The Silvertips’ competition: Breaking down the WHL

  • Wed Sep 19th, 2012 12:24pm
  • Sports

By Nick Patterson The Herald

U.S. Division

Portland Winterhawks

Coach: Mike Johnston (fifth season)

Last season: 49-19-3-1, second in U.S. Division, eliminated in WHL finals.

Key losses: LW Sven Bartschi (33 goals, 61 assists) and D Joe Morrow (17 goals, 47 assists), both Western Conference all-stars, are off to the professional ranks, as are LW Brad Ross (42 goals, 40 assists) and LW Marcel Noebels (20 goals, 38 assists). D William Wrenn (three goals, 13 assists), LW Oliver Gabriel (20 goals, 22 assists) and C Cam Reid (13 goals, 19 assists) graduated as overagers.

Key returners: 19-year-old RW Ty Rattie (57 goals, 64 assists) is perhaps the league’s top offensive player, having finished third in last season’s scoring race. 20-year-old D Troy Rutkowski (13 goals, 32 assists) and 18-year-old D Derrick Pouliot (11 goals, 48 assists) give Portland plenty of offensive firepower on the blue line. 18-year-old C Brendan Leipsic (28 goals, 30 assists) is equal parts scorer and agitator. 20-year-old C Taylor Peters (12 goals, 26 assists) is one of the league’s top defensive forwards. 20-year-old G Mac Carruth (42-17-2-0, 2.96 goals against average, .904 save percentage) is hoping to stick in the professional ranks, but could end up being returned.

Key newcomers: 18-year-old D Seth Jones could be the league’s biggest impact newcomer in a decade. Jones, who forced a trade away from Everett, is a candidate to be selected first overall in next year’s NHL draft. 17-year-old Danish RW Oliver Bjorkstrand, along with 16-year-old Cs Dominic Turgeon and Keegan Iverson, are expected to have offensive impacts.

Outlook: The Winterhawks, who fell just short of the league title each of the past two seasons, lost a ton of talent. However, since Johnston arrived as coach and general manager Portland has somehow found a way to constantly replenish that lost talent, and despite the departures the Winterhawks will once again be the favorites in the division.

Seattle Thunderbirds

Coach: Steve Konowalchuk (second season)

Last season: 25-45-1-1, fifth in U.S. Division, missed playoffs.

Key losses: Goaltender Calvin Pickard (25-37-1-1, 3.59 goals against average, .906 save percentage), who was the good soldier the past three seasons as he saw so many shots he set a new league record for career saves, is off to the pros. RW Burke Gallimore (22 goals, 18 assists) graduated as an overager. Talented-but-inconsistent C Colin Jacobs (nine goals, 10 assists) was shipped to Prince George.

Key returners: 17-year-old D Shea Theodore (four goals, 31 assists) is coming off an impressive rookie season. 18-year-old RW Branden Troock (14 goals, 12 assists) is looking to build upon his first healthy season, while 20-year-old C Luke Lockhart (16 goals, 21 assists) is looking to rebound from an off season. 19-year-old RW Seth Swenson (11 goals, 13 assists) and 18-year-old RW Connor Honey (10 goals, 11 assists) both provided some offense after arriving midseason. 20-year-old D Brad Deagle (three goals, 18 assists) is a steadying presence at the back.

Key newcomers: The T-birds are counting on 20-year-old G Brandon Glover (20-12-0-0, 3.11 goals against average, .885 save percentage), acquired from Calgary in the offseason, to carry the load in goal, despite never having been a true No. 1 during his WHL career. 19-year-old D Jesse Forsberg (six goals, seven assists) was acquired from Prince George to help shore up the back. Seattle is looking for its two new imports, 18-year-old Russian LW Alexander Delnov and 18-year-old Latvian C Roberts Lipsbergs, to jump start the offense.

Outlook: Seattle missed the playoffs each of the past three seasons, and now the T-birds have to figure out how to move forward without their rock in goal. Seattle needs Glover and a young defense need to show they’re ready for the challenge. Otherwise it may be another fruitless season for the T-birds.

Spokane Chiefs

Coach: Don Nachbaur (third season)

Last season: 38-25-5-4, third in U.S. Division, eliminated in second round of playoffs.

Key losses: LW Darren Kramer (22 goals, 18 assists, 200 penalty minutes), the team’s inspirational captain, physical D Corbin Baldwin (six goals, 27 assists, 128 penalty minutes) and gritty C Steve Kuhn (13 goals, 33 assists) graduated as overagers. C Dominik Uher (33 goals, 35 assists), the team’s top-scoring forward, is headed to the pros.

Key returners: 20-year-old D Brenden Kichton (17 goals, 57 assists), the reigning Western Conference Defenseman of the Year, remains on the roster, though he’s a candidate to earn a professional job in the minors. 19-year-old RW Mitch Holmberg (27 goals, 28 assists), 19-year-old C Mike Aviani (13 goals, 32 assists), 19-year-old LW Marek Kalus (20 goals, 22 assists) and 20-year-old C Dylan Walchuk (10 goals, 14 assists) lead the offense. 20-year-old RW Blake Gal (15 goals, 23 assists) and 19-year-old LW Collin Valcourt (16 goals, 14 assists) both provide a physical presence. 19-year-old Gs Mac Engel (28-19-1-3, 2.69 goals against average, .893 save percentage) and Eric Williams (16-21-4-2, 3.78 goals against average, .878 save percentage), who split duties last season, both return for another go.

Key newcomers: 18-year-old RW Jackson Playfair, 17-year-old RW Riley Whittingham and 17-year-old LW Adam Helewka all produced offensively during the preseason.

Outlook: Spokane has a solid group of forwards returning, as well as a pair of experience goaltenders. The question is on defense, and more specifically about Kichton. If Kichton returns, the Chiefs have enough to make themselves a factor in the divisional race. Without Kichton and Spokane appears to be a step down from the favorites.

Tri-City Americans

Coach: Jim Hiller (fourth season)

Last season: 50-18-2-2, first in U.S. Division, eliminated in Western Conference finals.

Key losses: C Brendan Shinnimin (58 goals, 76 assists), the league’s MVP and scoring champion, graduated as an overager, as did his running mate, LW Adam Hughesman (50 goals, 66 assists) and the underrated C Mason Wilgosh (nine goals, 29 assists). G Ty Rimmer (31-12-1-1, 2.43 goals against average, .922 save percentage), the Western Conference Goaltender of the Year, was the victim of the overage numbers game and traded to Lethbridge.

Key returners: 20-year-old RW Patrick Holland (25 goals, 84 assists), the third member of Tri-City’s terrific trio, played with the Americans during the preseason, but may be headed to the pros. 20-year-old LW Justin Feser (37 goals, 46 assists) is poised to be the latest in Tri-City’s long line of star overage forwards. 18-year-old C Connor Rankin (18 goals, 21 assists) appears poised for a breakout campaign. In Zachary Yuen (12 goals, 26 assists) and Mitch Topping (four goals, 16 assists) the Americans have a pair of solid 19-year-old defensemen to anchor the blue line. Big things are expected of 17-year-old G Eric Comrie (19-6-1-1, 2.67 goals against average, .900 save percentage), whose great potential made Tri-City comfortable trading away Rimmer.

Key newcomers: 19-year-old LW Philip Tot (14 goals, 31 assists) was acquired from Lethbridge to help make up for some of the lost offense. 17-year-old C Justin Gutierrez is the younger brother of former Silvertip Moises Gutierrez.

Outlook: Tri-City could be missing more than 350 points should Holland end up playing professionally, as expected. However, the Americans have made a habit of withstanding key player losses, winning four of the past five division titles. Tri-City may not be as dominant as last season, but expect the Americans to be right in the hunt again.

B.C. Division

Kamloops Blazers

Coach: Guy Charron (fourth season)

Last season: 47-20-2-3, third in Western Conference, eliminated in second round of playoffs.

Key players: LW Brendan Ranford (40 goals, 52 assists), C Colin Smith (35 goals, 50 assists), LW Tim Bozon (36 goals, 35 assists), RW JC Lipon (19 goals, 46 assists), G Cole Cheveldave (34-11-2-3, 2.62 goals against average, .909 save percentage).

Outlook: Kamloops took a big step forward last season and returns the most offensive firepower in the Western Conference. Now with Cheveldave entrenched in goal, the Blazers have someone to prevent goals as well. Look for Kamloops to be one of the frontrunners in the race for the conference title.

Kelowna Rockets

Coach: Ryan Huska (sixth season)

Last season: 31-31-4-6, sixth in Western Conference, eliminated in first round of playoffs.

Key players: RW Colton Sissons (26 goals, 15 assists), LW Zach Franko (14 goals, 25 assists), D Myles Bell (15 goals, 26 assists), D Damon Severson (seven goals, 30 assists), G Jordon Cooke (9-7-2-3, 2.79 goals against average, .916 save percentage).

Outlook: Kelowna is deep on defense, but lacks gamebreaking ability up front after trading leading scorer Shane McColgan to Saskatoon in the offseason, and the Rockets will have a first-time starter in goal. Kelowna has a long tradition of success, but it’s hard to see the Rockets breaking out of the middle of the pack.

Prince George Cougars

Coach: Dean Clark (fourth season)

Last season: 24-46-0-2, 10th in Western Conference, missed playoffs.

Key players: LW Troy Bourke (18 goals, 38 assists), C Alex Forsberg (15 goals, 25 assists), D Dallas Ehrhardt (four goals, 18 assists), C Colin Jacobs (nine goals, 10 assists), D Daniel Gibb (one goal, eight assists).

Outlook: Prince George made the playoffs in just two of the previous five seasons, and both times the Cougars were swept in the first round. Prince George is trying to build through a youth movement, but the Cougars are probably a year away from making much noise.

Vancouver Giants

Coach: Don Hay (ninth season)

Last season: 40-26-2-4, fourth in Western Conference, eliminated in first round of playoffs.

Key players: D David Musil (six goals, 21 assists), LW Marek Tvrdon (31 goals, 43 assists), D Brett Kulak (nine goals, 15 assists), LW Cain Franson (27 goals, 31 assists), G Liam Liston (9-14-0-0, 4.28 goals against average, .879 save percentage).

Outlook: Vancouver has hit a bit of a lull after being the league’s dominant franchise during the late 2000s, getting bounced in the first round of the playoffs each of the past two seasons. The Giants are capable at the back, but a shortage of offense will likely prevent Vancouver from challenging for top honors.

Victoria Royals

Coach: Dave Lowry (first season)

Last season: 24-41-3-4, seventh in Western Conference, eliminated in first round of playoffs.

Key players: Lw Jamie Crooks (37 goals, 30 assists), C Logan Nelson (23 goals, 39 assists), C Steven Hodges (21 goals, 25 assists), C Brandon Magee (23 goals, 24 assists), G Patrik Polivka (rookie).

Outlook: The Royals have usually had no trouble scoring goals, and that should be the case again this season. The issue has always been in preventing goals, as their league-high 325 goals allowed last season attest. With a young and unproven group at defense and goaltending, expect another season battling to get in the playoffs.

Central Division

Calgary Hitmen

Coach: Mike Williamson (fourth season)

Last season: 44-25-2-1, third in Eastern Conference, eliminated in first round of playoffs.

Key players: C Victor Rask (33 goals, 30 assists), C Cody Sylvester (23 goals, 45 assists), RW Brady Brassart (25 goals, 34 assists), D Spencer Humphries (eight goals, 30 assists), G Chris Driedger (24-12-2-1, 2.80 goals against average, .896 save percentage).

Outlook: Calgary was the surprise team of the league last season. This season the Hitmen won’t sneak up on anyone. However, Calgary returns most of its impact players and is solid up and down the lineup. Expect the Hitmen to be among the contenders again.

Edmonton Oil Kings

Coach: Derek Laxdal (third season)

Last season: 50-15-3-4, first in Eastern Conference, league champions.

Key players: C Michael St. Croix (45 goals, 60 assists), LW Dylan Wruck (21 goals, 59 assists), D Martin Gernat (nine goals, 46 assists), D Griffin Reinhart (12 goals, 24 assists), G Laurent Brossoit (42-13-2-3, 2.47 goals against average, .914 save percentage).

Outlook: The defending league champions are once again the title favorites, as they return the bulk of their championship-winning squad. Edmonton has depth all over the ice, and in Brossoit they have one of the league’s top netminders. A repeat is a distinct possibility.

Kootenay Ice

Coach: Ryan McGill (first season)

Last season: 36-26-6-4, eighth in Eastern Conference, eliminated in first round of playoffs.

Key players: D Joey Leach (12 goals, 31 assists), C Sam Reinhart (28 goals, 34 assists), LW Derek Czerwonka (14 goals, 18 assists), D Jagger Dirk (seven goals, 22 assists), LW Erik Benoit (14 goals, 17 assists).

Outlook: Kootenay has made the playoffs 14 straight seasons. However, the Ice were the last team in the playoffs in the Eastern Conference last season, and the team’s key personnel moved on. It will be a good season in Kootenay if the Ice are able to continue their playoff streak.

Lethbridge Hurricanes

Coach: Rich Preston (fourth season)

Last season: 29-42-0-1, 11th in Eastern Conference, missed playoffs.

Key players: G Ty Rimmer (31-12-1-1, 2.43 goals against average, .922 save percentage), C Brady Ramsay (23 goals, 18 assists), LW Graham Hood (16 goals, 21 assists), D Daniel Johnston (two goals, 28 assists), D Ryan Pilon (rookie).

Outlook: Lethbridge has been a disaster on and off the ice, missing the playoffs three straight seasons and losing a lot of money in the process. The Hurricanes acquired Rimmer from Tri-City to help stop the hemorrhaging, but he’ll have to perform miracles to get Lethbridge back in the postseason.

Medicine Hat Tigers

Coach: Shaun Clouston (third season)

Last season: 42-24-2-4, fourth in Eastern Conference, eliminated in second round of playoffs.

Key players: LW Hunter Shinkaruk (49 goals, 42 assists), D Dylan Busenius (one goal, 13 assists), C Curtis Valk (24 goals, 31 assists), LW Boston Leier (15 goals, 18 assists), RW Miles Koules (rookie).

Outlook: Medicine Hat always seems to find itself contending — the Tigers have made the playoffs nine straight seasons. Medicine Hat was top heavy last season and lost electrifying leading score Emerson Etem and all-star goaltender Tyler Bunz. But the culture of winning should keep the Tigers in the playoff hunt.

Red Deer Rebels

Coach: Jesse Wallin (fifth season)

Last season: 32-34-1-5, ninth in Eastern Conference, missed playoffs

Key players: D Mathew Dumba (20 goals, 37 assists), G Patrik Bartosak (14-10-0-1, 2.74 goals against average, .915 save percentage), LW Turner Elson (21 goals, 25 assists), C Charles Inglis (19 goals, 23 assists), LW Adam Kambeitz (19 goals, 12 assists).

Outlook: Red Deer suffered an injury-plagued 2011-12 season, including the loss of Bartosak. The Rebels are hoping for better health this season, and in Dumba they have a player to rally around. But will an offense devoid of stars score enough to get back into the playoffs?

East Division

Brandon Wheat Kings

Coach: Dwayne Gylywoychuk (first season)

Last season: 39-28-1-4, sixth in Eastern Conference, eliminated in second round of playoffs.

Key players: D Ryan Pulock (19 goals, 41 assists), D Eric Roy (11 goals, 42 assists), G Corbin Boes (23-10-0-2, 2.84 goals against average, .916 save percentage), LW Alessio Bertaggia (24 goals, 26 assists), C Nick Buonassisi (16 goals, 33 assists).

Outlook: Brandon went for it last season, but it backfired with a first-round playoff exit, so it’s back to rebuilding for the Wheat Kings. However, Brandon is a perennial playoff presence, making it 12 straight years, and there’s enough talent left over to make it 13.

Moose Jaw Warriors

Coach: Mike Strothers (second season)

Last season: 45-19-6-2, second in Eastern Conference, eliminated in conference finals.

Key players: D Morgan Rielly (three goals, 15 assists), D Kendall McFaull (six goals, 12 assists), LW Justin Kirsch (20 goals, 36 assists), D Joel Edmundson (four goals, 19 assists), C Brayden Point (rookie).

Outlook: Moose Jaw lost most of its offense from last season, along with its starting goaltender. However, the Warriors are deep and experienced on defense, and team leader Rielly is back after missing most of last season because of a knee injury. That should be enough to get Moose Jaw back in the playoffs.

Prince Albert Raiders

Coach: Steve Young (second season)

Last season: 21-45-3-3, 12th in Eastern Conference, missed playoffs.

Key players: C Mark McNeill (31 goals, 40 assists), C Anthony Bardaro (36 goals, 38 assists), C Mike Winther (32 goals, 24 assists), D Josh Morrissey (10 goals, 28 assists), G Luke Siemens (35-14-4-2, 2.55 goals against average, .908 save percentage).

Outlook: Prince Albert had the league’s worst record last season, and the Raiders made the playoffs just once in the previous five. But sooner or later Prince Albert’s fortunes have to turn, and with a solid group of forwards and the acquisition of a veteran goaltender, this could be the year the Raiders become relevant.

Regina Pats

Coach: Pat Conacher (second season)

Last season: 37-27-6-2, seventh in Eastern Conference, eliminated in first round of playoffs.

Key players: G Matt Hewitt (32-21-4-2, 2.76 goals against average, .905 save percentage), LW Lane Scheidl (27 goals, 28 assists), LW Chandler Stephenson (22 goals, 20 assists), C Morgan Klimchuk (18 goals, 18 assists), D Brandon Underwood (three goals, 10 assists).

Outlook: Regina was a surprise team last season, but longtime offensive star Jordan Weal is gone, as is a huge chunk of the defense. The Pats still have some offensive pieces to work with, but the defense may be too depleted to expect a return trip to the playoffs.

Saskatoon Blades

Coach: Lorne Molleken (ninth season)

Last season: 40-29-1-2, fifth in Eastern Conference, eliminated in first round of playoffs.

Key players: G Andrey Markov (29-21-1-1, 3.01 goals against average, .913 save percentage), LW Matej Stransky (39 goals, 42 assists), D Duncan Siemens (six goals, 22 assists), D Dalton Thrower (18 goals, 36 assists), RW Josh Nicholls (30 goals, 38 assists).

Outlook: Saskatoon is hosting the Memorial Cup this season, and the Blades have built a veteran roster that is deep up and down the lineup. Saskatoon is a contender in the Eastern Conference, but conventional wisdom is the Blades are still a gamebreaker or two away from being a Memorial Cup contender, so anticipate some deals.

Swift Current Broncos

Coach: Mark Lamb (third season)

Last season: 27-37-2-6, 10th in Eastern Conference, missed playoffs.

Key players: LW Adam Lowry (12 goals, 25 assists), LW Coda Gordon (30 goals, 23 assists), C Graham Black (17 goals, 33 assists), D Reece Scarlett (nine goals, 40 assists), G Eetu Laurikainen (rookie).

Outlook: Swift Current has been one of the league’s have-nots in recent years, missing the playoffs each of the past two seasons. But the Broncos have a veteran core, and if the Finnish Laurikainen can give them solid goaltending, then they’re capable of ending their drought.