Three more players who seemed destined for the professional ranks this season were returned to their Western Hockey League teams last week as the effects of the NHL work stoppage continue to trickle down to lower levels.
Everett has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the lockout. Ryan Murray, the team's 19-year-old captain and star defenseman, was selected second overall in this year's NHL draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets and was set to play in the NHL this season. However, with no NHL to play in currently, and because as a player drafted out of the Canadian Hockey League he is too young to play in the minors, Murray was returned to Everett.
Murray may be the only player in the WHL in his situation -- a 19-year-old good enough to play in the NHL. However, 20-year-olds who are eligible to play in the minors also are being affected. Most of the time signed overagers play in the pros. But the work stoppage has NHL teams stocking their American Hockey League affiliates with young players who would normally be with the parent club, just so those players have some place to play through the lockout. That's put the squeeze on AHL roster spots, and as a result more 20-year-olds are being sent back to juniors than in a typical year.
The three latest casualties are Spokane defenseman Brenden Kichton, Portland goaltender Mac Carruth and Regina defenseman Colton Jobke. Carruth and Jobke already have signed professional contracts, Carruth with the Chicago Blackhawks and Jobke with the Minnesota Wild, while Kichton's rights belong to the New York Islanders. However, the AHL roster crunch resulted in all three players being reassigned to their WHL teams.
Theoretically, the addition of those players is a boon for their teams. Kichton is the reigning Western Conference defenseman of the year, Jobke is a top-pairing d-man, and Carruth tied for the league lead in wins last season. However, because they count against the limit of three overagers per team, their returns also complicate matters as Spokane, Portland and Regina all had their three overage roster spots filled.
Spokane created a space for Kichton by trading defenseman David Vandane to Prince Albert, while Regina made room for Jobke by releasing winger Andrew Rieder. Portland has yet to make a roster move. The Winterhawks claimed overage goalie Cam Lanigan off waivers during the offseason, and Lanigan currently leads the league in goals against average and save percentage. So there's an interesting decision to be made in Portland.
Around the WHL
Two players selected in the first round of this year's CHL import draft have been released as Vancouver dropped 19-year-old forward Alex Kilnar and Kootenay dropped 18-year-old forward Petr Vesely. Both hail from the Czech Republic. ... Kamloops got its leading scorer from last season, 20-year-old forward Brendan Ranford, back from his tryout with the AHL's Hamilton Bulldogs. Ranford was attempting to make the team as a free agent. ... Spokane sent 19-year-old goaltender Mac Engel home to await a trade. Engel, who began last season as Spokane's No. 1, was the odd-man out as the Chiefs will go with 19-year-old Eric Williams and 17-year-old Garret Hughson. ... Kamloops' JC Lipon was named the WHL Player of the Week. The 19-year-old forward had three goals and four assists as the Blazers went 2-0.
Points--Sam Fioretti (Moose Jaw), Colin Jacobs (Prince George), Nick Buonassisi (Brandon), JC Lipon (Kamloops) 12; goals--Mitch Holmberg (Spokane), Sam Fioretti (Moose Jaw), T.J. Foster (Edmonton), Charles Inglis (Red Deer) 7; assists--Lipon 9; penalty minutes--Jeff Hubic (Kootenay), Ryley Miller (Brandon) 27; wins--Patrik Polivka (Victoria), Luke Siemens (Prince Albert) 5; goals against average--Cam Lanigan (Portland) 1.00; save percentage--Lanigan .960.
Check out Nick Patterson's Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.
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