Friday, September 1, 2017

2017-2018 Western Hockey League Preview(Team 7)

7.Swift Current Broncos: The exploits of Tyler Brown on the fateful day of April 15th,2017 will forever haunt the Swift Current Bronco faithful. As someone who dilligently watched each game of the series, the heavily favoured Regina Pats were done. Midway through the second frame with the Broncos leading 3-1 Tyler Brown made two seasons saving herculean stops if memory serves me correct against Conner Chaulk and Glenn Gawdin. A fourth goal there and the series is over and quite possibly it's the Swift Current Broncos that rival the Seattle Thunderbirds in the final. A couple  of signifcant losses to be sure in Arizona Coyote prospect Lane Pederson and Max Lajoie to be sure but I feel when singularly focusing on the Eastern division they have the best collection of players from the year 2000  down.The Moose Jaw Warriors may have something to say about that but it just speaks to the division moving forward when accounting that three teams have cracked the top seven.

Anytime you couple the conferences purest sniper(Tyler Steenbergen) with the conferences top puck distributor(Alexi Heponiemi) it instantly becomes  a lethal combination and for a consecutive year these two will anchor the top line who will look to improve last season's godly numbers.  First with Steenbergen, I'd imagine  his former coach with Swift,  Tucson Roadrunners bench boss Mark Lamb put in a good word with Coyote management as Arizona expended the one hundred and twenty eighth selection on Tyler after going undrafted his original draft year. Tyler was more then worthy of the draft pick as not only is he lauded for his world class shot what impressed me throughout last season was his aggressiveness and demeanor literally never taking a shift off. You see a some of the top end 'skill' guys in this league waiting for elite scoring chances to fall on their lap whereas with Tyler he creates his own chances by virtue of his hard work and that their is what separates himself from the pack. Even though he's now played three full seasons in the league, the jump from forty six points to ninety emphasized the sentiment that 2016/2017 was his breakout season and the adapatability from an opposition point of view will be interesting as  a game won't go by where he's not the focal point of the strategy that night.  This is an interesting segway into his running mate Heponiemi. The stardom and pasazz in his arsenal is second to none but what was noticeable as the regular season tailed off into the playoffs was that as the games got tougher there was a substantial dip in his game level.  This opinion is evidenced by the fact as when the games more important while the Broncos were trying to lock down a divisional playoff position which they ultimately did the numbers were beginning to decrease as in the last nine regular season games he was a -9 and in the final two games of each playoff series versus Moose Jaw and Regina he was held off the scoresheet in the pivotal games six and seven. At the top of this paragraph I labelled the Tampere,Finland import as  a top puck distributor which when on certainly is but it's one thing to be a premier distributor,it's a whole another animal to not forego other facets in the game and that's what was happening come post-season with his defensive discipline and getting knocked off pucks too easily. Some will construe this as an unfair critique but when your platform has been raised to the bar it has(Florida's 2nd round 2017 pick) people expect more and entering this campaign there will be those who will counting on an accumulation of one hundred points or more. In tennis everyone is enamored with Canadian sensation Dennis Shapovalov basically due to the fact that he was unknown before 2017 commenced but with success comes expectations and that's exactly what Alexi will be faced with now. As I've promised on a couple of different occasions, after this preview has been completed I plan on prognosticating my WHL award predictions and while  I haven't made any definitive decisions, chalk it up a strong likelihood that Logan Barlage will be my pre-season selection of league wide rookie of the year. Where Logan differentiates himself is with his size. Nothing against Peyton Krebs, Kirby Dach or Bowen Byram but I can't help but think that the Swift Current Broncos landed the best player from this draft class. The skill level is incontestable as in his Bantam Draft year with Humboldt he racked up sixty goals and from my observation he plays with fearlessness as when coach Viveiros inserted Logan into the lineup againsr Regina what began as a fourth line role quickly elevated to a top six/nine in the wake of devastating injuries sustained to Lane Pederson and Gawdin. He was engaging in post whistle scrums where often fifteen year olds scurry back to the bench. Assessing the potential depth chart I expect to see him begin on the second line with Glenn Gawdin and Kaden Elder which as I illustrated earlier will assist his pursuit en route to Rookie of the Year but then past that, who's going to bary the puck in the back of the net?  For Speedy Creek to be serious players in the division/conference for which they have every chance of being then one more forward via trade will be needed. Taking these rankings to heart I think someone such as Vince Loschavio would be a wonderful addition to this group as there's enough truculence in the forward ranks but perhaps just a little short in skill. It's a tall order to rely on Barlage and second year Riley Stotts on top six minutes with sparse depth behind them even though I firmly believe both could rise to the challenge and prosper.

You can't progress on any Swift Current Broncos preview without emphasizing what the career of Max Lajoie meant to the Broncos younger defenceman. The Ottawa Senators got some kind of value, securing the Calgary native in the fifth round. This truly shouldn't come as any surprise as the Senators are synonymous for stockpiling premier defenceman, we all know about Erik Karlsson and his trajectory and with last year's best defenceman in Canada coming on board with Thomas Chabot, and with Lajoie a couple years away the skies are bright in the Rideau Canal.  The mentorship Max exuded last year is guaranteed to have a positive effect on some of his prodigies, specifically Artyum Minulin. Now in the category of befuddlement over why a player wasn't drafted, someone please explain to me why Minulin was omitted from the theatrics at the United Center this past June. I can't fathom up any level of justification because Minulin's game continues to grow exponentially and that guidance from Max is a big reason for it. What I maybe didn't notice or took for credit it throughout Artyum's debut season in Canada in 2015/2016 was just how well rounded his game is. He's more then competent offensively tallying eighty three career points as a defenceman and that, not even analyzing the other attributes that make Minulin he player that he is,that doesn't get you drafted? For coach Manny Viveiros he had confidence to enlist him on all specialty teams, was on the first line penalty kill and was the second power play unit. The knock amongst scouts was his choppy skating but at least from my perspective the skating wasn't such a crutch as the 2016/2017 campaign progressed. Here's one of my theories asto why Minulin didn't have his name called. I began to slide down this slope during the Red Deer Rebels preview but I'm starting to form the impression that in the Western Hockey League circles the sentiment that Europeans who elect to come over to the dub are inferior to most who get brought over to the Quebec Major Junior or Ontario leagues. This bias is incredibly egregious as it's certainly not true but unfortunately unless a European spends time on the World Junior grand stage they get buried from the national media spotlight. This possibly is an indictment of a greater disservice that the main television provider for the Canadian Hockey League, Rogers Sportsnet doesn't promote the Western Hockey League enough and that's why Scouts have formed this incorrect presumption that the Western Hockey League is a second tier league for which it's not.Minulin will now be tasked with  leading the backend against what guarantees to be the leagues most explosive division. Another route worth exploring for Swift Current is the perceived imbalance between forwards and defenceman on this club. The top four as it stands right now will be Minulin,Colby Sissons, Dom Schiemann, and Sahvan Khaira but where it gets complicated is if someone such as Jake Hobson  displays throughout pre-season that he as well deserves to be a part of the conversation  pertaining to Viveiros' top four stalwarts. The trend that is taking over the game of hockey is that whether professional or amateur(junior) the increased importance of locking down a top four and not spending as much time concerning who oversees the bottom two pairing. In the National Hockey League for instance, the salary cup world dictates the kind of financial surplus they can afford allocating out to the top four while usually being forced to employ afterthoughts on the bottom pairing to make ends meet. In the junior hockey landscape, financial backing isn't the determining factor when putting together a roster but conventional widsom is that most teams unless teams such as the Regina Pats who have a spot in the National Championship in tow, the unwritten rule is to try and find playing time for their sixteen and seventeen year olds and slowly work them in. Presuming Hobson is the five guy(Jackson Alexander would've been if had chose to commit) then contemplating packaging someone such as Dom Schiemann to acquire one more forward may be what this organization needs if it desires to get past the Moose Jaw Warriors or Regina Pats in what vows to be a riveting playoff series(bookmark this for when this series materializes in late March). I cited the name of Vince Loschavio in the forward but to get the Kootenay Ice interested it may take the services of Dom to do so.

Safe to say any Bronco fan will tell you that an unquestionable weakness as the winter approaches ie between the pipes. Jordan Papirny was a wall after getting brought over from the Brandon Wheat Kings to enhance last year's playoff drive and as I implied if it wasn't for a couple once in a blue moon saves out of Regina goaltender Brown then Swift Current booked a ticket to the conference final. I can't even fathom how devastating the loss was for the fans as that second round was intense filled with vitrol but it just showed how close this program is to breaking out. The hope from Broncos administration is that Papirny's resume that he brought with him can prove to be motivating for someone like Taz Burman as he envies to have the same reputation as his own overage season approaches. Taz has been around the block a bit having stops with Red Deer, Seattle and now Swift Current and I'm honestly sure if he has the fortitude to withstand a full year of being a Major Junior starter. His time in Seattle was a cup in coffee but from what I recollect as a member of the Rebels he was shaky with a susceptible glove hand. Bailey Brkin is waiting in the wings but he has to be a show stopper every once in a while to relay confidence to the troops in front of him.

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