Today we’re looking at the Central Division team capsules. Read on:
— Calgary Hitmen (@WHLHitmen) September 21, 2017
Last season: 30-32-8-2, fourth in Central Division, eliminated in first playoff round by Regina Pats.
Head coach: Dallas Ferguson (first season).
Assistant coaches: Trent Cassan (second season), Joel Otto (11th season).
Key losses: Overage defenceman Micheal Zipp and forward Tyler Mrkonjic.
The 20-year-olds: Forwards Jakob Stukel and Matteo Gennaro, defenceman Brady Reagan and goalie Nick Schneider are battling for three spots.
The imports: Defenceman Vladislav Yeryomenko of Belarus and Russian forward Andrei Grishakov return after sharing the team’s rookie of the year award as 17-year-olds.
Key returnees: Beck Malenstyn quadrupled his goal tally to 32 from eight last season … Mattheo Gennaro set a career high in goals with 43, which was tied for sixth in the league … Jake Bean broke a finger and was lost to the world juniors for a month … Jake Kryski had 17 points in 34 games after coming over from Kamloops.
New faces: Schneider, who was acquired from Medicine Hat … massive rookie Jackson Van De Leest, the 16th overall pick in 2016, who is six-foot-six and weighs 213 pounds … D Layne Toder, who was an all-star rookie in the MJHL last season.
Watch for: The Hitmen will spot a new look in goal, with Trevor Martin, Kody Porter and Kyle Dumba playing elsewhere. Schneider looks to rebound from a subpar 2016-17 season, with Matthew Armitage and Connor Dochuk battling for the backup spot.
Noteworthy: Calgary will sport a new-look front office too, with head coach Dallas Ferguson, GM Jeff Chynoweth and director of player personnel Dallas Thompson now on board.
Did you know: The Hitmen have been a model of consistency, making the playoffs 19 of the last 20 seasons.
The prognosis: Calgary will battle for a playoff spot, and could surprise if they receive strong goaltending.
» Perry Bergson/The Brandon Sun
— Edmonton Oil Kings (@EdmOilKings) September 18, 2017
EDMONTON OIL KINGS
Last season: 23-43-6, finished fifth in Central Division, 10th in Eastern Conference; missed playoffs.
General manager: Randy Hansch (fifth season).
Head coach: Steve Hamilton (fourth season).
Assistant coach: Ryan Marsh.
Key losses: D Aaron Irving, C Lane Bauer, RW Tyler Robertson, G Patrick Dea.
The 20-year-olds: G Travis Child, RW Colton Kehler, LW Adam Berg, RW Jesse Roach.
The imports: RW Andrei Pavlenko of Minsk, Belarus, RW Artyom Baltruk of Novopolosk, Belarus
Key returnees: RW Davis Koch, finished at the team’s leading scorer with 21 goals and 49 points; RW Trey Fix-Wolansky, led the team with 24 goals; RW Colton Kehler, had 18 goals in 67 games last season; D Will Warm, coming off a strong rookie season with 24 points in 67 games.
New faces: G Travis Child, overager was acquired in a trade with the Brandon Wheat Kings this off-season; D Matt Robertson, seventh overall pick in 2016 WHL Bantam Draft played seven games as an under-age player last season; RW Andrei Pavlenko, selected 12th overall in the 2017 CHL Import Draft; C Liam Keeler, selected 22nd overall in the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft.
Watch for: The Oil Kings will have a number of young talented defencemen in the lineup this season. The team’s success will be determined in large part to how players like Matt Robertson, 16, Ethan Cap, 17, Wyatt McLeod, 17, Jayden Platz, 17, Will Warm, 18, and Conner McDonald, 18, play.
Noteworthy: The Oil Kings, who won the WHL Championship in 2012 and 2014 along with the Memorial Cup in 2014, missed the playoffs last season for the first time since 2010.
Did you know: This is the first year the Oil Kings will not have a single player on the roster from their 2014 Memorial Cup championship team.
The prognosis: The Oil Kings are still rebuilding and will have a young, but talented blue line, who could become the core of a contending team. Up front, however, the team will struggle to score, with Trey Fix-Wolansky and Davis Koch as their top offensive players, but few options after that.
— Kootenay ICE (@WHLKootenayICE) September 22, 2017
Last season: 14-46-10-2, 6th in Central Division, missed playoffs.
GM: Matt Cockell (1st season)
Head coach: James Patrick (1st season)
Associate coach: Jon Klemm (1st season)
Assistant coach: Gord Burnett (3rd season), Roman Vopat (3rd season), Denis Sproxton (goalies, 1st season).
Key losses: Goalie Payton Lee graduated … D Troy Murray will attend university.
The 20-year-olds: Forwards Colton Kroeker, Colton Veloso and Alec Baer.
The imports: A pair of rookies, F Gilian Kohler, 17, of Switzerland, and D Martin Bodak of Slovakia, who is 19 soon.
Key returnees: D Cale Fleury (11g, 27a) is one of the WHL’s top defenders … The Taphorn twins, Kaeden and Keenan, are in their draft year … Forward Brett Davis (18g, 15a) was dynamic after arriving from Lethbridge … Vince Loschiavo went from four goals in 2015-16 to 29 last season … Kroeker (18g, 41a) led the Ice in scoring last season … Blue-liner Ryan Pouliot gobbles up big minutes.
New faces: Highly touted Peyton Krebs, the first pick in the 2016 bantam draft … D Zach Patrick, 16, and Bobby Russell, 17, look promising … Goalies Bailey Brkin, Kurtis Chapman and Jesse Makaj are battling to back up Petit … Manitoban Sebastian Streu played in Europe last season.
Watch for: The Ice took a lot of shots and created good chances in the pre-season, so offensive improvement may be on the way. Strong new defensive structure may help cut their WHL-high 335 goals against.
Noteworthy: James Patrick hasn’t coached in the WHL before but Nolan Patrick’s uncle brings nearly 1,400 games of NHL playing experience and time as an NHL assistant and head coach.
Did you know: After the Edmonton Ice moved to Cranbrook for the 1998-99 season, they didn’t miss the playoffs until 2015-16 and 2016-17. In those years they lost 99 games in regulation, more than they dropped in their first four seasons in B.C.
The prognosis: Kootenay has a long way to go after two dismal seasons but the new ownership group and staff have re-energized a franchise that was once a model of consistency. Look for a playoff push.
» Perry Bergson/The Brandon Sun
— LethbridgeHurricanes (@WHLHurricanes) September 21, 2017
Last season: 44-21-4-3, second in the Central Division, lost in the Eastern Conference final to Regina.
GM: Peter Anholt (third season).
Head coach: Brent Kisio (third season).
Assistants: Jeff Hansen (first season), Josh McNevin (third season), Darcy Wakaluk (goalies, second season).
Key losses: Overagers RW Tyler Wong, C Matt Alfaro, RW Zac Zborosky. LW Egor Babenko, signed a two-year deal in KHL.
The 20-year-olds: C Giorgio Estephan, D Brennan Riddle, D Brennan Menell.
The imports: LW Egor Zudilov (48th import pick overall) and D Igor Merezhko. Merezhko more than doubled his offensive output (2g, 22a, 72gm, +8).
Key returnees: After a career-best 35 goals and 89 points, C Estephan returns for his final year, and C Jordy Bellerive returns for his third season. After finishing second in scoring among WHL defenceman, Menell will work with D Calen Addison to build on a solid rookie campaign. G Stuart Skinner was the guy in the crease in his 18-year-old season and now the Edmonton Oilers draft pick returns.
New faces: C Dylan Cozens. The Hurricanes 2016 first-rounder was barely 16 when he suited up in Game 7 of the Hurricanes series against Medicine Hat and showed veteran poise. D Koletrane Wilson is a six-foot-two, 226-pounder from Edmonton.
Watch for: C Ryan Vandervlis. The Hurricanes hope the six-foot-three, 215-pound forward takes another step forward in 2017-18. Bellerive went unchosen in the NHL draft, but was signed by the Pittsburgh Penguins. Addison won gold at the Hlinka with the Canadian U18 team.
Just Notes: Head coach Brent Kisio also earned a gold medal at the Hlinka Memorial Tournament.
Did you know? At Penguins rookie camp, Bellerive was removed from the line he was supposed to skate with in an intrasquad game. He was fine with getting bumped for his childhood idol, Sidney Crosby.
Prognosis: The Hurricanes graduate 117 goals (Wong, Zborosky, Alfaro), which will put the onus on Estephan, Bellerive, Vandervlis and Alec Baer to fill. With ample returning faces, including Skinner, look for the Canes to challenge for the Central Division and eye up another deep playoff run.
— Dale Woodard/Lethbridge Herald
— Medicine Hat Tigers (@tigershockey) September 21, 2017
MEDICINE HAT TIGERS
Last season: 51-20-1-0, first in Central Division, eliminated in second round of playoffs by Lethbridge Hurricanes.
General manager: Shaun Clouston (sixth season)
Head coach: Shaun Clouston (eighth season).
Assistant coaches: Joe Frazer (eighth season), Bobby Fox (second season).
Key losses: 20-year-olds RW Chad Butcher (27G, 76A), C Steven Owre (26G, 62A), D Clayton Kirichenko (12G, 52A),C Mason Shaw (27G, 67A): Out six months with torn ACL, RW John Dahlstrom (30G, 29A): Signed in Europe, and C Matt Bradley (34G, 43A): Traded to Pats.
The 20-year-olds: RW Zach Fischer, LW Mark Rassell D Kristians Rubins, G Michael Bullion, D Brad Forrest, latter two likely to be cut by overage deadline.
The imports: 20-year-old Latvian D Kristians Rubins (3G, 21A, plus-29), 19-year-old German C Mick Kohler
Key returnees: Power play specialist David Quenneville (D, 23G, 36A), Goal-scoring enforcer Zach Fischer (RW, 34G, 29A, 145PIM), Sniper Max Gerlach (RW, 34G, 28A), penalty kill specialist Mark Rassell (LW, 36G, 25A, 7SHG).
New faces: C Mick Kohler (CHL import draft), C Josh Williams (Highest bantam draft pick in over a decade entering rookie season), G Jordan Hollett (Ottawa Senators draft pick acquired in trade with Pats)
Watch for: 16-year-old C Josh Williams. Already 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds at just 16 years old, Williams will make an immediate impact with the Tigers this season.
Noteworthy: The Tigers will hang up their first Central Division banner since 2006-07 after last year’s bounce-back season. After falling in a Game 73 tiebreaker to the Edmonton Oil Kings in 2016, the Tabbies controlled the Central for almost the entirety of the 2016-17 calendar.
Did you know: Tigers forward Mason Shaw (Minnesota Wild, 97th overall 2017) was in line to become Medicine Hat’s first non-overage captain since Hunter Shinkaruk (2013-14) before suffering a torn ACL in his second rookie tournament game with the Wild. Shinkaruk’s captaincy was also cut short due to injury.
The prognosis: The Tigers will start their season on an uphill battle with Shaw, Hollett and Rubins dealing with injuries. But with no clear-cut juggernaut in the Central Division, Medicine Hat could be in the running for back-to-back banners.
» Ryan McCracken/Medicine Hat News
— Red Deer Rebels (@Rebelshockey) September 20, 2017
RED DEER REBELS
Last season: 30-29-9-4, 3rd in Central Division, eliminated in first round of playoffs.
GM/head coach: Brent Sutter (12th season)
Associate coach: Jeff Truitt (third season)
Assistant coach: Brett Anderson (first season), Eric Lodge.
Key losses: Michael Spacek, Czech winger led the Rebels in scoring (59GP, 30G, 55A). Winnipeg Jets draft pick. Adam Musil, 20-year-old centre, Rebels captain last year (56GP, 20G, 31A). St. Louis Blues draft pick who will play pro. Evan Polei, 20, (69GP, 33G, 29A). Defenceman Colton Bobyk (70GP, 5G, 45A) aged out of WHL.
The 20-year-olds: Grayson Pawlenchuk (19GP, 4G, 5A) and Mason McCarty (45GP, 21G, 16A), G Lasse Petersen.
The imports: 19-year-old Kristian Reichel. Expected to play on the Rebels top line. Alex Alexeyev who was injured for half the year but expected to be top d-man.
Key returnees: G Riley Lamb; F: Brandon Hagel (65GP, 31G, 40A), Lane Zablocki (64GP,28G, 26A), Austin Pratt (70GP, 16G, 18A). D Alex Alexeyev ( 4G, 17A), Brandon Schuldhaus (2G, 12A), Ethan Sakowich (3G, 4A) and Carson Sass (5G, 11A).
New faces: Jared Dmytriw, picked up from Victoria for D Jared Freadrich. Mason McCarty, acquired at the bantam draft for a second round pick. D 16-year-olds, Hunter Donohoe, Sam Pouliot. G Ethan Anders.
Watch for: The Rebels to have a lot more balanced attack and to put a huge emphasis on speed. Last year the Rebels leaned heavily on the trio of Polei, Spacek and Musil for offence, but this time around it will be scoring by committee.
Noteworthy: Red Deer will dress as many as nine 17-year-olds at times this season.
Did you know: Six of the last seven seasons the Rebels have had a player from the Czech Republic on their roster.
The prognosis: Red Deer will be more balanced scoring wise but they also have a number of unproven forwards that need to drive the bus this season. On defence returning six players will help stabilize them and in goal, Riley Lamb needs to assert himself as a number one netminder for the Rebels to contend.
» Byron Hackett, Red Deer Advocate Sports Reporter