebig, Braylon Shmyr(see below) and goaltender Logan Flodell. All reports on Fiala indicate he's respected immensely in the locker room and for a team at a crossroads that eventually looks to go young is hanging on to a veteran to guide the future while ignoring his sheer value a worthwhile initiative? This blogger thinks logic dictates you trade your most attractive 20 to expedite the rebuild.

The unknown certainty hovering around Evan Fiala is one storyline to keep an eye out for but so is the status of the twenty year old forwards Braylon Shmyr and Cameron Hebig. Cameron a hometown product was on the cusp of WHL superstardom missed the entire 2016/2017 season which set back his career in hockey. He tallied sixty nine points in his last full season and served as team captain which speaks to his leadership. There's truly no way to forecast how Cameron will recover and whether or not he can regain his 2015/2016. If that old form is found then clearly he's a player that can significantly contribute on the ice and off the ice in lieu of the hometown draw. Whereas Braylon Shmyr who I've been a fan of since his Brandon days, comes in as arguably the most accomplished overager at the teams disposal. As I'm gaining the reputation as the king of hot takes I'll go so far as to say that barring injury setbacks I think he has the making to the leagues best overager, having the torch passed down from Adam Brooks.
Edit:I had a long winded analysis for the forwards that deleted just before submission. An abbreviated version will have to siuffice

Some are advocating that presuming Cameron Hebig is fully healthy which I vouch is a big if then Logan Flodell should be the odd man out in this fascinating over age battle. Surprise, surprise I have an alternative opinion. Here's a fact(ok maybe not quite a fact) or an educated ascertation that the goaltender position is thin league wide and cutting loose Flodell would on paper appear to be the wrong approach.  I'm not seeing any goaltender that is able to immediately fill the starting shoes,sure some will signal for Nolan Maier but I don't see throwing Maier in the deep end as a wise team strategy. Allow Nolan to learn from Flodell and ideally in 2018/2019 Nolan will have learned the ropes and can withstand handling the crease permanently.

Monday, August 21, 2017

2017-2018 Western Hockey League Preview(Team 16)

16.Prince Albert Raiders:Since approximately the 2003-2004 season,there is finally a sense of optimism buzzing around the Art Hauser Center because after a long stretch of incompetence, Curtis Hunt and Marc Habscheid have orchestrated a nucleus that has the potential to contend in the not so distant future.Given the state of the Eastern Conference and particularly the East division, they're certainly not going to short sight themselves knowing that organizations such as the Regina Pats and Moose Jaw Warriors are primed for deep runs so it's best advised to take a passive approach and be cognizant of the 2018-2019 season and beyond, where realistically they could put their best foot forward at a league title then.

Recognizing the scouting staff of the Raiders becomes imperative considering they have built from my perspective the best collection of 2000 born talent in the Western Hockey League..This hits home when analyzing Cole Fonstad and Spencer Moe. Along with Lane Kirk on defence and Carson Miller, this core HAS to be the group that Hunt zeroes in on and makes moves to assist the effort. I want to first touch on Moe.  Spencer, from Calgary had fourteen points which in full honesty can't be extrapolated in any great detail with the team he had around him. I'm willing to ignore last year's point totals and instead recollect on the impact he had on games and what he'll be able to do with more experienced linemates. Here's a hot take for you, and I know to receive this honor he's contending with the likes of Tristen Nielsen out of Calgary, and Riley Stotts out of Speedy Creek but I think it stands to reason that Spencer Moe is the best 2000 born forward in the dub. I'll take it a step further in suggesting that regardless of where Moe has landed in glacially early draft rankings that he'll be a first round pick in the National Hockey League. The infamous kid line of Moe,Miller and Fonstad that was put together at select times will be a year older and expect to see all three point totals sky rocket. I'm looking at projected lineups they could ice and despite the aforementioned meager total of fourteen points, he'll lead the Raiders in scoring this season. What initially could be construed as an outrageous prognostication, keep in mind that out of expected returning forwards, forty three points was the high courtesy of Parker Kelly so it's not such a reach. When changing the tune to veteran forwards, the coaching staff will need to see strides out of Sean Montgomery. Pertaining to Montgomery, no denying his current trade value is obsolete and in a dream world they'd see Sean fly out of the gates to make him an endearing asset for clubs looking for those final upgrades in pursuit of the playoffs. In the category of disappointments, perhaps no one bigger then Montgomery because I distinctly remember him being a force in his rookie season and I wasn't witnessing the same level of drive in 16/17. Last season the cause for drop off was simple, his skating prowess deteriorated. It's one of those things that you can usually correlate with a nagging injury but with the fact that he nearly played a full schedule(suited up in sixty nine games) either conditioning was up to snuff for which I'm not directly implying or he channeled his inner Ken Daneyko and fought through every sweltering injury. This WAS a talent deprived team, emphasis on was because as I alluded to earlier the scouting staff has done a remarkable job and the influx of promising youthful talent is unprecedented. Whether or not he gets dealt at some point remains to be seen but with all these young guns competing for jobs and that goes well beyond the aforementioned kids line that was referenced at the top. I sound like a broken record commending the Regina Pat Canadian midget program but Eric Pearce is another remnant that will surely battle for a permanent position. I understand veterans are needed to stay afloat but with all of these studs chomping at a bit I tremble to think what the future holds for the Raider forwards. Nothing but up as Hockeytown North has something to cheer about.

As I probably excessively harped on in the forward forecast, the forwards will drive this team in years to come but when assessing this years version of the green and white, the defence is a noted strength. Not known for generating offence, this group as a whole is a steady Eddy and can be counted on making a crisp first pass. An interesting training camp battle will involve what to do with the two overagers Lochlan Morrison and Nick Heid. Presuming that Curtis Miske and Jordy Stallard have spots locked or at least should judging from the below average offence they project to fight through, Heid and Morrison will be in tough to crack the roster. Max Martin and Czech Republican Vojtech Budik will be the anchors, Lane Kirk and Zach Hayes will require everyday assignments, and 2016 first round pick Rhett Rinehart will be seeking a promotion to the Western League so that leaves little room for a twenty year old and that's not even including Brayden Pachal. This is the forward dillema all over again with the need to weigh this campaign against the future. I personally like Heid. I did a lot of reading last year and felt the most stout Prince Albert supporter was unnecessarily hard on him and seemingly could never do right(how I feel about this blog sometimes). Don't even dare attempt citing the +/- as a tangible argument as for the 94,532nd time I'll repeat that there's no more meaningless statistic in hockey, completely team dependant. My viewings were painting a picture of Heid's partners often time prone to the catastrophic turnover leaving him in no man's land.So to summarize sheer numbers have left Heid's roster spot in peril but the abuse he withstood last go around was unwarranted. Profiling someone that does indeed have a spot in the lineup sewed up, why don't we forecast what to expect out of Max Martin. Martin was the catch for the management staff that sent Brendan Guhle to the Prince George Cougars but the question I pose that viewed this team on the daily, did Max live up to the billing because from an outsider perspective I didn't leave all that overwhelmed. I just finished going on a tangent towards making Nick Heid a escape goat but wasn't Martin equally as guilty but is absconded by the fan base. Double standards if you ask me.The fact that Max went undrafted will (hopefully) lead to inspired hockey because I'll be the first to openly opine if Max was enough  of a cornerstone player at the expense of the future Buffalo Sabre guilty. I was at the time in the camp of not liking the trade for P.A and nothing I saw in the second half calmed my fears. The coaching staff needs to stress the significance of simplification for Max because I don't doubt for  a second that the potential isn't there but it's untapped. This is worth discussing because once Vojtech departs, Max transistions to the number one defenceman on the depth charts with the difference being the year Max is in charge will be the focal point for all preceding transactions. If they truly feel he can be that franchise d-man in 2018-2019 then all the more power to them but if not a mistake in his evaluation could lead to a lossed opportunity in a year where if things go right then the Ed Chynoweth Cup is in sight.

After further deliberation at least from a depth perspective, the goaltending position could project as the strength heading into 17/18. I spent the entire Prince George preview(see # 18) chronicling my belief that a fit exists amongst current back-up Nick Sanders and the Cougars so I won' go down that path again but I'll just say it's a nice scenario to have for Prince Albert giving them some  much needed flexibility. Ian Scott was constantly peppered with rubber, averaging about 37 shots a night which isn't sustainable for someone looking to pad his statistics. Fortunately for Ian the Toronto Maple Leafs saw enough to use the one hundred and tenth overall selection on him. Over and above getting drafted, the Winnipeger has reached a point in his development where he's starting to garner international interest in the Hockey Canada program of excellence. Barring a miracle the 2018 World Juniors aren't in arms length but if his game is raised which should happen given the improving condition his junior club is in then the 2019 Championships hosted by Vancouver/Victoria should be an attainable goal of his.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

2017 Western Hockey League preview(Team 17)

17.Kamloops Blazers:My expectations for the 'Loops a year were sky high and even though the playoffs didn't materialize to form, a forty two, ninety point tally can't be ignored. Top end talent for the Blazers is few and far between after the graduation of Lane Bauer and likely graduations of Devin Sideroff and Rudolf Balcers. Any time you lose three players of that magnitude and I understand all teams go through it it's awfully difficult to recover and the onus will be on Don Hay to recoup the lost pieces and architect a plan that can claw the Blazers into the playoffs because it'll be a dog fight as they scrape for one of the last playoff positions.

Everyone will associate the strength of the 2017-2018 back end around Czech Republican Ondrej Vala and while he inevitably anchor things on the blue line, there are a couple of other young up and comers that deserve praise with that being Luke Zazula and  Tylor Ludwar. We'll start with Ludwar as this is an interesting case. Coming off a banner year in 2015/2016 with the Midget AAA Regina Pat Canadians, internally Tylor had hoped to crack the Kamloops roster full time out of training camp and I'm sure was riddled with disappointment when the news came down that he was being re-assigned back to Midget. Before we evaluate what he can bring to the dinner table this season it's important that we credit the coaching staff of the Pat C's, Darren McKechnie this latest go around and current Regina Pat assistant coach Brad Herauf that was the bench general in 2015-2016. Throughout my time growing up, the Pat C's Midget program was largely hovered in disdain as seldomly was the team competitive nor was it producing many players to the next level but in the last five or so years the program has done  a 360 and it's pumping out Western Hockey League players at an alarming rate.Obviously Kamloops made the determination that Tylor wasn't quite game ready but a half year back in Regina compounded by a couple roster moves allowed Ludwar to spend the second half in British Columbia which ideally for all involved can evolve into a top four role now. The best way to explain Tylor's game is resourceful. He doesn't lack in any one particular area and possesses a shot that would make Shea Weber clap. The Weber comparison is fabricated but given his age, entering his eighteen year old season he does indeed have an above average release from the point and given his offensive nature should be able to learn a thing or two from Vala. Shout out to the British Columbia regional scout(s) for advocating for a kid by the name of Luke Zazula in the FOURTH ROUND. Until conducting research for the piece I made the false assumption that he was seventeen or eighteen last year but come to find out he's a 2000 born pupil astonishes me when accounting for his on ice maturity. The sky is literally the limit for this kid and perhaps someone stationed in Kamloops can enlighten me if the reason for his draft slip was a NCAA scare because Luke demonstrated first round talent almost immediately. Whatever the reasons he becomes a highly sought after prospect for NHL teams next June and can see him going as high as the second round. Time will tell how Hay utilizes Zazula however my thinking is he's a strong candidate for the first pairing alongside Zala. Forgive me if I'm the only one but when I watch Luke lace them up, he bears a strong resemblance to Kale Clague. Always in the right position but just like Kale who was guilty of this early on his career he'd try to make plays too quick and would advised to slow the game down. I don't doubt for a second that this will be a visible improvement and he continues to receive tutelage from one of the games best coaches.

In a game against Lethbridge approximately half way into the season I couldn't believe the type of presence Jermaine Loewen displayed. He had a bulldog type of mentality, all over the ice. In that game mentioned, I believe although am not certain he may have accumulated at maximum one point but the impression you took away was he could've had multiple. I bring this up because when I looked back a his yearly statistics he only amassed a grand total of eleven points. Inconsistencies plagued Jermaine and in order to stay in Hay's good graces, a more asserted effort will be required. Maybe it's the name that is the root of all issues. I'm a baseball fan and its impossible to forget the hype built around him as in back in 2002 he was the fourth overall pick via the Baltimore Orioles an for a myriad of reasons he just couldn't put it together. After numerous failed expenditures as a pitcher, he eventually got into the business of switching positions, going from a pitcher to a left fielder and ultimately back to a pitcher. Tying this back around to Jermaine, when I watch games of his and observe the stat sheet it forces me to speculate if they(Blazers) would be better served giving Loewen a trial run at defence. He's obviously not contributing enough on the score sheet but conversely is built like a football player and is intimidating for a lot kids his age to engage in the corners with him.Most privy to the organization I think would at least entertain the notion but one of the flaws with the proposition(and I know there are many) is that as a team last year, Kamloops only netted 243 goals which was fourth worst in the conference and that total is bound to decrease with the aforementioned departures of Sideroff and Balcers along with hot shot prospect Massimo Rizzo electing to test the Penticton Vees of the BCHL en route to a NCAA scholarship. All of these holes were justifying the pouros ranking of seventeen. The offensive deficit issue will currently fall on the shoulders of Garrett Pilon. In the season preview I did last year I alluded to my belief that Pilon was destined for a breakout season after the Washington Capitals rewarded him with a third round selection but to be frank I'm still waiting for that breakout to occur. Time and time again I've seen cases in the Western Hockey League of players coming out of the gates slow only to dominate the league as they get older with Adam Brooks of the Pats being the most recent example and with a sixty five point season behind him, the trajectory of Brooks may be apt as in Brooks third full year he worked his way to sixty two points. The comparison is uncanny! Here's the issue, unless a miracle is adminsitered and somehow Sideroff or Balcers get sent back then no one could reasonably suggest that Pilon as your sole beneficiary of any offence is enough of  a starting point, it's simply not. A scoring by committee approach will have to be used behind Garrett and one of those will have to include Abbotsford native Travis Walton. Don Hay displayed an incredible level of patience with Travis as a seventeen year old where he could've just as easily re-assigned him to a lower level but he showed loyalty and by the sake of not having many better options he has a third, maybe second line assignment locked up and the hockey gods in Kamloops will need at least twenty points or desperate phone calls will have to be made to opposing General Managers looking for trades.It's been a smoky summer in Kamloops, are we in store for a foggy winter?

The Dylan Ferguson era has commenced in Kamloops and I for one am amazed by the poise he showed this off-season in the midst of adverse situations. The NHL draft is always a stressful time for these young kids but try to put on the shoes of Ferguson who was riding the highest of highs getting selected by the Dallas Stars only to have to his rights immediately traded to the expansion Vegas Golden Knights.What stimulated my fascination with Dylan was after the trade in which these types of trades of a newly minted prospect rarely happen he was bombarded with media requests for an eighteen year old kid he collected himself, elicited thought out answers and exuded gratefulness. The goaltending position is undoubtedly the most stressful in hockey and after seeing his character tested I can confidently conclude that the Blazers have wall between the crease, not just physically but mentally. Connor Ingram will begin the year with Syracuse of the American Hockey League's and it's Dylan's time to shine. Judging from everything I've witnessed this summer, he'll put any doubt to rest that he cannot only lead Kamloops to the playoffs but also vindicate the Knights in the acquisition we made. Goaltending as it has been for the last several years will again be the bread and butter of he organization.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

2017-2018 third annual Western Hockey League Preview(Teams 18-19)

19.Seattle Thunderbirds:Surmising what took place for the Seattle Thunderbirds in 2016-2017, winning the franchises first ever Western Hockey League championship, what we can take away initially is that one single bantam draft can completely overhaul an organization's fortune as for the Thunderbirds the 2012 Bantam Draft was one of epic proportions.  In that now infamous 2012 draft, Seattle landed Mathew Barzal, Keegan Kolesar and Ethan Bear, 3/4 of the main core that propelled the team. Looking ahead to this season being as how the 2012 draft consists of the 1997 age group, all three I just mentioned have signed NHL contracts and are off to greener pastures. Extraordinate player turnover is just a part, albeit a big part of what General Manager has  had to deal with as coach Steve Konowalchuk accepted a position with the Anaheim Ducks organization which meant a promotion for Matt O'Dette.O'Dette has a daunting task infront of with so many new faces expected to man the T-Birds lineup this fall however it's my thinking and hope that with a Western Hockey League banner in tow that a lengthy grace period is in order from the fan base with what will be a trying year.

I just finished admiring the success Farwell had with the 2012 draft class but the following haul wasn't nearly as impressive, particularly with the defenceman when it comes to the failed recruitment of Nashville Predator prospect Dante Fabbro. The 1998 age group as a whole leaves a lot to be desired and with Ethan Bear expected to graduate the onus falls on Jarrett Tyszka and Turner Ottenbreit to carry the torch. I should probably emphasize the fact that I understand that throughout the magical playoff run Turner carried the torch already with Bear experiencing a hand injury that set back his play ever so slightly. Hailing from Regina, I had the pleasure or because I'm a Pat fan the displeasure of seeing Turner play a lot last spring and let me tell you this giant is one mean S.O.B that conducts himself with an edge. He unfairly ensued himself in a plethora of controversy over his high hit on Adam Brooks in the final versus Regina but aside  from whether I considered the discipline on the infraction to be adequate it's that unspoken intimidation that has opposition shaking in their socks. The dillema this management group will have is what to do with Turner because surely regardless of the fact that he's an overager he would conceivably be an attractive trade chip for a contending team but a storyline I'm eagerly waiting to see how it'll evolve is will Farwell hold on to veterans in the way of stubborn loyalty. Unlike Spokane where player movement or the lack there of could drastically alter their standing, I totally expect Seattle to struggle one way or the other so we'll see what steps are taken with a pulse on the future. Speaking of that very future, I'd be remiss if I didn't profile Sherwood Park native Jake Lee who as a fifteen year old got into two playoff games due to the Bear injury and other intermittent factors. This early on it's difficult to ascertain how comfortable of role Lee will get this season but what I like about Jake is his mobility as all you had to do is watch one T-Bird game to recognize a lot of the back end would make Derian Hatcher look fast. Okay apologies for that, that was a undeserved low blow for our reigning champions but I do think that because this will be a younger d-core that expectedly will be helmed in their own end a lot unlike last year, the lack of mobility will become more glaring. It won't happen immediately but a stellar training camp from Lee could correlate into himself seeing first pairing minutes alongside Turner. Another candidate could be fellow overager Austin Strand assuming he's one of the 20's that rises from the ashes.

Boy o boy I'm writing this piece and am starting to seriously question if I can continue to justify ranking Spokane below Seattle because the more research put into this article the more I'm doubting that the T-Birds can climb out of the U.S division basement. I think the defenceman as whole enter this fresh slate as a weakness but not more so then the forwards. I don't think any sane person could disagree and how could you with the impact forwards moving on. Five of their top  six forwards are gone and I have a hard time imagining any team in the Canadian Hockey League not named the London Knights could withstand that. I'm trying to locate positives and one may be Matthew Wedman. Some chatter is beginning to hover around Seattle that given Wedman's underperforming nature and inability to secure a defined role that both parties would be better served moving on. In a couple regular season contests of Matthew I viewed I'll be the first to admit he wasn't noticeable but maybe we can start calling him Mr.April because despite limited action on the third/fourth line his compete level accelerated and I was left extremely impressed. Twenty points isn't anything to write home about but trust me when I say he's a presence out on the ice, likely the only thing needing refinement was his finish. I'm going to enlist a comparison that to some might come off as slanderous and probably is but Matthew Wedman could evolve into an Austin Wagner-esque specimen. I feel like Stephen A.Smith with the hot takes but then again I don't because in true Stephen A fashion he would inevitably compare Wedman to Sidney Crosby.The talent is there but the hands aren't yet. The prudent followers of the Western Hockey League will remember Wagner's first two years in the league and that he could given a pass on a swivel to a wide open net and would find a way to fire the puck at the goaltenders chest.It's a confidence thing and presuming Wedman is allocated legitimate top nine minutes and gets one to 'pop', they'll continue to drop(terrible pun on my behalf).Aside from Wedman where I can now safely name myself the president of his fan club, who else can contribute to fill the mammoth void left by those aforementioned future NHL'ers. Assessing the likely training camp battles, one name not to sleep on would be Connor Pyne. The wizard from White City(alliteration game is on point this evening) isn't guaranteed a roster spot as training camp begins but if he channels the type of offence he illustrate while  a member of the Balgonie Prairie Storm Bantam program which was a large reason the T-Birds took a third round waiver on the kid then he could be one of those 2017-2018 surprises and his role could gradually increase. He's a power forward that needs to add strength, a similar build to Carter Ashton and once the weight reaches the height(listed at 6'1) then the Thunderbirds could have, surprise surprise, another Bantam Draft steal in their corner.

The kid can play. Although he looks twelve, Carl Stankowski played nothing like and  was the Cinderella story of the 2017 playoffs and the sky is the limit pertaining to his potential. I was perusing a WHL forum the other day and it was bantered that  with premature success that a letdown could be in order and I'm just not so sure.He's a diminuitive goaltender that in the eyes of NHL scouts raises red flags but his athleticism is second to one. His east-west positioning in the crease is a work of art and I lost count how many times when pitted against Kelowna in the conference final and Regina for the Chynowetch up he'd make cross ice saves look routine. What Carl will have to show in 2017-2018 is that he's durable and that his body won't break down over the course of a seventy two game regular season schedule. Being a long time fan of the Western Hockey League there has been some precedence of a rookie coming in, taking the league by storm and then immersing in the notorious sophomore slump, not quite to the extent of what young Stankowski accomplished but is has happened. I think back to Chad Davidson of the Regina Pats in the historic 2001 Memorial Cup run or Nick Pannoni with these very same Thunderbirds who as a rookie was a revelation but faded as his career carried on. Resiliency will be theme that we'll consistently draw back to for the Seattle goaltending situation.

18.Prince George Cougars: What could've been for the Prince George Cougars! In a campaign that saw the organization catapult to their first ever division banner, it was all for not in the post-season as they were stymied in the first round at the hands of the Portland Winterhawks. As training camp is fastly approaching, it's hard to argue with the assertion that there's a roster in greater flux in lieu of the plethora of permutations and combinations the Cougars could go in. I gather that Todd Harkins an company recognize that they have to scale back after last year's failed push and that was evidenced from the decision to trade one of the more proven twenties in the dub, Brad Morrison to the Vancouver Giants. Part of Harkins' madness could be tied in to his  own family connections. Ever since Todd was given keys to the franchise, the majority of his moves were done with a watchful eye over the 2016/2017 season which incidentally revolved around his son Jansen. Repeating what I insinuated at the top, the Cougs did NOT meet expectations and with Jansen rumoured to be moving on with the Winnipeg Jet organization professionally, I'm of the theory he'll look to make moves around his other son Jonas who is geared to debut in the WHL full time this fall. He'll be cognizant in preparing that 2000 age group of his.

If I would've conducted this team profile a week ago I would've been stern in my beliefs that defensively this unit looks generally bleak but after the jaw dropping news that Detroit Red Wing first round Dennis Cholowski would be forgoing his NCAA commitment to join the Cougars it certainly makes you think twice over the proficiency of this back end.This blogger is stunned and perplexed over the timing unless you're a conspiracy theorist that I admittedly am at times and ponder if the only reason he signed on up north is to angle for a trade to a contender thus receiving more spotlight. Sure, Dennis is saying all of the right things at the moment but I've went on record stating it's a slap in the face to the Cougar fanbase that he wasn't having anything to do with the Cougar program when they were swimming in relevance and now a purported rebuild is underway now you come???? Was his experience at St.Cloud State such a sour one that he elected to jump ship? My thoughts on the matter are and I do vividly recall reading respected insider information that Dennis's stock was slipping amongst the Red Wings brass and this could be a last ditch effort to save grace with those who have turned skeptical over his abilities. He's completely off the World Junior radar and will need a sensational first three months to impress Dominique Ducharme and Brad McEwen. I'm going out on a limb that he's a good foot solider for PG the first half of the season and eventually they take advantage of the surprise addition and ship him off to either Portland or Regina.Whether or not Cholowski lasts the entire year in Prince George, it has to be discussed who else will be formidable stalwarts defensively. One name that will be competing for a job will be Jack Michell. In the 2015 draft, back to back picks were exhausted on Saskatoon Contact teammates Cole Beamin and Michell with Beamin going in the second with Jack getting nabbed in the third. Although Cole entered the draft as the more intriguing prospect of the two, as the Saskatchewan Midget AAA hockey league conssumated it was Michell who separated himself from the pack and became the Contacts top defender. It's unusual for two sixteen year olds(three if you presume Jonas Harkins has a spot in tow) to share  a blueline but it's Michell who's proven he's more then WHL ready. Watching highlight packs when they came on it was abundant that Jack was a man playing against boys and unless the Cougars literally have no spot available it would be completely counter productive to send him back to that level. Tate Olson wasn't signed by a NHL club is naturally the leader, Josh Anderson and Ryan Schoettler are back and even if Jonas is afforded a spot, my 'math' isn't computing any equation that leaves Jack off the twenty five man roster.

The Prince George Cougars have seventy four overagers coming to camp correct? Okay so seventy four is a slight exaggeration but even with the departure of Brad Morrison that flux that I referenced in the opening rears it's ugly head. Tate Olson is a shoe in for a spot on defence but then who and when we dissect the forwards a lot of interesting options present themselves. Unless Jesse Gabrielle is gifted back from Providence which isn't happening then it's Aaron Boyd, Tanner Wishnowski, Shane Collins(defence), Brogan O'Brien and Jared Bethune competing for two spots. Unquestionably the most fascinating collection of twenty year olds to talk about because quite honestly sans Olson not one is truly an impact player. The ironic thing even though they have a million to choose from they could conceivably look to upgrade and bring in a million and one. All kidding aside out of the group just mentioned the one that stands out to me is Aaron Boyd. Hailing from Winnipeg Boyd's numbers have been mediocre over his four year career collecting forty six points but even if he'll never be a point producer what comes out in spades is his work ethic. He's never cheated and has an assailment of tools in the defensive zone. Where I would like to see more out of Boyd is his willingness to shoot the puck more. I just finished stating he's not a goal scorer but this isn't the same Western Hockey League of the nineties where it was smash mouth shut down hockey, it's open season for puck movement and it's time Aaron demonstrated leadership qualities and stopped playing with fear offensively. Success is irrelevant, willingness to adapt will send a louder message to the rookies and second years that are getting their feet wet. I pose the following question to the shrewd observers of this great league, is there a bigger enigma out there than Nikita Popugaev?  I remember prior to the 2015-2016 when he had his name called by the Moose Jaw Warriors the premature word out there was that this guy is a special talent and would be a top ten selection in the NHL draft a YEAR LATER. The cynic in myself wasn't buying these premature proclaimations and had to go see with my own two eyes what we're dealing and those first couple viewings in the 2015-2016 season I was drinking the kool-aid. It mystifies me that we went from all that glamour early on that season to where we are now, a fourth round afterthought by the New Jersey Devils.  When he exudes motivation I argue there isn't a more talented player in the league and what should scare opposing coaches this season is if he'll take the fourth round waiver as a slight and channel the talent everyone knows he had and have a Most Valuable player-esque season. I wouldn't rule it out but the only caveat is similarly to Cholowski will he be working the magic in Prince George the entire year? Selfishly I was hoping John Paddock of the Regina Pats would've put in the call to Harkins this summer and maybe he did because for the Memorial Cup hosts I couldn't of drawn up a better fit. The inconsistency in his repertoire could have this go any way, as low as a forty point season and as high as a 120 pt slurge.

"In goal for your Prince George Cougars is #35,Ty Edmonds."(O wait he graduated). "In goal is number #33 Nick McBride"(o crap, he's pursuing an education). So, uh who exactly is going to play goal this season. Is it Taylor Gauthier who was a prized possession going tenth overall in 2016? I'm of the opinion as is seemingly Richard Matvichuk that resting your laurels on a sixteen year old is a recipe for a disaster so by saying that I would totally expect this group to scour the trade market as fast as they can for a veteran starter. I was starting to brainstorm some names that would be logical acquisitions and a name that immediately come to mind would be the acquisition of Nick Sanders. Sanders, a member of the Prince Albert Raiders formerly of the Americans is a impending nineteen year old and with franchise goalie Ian Scott logging the majority of minutes in Northern Saskatchewan, Nicholas is surely chomping at the bit to see regular playing time and his numbers back it up. As everyone knows, a Prince Albert goaltender, I don't care if you're Scott or Sanders was hounded with rubber and still managing to piece together a .892 save percentage shouldn't go unnoticed. This kid has genuine game. Also garnering consideration dependant what comes of the Lasse Pettersen saga in Red Deer, Riley Lamb could be had at a reasonable price. I feel it's a necessity that a veteran is brought in.