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.