Stout goaltending, offensive improvement key to Tips’ early-season success

Their annual six-game Eastern Conference road trip looms for the Everett Silvertips, and it couldn’t come at a better time. The Tips are fresh off a weekend in which they won three games in three days.

The run landed Everett in the thick of things in the U.S. Division. The Silvertips are tied with Spokane for second place with 12 points, one point behind first-place Seattle.

Here are five things we’ve learned from Everett’s 6-3-0-0 start:

1. Dustin Wolf is a workhorse

The Silvertips’ 17-year-old goaltender has adjusted well to the pressure of being the team’s No. 1 goaltender, posting a 1.90 goals-allowed average and a .922 save percentage while playing in every minute so far this season.

Everett head coach Dennis Williams said before the season the next step for Wolf — who showed plenty of promise backing up Carter Hart last season — was to develop a workhorse mentality, something Hart displayed during his stellar career with the Tips.

It’s no shocker, but so far Wolf appears to be an upper-echelon goaltender.

2. Offense finally showing promise

Led by veteran forwards Connor Dewar, Riley Sutter and Bryce Kindopp and offensive defensemen Jake Christiansen and Wyatte Wylie, Everett’s offense woke up last weekend, averaging 5.33 goals per game. It was an encouraging showing for Williams’ squad after a difficult start.

It’s likely Everett’s offensive skill is somewhere in between the 16-goal outburst during the three-game weekend and the 11 goals the Silvertips scored during their first six games. Everett can win without a prolific offense with a stout team defense — the Silvertips are fourth in the WHL at 2.33 goals allowed per game — and Wolf in net.

3. Everett likely will be scouring the trade market

The Silvertips have filled two of their three alloted “overage” spots with 20-year-old forwards Sean Richards and Sahvan Khaira. That means they can add another 20-year-old without feeling the roster crunch many teams would experience. Since Everett has just two true centers on its roster, acquiring an overage center would kill two birds with one stone.

The problem? The trade market isn’t particulary strong at this stage, especially among 20-year-olds. There could be some teams looking to sell — particularly Kamloops (five points) and Kelowna (four points) in the Western Conference, and Regina (six points), Calgary (five points) and reigning WHL champion Swift Current (two points) in the East — but until then, Everett will stick with its current pieces.

4. Silvertips appear to matchup well with rest of U.S. Division

Everett is 4-1-0 against divisional opponents this season, with two wins against Portland, a win over Seattle and a win against Tri-City. Based on the first month of the season, the U.S. Division is poised to be a balanced, contenious race.

Spokane was the favorite to capture the U.S. Division entering the season, and could add even more firepower if forward Jaret Anderson-Dolan returns from a nine-game trial with the Los Angeles Kings and joins defenseman Ty Smith, a first-round pick by the Devils in the 2018 NHL Draft, as one of the best tandems in the WHL. Everett hasn’t played Spokane, with the Silvertips first matchup with the Chiefs coming on Nov. 3 at Spokane.

5. Who breaks out?

The Silvertips 1999-born class has accounted for 62.9 percent of Everett’s goal scoring this season, which wasn’t unexpected.

But is someone poised to break out behind the 19-year-olds?

Import forward Martin Fasko-Rudas and defenseman Gianni Fairbrother are players who possess more skill than the stat sheets indicate.

Dawson Butt has scored two goals, doubling his output from last season. He could be an interesting player if it continues.

One of the young guns like forwards Jackson Berezowski and Gage Goncalves and defenseman Ronan Seeley could post more points as their roles increase.

THREE STARS

1. Connor Dewar: The Pas, Manitoba, native leads Everett with 14 points while shifting frequently between the wing and center.

2. Dustin Wolf: The starting netminder is second in goals allowed average amongst WHL goaltenders who have the majority of their team’s games.

3. Riley Sutter: Everett’s No. 1 center has posted a quiet 12 points (four goals, eight assists) this season.

UNSUNG HEROES

1. Sahvan Khaira: Acquired in a trade with Swift Current this summer, the Langley, British Columbia, native owns two points (one goal, one assist) this season, but the overager’s physical presence and leadership have made a difference for the Silvertips.

2. Bryce Kindopp: The 19-year-old forward’s seven points (four goals, three assists) have come during the Silvertips’ 4-1-0 stretch.

3. Reece Vitelli: The 17-year-old center has been thrust into a significant role as Everett’s defacto No. 2 center and boasts the best plus-minus rating on the team at plus-3.

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