Writers from all 22 WHL cities work together each year to provide preseason capsules for each team. Today we’re looking at the full U.S. Division capsules as a supplement to my division preview story in Thursday’s Herald.
— Tri-City Americans (@TCAmericans) September 20, 2017
Last season: 41-28-3-0, third in U.S. Division; sixth in Western Conference; eliminated in first round of playoffs.
Head coach: Mike Williamson (4th season).
Assistant coach: Brian Pellerin (4th season).
Goaltending coach: Eli Wilson (1st season).
Key losses: D Parker Wotherspoon to the New York Islanders organization; graduates F Tyler Sandhu, D Dalton Yorke, G Rylan Parenteau. G Evan Sarthou (retired).
The 20-year-olds: F Jordan Topping; F Vladislav Lukin; G Patrick Dea; F Max James; D Brendan O’Reilly.
The imports: D Juuso Välimäki, a first-round pick of the Calgary Flames (19 goals, 42 assists last season); F Vladislav Lukin, in his 4th season with the team (26G, 32A); D Sergei Sapego (2017 import draft); Roman Kalinicjenko (2017 import draft).
Key returnees: F Michael Rasmussen, a first-round pick of the Detroit Red Wings. Had 32G, 23A in 50 games when he got hurt. F Morgan Geekie, last year’s returning scorer (35 goals, 55 assist). Was drafted in the third round by Carolina. D Välimäki, a solid presence on the blue line. Lukin, who was fifth in scoring. F Kyle Olson, a fourth-round pick of Anaheim. Team’s sixth-leading scorer (20G, 37A). F Jordan Topping (28G, 25A). D Dylan Coghlan (15G, 38A).
New faces: F Sasha Mutala, a dynamic player who make an impact from Day 1. G Patrick Dea, who is fighting for a 20 spot and time in goal with Beck Warm.
Watch out for: Rasmussen to continue where he left off last season. F Nolan Yaremko. Third-year player who started to make his mark last season. Leads the WHL preseason in scoring (10G, 2A).
Just notes: There should be goals aplenty for this group. Välimäki has a wealth of experience with the Finland national team, and is working his tail off to make the Flames roster.
Did you know: The Americans had two players (Rasmussen and Välimäki) selected in the first round of the NHL Draft for the first time since 1996.
Prognosis: Americans should finish near or at the top of the U.S. Division and Western Conference. They have the firepower, they just need solid goaltending.
— Annie Fowler, Tri-City Herald
🏆 Stanley Cup champ, 🥇 World Cup gold & 🥈 Olympic silver medalist Adam Deadmarsh added to Chiefs' staff!
— Spokane Chiefs (@spokanechiefs) August 22, 2017
Last Season: 27-33-8-4, fifth in U.S. Division, missed the playoffs
General Manager: Scott Carter (second season)
Head Coach: Dan Lambert (first season)
Assistant Coaches: Scott Burt, Adam Deadmarsh
Key Losses: Keanu Yamamoto graduated after playing in 271 games in his junior career. Goalie Jayden Sittler graduated after appearing in 43 games last season.
The 20-year-olds: C Hudson Elynuik, RW Rykr Cole, D Tyson Helgesen.
The Imports: The Chiefs selected forwards Milos Fafrak from Slovakia and Filip Kral from the Czech Republic in the CHL Import Draft. Only Fafrak played during the preseason.
Key Returnees: The Chiefs return all of their top players. Kailer Yamamoto—the Edmonton Oilers’ first round draft pick—is back after leading the team with 99 points last year (42G 57A). Jaret Anderson-Dolan, the Los Angeles Kings’ second round draft pick, was second on the team last year with 76 points (39G 37A). Hudson Elynuik, a Carolina Hurricanes third round draft pick in 2016, was third on the team last year with 73 points (29G 44A). Goalie Dawson Weatherill is in line to be the team’s no. 1 goalie.
New Faces: Top 2016 Bantam Draft pick LW Luke Toporowski is heading into his rookie season. Jake McGrew is technically not a new face, but he missed all of his rookie season last year after suffering an injury in training camp.
Watch For: McGrew—if he remains healthy—could be counted on offensively after missing all of last season.
Noteworthy: The Chiefs welcome head coach Dan Lambert, who won a WHL Championship with Kelowna in 2015.
Did You Know: The Toporowski family continues to represent the Chiefs. Brothers Jake and Luke are on this year’s roster, while father Kerry played for the Chiefs from 1989 to 1991, and uncle Brad from 1989 to 1992.
The Prognosis: The Chiefs return a lot of experience and should be strong offensively. If the defense improves, they will make a return to the playoffs.
— Kevin Dudley/Spokane Spokesman Review
— WHL Champions (@SeattleTbirds) September 18, 2017
Last season: 46-20-4-2, 2nd U.S. Division, won WHL Championship, 0-3 at Memorial Cup
Head coach: Matt O’Dette (1st season as head coach).
Assistant coaches: Kyle Hagel (1st season), Caston Sommer (1st season), Ian Gordon (goaltending, 5th season).
Key losses: Graduated G Rylan Toth, C Scott Eansor (Bridgeport AHL), LW Ryan Gropp (New York Rangers org). C Mathew Barzal to New York Islanders org, Keegan Kolesar to Vegas Golden Knights org, Ethan Bear to Edmonton Oilers org., Alexander True to San Jose Barracuda AHL.
The 20-year-olds: Seattle has four over-agers currently on its roster: F Donovan Neuls, D Turner Ottenbreit, D Austin Strand, F Tyler Adams
The imports: F Sami Moilanen (Finland) 2nd season, F Nikita Malukhin (Russia).
Key returnees: C Donovan Neuls (14G 27A), F Nolan Volcan (16G 28A). F Sami Moilanen (21G 22A) D Jarret Tyszka (6G 19A) drafted in 5th round by Montreal Canadians in 2017 NHL Draft. G Carl Stankowski (2.18 GAA, .910 SV)
New faces: D Jake Lee, 16, Seattle’s first round pick in 2016. Noah Philp, F, acquired from Kootenay. F Blake Bargar acquired from Victoria.
Watch for: Where will Seattle get its scoring from? Can C Matthew Wedman and C Elijah Brown step into larger roles left by graduating players? Stankowski played all 20 playoff games for Seattle last year but only 7 regular season games, can he be the number one goaltender for an entire season?
Noteworthy: Former head coach Steve Konowalchuk left this summer to take an assistant coach job with NHL’s Anaheim Ducks.
The prognosis: Seattle will be in for a rebuilding year as young players will be tasked to step up in the rotation and attempt tocompete in a tough U.S. Division. Seattle returns most of its defense so goal scoring will be an issue as the Thunderbirds forward group is pretty green and will have them fighting for one of the last playoff spots in the Western Conference..
— Andy Eide, 710 ESPN Seattle
— Portland Winterhawks (@pdxwinterhawks) September 8, 2017
Last season: 40-28-1-3, third in U.S., eliminated second round of playoffs
Head coach/general manager: Mike Johnston (eighth season)
Assistant coaches: Kyle Gustafson (13th season), Danny Flynn (first season), Paul Gaustad (first season)
Key losses: USA World Junior D Caleb Jones will play pro hockey rather than come back for an overage season. Captain Keegan Iverson graduated.
The 20-year-olds: There are five to choose from. G Cole Kehler may be the best bet to return. If he does, the Hawks can keep two of D Keoni Texeira, F Evan Weinger, F Colton Veloso and F Alex Overhardt.
The imports: For the second straight year, the Hawks will go with Danish F Joachim Blichfeld and Finnish D Henri Jokiharju, a first-round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks.
Key returnees: Most of the team’s top scorers could return, including first-round NHL pick F Cody Glass (32 G, 94 P last season) and F Skyler McKenzie (42 G, 84 P). F Ryan Hughes (27 G, 57 P) should also put up numbers. On D, Texeira and Jokiharju will be joined by Carolina Hurricanes draftee Brendan De Jong.
New faces: New York Islanders first-round pick F Kieffer Bellows left Boston University to join the Winterhawks. F Ty Kolle could chip in as a 17-year-old.
Watch for: The Hawks to continue to be one of the top offensive teams in the WHL. Portland has ranked in the top six in the league in scoring in each of Johnston’s six full seasons as head coach.
Noteworthy: New assistant coach Danny Flynn led the Saint John Sea Dogs to the QMJHL title last season as head coach.
Did you know: Glass was the first-ever draft pick of the Vegas Golden Knights, leaving the Los Angeles Kings as the only active NHL team to never draft a Winterhawk.
The prognosis: Offensively, Portland looks ready to contend for a Western Conference title after winning four in a row from 2011-14. The question is whether the defense and goaltending will hold up. If they do, the Hawks are a threat to play into May.
– Scott Sepich, Portland-based freelance writer