Western Hockey League breakdown


Kamloops Blazers

Coach: Dave Hunchak (first season)

Last season: 47-20-2-3, third in Western Conference, eliminated in conference finals.

Key players: LW Tim Bozon (36 goals, 55 assists), LW Cole Ully (22 goals, 28 assists), C Matt Needham (12 goals, 21 assists), D Sam Grist (five goals, 18 assists), G Taran Kozun (11-4-1-2, 2.36 goals against average, .914 save percentage).

Outlook: Kamloops is coming off its best season since the glory years of the 1990s. A drop-off is inevitable, but just how far that drop is depends on overagers. There’s an outside chance top forwards Colin Smith and JC Lipon will return for their 20-year-old seasons. But if they don’t, the Blazers will likely fall back into the pack.

Kelowna Rockets

Coach: Ryan Huska (seventh season)

Last season: 52-16-3-1, second in Western Conference, eliminated in second round of playoffs.

Key players: LW Myles Bell (38 goals, 55 assists), C Colton Sissons (28 goals, 39 assists), C Ryan Olsen (32 goals, 24 assists), LW Zach Franko (24 goals, 48 assists), D Damon Severson (10 goals, 42 assists).

Outlook: Kelowna was the surprise team of the Western Conference last season, as it was though the Rockets were still a year away because of their youth. Now Kelowna is both talented and experienced, and with just about the entire roster returning, the Rockets have to be considered one of the two favorites to emerge from the west.

Prince George Cougars

Coach: Mark Holick (second season)

Last season: 21-43-2-6, ninth in Western Conference, missed playoffs.

Key players: C Troy Bourke (15 goals, 35 assists), C Zach Pochiro (15 goals, 24 assists), LW Chase Witala (15 goals, 21 assists), G Brett Zarowny (9-19-0-0, 3.74 goals against average, .886 save percentage), C Alex Forsberg (nine goals, 10 assists).

Outlook: Prince George has been the perpetual also-ran in the Western Conference, and on paper there’s not much reason to believe that will change. But Holick had the team playing better after taking over midway through last season. The wild card is Forsberg, the first-overall pick in the 2010 bantam draft, who’s back after leaving the team last season.

Vancouver Giants

Coach: Don Hay (10th season)

Last season: 21-49-2-0, 10th in Western Conference, missed playoffs.

Key players: RW Jackson Houck (23 goals, 34 assists), C Cain Franson (29 goals, 25 assists), D Brett Kulak (12 goals, 32 assists), D Mason Geertsen (two goals, 12 assists), G Payton Lee (14-20-1-0, 3.51 goals against average, .879 save percentage).

Outlook: After a seven-year run among the contenders, Vancouver plummeted to the league’s worst record last season. The rebuild is still on in Vancouver as the Giants are short on top-end talent. The Giants will likely have to scratch and claw all they can if they want to get into the postseason.

Victoria Royals

Coach: Dave Lowry (second season)

Last season: 35-30-2-5, sixth in Western Conference, eliminated in first round of playoffs.

Key players: C Brandon Magee (30 goals, 30 assists), RW Ben Walker (19 goals, 33 assists), C Steven Hodges (28 goals, 23 assists), C Logan Nelson (14 goals, 29 assists), G Patrik Polivka (28-16-2-3, 3.24 goals against average, .894 save percentage).

Outlook: Victoria had a solid second season in its new home after being relocated from Chilliwack in 2011, and the Royals are looking for more this season. Victoria is deep up front and has a proven goaltender, and the Royals are well positioned to take strides in the conference standings.


Calgary Hitmen

Coach: Mike Williamson (fifth season)

Last season: 46-21-1-4, third in Eastern Conference, eliminated in conference finals

Key players: G Chris Driedger (36-14-1-3, 2.51 goals against average, .915 save percentage), RW Brady Brassart (35 goals, 43 assists), C Greg Chase (17 goals, 32 assists), D Jaynen Rissling (five goals, 23 assists), LW Jake Virtanen (16 goals, 18 assists).

Outlook: The Hitmen, one of the league’s top teams last season, suffered the loss of a number of impact players, including their top three forwards and top two defensemen. However, Calgary returns one of the top goaltenders in the league in Driedger, and the Hitmen have enough talent back to return to the playoffs.

Edmonton Oil Kings

Coach: Derek Laxdal (fourth season)

Last season: 51-15-2-4, first in Eastern Conference, eliminated in WHL finals.

Key players: D Griffin Reinhart (eight goals, 21 assists), C Henrik Samuelsson (33 goals, 47 assists), C Curtis Lazar (38 goals, 23 assists), D Cody Corbett (seven goals, 35 assists), G Tristan Jarry (18-7-0-0, 1.61 goals against average, .936 save percentage).

Outlook: The Oil Kings came two games away from making it back-to-back league championships. This season Edmonton pays the price as half its team is now gone. The Oil Kings still have a handful of impact players remaining, but it’s probably not enough to do more than get back into the playoffs.

Kootenay Ice

Coach: Ryan McGill (second season)

Last season: 35-35-2-0, eighth in Eastern Conference, eliminated in first round of playoffs.

Key players: C Sam Reinhart (35 goals, 50 assists), C Jaedon Descheneau (30 goals, 48 assists), C Luke Philp (20 goals, 25 assists), D Jagger Dirk (three goals, 34 assists), G Mackenzie Skapski (34-25-1-0, 2.78 goals against average, .910 save percentage).

Outlook: Kootenay is traditionally one of the leagues most consistent franchises, having made the playoffs in 15 straight seasons. The Ice have a good nucleus of forwards and a quality goaltender in Skapski. Depth of talent may prevent Kootenay from being a true contender, but the Ice should keep their playoff streak alive.

Lethbridge Hurricanes

Coach: Drake Berehowsky (first season)

Last season: 28-34-3-7, ninth in Eastern Conference, missed playoffs.

Key players: C Russell Maxwell (22 goals, 33 assists), LW Jamien Yakubowski (32 goals, 18 assists), C Sam Mckechnie (26 goals, 17 assists), D Macoy Erkamps (five goals, 30 assists), G Corbin Boes (13-23-2-3, 3.76 goals against average, .897 save percentage).

Outlook: It’s a brave new world in Lethbridge, with general manager/head coach Rich Preston given the boot after missing the playoffs in four straight seasons. The Hurricanes return their top six scorers, plus they’ve added an overage goaltender in Boes, so if they’re ever to end their playoff drought, now has to be the time.

Medicine Hat Tigers

Coach: Shaun Clouston (fourth season)

Last season: 36-33-2-1, seventh in Eastern Conference, eliminated in second round of playoffs.

Key players: C Curtis Valk (46 goals, 45 assists), LW Hunter Shinkaruk (37 goals, 49 assists), LW Boston Leier (18 goals, 34 assists), D Tyler Lewington (two goals, 24 assists), G Marek Langhamer (15-12-1-0, 3.44 goals against average, .899 save percentage).

Outlook: Medicine Hat provided the shock of the playoffs, when the seventh-seeded Tigers swept second-seeded and Memorial Cup-host Saskatoon in the first round. Medicine Hat returns its dynamic duo up front in Valk and Shinkaruk, so of the Tigers are able to get decent goaltending they should be right in the mix.

Red Deer Rebels

Coach: Brent Sutter (second season)

Last season: 39-26-5-2, fourth in Eastern Conference, eliminated in second round of playoffs.

Key players: G Patrik Bartosak (33-14-5-0, 2.26 goals against average, .935 save percentage), D Mathew Dumba (16 goals, 26 assists), RW Rhyse Dieno (27 goals, 32 assists), C Lukas Sutter (13 goals, 11 assists), D Brady Gaudet (five goals, 20 assists).

Outlook: Red Deer doesn’t have much that is sexy among its skaters beyond Dumba. However, the Rebels have the reigning WHL Goaltender of the Year in Bartosak, and what they lack for in top-end quality they make up for in depth. With a solid team backed by Bartosak, Red Deer should be among the better clubs in the conference.


Brandon Wheat Kings

Coach: Kelly McCrimmon (first season)

Last season: 24-40-4-4, 12th in Eastern Conference, missed playoffs.

Key players: D Ryan Pulock (14 goals, 31 assists), D Eric Roy (17 goals, 22 assists), C Jayce Hawryluk (18 goals, 25 assists), C Tim McGauley (17 goals, 28 assists), G Curtis Honey (10-16-2-1, 3.81 goals against average, .895 save percentage).

Outlook: Brandon missed the playoffs for the first time in 13 years last season, prompting general manager Kelly McCrimmon to resume his coaching duties after spending the past two seasons concentrating on his front-office duties. Brandon returns its top players from last season, but the Wheat Kings are still a ways away from getting back into contention.

Moose Jaw Warriors

Coach: Mike Strothers (third season)

Last season: 25-36-4-7, 10th in Eastern Conference, missed playoffs.

Key players: D Morgan Rielly (12 goals, 42 assists), LW Todd Fiddler (42 goals, 35 assists), C Sam Fioretti (32 goals, 43 assists), C Brayden Point (24 goals, 33 assists), D Travis Brown (nine goals, 30 assists).

Outlook: The Warriors, despite missing the playoffs, have a lot of things going for them. However, they have two question marks. The first is whether Rielly cracks the lineup with the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs. The second is in goal, where Moose Jaw doesn’t have a proven commodity. Those situations will determine Moose Jaw’s season.

Prince Albert Raiders

Coach: Cory Clouston (first season)

Last season: 37-28-3-4, fifth in Eastern Conference, eliminated in first round of playoffs.

Key players: D Josh Morrissey (15 goals, 32 assists), C Leon Draisaitl (21 goals, 37 assists), G Cole Cheveldave (36-16-1-1, 2.38 goals against average, .908 save percentage), D Dylan Busenius (eight goals, 34 assists), RW Dakota Conroy (21 goals, 35 assists).

Outlook: Prince Albert made huge strides last season after finishing with the league’s worst record in 2011-12. The Raiders have truly elite talent in Morrissey and Draisaitl, and they signaled their intent by bringing in an overage goalie in Cheveldave from Kamloops. Expect Prince Albert to be among the conference contenders.

Regina Pats

Coach: Malcolm Cameron (first season)

Last season: 25-38-4-5, 11th in Eastern Conference, missed playoffs.

Key players: LW Morgan Klimchuk (36 goals, 40 assists), LW Chandler Stephenson (14 goals, 31 assists), D Kyle Burroughs (five goals, 28 assists), LW Dyson Stevenson (16 goals, 27 assists), G Teagan Sacher (8-13-2-0, 3.87 goals against average, .883 save percentage).

Outlook: Regina went into reset mode last season, and it looks like it will be more of the same for the Pats this season. Regina has two quality forwards in Klimchuk and Stephenson, but there’s not a lot else, and goaltender Matt Hewitt has graduated. The Pats appear set to be on the outside looking in again when the playoffs arrive.

Saskatoon Blades

Coach: Dave Struch (first season)

Last season: 44-22-2-4, second in Eastern Conference, eliminated in first round of playoffs.

Key players: LW Nathan Burns (20 goals, 31 assists), LW Collin Valcourt (24 goals, 17 assists), D Graeme Craig (one goal, 15 assists), LW Nick Zajac (nine goals, 17 assists), RW Brett Stovin (10 goals, 13 assists).

Outlook: Saskatoon is in sad shape. The Blades went all out last season as the Memorial Cup hosts, and it backfired spectacularly with a quick first-round playoff exit. The cupboard is now bare in Saskatoon, and given the team’s youth, inexperience and lack of draft picks, it could be a rough few years for the Blades.

Swift Current Broncos

Coach: Mark Lamb (fourth season)

Last season: 36-29-3-4, sixth in Eastern Conference, eliminated in first round of playoffs.

Key players: LW Coda Gordon (17 goals, 42 assists), C Graham Black (24 goals, 26 assists), G Eetu Laurikainen (30-23-2-4, 2.40 goals against average, .922 save percentage), C Colby Cave (21 goals, 20 assists), D Dillon Heatherington (four goals, 23 assists).

Outlook: Swift Current returned to the playoffs last season after a two-year absence, but the Broncos’ playoff renaissance may be short-lived. Swift Current lost its big gun up front in Adam Lowry, and the Broncos are painfully young on defense. It’s a good bet Laurikainen will be seeing a lot of rubber this season.

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