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.

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