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.

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