Tuesday, September 26, 2017

2017-2018 National Hockey League Prognostications

My annual post where I predict the standings of the National Hockey League regular season and attempt to sort out the playoff bracket with the placements I've allocated for each respective organization. Afterwards, I'll dish out my individual award winners.


Atlantic Division:                 

1.Toronto Maple Leafs(1)       
2.Boston Bruins                   
3.Florida Panthers
4.Ottawa Senators(W1)
5.Montreal Canadiens
6.Tampa Bay Lightning
7.Buffalo Sabres
8.Detroit Red Wings

Metropolitan Division:

1.Washington Capitals(2)
2.New York Rangers
3.Columbus Blue Jackets
4.New York Islanders(W2)
5.Philadelphia Flyers
6.Pittsburgh Penguins
7.New Jersey Devils
8.Carolina Hurricanes


Central Division:

1.Nashville Predators(2)
2.Chicago Blackhawks
3.Dallas Stars
4.Winnipeg Jets(W1)
5.Minnesota Wild(W2)
6.St.Louis Blues
7.Colorado Avalanche

Pacific Division:

1.Edmonton Oilers(1)
2.Anaheim Ducks
3.Vancouver Canucks
4.Calgary Flames
5.San Jose Sharks
6.Arizona Coyotes
7.Los Angeles Kings
8.Vegas Golden Knights


First round:

Toronto Maple Leafs v New York Islanders=Islanders in Seven
Boston Bruins v Florida Panthers=Bruins in six
Washington Capitals v Ottawa Senators=Capitals in five
New York Rangers v Columbus Blue Jackets=Blue Jackets in six

Edmonton Oilers v Minnesota Wild=Oilers in five
Anaheim Ducks v Vancouver Canucks=Ducks in four
Nashville Predators v Winnipeg Jets=Jets in six
Chicago Blackhawks v Dallas Stars=Stars in seven

Second round:

New York Islanders v Boston Bruins=Islanders in five
Washington Capitals v Columbus Blue Jackets=Blue Jackets in six

Edmonton Oilers v Anaheim Ducks=Ducks in seven
Winnipeg Jets v Dallas Stars=Stars in seven

Third Round:

New York Islanders v Columbus Blue Jackets=Blue Jackets in seven

Anaheim Ducks v Dallas Stars=Stars in five

Stanley Cup Final:

Columbus Blue Jackets v Dallas Stars=Blue Jackets in six

Columbus Blue Jackets are your 2017 Stanley Cup Champions!

Top five scorers:

1.Auston Matthews(Tor)
2.Connor McDavid(EDM)
3.Patrick Kane(CHI)
4.David Pastrnak(BOS)
5.Alexander Ovechkin(WAS)

James Norris Defenceman of the Year:*WILL LIST THE THREE NOMINEES FOR EACH AWARD*

1.Aaron Ekblad(FLA)-Winner
2.Cam Fowler(ANA)
3.Victor Hedman(TB)

Jack Adams Coach of the Year:

1.Mike Babcock(TOR)
2.Bob Boughner(FLA)
3.Joel Quenneville(CHI)-Winner

Frank J.Selke Best Defensive Forward:

1.Joonas Donskoi(SJ)-winner
2.Chris Kreider(NYR)
3.Jonathan Toews(CHI)

Vezina Top Goaltender:

1.Sergei Bobrovsky(CLB)
2.Jakob Markstrom(VAN)-winner
3.Tuuka  Rask(BOS)

Calder Top Rookie:

1.Matt Barzal(NYI)
2.Nico Hischier(NJ)-winner
3.Travis Sanheim(PHI)

Hart Most Valuable Player:

1.Patrick Kane(CHI)
2.Auston Matthews(TOR)-winner
3.Connor McDavid(EDM)

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

2017 Weekly NFL Power Rankings(Week One)

The purpose of this entry is to after each week of the 2017 National Football League to provide a ranking from 1-32 of all organizations. Attached to each team will be a brief snip-it justifying the ranking. The justifications will be based anywhere from constructive to comical to downright idiotic.

1-Minnesota Vikings: A perceived red flag at the quarterback position was anything but. Dalvin Cook is a suitable replacement for A.P and the defence continues to shine(granted they played New Orleans).

2.Green Bay Packers:Purportedly the game versus Seattle was poorly officiated but that doesn't change the fact that they held premier passer Russell Wilson to an anemic 158 passing yards. Still high on Seattle but solid win.

3.Oakland Raiders:Everyone is seemingly a proponent of the Titans, I'm not as giddish but the defiance of Oakland was brought to the forefront as there wasn't a facet that they didn't excel in. Amari Cooper gets the headlines but don't sleep on Michael Crabtree.

4.Seattle Seahawks:Seattle was the class of the N.F.C heading into this campaign and one loss to a stingent Packers hasn't led to panic. The running game was lacklustre and in lieu of that the Packers secondary was able to zero in on Wilson. Can Eddie Lacy redeem himself or will unknown rookie Chris Carson seize the opportunity?

5.Tampa Bay Buccaneers:Hurricane Irma dealt the Bucs a significant blow by postponing week one's tilt versus the Dolphins.Sixteen straight games is ridiculous and the onus should've been on the league by ensuring last Sunday was played at a neutral site.

6.Dallas Cowboys: The pressing storyline for America's team was if Dak Prescott would be subject to a sophomore slump. If the week one dismantling of the G-men was any indication then no such worry exists. The term game manager gets thrown around often times unfairly but with Dak knowing he has a weapon such as Zeke Elliot at this disposal(at least for the time being) then that's all he has to do.

7.New England Patriots:One opening night loss won't stop me from giving this organization the benefit of the doubt however the way rookie Kareem Hunt ran shop over them, the run defence is something Bill Belichick will need to closely examine. A week two date against the laughable New Orleans Saints who gift wrapped them Brandin Cooks is just what the doctor ordered.

8.Pittsburgh Steelers:Will the real Le'Veon Bell step up? The Bell camp was criticized for their role in the negotiations that led to a pre-season hold out and versus Cleveland in week one rust played a factor. Le'Veon Bell when in rhythm is the best running back in the business, couple him with #84 and you're sailing to a AFC north title.

9.Houston Texans:Perhaps I'm the fool but when you lose J.J Watt,Brian Cushing and Bruce Ellington in one game, I don't care if you're playing the Patriots or the Jacksonville Jaguars and it's a recipe for disaster. Watt is supposedly good to go for week two and if they embarrass themselves again then they'll take a nosedive in the rankings. Clemson alum Deshaun Watson won't allow that to happen.

10.Atlanta Falcons:On one hand, the defence erased their demons from the Super Bowl back in February by containing the Chicago Bears but on the other the overall team dynamic was missing something that I can't quite put my finger on.Something I saw a lot of last season was the Falcons playing down to their opponents and barely squeaking by the Bears is cause for concern.

11.Kansas City Chiefs: The win, while commendable is more of an indictment towards the Patriots defence. The majority of football pendants correlate New England to a world class defence but the truth is that's been a long time since they heavily relied on their defence. Long gone are the days of Ty Law and Teddy Bruschi.The Chiefs exploited that Thursday.

12.Los Angeles Rams:Jeff Fisher had a valiant run as the Head Coach of the Tennessee Titans. As general of the Titans,he won three divisional titles compounded by a Super Bowl appearance back in 1999. His tenure with the Rams, well...less then memorable and that notion that Jared Goff wasn't ready in 2016? Fisher may have missed the boat on that one.

13.Baltimore Ravens:A buddy of mine was adament that Danny Woodhead was the answer to the Ravens backfield. A week one injury aside, the Woodhead ailment was  a blessing in disguise as Terrance West should've been the answer from the onset and he was a force in week one running for eighty yards. A darkhorse Pro Bowler to be certain.

14. Cincinatti Bengals:You're wondering, what is a team that was shut-out doing at number fourteen in these rankings? Simply put Andy Dalton has done enough throughout the course of his career that one rotten apple isn't going to cloud my perception of the TCU alum.An important Thursday nighter against the Texans but at the very least I expect them to be more competitive.

15.Philadelphia Eagles: Last year, Carson Wentz decisively came out on top in the Jared Goff-Wentz battle but with Goff looking reinvorged after the first week, Carson will have to raise his level moving forward. Entering his third full season, Agholor was brought in to the Eagles amid astronomical expectations and the hope is that he'll have used the 2017 week one as that platform. My one concern is can LeGarrette Blount be an every down back?  He's more of a fullback mode that has trouble working towards those long gains.

16.Carolina Panthers:They win v the 49'ers. 23-3. Disclaimer is that it's only the 49ers but I'm confused, did Carolina defeat them or was it Chuck Pagano's Colts?

17.Buffalo Bills:There were some in the business that were under the premise that LeSean McCoy's best days were behind him but after a week one resurgence which saw him trot for 110 yards on 22 carries that opinion is quickly beginning to fade. Everyone is attributing his opening week heroics to playing the Jets defence but contrary to popular opinion it's the Jet offence not the defence that is Arena League-esque.

18.New York Giants-After the Sunday night loss to the Cowboys, two things have become abundantly apparent.  1)Brandon Marshall no longer suffices as a quality number two receiver and 2)A healthy Odell Beckham changes the complexion of the Giants attack.

19.Cleveland Browns:After becoming the revelation of the 2016 campaign, fourth round pick, 135th overall pick Dak Prescott has Browns supporters internally fascinating over the prospects over their mid range draft pick in Deshone Kizer. Kizer was selected fifty  second overall and after holding his own admirably against the Pittsburgh Steelers, a repeat performance will be required in week two. Fro a fantasy point of view, can Hue Jackson do a better job of utilizing receiver Corey Coleman? Please and thank-you!

20.Tennessee Titans: I eluded to the fact that I wasn't clamouring over the prospects of the Titans but I'll be the first to admit that the running game implemented by the coaching staff has huge upside, the question that I keep reverting back to is was Corey Davis the right selection at the 2017 NFL Draft?

21.Denver Broncos:A trend that you'll grow to dislike about these power rankings is my hatred towards the Broncos. Hate is a strong word but I don't put much stock into barely hanging on versus the lowly Chargers. Denver's quarterback collection is reminiscent to that of the Los Angeles Rams of last year. They have a promising option in Paxton Lynch sitting on the sidelines while Trevor Siemian continues to sling when by no means is he a capable NFl starting quarterback. Jared Goff rode the pines a year ago only to later show his competence. Lynch's time better be imminent.

22.Washington Redskins:Was their a bigger disappointment in opening week then the Washington Redskins? No...didn't think so and it stems from the regressive nature of Jameson Crowder. I initially had Crowder pegged to progress from his 847 yard total from a year ago but after only being targeted seven times for a grand total of fourteen years, the offensive coordinator will need to devise a scheme that encourages more features for the former Duke product.

23.Arizona Cardinals: Down goes David! The ranking of twenty three after what I witnessed this past Sunday should flatter them and after placing star running back David Johnson on the I.R with a dislocated wrist times will become tougher and tougher.

24.Detroit Lions:Memo to New York Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, in the midst of your game planning in regards to Monday's contest against these Lions, be mindful of Golden Tate. Yes they reigned victorious in week one but the offensive attack is completely one dimensional. Tate mustered ten receptions for one hundred and seven yards. There number two receiver Kenny Golladay shouldn't exactly be losing the Giants defensive staff any sleep.

25.Jacksonville Jaguars:Historically I've been hard on quarterback Blake Bortles but the truth behind Jacksonville's week one romp over Houston aside from the Texans laundry list of injuries was the rookie running back exploits of Leonard Fournette. Fournette joins a collection of rookie tailbacks with Dalvin Cook and Kareem Hunt that has this running back class comparable to the 2014 rookie receiver class.

26.New Orleans Saints:Was Adrian Peterson barking post-game dinner plans to Head Coach Sean Payton? If he was then I hope a reservation at the  local Marcello's was taken care of as if it was a remark regarding his on field usage then he has no one to blame but himself. You sign in a locale that already employs Mark Ingram and you expect to be handed playoff time?? Give me  a break!

27.Miami Dolphins-What did Dolphins owner Stephen Ross do to piss off the league schedule makers? The Hurricane wiped out their opener versus the Buccaneers which is out of everyone's control however for the league to not extend an olive branch by perhaps re locating their originally scheduled game in the U.K is added punishment to what already appears destined for a long year.

28.San Francisco 49ers:I'll go on record by opining that when healthy Carlos Hyde is a top ten running back in the NFL. The issue becomes because the 49'ers seem to find themselves on the wrong side of the scoreboard early in contests,it limits his effectiveness.Imagine Hyde on a team such as the Giants or Seahawks where he could be more of a valued asset.

29.Los Angeles Chargers:The San Diego, er...Los Angeles Chargers have plenty of deficiencies to go around the lineup but I will admit after watching the majority of the Monday Night that the offensive line is vastly improved which bodes well for former Wisconsin Badger Melvin Gordon who accumulated 997 yards last year and I'm confident will expand on that total. In 2015, his rookie season I was left wondering if he was trending in the direction of a Ron Dayne and now.....pro bowls are in the immediate vicinity.

30.Indianapolis Colts:Tough last couple weeks for the Colts administration. First news breaks that franchise quarterback Andrew Luck is lost for an extended period of time and compounding the disastrous start the usually reliable Adam Vinatieri has lost his golden touch kicking. This has Colts fans chanting for the individual Peyton Manning once coined that "idiot kicker", Mike Vanderjagt.

31.Chicago Bears:Mike Glennon is a hell of an underrated quarterback, so with that you're asking yourself, "if he thinks Glennon is a competent quarterback then how are the Bears seeded 31st in this first edition of the power rankings"? My thoughts on Glennon notwithstanding, poor roster management across the board has proverbially eliminated 'da Bears from playoff contention as it was counter productive by losing assets to trade up to the 2nd overall selection to grab Mitch Trubisky.

32.New York Jets:I was convinced the Bears were the worst team in the NFL, that was until I was privy to the J-E-T-S lay a stinker in week one. No quarterback, no running game and Seahawk castoff Jermaine Kearse as the top receiver on the depth chart? Paging Wayne Chrebet immediately!

Monday, September 11, 2017

2017/2018 Western Hockey League Individual Award Nominees/League Winners

In conjunction with the league preview I just finished, I will now distribute some of the major awards for this upcoming season. The format I'll use is as follows: For each respective club, I'll nominate  their player of the year candidate, top forward because even though it's not an officially recognized award in some cases the player of the year and top defenceman will be one of the same, top defenceman, and top rookie. Once that is concluded, I will announce my conference finalists for each award while adding my observations for who I surmise will land the conference's top goalie and coach honours. A subjective entry yes but one I'm looking forward to penning. The teams will be listed alphabetically.

Brandon Wheat Kings:

Player of the Year: Kale Clague(Lloydminster,Alberta)

Top Defenceman:Clague*

Top Forward:Connor Gutenberg(Brandon,Manitoba)

Top Rookie: Ben McCartney(Portage,Manitoba)

Calgary Hitmen:

Player of the Year:Jake Bean(Calgary,Alberta)

Top Defenceman:Bean*

Top Forward: Matteo Gennaro(St.Albert,Alberta)

Top Rookie: Jackson Van de Leest(Kelowna,British Columbia)

Edmonton Oil Kings:

Player of the Year:Will Warm(West Vancouver,British Columbia)

Top Defenceman:Warm*

Top Forward:Davis Koch(Surrey,British Columbia)

Top Rookie:Jayden Platz(St.Albert,Alberta)

Everett Silvertips:

Player of the Year:Carter Hart(Sherwood Park,Alberta)

Top Defenceman:Kevin Davis(Kamloops,British Columbia)

Top Forward:Connor Dewar(The Pas,Manitoba)

Top Rookie:Gianni Fairbrother(North Vancouver,British Columbia)

Kamloops Blazers:

Player of the Year:Garrett Pilon(Saskatoon,Saskatchewan)

Top Defenceman: Luka Zazula(Langley,British Columbia)

Top Forward:Pilon*

Top Rookie:Tylor Ludwar(Regina,Saskatchewan)

Kelowna Rockets:

Player of the Year:Dillon Dube(Golden,British Columbia)

Top Defenceman: Cal Foote(Englewood,Colorado)

Top Forward:Dube*

Top Rookie:Libor Zabransky(Brno,Czech Republic)

Kootenay Ice:

Player of the Year:Vince Loschavio(Winnipeg,Manitoba)

Top Defenceman:Cale Fleury(Calgary,Alberta)

Top Forward:Loschavio*

Top Rookie:Gilian Kohler(Biel,Switzerland)

Lethbridge Hurricanes:

Player of the Year:Giorgio Estephan(Edmonton,Alberta)

Top Defenceman:Calen Addison(Brandon,Manitoba)

Top Forward:Estephan*

Top Rookie:Dylan Cozens(Whitehorse,Yukon)

Medicine Hat Tigers:

Player of the Year:Jordan Hollett(Langley,British Columbia)

Top Forward:Max Gerlach(Burnsville,Minnesota)

Top Defenceman:David  Quenneville(Edmonton,Alberta)

Top Rookie:Josh Williams(Langley,British Columbia)

Moose Jaw Warriors:

Player of the Year:Jayden Halbegwachs(Emerald Park,Saskatchewan)

Top Forward:Halbgewachs*

Top Defenceman:Josh Brook(Roblin,Manitoba)

Top Rookie:Brayden Tracey(Calgary,Alberta)

Portland Winterhawks:

Player of the Year:Cody Glass(Winnipeg,Manitoba)

Top Forward:Glass*

Top Defenceman:Henri Jokiharju(Oulu,Finland)

Top Rookie:Clay Hanus(Minnetonka,Minnesota)

Prince Albert Raiders:

Player of the Year:Vojtech Budik(Holice,Czech Republic)

Top Forward:Spencer Moe(Calgary,Alberta)

Top Defenceman:Budik*

Top Rookie:Rhett Rhinehart(Lloydminster,Alberta)

Prince George Cougars:

Player of the Year:Nikita Popugayev(Moksva,Russia)

Top Forward:Popugayev*

Top Defenceman:Josh Anderson(Duncan,British Columbia)

Top Rookie:Reid Perepeluk(Yorkton,Saskatchewan)

Red Deer Rebels:

Player of the Year:Lane Zablocki(Wetaskiwin,Alberta)

Top Defenceman:Alexander Alexeyev(St.Petersburg,Russia)

Top Forward:Zablocki*

Top Rookie:Chris Douglas(Richmond,British Columbia)

Regina Pats:

Player of the Year:Sam Steel(Edmonton,Alberta)

Top Defenceman:Josh Mahura(St.Albert,Alberta)

Top Forward:Steel*

Top Rookie:Logan Nijhoff(Comox Valley,British Columbia)

Saskatoon Blades:

Player of the Year:Braylon Shmyr(Calgary,Alberta)

Top Defenceman:Libor Hajek(Smrcek,Czech Republic)

Top Forward:Shmyr*

Top Rookie:Kirby Dach(Fort Saskatchewan,Alberta)

Seattle Thunderbirds:

Player of the Year:Turner Ottenbreit(Yorkton,Saskatchewan)

Top Forward:Matthew Wedman(Edmonton,Alberta)

Top Defenceman:Ottenbreit*

Top Rookie:Connor Pyne(White City,Saskatchewan)

Spokane Chiefs:

Player of the Year:Kailer Yamamoto(Spokane,Washington)

Top Forward:Yamamoto*

Top Defenceman:Ty Smith(Lloydminster,Alberta)

Top Rookie:Milos Fafrak(Martin,Slovakia)

Swift Current Broncos:

Player of the Year:Tyler Steenbergen(Sylvan Lake,Alberta)

Top Forward:Steenbergen*

Top Defenceman:Sahvan Khaira(Surrey,British Columbia)

Top Rookie:Logan Barlage(Humboldt,Saskatchewan)

Tri-City Americans:

Player of the Year:Juuso Valimaki(Nokia,Finland)

Top Forward:Michael Rasmussen(Surrey,British Columbia)

Top Defenceman:Valimaki*

Top Rookie:Sasha Mutala(Vancouver,British Columbia)

Vancouver Giants:

Player of the Year:Dylan Plouffe(Sherwood Park,Alberta)

Top Defenceman:Plouffe*

Top Forward:Tyler Benson(Edmonton,Alberta)

Top Rookie:Tyler Ho(North Vancouver,British Columbia)

Victoria Royals:

Player of the Year:Matthew Phillips(Calgary,Alberta)

Top Defenceman:Ralph Jarratt(Fort St.John,British Columbia)

Top Forward:Phillips*

Top Rookie:Tarun Fizer(Chestermere,Alberta)


Jim Piggott Memorial Trophy(Rookie of the Year)

East:Logan Barlage-Swift Current Broncos

West:Sasha Mutala-Tri-City Americans


Dunc McCallum Memorial Trophy(Coach of the Year)

East:Tim Hunter-Moose Jaw Warriors

West:Jason Smith-Kelowna Rockets


Bob Clarke Trophy(Top League Scorer)

WINNER:Jayden Halbgewachs-Moose Jaw Warriors

Del Wilson Memorial Trophy(Top Goaltender)

East:Jordan Hollett-Medicine Hat Tigers

West:Griffin Outhouse-Victoria Royals


Bill Hunter Trophy(Top Defenceman)

East:Jake Bean-Calgary Hitmen

West:Juuso Valimaki-Tri-City Americans


Four Broncos Memorial Trophy(Player of the Year)

East:Sam Steel-Regina Pats

West:Dillon Dube-Kelowna Rockets


2017-2018 Western Hockey League Preview(Team 1)

1.Regina Pats:After perusing throughout this entire season preview, some may cite  personal biases that I've ranked my hometown Regina Pats number one entering the year. Let me clarify, as we currently stand the Regina Pats are nowhere near the team to beat on paper but as I've emphasized on a few occasions this season preview was intended as a projection and it's inevitable after General Manager and Head Coach John Paddock makes his significant acquisitions that the Pats will be positioned to one up their final appearance from a year ago. I see first hand how this organization operates on ice and the direction this team has taken leading up to it's hosting of the 2018 Mastercard Memorial Cup and it's not without it's fair share of criticism.  The imports brought over for 2017-2018 aren't nearly as prominent as they were when Filip Ahl and Sergei Zborovsky graced the Red White and Blue and to this day remain skeptical over the decision to exchange the most intriguing trade asset they possessed in eighteen year old goaltender Jordan Hollett for an overage forward I'm a fan of the hockey club so naturally want to see successes and as Paddock continues to look to bolster the roster those successes will come but don't mistake it for naiveness, the deficiencies are staggering and will need to be addressed. If not, it's a wasted forgettable year but if they honour their "all in" public persona then I rate their chances of hoisting two trophies in May quite good.

The eloquence and pure dominance Sam Steel displayed last year can't be overstated. When summarizing the year of Steel, almost everyone will point to his one hundred and thirty one point regular season that rewarded him with the league's Most Valuable Player honor but what this blogger left most impressed with was how Steel elevated his game over the course of the post-season that saw the St.Patricias decimated by key injuries. It was public knowledge that starting with the conference semi-final that the injury count was growing high and it was a lot of core players that were sent to the sidelines, particular past captain Adam Brooks who had two different bouts of injuries and speedster Austin Wagner who battled through the league final on a bum shoulder. It was Sam who was a rock out on the ice,often times having to double shift to make up for those aforementioned depth defencicies stemming from trips to the I.R. John Paddock at select moments throughout the playoffs admitted that the short bench that was being rolled out took a toll on Sam and wore  down but through it all he exuded resilience and finished the post-season second only behind current Vegas Golden Knight Keegan Kolesar. He's small in stature but don't let his diminuitive frame fool ya, he's a nuisance out on the ice, never takes a shift off and battles and more than not wins puck battles allowing him to work his magic with the puck. His linemates last year were the now graduated Dawson Leedahl and Nick Henry but with Henry slated to miss the entire first half with an ailment, it'll be up to the coaching staff to supply #23 with linemates who can finish playoffs because at his core he's a playmaker first, goal scorer second. It's indeterminate how long a stay he'll receive at Anaheim Duck camp, one can hope it's not a lengthy visit but it's presumed when he's back he'll be encompassed by little known George King and new import Emil Oksanen which bluntly isn't good enough which as I previewed in the opening leads me to my next gripe, the suspect imports brought over. In a Memorial Cup year they recruited two non NHL drafted players as projects when if any year wasn't a year for development, 2017-2018 would be it! I thought to myself, "this can't be normal for Memorial Cup hosts to not attract established Europeans" and to ensure my line of thinking had merit, I've closely looked at the rosters of the last five Memorial Cup hosts.The Windsor Spitfires welcomed Duck second rounder Julius Nattinen on board. 2015-2016 saw the Red Deer Rebels lure Jet pick Michael Spacek.  2014-2015 saw Quebec pluck Leafs fifth rounder Dmytro Timashov with the Knights laying claim to future NHL all-star Nikita Zadorov the year before. Finally, the year before that in 2011-2012 the Shawinigan Cataractes were able to convince the polarizing one time Penguins pick Anton Zlobin to come over to North America. Lot's of examples to justify the frustration but do you not see the disconnect? Somewhere along the line the Pats management became oblivous to the notion that a high impact Euro needed to be selected to enhance this year's lineup. With all due respect to Oksanen who by the way was passed  over in the NHL Draft and defenceman Igor Zamula, they don't belong in the same ballpark of those mentioned above and all it's done is require for a needless asset to be wasted via trade if one of the two can't cut it. From limited viewings realistically Oksanen could find a home on a third line whereas I have greater reservations over the Russian Zamula having the propensity to play Major Junior Hockey. The drafting strategy left me perplexed but in all reality doesn't alter the mantra that multiple trades must be consummated to stretch out this season as long as possible.One name that I perceive as  a target for Regina is Spokane Chief Kailer Yamamoto. Spokane with inconsistent goaltending and a general lack of depth would be wise to restock their cupboards and what better way then to place Yamamoto on the open market.  You're wondering, I know I was and that's who after exhausting their entire prospect pool in the Josh Mahura deal what does  Regina have left to entice Spokane to such a trade? I may have exaggerated with the entire prospect pool however it sure felt like it but one name that is rising up hockey notoriety still with the Regina Pats  is  Logan Nijhoff. Logan was an eighth round Bantam pick but his ascension through the eyes of Western Canadian scouts has been astronomical. Long time readers of this blog, in other words no one would know that from a young age before he began to gain any headway amongst scouts I was endorsing the worth of Austin Wagner and I'm choosing to offer up the same recognition towards Nijhoff. At sixteen he's already listed at 6'0 and skates like the wind. If I was Chiefs General Manager Scott Carter I know the inclusion of Nijhoff would be a starting point in negotiations. I will go as far as to suggest, and this may sound outlandish but given the right furbishing Nijhoff will be a first round pick in the 2019 NHL draft.

If you haven't noticed by now a large part of the Regina Pat story orbits around trades and theme will be continued in the defensive synopsis. On January 2nd,2015, Paddock in his first year under the helm set the re-tooling in motion by trading sniper Morgan Klimchuk to the Brandon Wheat Kings for a young Jesse Gabrielle. Brandon at the time was in the precipus of their two year run which saw the Wheaties reach consecutive finals.Aside from the fact that Gabrielle turned into Lane Zablocki who later became Josh Mahura it's always been believed that John and staff patted the back of Wheat King management and a return of favour would come in due course.  This is  a 'professionally' run league and collusion isn't accepted and I'm not insinuating that the Wheat King formally owe Regina anything however with the shoe on the other foot Regina is geared for a run with Brandon entering a rebuild phase, a part of you wonders if the Wheat Kings will look to package Kale Clague at a discounted rate. Away from that and the primary reason I chose to include the name of Clague is because many in the know have matched Clague to the Pats as a possible destination. Clague who I already glamoured over in the Wheat Kings preview is a premier defenceman destined for a second straight World Junior Hockey Championship but it's arguable he's the type of skillet they should be coveting. Barring injuries the top four includes Josh Mahura, Dawson Davidson, Jonathan Smart and Liam Schioler. Three of which are smaller offensive minded defenceman that think the game a similar way as Kale and a more pressing need is adding truculence to the back-end. Schioler I felt was the Pats most improved defenceman as the year proceeded. He plays a basic steady brand that's compounded by taking zero risks. I commend those that rely on a simplistic structure but when you're too passive out on the ice problems begin to arise.Junior hockey is built around speed and while the Winnipeg native will never get caught out of position, he concedes too much room for the forwards and the more game planning opposing coaches conduct the more they will encourage their forwards to step up and pinch because they know Liam will never jump up in an attempt to keep the puck in. He plays a tenacious game in his own end but where it would be advised for the coaching staff to work with him is addressing his trepidness of engaging the opposition quicker and making his presence known. With confidence comes bravado and the hope from the administration is another year under his belt will boost that inner confidence. Normally I would advocate allowing Schioler to maintain a top four assignment and refine his puck skills but as repeated several times this 2017-2018 season is no ordinary year for the Regina Pats.  Locating a veteran who can play a brute game such as Liam but can pair that with competence with the rubber is a top priority.This entire season preview has enabled me to closely examine each roster and after ranking the teams the way I chose to, differentiating the player who could be available from those who won't has become a slightly easier task. A name that check all the boxes in my humble opinion is Kootenay Ice Cale Fleury. I know I'm not the first pendant to suggest Fleury as a possible fit to Regina but his defensive awareness is first class where he could fulfill a top unit penalty killing role. Additionally by accumulating seventy six career points he wouldn't feel out of place under Paddock's systems as John is renowned for preaching quick puck movement.Jonathan Smart as indicated is pencilled in a premature top four but given his physical immaturity perhaps you look at moving him if he's not prepared to accept a third line pairing and in essence could develop chemistry between Schioler and Fleury. My impecccable would be Fleury, Mahura, Davidson,Schioler, Parker Gavlas and if you want to throw in Kale Clague I wouldn't ask for a return address!

To elaborate on what I meant when I suggested our most intriguing trade piece was unnecessarily sent away for a twenty year old in Matt Bradley from Medicine Hat I'll start by saying that I take no issue with Hollett being traded, in fact I credit Paddock and staff for honourably providing Jordan Hollett a chance to play every day. He was just drafted by the Ottawa Senators and needs to prove to the Sens that he selection was justified. Unfortunately when the off-season started the Pats didn't have a better asset to  part with. I spoke of Yamamoto or really any other Western Hockey League superstar and it would've increased the odds of landing said player if Jordan were being dangled. Nothing against Bradley as I appreciate the intangibles he brings with him but I would've never cosigned dealing away a drafted, eighteen year old and former first round bantam pick for him. Hollett's absence means for a third full season Tyler Brown will be taxed with backstopping the Regina Pats in the Memorial Cup and judging from the ranking am expecting a deep playoff run en route to the Ed Chynoweth Cup. Not always the prettiest, Tyler's athleticism is his calling card. He has an outstanding glove hand with a reputation to at times get down too early leaving the top portion of the net open. That technical goaltender analysis while likely unfounded is what's come to my attention the last couple of seasons. In truth, this will be a cornerstone year for the Regina Pat organization. The last time one existed the infamous  Chad Davidson nearly pulled off the improbable by losing a gut wrenching Memorial Cup semi-final against the Val'dor Foreur. Will Brown be served a better fate when going up against Ontario and Quebec's finest? Time will tell.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

2017-2018 Western Hockey League Preview(Team 2)

2.Tri-City Americans: As this season preview begins to wind down, it's donned upon me that I've been extremely adulatory towards the 2016 Western Hockey League Bantam Draft. It has the making to be a historically dominant draft class. In the  past experts have glowed over the 2003 National Hockey League Draft and how it's viewed as generational but within WHL circles, this 2001 born crop I believe will be looked back with great prestige. From Logan Barlage to Peyton Krebs, Americans future franchise Sasha Mutala deserves equal praise as being someone who is definitely in the frey for rookie of the year consideration. Full marks go out to governor Bob Tory as his drafting/scouting expertise has earmarked Tri-City as one of this year's league favourites and it's part of the reason the Americans are the model of consistency year after year.

One of a few reasons why Tri-City won the coinflip over Portland in these rankings was because of team depth. This certainly rings true when assessing the forwards. One through twelve there's truly not a weakness throughout the lineup.  I'm okay admitting that prior to the 2016-2017 my knowledge towards Ams playmaker Kyle Olson was obsolete but he's now just one of many reasons I'm picking the Americans to the final(and this bodes well for Ams brass as I've correctly predicted the last two finals pre-season).His ascension up the scoring ladder last goes to show what a little confidence can do for a player as in his rookie 2015/2016 campaign the Calgary born and bred Olson had a forgotten ten points and there had to be some within the Americans hockey administration that were doubting if Olson would even secure a spot on the team at all this year. He made the team and ran with the opportunity so much so that the Anaheim Ducks welcomed him to California with a fourth selection. Not a stat that is likely kept but there can't be too many examples of a player like Kyle who puts up such finite statistics one year to the following year going as high as the fourth round in the NHL. Incredible, the ultimate rags to riches story! The other reason why I'm now a proponent of Kyle may come off as peculiar but the penalty minute count signifies a no holds barred approach to the game. Players that slowly work their way through the lineup but lack the credentials don't normally condone themselves with such a tenacity but that was the opposite with Kyle as he refused to play tentative . Fifty two penalty minutes is not the first thing you want to highlight on the resume but you won't find many other players risking drawing the ire of their head coach but a player with that character I'd take any day of the week over someone that plays timid and is just playing to see another shift. The on ice attitude displayed by Kyle is something governing general Bob Tory in an exclusive interview on dubnetwork.ca that he emphasizes character and does extensive research before bringing over a player to Kennewick. Kyle epitomizes everything that Tory has facilitated to make this organization a competitive and respected franchise year after year. While Olson will be tasked with maintaining his output from a year ago, he's not the only American that rose of stardom from general obscurity last year as leading scorer Morgan Geekie had a sixty five point increase. A lot of the praise for the remarkable development from a player such as Morgan has to be steered in the direction of Mike Williamson. Another take away from that aforementioned interview was how few coaches Bob has had to hire and by result of it's allowed the coaching staff to become familiar with it's kids and can teach and implement systems that the parents and players know won't have to relearned each year, it's very replicable. Mike was hired prior to the 2014-2015 season coming over from the Calgary Hitmen and would've arrived entering the fold. Here in Regina we've been privy to what John Paddock has been able to do by monitoring the progress  of Sam Steel and Austin Wagner, players that were beginning their careers in Regina with Paddock and both have paved out exceptional careers. From an American angle, these two were thrown in the proverbial fire at the same time and the patience Mike showed Morgan early in his career that hard work and perserverance were necessary to reach the pinnacle he's at now. I remember watching a couple games, probably in that rookie 2015-2016 season of his which saw him play a full regulsr season and I recall internally opining that Morgan may cap out as a defensive minded forward, I wasn't seeing someone who down the road was going to have the skill level to net thirty five goals, nowhere close. It's not always pretty with him but he's visibly a hard worker and definitely leads by example. Geekie has been a positive influence for Detroit Red Wing first rounder Michael Rasmussen from the sense that they've went about it from different ways and it's taught Rasmussen that being persistent on the forecheck is an absolute necessity because in junior hockey creating your own offence is half the battle. Morgan along with surely the rest of Williamson's troops are envious of the cannon Rasmussen owns. It was once said, no idea by who that there's never been a nice goal Michael has scored which in a roundabout way a positive connotation. He's been a can't miss kid his entire life and has never had trouble lighting the lamp so instead of sitting in the perimeter and channeling his inner Brett Hull, the presence of Geekie has rubbed off on him because he now drives the net and cashes in on greasy rebounds.Morgan's contributions go well beyond the scoresheet so thank goodness Morgan made the decision he did to pursue hockey unlike his younger brother, Calgary Hitmen prospect Noah who coming off a Canada Summer games appearance in Baseball has put hockey on the backburner. American administration are thankful.

The Ams defence is currently undergoing a European invasion of sorts. Star defenceman Juuso Valimaki has now left to Calgary Flames camp which leaves Roman Kalinichenko and Sergei Sapego still in Kennewick presumably fighting for one position. Muddling things even further is the inclusion of Russian forward Vladislav Lukin who reported to camp. On the topic of Lukin, I'm hearing conflicting reports that Lukin has desired to play his overage season in Major Junior but additionally hearing contrasting news that he's set to join a Russian team in the VHL but whichever report is true it's likely a moot point for Tri-City as with Maxwell James, Jordan Topping and newly brought in goaltender Patrick Dea, theirs simply not a spot on this roster for Vladislav which is unfortunate as parting ways with a twenty six goal scorer is always a tough pill to swallow. To finish on the Lukin front, IF he chooses to stay in Canada and the WHL, the only true fit that I foresee that could use an overage/European upgrade could MAYBE be the Spokane Chiefs but even that's a stretch. So the real battle commences amongst Kalinichenko and Sapego....or does it? Juuso Valimaki who I earlier mentioned is with the Calgary Flames and when interviewed by the Calgary Sun he implicitly said that he hopes he's left junior hockey behind and can make the Flames this year. Would the Flames actually disregard the long term development of the eighteen year old Valimaki to rush him into a lineup that currently constructed the argument could be made the Cleveland Browns are closer to winning a championship then Calgary? That was in a tongue in cheek terrible joke as I happen to like the prospects of the Flames heading into this winter but don't  pull a former Chilliwack Bruin Roman Horak of 2011-2012 and rush him into the NHL needlessly when he's not quite ready to contribute. I know NHL General Managers will say all the time that they put no stock into what type of direction their prospects junior team is in(try telling that to the Prince Albert Raiders re Leon Draisatl) but with Juuso the advantages are endless through keeping him in the Tri state one more year. The team itself is set to make a real run at the Ed Chynoweth cup, he in all likelihood will anchor Finland's defence core at the upcoming World Junior Championship and he can spend the season continuing to work under the guidance of Williamson as the offensive side of things are down pact, there are definitely a few defensive positioning attributes that need refinement before Calgary can safely insert the Fin in their nucleus. Juuso may want to take up residence in Cow town but once he returns and re-discovers the winning atmosphere established, the expected immediate sorrows will quickly be put to rest. And I'm definitely not just saying that because I don't want to see my streak of correctly predicting finals come to end, it wouldn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that no Juuso would put a dagger in those plans.  I spoke to a small criticism of Juuso's game and that was his momentary lapses in his own zone resulting in opposing quick strike offence but it wouldn't be fair to solely fault Valimaki for this as for a team that notoriously struggled with the penalty kill last season, more defensive cognizance will be required collectively. I've been awfully positive throughout this entire Ams synopsis but the player I need to see growth out of is Dakota Krebs. Dakota is more then capable of upping his performance level and I would imagine with little brother, Kootenay Ice first overall selection Peyton set to make his Major Junior debut it will force Dakota to ensure he's not the forgotten Krebs in the strong hockey family lineage. The elder Krebs even making the WHL is a feat of it's own and has defied the odds due to the fact that he went undrafted and was listed by Tri-City in September of 2014.The departure of Parker Wotherspoon has left a gaping hole in the lineup and players such as Krebs and Seth Bafaro to fill the shoes and provide Valimaki and Daniel Gatenby some running mates on the top pairings. I could go into detail over how Bafaro was one of the draft steals in 2015 getting plucked in the third round but staying on the subject of Dakota I fully believe he can still transform into a top four defenceman entering his eighteen year old season.  What concerned me last year and I know on numerous occasions I've outlined my feelings towards the merit of the plus/minus category so I apologize for being repetitive but for a 41-28 hockey club, skating to a -21 statistical anomaly is unacceptable and Williamson needs to harp on simplification. Dakota must be clamouring at the bit knowing that if he has a successful first quarter of the season then management won't be forced to make any rash acquisitions and can sustain a permanent top four role. If not, another defenceman will have to be brought in because they can't afford to let this season pass them by. The likes of Jake Bean and Kale Clague could be available but it's never ideal for Bob Tory to delve deep in the farm system to make these trades  work.  The maturation of the Okotoks, Alberta product could prevent major headaches for all involved.

To the surprise of many, former Edmonton Oil King Patrick Dea was invited to camp to compete for the starters position. Former incumbent Evan Sarthou elected to walk away to pursue post secondary options and by virtue of this they felt it wasn't fair to have to rely on an unproven eighteen year old in Beck Warm, so a veteran presence by way of Dea provides a security blanket. This is fairly reminscint of the Seattle Thunderbirds when last fall they acquired veteran Rylan Toth from Red Deer Rebels to be that glue on a championship calibre club. Ironically or with how the plight of Carl Stankowski took course some might say fortunately Toth was lost for the season midway through and as the playoffs approached the unheralded sixteen year old sensation Stankowski took over and the organization didn't miss a beat. Was Toth around during the playoff chase imparting wisdom on Carl because keep in mind Rylan had the Memorial Cup experience from the year before to lean on, I'm not exactly sure but if Patrick can provide paralled tutelage towards the pencilled in 2018-2019 starter Warm, then it's plausible this team could enjoy a special two year run. I expect to see the Americans in Regina for the Memorial Cup after you decipher which team I have ranked at the top but with someone that has the potential of Beck, a 2019 Memorial Cup jaunt may not be too far off.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

2017-2018 Western Hockey League Preview(Team 3)

3.Portland Winterhawks:On November 28th,2012, sanctions were brought down to the Winterhawks that drastically changed the complexion of the organization. Coach and General Manager Mike Johnston, who later left for the Pittsburgh Penguins only to later come back was suspended and the team was crippled by the forfeiture of five first round picks. The significant infractions would normally shred apart the competence of the on ice  operations but through all of that they managed to make the playoffs early year and finished with a plus .500 record. This year they ride in with whopping expectations and the perhaps surprising addition of New York Islander prospect Kieffer Bellows has cemented their position of a Western Conference co-favourite. Through the process of elimination you'll be able to ascertain that them and the Tri-City Americans are on a collision course for  a spirited second round series.

I'm not saying anything that hasn't already been conversed at nauseum but with the acqusition of Bellows, he and Cody Glass will form the league's scariest 1-2 punch this year. While Bellows and Glass, the inaugraul draft pick of the Vegas Golden Knights will steal all of the headlines ut someone that will thrive in the shadows of those two is Skyler McKenzie. In the 2016-2017 season preview I had nothing but good things to say about McKenzie but at the time pertaining to the exuberance I authored over his potential performance some of the fascination was met with skepticism over him only accumulating twenty five points. Fast forward to a year later and my original analysis looks golden now as he brokethrough with an eighty five point season and the Winnipeg Jets rewarding Skyler with a seventh round selection in the 2017 draft. The scary fact about what Skyler could accomplish in 2017/2018 is before he only had Cody Glass and now he has both Glass and Bellows to align with. On that lineup note, I have  a thought that even though I'm sure Mike Johnston will enlist those three on the top unit to better balance depth it would be wise to maybe split up the inevitable Glass and Bellows partnership while sticking with Cody and Skyler who have forged successful chemistry. Dispersing Kieffer on the '1B' line serves greater benefit to the team as overall depth remains a concern and how can it not when considering the aforementioned draft penalties they've had to overcome. Glancing at my magic eight ball, if I was the constructing the every day lineup I'd strongly consider pairing up Glass and McKenzie by adding overager Colton Veloso ont the right side and featuring the ability of Edmonton product Ryan Hughes by gracing him with the assignment of playing with  Kieffer. I would vouch to say that Joachim Blichfeld could flank my newly devised '1B' line admirably. Teams that have a plethora of top nine capable forwards could afford to load up the one line the same way Seattle Thunderbird former coach Steve Konowalchuk did with Mat Barzal, Ryan Gropp and Keegan Kolesar but even with that it should be noted that during the teeth of the playoffs as opposing coaches zeroed in on the one effective line, the decision was made to drop the powerful Gropp down to the second unit and from there opponents didn't have an answer and we all know how that finished.  No question that Mike Johnston has assembled a certfiable top six, I profiled one of the six in McKenzie and stressed the importance of what Glass and Bellows will provide on a nightly basis but I saw first hand what a lack of depth will do,particularly in playoff time.The Regina Pats did have the most formidable top six in Western Canada last year but ran into catastrophic injuries as the playoffs commenced and it was ultimately their undoing as one of John Paddock's flaws was he didn't address the depth deficiency at the deadline. You hate to wish injuries upon anybody but what will Mike Johnston do if the unthinkable happens? Does enough exist in the tank to outwork opponents when you run into imposing defensive cores? A lot of questions are worthy discussing points as unlike in the regular season you're not going to score eight a night(for which the Winterhawks have the talent to do so) and a trade may be deemed necessary to shore up the paramount top threes. Depending on what they're prepared to spend, an overage upgrade could be plausible as I'm not convinced either Alex Overhardt or Evan Weinger have enough intangibles to skate with a championship calibre club. Two possible fits off the cusp include Wyatt Sloboshan out of Regina if they go in a different direction with their own 20's or Jordy Stallard out of Prince Albert. The possibilities are endless which is why it's pointless to list off the different permutations and combinations, I may as well devote my time to identifying a player who is poised to replicate McKenzie of a year ago and breakout. I present to you Lane Gilliss. Playing time could  be at a premium for Lane as he'll fighting all pre-season long for a permanent top nine position and will be helped be the extended absences of Glass and Bellows who will be away at NHL camps.  What I need to see out of Lane entering his second full season is more aggression. His calling card is his size and physicality and generally speaking didn't show much of it.  The more comfortable he becomes  asserting his big frame and engaging himself in the corners the more trust Johnston will have him in because in my limited viewings of Gilliss I'm not witnessing much in the way of a pair o mits and that observation is backed up by his meager offensive totals while a member of West Kelowna in the BCHL.I'm not advocating for Lane to be some kind of goon but if he's a little more dedicated to the body a top nine assignment should fall on his lap as he hopes to catch the eye of NHL scouts.

I just finished pleading for Winterhawks management to bring in another forward, that's a want. However an acquisition of another defenceman is a necessity if this team genuinely considers itself contenders. Finnish defenceman and Chicago Blackhawks first rounder Henri Jokiharju can safely anchor a defence but it's whats behind him that is worrisome. The jist that  I seem to receive from those closely affiliated to the Winterhawk organization is that Keoni Texeira's play has enhanced his game year after year and by virtue of this would alleviate my fear that Portland doesn't possess a number two defenceman. Because this is a fluid entry you can disregard my proposition that this team could be in the market for another twenty year old as more then likely both Weinger and Overhardt will be subject to new homes.  I was under the false presumption that Texeira was a 1998 born defenceman but even with that said,it's abundantly clear that my perception of the player is drastically different to the patrons frequenting the Moda Centre/Rose Gardens each night. For a defenceman,Texeira is an offensive dynamo racking up forty five point but it's my opinion the godly totals can be attributed to taking short cuts in his own end which naturally leads to headaches in the defensive zone. One game in particular where Portland was pitted against the Victoria Royals where a routine two on two rush had formulated where I beleive Texeira along with former partner(at least on this shift) Brendan De Jong where De Jong's assignment on the play drove the net hard leaving Texeira on the puck carrier and on the same play he made three different attempts to knock down the Royal but each the pursuit of dishing out a hit landed Keoni on his but and the Royal with a clear view of the slot. Naturally, one play isn't a microcosm of an entire campaign but it explains two things; A)he's not strong enough on his feet and B) needs to do a better job of picking his spots. I have no idea what his professional aspirations past this year are so I won't speak to that but if he continues on the next level converting to a forward may be a preferable initiativee because I honestly his skill set is better suited up front. As a whole, sans Jokiharju the defensive group that's arrived to training camp doesn't play with enough truculence. After the Winterhawks get off to their inevitable flying start, pleas will be heard to acquire the likes of Kale Clague or Jake Bean and while both would be superior fits with any organization, someone that prides itself on a simplistic, meat and potatoes brand of hockey if you will is more desirable from my vantage point. They need not worry about puck proficiency as Texeira and the second coming of the Finnish flash will take care of that. Secondary roles will be harder for Johnston to lock down. Someone that won't prescribe to the crash and bang mentality but will be a valuable commodity is Clay Hanus, a one time University of Minnesota commit. Reports exist that if it wasn't for his insistence on pursuing the NCAA route that he would've a consideration for a first round Bantam Draft selection. The recruitment mastery of Johnston comes through again and some of you readers that take the principle of the Bantam Draft to heart will be confused why a kid entering his sixteen year old season who went undrafted is guaranteed a spot on the team.The ever lasting NCAA-CHL war is prevalent in this and Clay has jumped ship to Major Junior which has been a theme for Portland this off-season. A terrific skater solidifies another theme of this projected group, sheer speed. Exhausting all possible options has me opining that for  a lack of a better option currently Clay should inherit second line power play assingments thus is in line to reach the thiry to forty point plateau. My early favourite for the Winterhawks for Rookie of the Year nominee and living up to what has been the word of this team profile, 'theme' of this entry, Hanus is the best defenceman to come out of the state of Minnesota since the legendary Fulton Reed!

Due to the firepower upfront, the escapades of goaltender Cole Kehler often get overlooked which is rather unfair because all he has done is post stellar numbers.It's even more impressive because going into last season  a long retooling year was seemingly on the horizon and through the expected adversity Cole backstopped the 'Hawks to a 32-17-3 mark. I can only imagine the frustration for Cole as he's constantly overlooked when there's been no reason for such to happen. Sometimes beat writers and media of their respective teams put too much emphasis on the offensive prowess which is popular with fans but I'll tell you what without Cole this group has nowhere the same identity.I'll go so far as to say that if Silvertip goaltender Carter Hart stumbles through a trying year in Everett or if the unimaginable happens and he's traded out East we could be looking at a scenario where the Altona,Manitoba native garners support for Western Conference Goaltender of the year.Award possibility or not, he's a top five netminder in this league.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

2017-2018 Western Hockey League Preview(Team 4)

4.Moose Jaw Warriors: The Warriors must really hate the Canadian Hockey League's MasterCard Memorial Cup selection committee! You take one glance at the Moose Jaw Warriors  this year and you come away with the confidence that they're primed to take a run but are currently venturing down a slippery slope because how aggressive can you be knowing that your Eastern Division rival, the Regina Pats are the hosts of this year's National Championship and essentially have a free pass in making bold moves at the trade deadline with no immediate consequence. Any other year the Warriors confidently enter this campaign as the clear conference favourites. Maybe they still are but the road to the final won't be as smooth sailing as hoped.

I've went on record by stating the cut-off is at team six(Medicine Hat Tigers) for teams who realistically could rise to the top and capture the Ed Chynoweth Cup and out of these six contenders undeniably the Moose Jaw Warriors were hit the softest pertaining to the twenty year olds they lost to graduation. Josh Thrower and Matt Sozanski along with Thomas Foster who was brought over from the Vancouver Giants at the deadline were in no way shape or form impact players and in lieu of this there's a high retention level coming back to the Jaw which translate into pre built in chemistry and by virtue of this will eliminate those usual beginning of the season growing pains.Unlike last year where the overagers were patch work the group of three forwards set to fill leadership positions are all accomplished and all three barring injuries could surmount the seventy point plateau and  collectively could produce the highest offensive output nation wide. Those three of course are Jayden Halbgewachs, Tanner Jeannot and Brayden Burke and the interesting tidbit about these three is they all bring a different strength to the table. Tanner is an elite penalty killer that throughout last year grew exponentially in learning to position himself in the offensive zone. There's presumptively not another player on this Warriors roster that veteran coach Tim Hunter has done more for as two years ago you'd watch Tanner play and to put it bluntly he was a detriment to sustaining a rythym.  A classic case of someone that took a while to mature and define himself as a player and full credit goes out to Hunter. It's common practice to see someone have success in Bantam/Midget and then progress to Major Junior expecting to replicate previous results. Tanner needs to work for all the success he's been privy to an d there enlies the difference as two years ago he was complacent and wasn't committed to a well rounded game. Fast forward to now and that dedication has paid off by earning NHL rookie camp invites with Minnesota and Washington respectively the last two summers. It remains to be seen if he's bound for Canadian University hockey or whether he'll continue exploring professional opportunites but one thing is for certain, the fire power he has around him should lead to a career season far surpassing the sixty five tallied in 2016/2017. With Halbgewachs, I'd task anyone to find me a more exciting player in this league over Jayden. The way he plays is everything the hockey governing bodies coveted when the rules were changed to dissuade clutching and grabbing.In 2002/2003, a player enamored with his skill set  might channel success in junior hockey but the minute he turned professional he'd be buried in the minors as punishing old school defenceman such as Scott Stevens or Marcus Ragnarsson would've ate him for breakfast, there just wasn't an avenue fo a player like that. Regina will be getting the '17 Memorial Cup edition after last hosting the cup sixteen years ago and the reason I bring that up is because their was a player on the QMJHL champion Val'dor Foreur by the name of Brandon Reid,  a onetime Vancouver Canuck prospect that he resembles.It's the way he(they) cradles  the puck and displays a fearlessness by crashing the net at all costs that justifies the comparison. Much has been made over his anemic playoffs where he only accumulated five points in the series versus  Swift Current four of which were in one game but for fans of Moose Jaw reading this don't put too much stock into it as the true reasons for falling short were disciplinary issues and a red hot goaltender in Jordan Papirny. Could've he been better? Absolutely but for fans clinging to the disappointments rest assured that'll be short lived as a better measuring stick are the exploits visible to the regular season. One seven game stretch is an aberration And lastly with the profile regarding Brayden Burke, I have no idea nor do I care what went on behind the scenes spearheading his trade to Moose Jaw and regardless of what off-ice rules were broken the trade was viewed as  a clean slate for Brayden. I will say, as a general rule I think the work of Coach Hunter has been masterful but the one small  critique I need to vent on is why Burke and Halbgewachs weren't permanent linemates post trade as from the outset they appear to be tremendous compliments of one another.Halbgewachs propensity to drive the net would seem to match well to Brayden as he's someone that loves to coral the puck on his stick and favour the stretch pass and when asessing Halbgewachs robust speed you have to ascertain the notion that these two belong together and to harp on the criticism from my viewings Tim chooses to tinker with lines too much bordering on problematic. On the forwards I'll finish with this thought. Tanner Jeannot who I just finished describing has morphed into a well rounded stalwart but given his veteran status will be asked to assist the offensive cause and that has me theorizing if GM Alan Millar will look to bring in a nineteen year old defensively responsible to off-set the wave of creativity they possess. It's dependent on whether they will attempt to match wits with Regina. They definitely should.

I can't state definitively but it's my perception that Warrior loyalists seem to be divided over the upside of defenceman, Roblin native Josh Brook. Some have long internally questioned if Josh has the capability to headline the Friendly City's defensive core but if you read my brief snip it when I graded some teams NHL draft performance, I've always been a proponent of Brook's game and the Montreal Canadiens have secured the rights(2nd round,56th overall) to a polarizing figure who I project will be a contributing member of the red,white and blue in three seasons. Montreal has been desperate for a legitimate number one blueliner and when they finally found one Bergevin exchanged him for a power play specialist so go figure! There's honestly not a facet that Josh doesn't excel in. After it was quickly learned that Thrower and Sozanski would act as liabilities out on the ice and sixteen year old Jet Woo wasn't quite ready for primetime action, Brook and Dmitri Zaitsev, the second best Zaitsev to make his North American debut last year were perhaps prematurely thrust into the number one pairing. When I broke down Josh's game by game totals from a year one thing became abundantly evident.  In the first half there were fewer games where he was held scoreless and that's conducive to him being more mindful of increased responsbility in the second half. I sound like I'm contradicting myself here as throughout this preview I've repeated my disdain for the plus/minus category but the frustration moreso applies when examining players who played on mediocre teams but on a team like Moose Jaw who at worst was middle of the pack from January 13th onward there was only one game where he was in the negatives which equates to shoring up his structure. He's always been comfortable in the o-zone but the one thing I'm hopeful he worked on in the off-season(well maybe not too hopeful as I'm a Pat fan) is his shot. His shot last year would make Troy Stecher's look like a howitzer of a shot. If he can bulk up, the double threat of Brook(skating, defensive reliability) would then become a triple threat. I referenced that Jet Woo wasn't ready for primetime, well then again not many sixteen years old are but in his draft year scouts are going to flock Mosaic Place, if they can find a parking spot that is. At the under eighteen Ivan Hlinka I believe it was TSN's Craig Button who when analyzing Woo cited the comparison because of his skating to that of Duncan Keith. His skating for being that young is off the charts but to bestow such a heightened comparison is dicey territory because the pressure that adds to the young player is immense. With Brook and Zaitsev a lock to oversee the first pairing you could see Jet paired with the player I'm already coining 'Moose Mountain', 6'8 Oleg Sosunov. The jeckle and hyde pairin is perfect for Woo as if the scouting reports are accurate on the Ryazan,russia product then Sosunov is someone that is a caretaker on the backend but has no desire or aptitude to join the rush.  He didn't tally one single point last season and that should explain all you need to know. A scoreless season out of Oleg is par for the course but for Jet that would raise the red flag. Unless more transactions are imminent then he's almost certain to receive plenty of power play time on a stacked team thus will pad the totals. London Knights standout Bo Horvat in 2012-2013 wasn't necessarily a first round target for most NHL teams at the beginning of the season but after a strong campaign toppled by a deep playoff run he bustled himself to the thirteenth overall selection. Jet enters this season with ample fanfare but if he's a strong performer on a potentially Memorial Cup hockey club then what's projected top ten could improve to a top five lottery selection.

Let me be frank, those left in disgust over the 'abrupt' departure of twenty year goaltender Zach Sawchenko need a reality check. Sawchenko who had an admirable 3.32 career Goals Against Average with Moose Jaw and a two time Del Wilson Memorial Goaltender of the year finalist wasn't going to be brought back with the strength of overagers up front and made a decision to pursue an education early at the University of Alberta which should be commended. Not knowing the intracicies of what was completely behind the decision aside for being content with a new chapter in his life the writing was on the wall and likely wasn't comfortable with the possibility of being shipped off a teneous organization. At deference of the pending starter Brody Wilms even though I just finished saying the importance of Halbegwachs, Jeannot and Burke played a factor, the ability of Wilms was the final straw to reach the decision of going in this direction. Brody always looked up for the challenge in a limited role and I have complete faith that no future upgrade will be needed andhe can eloquently fill the large shoes left by Zach.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

2017-2018 Western Hockey League Preview(Team 5)

5.Kelowna Rockets: When I conducted a deep dive on the chances of Kelowna Rockets chances this season, a couple things came to mind. For starters, things would have t really go off the rails for another division banner not to be hanging at Prospera Place and secondly their may not be a more complex twenty year old dilemma in the Western Hockey League. Team owner and General Manager has always been a stingent recruiter and he's had to be with the impending losses of so many significant pieces including Nick Merkley, Devante Stephens and Lucas Johansen. Restock and reload has long been the mantra for this organization as even with the aforementioned departures, there's plenty of skill to go around along with the knowledge that they have a weak(er) British Columbia division to contend with. O and did I mention that I have a strong suspicion that they likely boast this year's league M.V.P?  Keep reading below to find out who but any Kelowna Rocket supporter should know this Calgary Flame prospect is on the precipus of having a campaign reminiscent of something you may have seen from the likes of Justin Keller(03/04) and Colin Long(07/08)

Naturally most casual fans will be familiar by now with the name of Cal Foote and not just because of his famous father Adam but due to over the course of the 2016/2017 season his production raised to an unprecedented level. I vividly recall the moment when Hamilton selected Foote in the 2013 Bantam Draft forty third overall that they landed the steal of that May's draft. Now, the 2013 Bantam Draft turned out to be historically strong with a group revolving around Sam Steel and Nolan Patrick and I'm not even necessarily insinuating that Cal would've been deserving of a top five selection but it was widely speculated that if Cal was open minded about the other twenty one organizations that he was a certifiable first rounder. By no means am I scathing the Rocket organization for shady business tactics because at the end of the day why wouldn't you take a leap of faith on a probable first round NHL talent. Some will cite unfair recruiting advantages but from this bloggers perspective, there's no other way to summarize it other then smart. A similar maneuver transpired this past May when in the second round, thirty ninth overall they took a waiver on Ethan Bowen. Bowen is said to be leaning in the direction of the NCAA but if Kelowna puts forth an endearing pitch then nothing is saying he won't frequent WHL circles just like his big brother Ryan. I have the exact theory in the import draft where if I was in charge or roster structure I'm NEVER throwing away a second round import player on someone who tops out as a twenty point guy. Let me swing for the fences and if my home run breezes foul I'm better served allowing a sixteen/seventeen year old to allocate that very role. Back to what Cal can contribute out on the ice, I'll be the first to admit that notwithstanding all the hype surrounding him  I was left lukewarm over his progress in his rookie season. I have no issue admitting a wrong after the fact because lord knows I've been incorrect plenty of times before but  in that 2015/2016 rookie season of his as the Rockets went through their bi-annual Saskatchewan swing I was failing to understand the build up over this player. He wasn't sound defensively, wasn't Nostradamus with the puck and generally exuded a fairly mundane presence. That was 2015/2016 of course and in hindsight I'll chalk it up to rookie nerves because in his draft year he picked it up several notches. I always get the two summer International tournaments mixed up but at one of the two where the elder of the two Footes suited up for Canada, in retrospect it was a pre-cursor for what was bound to come as the exploits shown there were a platform to what he had in store with Kelowna in his second full season. Aside from the obvious increase in the points department what I appreciated most was how hard on the puck he had gotten. It was eerily similar to the career father Adam paved out for himself, taking liberties at appropriate times(or in Adam's case when referees had turned their back) and amazingly even with the improved physicalness his discipline didn't suffer. He was one of the least penalized Rockets which bodes well as he'll be dedicating the first half of the season attempting to impress Team Canada World Junior Head Coach Dominique Ducharme because as we all know,penalties at the christmas time tradition is code for getting stapled to the bench(see Jake Virtanen in 2016). The next defenceman worth spending some time analyzing is St.Albert product, nineteen year old Braydyn Chizen. Chizen is an interesting case in the sense that his function on his team is largely dependent on what Jason Smith and company elect to do with their two overage defenceman Gordie Ballhorn and James Hilsendager. It's more complicate then usual because not only do you have a European two spotter in camp in Tomas Soustal, there's Carsen Twarrnysko who's guaranteed to stick pending a signed professional deal and goaltender Cody Porter who's in camp on a tryout. My thoughts on this are Twarnyski is a must, Soustal who by eliminating him you'd be losing a total one hundred and eight points so I don't see that happening and because of the depth on the backend from pupils such as Chizen and Kaeden Korczak you're probably losing one of Ballhorn or Hilsendager. The emergence of Chizen was a rewarding for the coaching staff because I know for fact there s a fair share of detractors as he's not the smoothest skater. If you're expecting Brayden to frequent the scoresheet then you're sorely mistaken but what can't be forgotten is when the Rockets met the Portland Winterhawks in the post-season, Winterhawks now former PBP announcer Todd Vrooman did a radio interview where he singled out Braydyn for his defensive reliability. My take away from hearing this is he rises in the important contests and should be counted upon to play a large role on this year's penalty kill

I teased in the opening that the Kelowna Rockets in all likelihood possess the league M.V..P in 2017/2018 and that happens to be Dillon Dube. I always knew Dillon had the repertoire to be a special player in this league but to be perfectly honest until recently I was timid in labelling Dube as a pure playmaker. That all changed in December 2016 when Dillon(surprisingly?) cracked the World Junior team. As Coach Ducharme began to laud the attributes of each player fortunate enough to make the team he was adamant that Dillon won a job by being someone who was versatile and could kill penalties Much to my,Ducharme's and the rest of Canada sans fans in Kelowna who were privy to seeing him daily astonishment he was creating scoring chances consistently at the top international level. A great comparision to him happens  to be one of his teammates on that 2017 Team Canada edition in Tyson Jost.They're true kindred spirits on the ice as if you took numbers off the back of their sweaters it would be difficult to discern the two. Tyson is a litle more polished probably holding on  to a harder shot but in all other facets there equals. That type of praise eludes to the heights I believe Dillon will reach this year and who knows, if it wasn't for him nursing a few injuries in the season's first half then what I'm forecasting now may of already been a reality. There's not one reading this that can sincerely question the decorated career Dillon has carved out but there could be some and deservedly so that will ponder if the absence of running mate Nick Merkley who's destined for Tucson of the AHL will obstruct Dillon's point tally. Judging off of  my assertion that  a M.V.P trophy is in his sights then you can safely assume I don't hold any of those reservation as Kole Lind and Kyle Topping with the possibility of Soustal will supply him enough breathing room. After I scoured the team statistics of  a year ago the Rockets racked up the league's third best power play throughout the season which surely will be difficult to replicate especially after losing one of the league's top passers in Merkley the onus will be on Kyle Topping to make the most out of an expanded opportunity and likely anchor the second power play unit. There's always those situations where players get placed in sticky situations with no chance to thrive but with Kyle I'm getting the impression his draft year has come at just the right time condtional on a consistent role. I can recollect hundreds  of examples where players are on successful teams through their first couple seasons but as their draft year draws near the state of the team dwindles and a drop in production decreases their draft stock and in some instances effects them getting drafted all together. I think back to someone like former Saskatoon Blade Ryan Keller who the year before he was eligible mapped together a seventy nine point season only to follow that up with a forty four point campaign. Certain scenarios have to fall in place and while for Ryan they didn't, the hope is the late 1999 birthday Topping can live up to his projected third-fourth round status.He may see playing time with veterans like Twarnyski and Soustal which drives home my opinion that whether fair or not, being in the right place at the right time is half the battle.

Technically a goaltenders competition does exist in the Okanagan but it's my belief the whole premise of bringing former Calgary Hitmen netminder Cody Porter is to butter up his value in hope that he can land on with a rival club in the Western League or the OHL/QMJHL. I implied as much in earlier previews that Cody's best bet is to follow the footsteps of former Brandon Wheat King Jacob De Serres and latch on to a team in Eastern Canada thus taking advantage of the final year of the scholarship agreement and get all five years of post-secondary paid for. Cody's a quality goaltender who was wrongfully cut loose by Calgary, unfortunately Kelowna just isn't the appropriate fit.Too many other paramount overage options. This is Brodan Salmond's time to shine and lead the Rockets all the way to the conference finals if I've prognosticated the British Columbia division correctly.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

2017-2018 Western Hockey League Preview(Team 6)

6.Medicine Hat Tigers: Any time you lose four of your top five point producers from the year before the consensus is that said team is due for a drop-off. In the case of the Medicine Hat Tigers that's not the case as the influx of up and coming talent actually outweighs some of the players lost to graduation/trade. It was my perception last year that the Tigers were an organization synonymous for icing a team full of obscure names not well known in Western Hockey League circles and in instead scouted out diminutive  talent that had  a knack for being persistent on the forecheck and never let off.  The predilection of the nucleus was consistently putting forth sixty minutes and were the hardest working team in the Western Hockey League. The pressing question heading is we know about the aptitude of Mason Shaw, can others behind him step and contribute for  a Tigers team seeking  a consecutive division banner.

Having what they classify as a 'two spotter' where a player takes up an import and overage slot is never ideal but barring a philosophical shift this will ring true for the Tigers this fall as Latvian Kristians Rubins is back for another year in the Hat. I happen to be very complimentary of Rubins' game so it's not as if the Tigers are carrying around a liability however it's common sense being able to fill an import and overage position separately makes you a more competitive hockey club. We saw this scenario develop last season with Dmitry Osipov who traded his time between Brandon and Vancouver and while not totally a fair comparison as these two teams respectively were at different points in their development cycles opposed to Med Hat, hauling around a two spotter didn't improve the standing of the team. What Rubins advertised throughout his freshman campaign was a pugnacious style and surprisingly disciplined considering the no prisoner approach he took guarding his own net. He earned the respect of the league's officials probably getting away with petty infractions based off of reputation alone. Piling up the third fewest penalty minutes in the league benefitted this group immensely as with how specialty teams are deciding games as of late and with how lethal some power plays are, not dishing six or seven power plays a night allowed the defenceman to stay in a rythym and maintain chemistry laden partnerships which had a ripple effect through the lineup. With last year's captain Clayton Kirichenko gone to the University of Alberta,  it'll be up to Rubins and New York Islanders seventh rounder David Quenneville to lead the charge. As I mentioned Rubins is more of a defensive minded defenceman whereas David is always thinking offence. When Quenneville broke his leg last January the immediate thought was that it was going to ravage the d-core and send him off to the sidelines for the rest of the year but what a dedicated recovery he instrumented as he was back playing by late February. That's Gregory Campbell-esque(suited up for the Boston Bruins in their 2013 playoff run with a broken leg). I was lukewarm on David's play prior to the injury, the generalization was that he was getting beat on routine foot races and was simply not strong enough battling the league's top nineteen and twenty year olds. It was if a light switch went off in his head after the recovery finished, he was no longer passive fending off opposition, everything in his repertoire was seemingly crisper. His production really raised at the tail end of the regular season into that first round series he was electric. He sure gave a how do you do to the Wheaties in game one of the quarterfinal, managing  a six point output. Head Coach Shawn Clouston had to be elated and I would imagine(yet to see any confirmation) that David is a leading candidate for 2017-2018 Tiger captaincy. The Quenneville lineage is alive and well in the dub. A training camp battle to watch intently is the status of seventeen year old Layne Matechuk. Layne along with super rookie Logan Barlage navigated the waters for the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Prince Albert Mintos and really got more and more refined in this d-zone awareness as the year progressed. Four spots are sewn up on the Tiger blueline and I truly believe Layne has to be a frontrunner for the five or six assignment. He naturally won't receive much playing as this Medicine Hat club has the making to be elite but just soaking up the winning culture will benefit him immensely. Eventual Kelowna Rocket franchise defenceman Lucas Johansen rode the pine during their 2014-2015 championship drive and I'm sure some at the time were perplexed for why he didn't receive another year of training in Midget but in lieu of prospering in a winning culture he ultimately had his name called by the Washington Capitals. Not claiming that Layne is on the same ascent as Lucas but he's ready to play in the Western Hockey League, irregardless of role.

No question depth is a little thin upfront. What the likes of Chad Butcher and Steven Owre were able to provide for someone like Mason was time and space because coaches knew if they game planned around Mason, who is no slouch on his skates I may add then they would get taken to the cleaners as I genuinely don't think one team could match up foot for foot with Med Hat. As long as I can remember as far to the era of Kris Russell, Cam Barker and Darren Helm speed has always been prevalent in team dynamic. .As rivals became more familiar with the attack of this rendition, the correlating effect was that it shied away an intense forecheck as almost always you had to have a third man back to contend with the counter-attack. The only thing upfront working against this group of forwards was a purported lack of finish. Speed for days but often times speed without purpose. They would comfortably enter the zone and usually with numbers on their side but would be rendered helpless not knowing where to distribute the puck to. Don't get me wrong, if I'm a general manager with this many options I'm not complaining but the current setup is conducive to regular season success(scoring 350 goals is no fluke) but not capitalizing on the premium limited chances in the post-season was deflating. The question needs to be asked, is the make-up of the roster too small? In the second round series versus Lethbridge Brady Pouteau and Brennan Riddle were having a field day with the forwards and no body would mistake those two for the next Duncan Keith. The x-factor in this report is the abilities of German newcomer Mick Kohler. Kohler has big shoes to fill as the exiting John Dalhstrom nearly cracked Sweden's World Junior roster and was one of their better finds in years.Judging his statistics playing for Kolner in Germany it is evident that he prefers passing the puck, forty assists to sixteen goals a year ago and every recorded year has accumulated more helpers then goals and heavily noted is his height. For a team flooded with a bunch of Mugsy Bogues(Basketball reference) it's nice to see they've finally identified a Manute Bol to compliment that. Terrible basketball comparisons aside a better balance is needed to prevent the size issue that was the elephant in the room over 2016/2017. Ryan Chyzowski certainly given his pedigree in Bantam someday has aspirations playing professional hockey and making   a household name for himself. Well this summer his cousin stole the spotlight as young Kyle Chyzowski participated for Team Canada at the Little League World Series and as  a member of the team nearly created history almost becoming the first Canadian entry to advance to the International final, Kyle has the baseball gene downpact(although according to ESPN is contemplating quitting baseball in favour of hockey) but now it's Ryan's turn to show that the Chyzowski brand can flourish in the world of Junior Hockey. An eighteenth overall selection in 2015 suffice to say I believe Ryan fell short of expectations and in his draft year will need to illustrate a more complete game. Tentativeness would be the word of the day when describing Ryan. We've spent much of this preview fantasizing over the sheer speed and at least thusfar Ryan doesn't fit into that mold which could explain the "disappointing" year he experienced. It's no secret Clouston advocates for a high tempo brand so it's up to him to put in the work and prove to the coaching staff that he belongs in the top nine. Sadly while a first round NHL selection dream is a thing of the past I think that another slow start out of the gates, to the fault of Ryan or not then a change of scenery may be needed. Sometimes, and it has nothing to do with a players abilities but sometimes a fit is just rotten, and this is one of those instances.

Michael Bullion was........just okay as the Tigers bowed out of the playoffs by the way of the second round and that mediocrity forced the hand of the Tiger administration to bring in a netminder and his name is Jordan Hollett, formerly of Regina. For clarification Bullion remains in camp(as of this writing) but will be phased to the Junior A ranks in all likelihood. A high draft pick himself, Hollett was coveting an expanded role and with Tyler Brown in Regina for one more year Pats General Manager was fair to his player by shipping him off somewhere where playing time has been set aside  The irony here, if my prognostications are correct about Med Hat being the best team in the division and with Regina campaigning for my #1 ranking, a Hollett-Brown conference final dual would be great theater and happens to be quite realistic. I wish Jordan all the best in Southern Alberta, he landed there at just the right time.