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?