Today we’re looking at the B.C. Division. Don’t forget that the Tips preseason preview special section comes out Friday as the Silvertips open their regular season Saturday at home against the Portland Winterhawks.
A story line you'll hear a lot of out of #Kamloops and WHL this season: Don Hay just 22 wins shy of Ken Hodge's all-time mark of 742 wins.
— Jon Keen (@JonKeenNLSports) September 20, 2017
Last season: 42-24-6, third in B.C. Division, lost to Kelowna in first round of playoffs.
Head coach: Don Hay (fourth season in second go-round with Blazers; 19th season as WHL head coach).
Assistant coaches: Mike Needham (fourth season), Aaron Keller (part-time, first season), Chris Murray (part-time, fourth season), Dan De Palma (goaltenders, eighth season).
Key losses: F Deven Sideroff, F Rudolfs Balcers, F Lane Bauer and F Collin Shirley combined for 248 points, including 115 goals, last season.
The 20-year-olds: F Nick Chyzowski, D Joe Gatenby and F Nic Holowko return.
The imports: D Ondrej Vala, from Czech Republic, is back for a third season. He has signed as a free agent with the NHL’s Dallas Stars … Swiss F Justin Sigrist was selected in the CHL’s 2017 import draft.
Key returnees: G Dylan Ferguson is the starter, after being Connor Ingram’s caddy for two seasons … F Garrett Pilon had 65 points, 20 of them goals last season, and is the top returning scorer … F Quinn Benjafield and Chyzowski were 23 points behind Pilon.
New faces: F Connor Zary, a second-round selection in the 2016 bantam draft, had 27 goals and 18 assists in 36 games with the midget AAA Saskatoon Contacts last season. He turns 16 on Sept. 25 … D Tylor Ludwar, 18, had two assists in 19 games with the Blazers, and 22 points, 14 of them goals, in 20 games with the midget AAA Regina Pat Canadians.
Watch for: Ferguson to provide solid goaltending. He was dynamite last season while Ingram was with Team Canada at the World Junior Championship.
Noteworthy: The Blazers brought in G Kyle Dumba, 19, from the Calgary Hitmen as the likely backup to Ferguson, but local boy Max Palaga, 17, has pushed hard for the position.
Did you know: Hay has 720 regular-season WHL coaching victories, 22 shy of Ken Hodge’s record that once was thought unassailable.
The prognosis: The Blazers will be bigger up front than in recent seasons. They’ll bang bodies, but will they score enough?
— Gregg Drinnan/takingnote.ca
— Kelowna Rockets (@Kelowna_Rockets) September 20, 2017
Last season: 45-22-5-0, 2nd in B.C. Division, 4th in Western Conference. Reached third round of playoffs for the fourth straight year, eliminating Kamloops and Portland before bowing out to Seattle for the second year in a row.
General manager: Bruce Hamilton (27th season).
Head coach: Jason Smith (2nd season).
Assistant coaches: Kris Mallette (4th season), Travis Crickard (4th season), Adam Brown (2nd season).
Key losses: Graduated three impactful overagers in RW Reid Gardiner (playoff MVP), G Michael Herringer (starter) and F Rod Southam (captain). RW Nick Merkley (Arizona Coyotes), C Calvin Thurkauf (Columbus Blue Jackets) and LD Lucas Johansen (Washington Capitals) are projected to turn pro.
The 20-year-olds: 3 of RW/C Tomas Soustal, LW Carsen Twarynski, LD Devante Stephens, LD James Hilsendager and LD Gordie Ballhorn.
The imports: Rookie RD Libor Zabransky, of Brno, Czech Republic, and either Soustal, of Unicov, Czech Republic, or rookie RW Marek Skvrne, also of Brno, Czech Republic.
Key returnees: C Dillon Dube, 19, and RW Kole Lind, 18, should carry the offence. Dube will likely play for Canada at the world juniors for the second year in a row, while Lind led Kelowna in scoring last season with 87 points, including 30 goals. RD Cal Foote, turning 19 in December, anchors the defence as a first-round NHL draft pick. Younger brother Nolan Foote, who only turns 17 in November and isn’t draft eligible until 2019, should be the top LW.
New faces: Two rookie RD are generating excitement in Zabransky and Kaedan Korczak, the team’s first-round pick in the 2016 bantam draft (11th overall). Rookie RW Liam Kindree led the B.C. Major Midget League in scoring last season.
Watch for: G Brodan Salmond, turning 19 in October and entering his third season with the Rockets, is getting a chance to be the team’s starter.
The prognosis: This roster isn’t lacking in top-end talent and the defence should be a strength, but scoring depth and goaltending will determine Kelowna’s fate.
— Larry Fisher, The Daily Courier
— James Doyle (@itsjdphoto) September 21, 2017
PRINCE GEORGE COUGARS
Last season: 45-21-3-3, first in B.C. Division, eliminated in first round of playoffs.
General manager: Todd Harkins (third season).
Head coach: Richard Matvichuk (second season).
Associate coach: Steve O’Rourke (second season).
Assistant coach: Shawn Chambers (second season).
Key losses: C Jansen Harkins signed with Winnipeg (NHL); D Brendan Guhle signed with Buffalo; RW Jesse Gabrielle signed with Boston; D Sam Ruopp is trying out as a free agent with Calgary; RW Brad Morison, traded to Vancouver, G Ty Edmonds graduated.
The 20-year-olds: RW Radovan Bondra (32-31-63), LW Jared Bethune (2-27-49), C Brogan O’Brien (9-24-33), LW Aaron Boyd 9-15-24), D Tate Olson (7-19-26), D Shane Collins (2-11-13).
The imports: As a 20-year-old Slovakian, Bondra will be taking up an import and 20-year-old spots if he returns. LW Nikita Popugaev, a 19-year-old Russian, and 18-year-old Belorussian RW Vladislav Mikhalchuk also in the mix.
Key returnees: C Kody McDonald (17-32-49) attended Jets’ camp, his third pro camp in three seasons; D Josh Anderson (3-8-11, 75 PIM) has a mean streak, now fully recovered from back injury; D Joel Lakusta (1-11-12), D Ryan Schoettler (1-9-10).
New faces: D Dennis Cholowski, 19, Detroit’s first-rounder in 2016, cut from the same gamebreaker cloth as Guhle. Signed with Detroit, ended his college career at St. Cloud State; G Tavin Grant, 19, played 18 games for the Cats as 16-year-old. Appears ready to step us as WHL regular after standout season in BCHL with P.G. Spruce Kings; RW Ethan O’Rourke, 18, has gotten used to his six-foot-five, 210-pound body – led the Cats in preseason (4GP 4G 1A).
Watch for: Mikhalchuk, if he sticks, looks like a good one. Helped Belarus to the Mac’s tournament title in January.
Noteworthy: The Cougars will hoist their first WHL banner to the rafters before home opener against Spokane. It’s only taken them 23 years.
Did you know: RW Taden Rattie, is the 19-year-old brother of ex-Winterhawk great Ty. He played 45 games for the Giants last year.
Prognosis: Cougars have lost at least 13 players from last year. They’re young, but fast. Their firepower up front is significantly reduced but they have experience on the blueline. If Cholowski lives up to expectations and they get good enough goaltending from Grant, they should challenge for the seventh or eighth playoff spot in the conference.
— Ted Clarke/Prince George Press-Citizen
— Vancouver Giants (@WHLGiants) September 21, 2017
Last season: 20-46-3-3, last in B.C. Division, last in Western Conference. Missed playoffs for third straight season.
General manager: Glen Hanlon (second season).
Head coach: Jason McKee (second season).
Assistant coach: Dean Chynoweth (first season).
Key losses: Six players who played at least 30 games last season and were eligible to return have been traded or released. That follows four veterans with a combined 828 games with Vancouver being dealt at the trade deadline last January as part of the rebuilding process.
The 20-year-olds: RW Ty Ronning, C Brad Morrison, C Jack Flaman, D Darian Skeoch.
The imports: F Milos Roman, a Slovak, was the sixth overall pick in June’s CHL Import Draft. The 17-year-old is expected to anchor the second line. Vancouver also picked German F Yannik Valenti, 16, at No. 66, but they’ve said he won’t join them until 2018-19. They plan to play an import below the maximum this season.
Key returnees: Ronning, who has led Vancouver in scoring the past two seasons; LW Tyler Benson, the 2016 Edmonton Oilers second rounder; C James Malm, who’s coming off a breakout 20-goal season and is one of six players on the roster picked in the first two rounds of the 2014 WHL bantam draft.
New faces: Morrison, who came to Vancouver from the Prince George Cougars for a conditional 2018 second rounder; D Bowen Byram, the third overall pick in the 2016 bantam draft.
Just notes: Benson, who was limited to just 63 games the past two seasons combined due to injuries, is expected to start the year on the disabled list after undergoing off-season sports hernia surgery. No word on when he might be back.
Did you know: Vancouver went 5-1-0-0 in the preseason? Malm had four goals and eight points in five games.
The prognosis: Vancouver will take at least a step forward this season, particularly if Benson is healthy for the majority of the campaign. Will that get them in the playoffs? Probably. Can they avoid a first-round match-up with one of West’s powers? Doubtful.
— Steve Ewen, Vancouver Province/Sun
— Victoria Royals (@victoriaroyals) September 21, 2017
Last season: 37-29-5-1 for fourth in B.C. Division and eighth in Western Conference.
Head coach: Dan Price, first season.
Assistant coaches: Doug Bodger, J.F. Best, Lynden Sammartino Dwayne Roloson.
Key losses: F Jack Walker, F Vladimir Bobylev, F Carter Folk, D Marsel Ibragimov, D Ryan Gagnon.
20-year-olds: F Tyler Soy, F Regan Nagy, D Chaz Reddekopp.
Imports: F Yan Khomenko, Russia, F Igor Martynov, Belarus.
Key returnees: F Matthew Phillips, F Dante Hannoun, F Ryan Peckford, D Scott Walford, D Ralph Jarratt, G Griffen Outhouse.
New faces: F Jared Legien, D Anthony Bishop, D Jared Freadrich.
Watch For: Undersized but crafty and quick 50-goal F Matthew Phillips’ bid to make the Canadian team for the 2018 world junior tournament … F Ryan Peckford and G Griffen Outhouse, both disappointed to be overlooked in the 2017 NHL draft, with much to prove this season and highly motivated to do so … Whether the L.A. Kings keep signed D ChazReddekopp in pro, or return him to junior, will greatly affect the Royals’ prospects this season.
Noteworthy: After five seasons as head coach in Victoria, a tenure which included twice being named WHL coach of the year, Dave Lowry decamped to become assistant coach in the NHL with the L.A. Kings … The Royals stayed in-house and opted for continuity in elevating assistant coach Dan Price, with no previous WHL head coaching experience, to replace Lowry.
Did you know: The reliable Royals have not missed the playoffs in the six seasons they have played in the B.C. capital since the franchise, formerly the Chilliwack Bruins, moved to the Island in 2011-12.
The prognosis: Victoria is one of the oldest and deepest teams in the WHL as the Royals come into the season with plenty of experienced players. The three key off-season additions — F Jared Legien, D Anthony Bishop, D Jared Freadrich — are all 19 and come with lots of WHL mileage to add to that theme. That veteran depth will allow the Royals to challenge in the B.C. Division.
— Cleve Dheensaw, Victoria Times Colonist