WHL Playoff Preview
So I’m trying something new. I would love to write more about junior hockey. So what the hell? I think it’s a bit of an underserved market…or at least as underserved as something could be in this era of loud mouths like your’s truly allowed to run their mouths via social media or blogs….anyway….I’ll take a crack at doing a WHL playoff preview. Likely not going to do this round by round, just one big preview and we will see how respectable or flat out disgusting I am at discussing the dub. So with that being said…here we go!
#1 Edmonton Oil Kings vs #8 Prince Albert Raiders
After last night’s tilt in Red Deer it is now settled. The Prince Albert Raiders will simply travel up highway 2 an hour and a half and take on the Edmonton Oil Kings. The beast of the east to steal a nickname from the great Bam Bam Bigelow. I don’t know if this is much of a reward for winning a play in game like the Raiders did as they’ll be in tough. They do have a great PP (3rd in the league this season) led by Jets 1st rounder and 2014 Canadian World Junior D-man Josh Morrissey, and potential top 5 pick in the upcoming draft Leon Draisaitl. Draisaitl finished 4th in league scoring with 105 points in the regular season and if he is on he will be tough to shutdown. I’m guessing he will see a lot of Griffin Reinhart in this series. I enlisted the services of an anonymous WHL scout to help me out for this piece, and he doesn’t seem to think the Raiders will pose much of a challenge. I talked to him prior to the play in game last night and this is what he had to say: “Really doesn’t matter who Edmonton plays, they should hammer either P.A. or Red Deer”. The fact is, the Oil Kings have high end NHL prospects leading the way up front (Curtis Lazar/Henrik Samuelsson/Mitch Moroz), on D (Reinhart) and in goal (Tristan Jarry). Add to that, a lot of these kids have been to the Memorial Cup in 2012, and been to back to back WHL finals, so they have a huge experience edge in either matchup. I do think though that P.A. has enough elements (great PP, star player, good coach in former Sens bench boss Cory Clouston) to grab a game at home in this series.
#2 Regina Pats vs #7 Brandon Wheat Kings
A nice season turned in by the Pats who have only won 1 playoff series in the last 11 years, and had only made the playoffs once in the last 5 seasons prior to this. But they could be in tough against the Wheaties despite being the 7th seed. WHL scout: “This is really interesting. Regina is missing some key players in Wapple and Dyson Stevenson. Brandon is fully healthy after losing 5 key guys for about 3 weeks. If Regina doesn’t get healthy I expect Brandon to take this in 6 games”. Not what Pats fans want to hear. And I’m going to pile on. Even though this is a 2 vs 7, the Wheaties were only 8 points back in the standings. The big advantage in this series is you have the Wheaties number 2 ranked PP against the Pats number 20 ranked PK. So the Pats MUST keep this series 5 on 5, which won’t be easy…they finished 3rd in the league in PIM’s. The Wheaties have a talented but erratic blueline. If it is mostly played 5 on 5, perhaps Chandler Stephenson and Morgan Klimchuk can exploit it. But in the end, I have to agree….
Brandon 4 games to 2
#3 Calgary Hitmen vs #6 Kootenay Ice
This will likely be the last chance Sam Reinhart has to win the scouts over and reclaim his spot atop the rankings heading into the June draft….on the ice anyway. The Hitmen are just a lot deeper than the Ice are. Greg Chase, Brady Brassart, Jake Virtanen and Adam Tambellini were all kids who registered over a point per game during the regular season. I realize the Ice don’t just have Reinhart, but the production by Jaedon Descheneau and Luke Philip were in large part due to Reinhart. In net neither team has an advantage as both the Hitmen’s Chris Driedger and the Ice MacKenzie Skapski have nearly identical G.A.A. and Sv%. The special teams battle is definitely between Calgary’s 3rd ranked PK and Kootenay’s 4th ranked PP. WHL scout: “Calgary on paper should win this easily but Kootenay is a very good team and well coached, but losing Tim Bozon will be too much for them I think. Calgary in 6” The Ice are disciplined, finishing the season with the 3rd least amount of PIM’s in the regular season, but I don’t see that being a big advantage in this spot. I actually think the Hitmen close this one out a little quicker.
Calgary 4 games to 1
#4 Medicine Hat vs #5 Swift Current Broncos
No big flashy names in this series, but just good solid teams top to bottom in what should be a long series. The Broncos have a slight special teams advantage, but nothing dramatic. Both teams have a 90 point scorer (Tigers Curtis Valk had 92 points, Broncos Graham Black had 97 points). Both teams do a good job staying out of the box. Both teams are solid between the pipes. WHL scout: “The Hat has some balanced scoring and some solid D. Swifty is a tough team with a great goalie. If Swifty can stay out of the box they might have a shot at winning. Swifty in 7”. I don’t disagree with the analysis of the series, but should it go down to a 7th game in the Hat, I like the home team. There just isn’t much at all that separates these two squads.
Medicine Hat 4 games to 3
#1 Kelowna Rockets vs #8 Tri City Americans
What a coaching job done this season by Rockets bench boss Ryan Huska. It isn’t some secret that this guy is one of the top coaches in the dub, but the job he did this season was incredible leading the Rockets to a WHL best 118 points. They’re a very balanced team. Reclamation project and overager Myles Bell led the team in scoring with just 77 points. Captain and Washington Capitals 3rd round steal Madison Bowey leads the way on the blueline. Jordan Cooke is one of the top goaltenders in the league. Solid special teams (9th on the PP, 1st on the PK). Just an incredibly balanced and well coached group. Both teams have good size and actually the Americans have a bit of and edge in this department. They’ll try to wear down the Rockets and will need Eric Comrie to steal a few games to have any shot in this series. I expect a low scoring series, but I don’t see the Americans winning a game.
#2 Portland Winterhawks vs #7 Vancouver Giants
The 3 time finalists and defending Ed Chynoweth Cup champs had yet another tremendous season and will start their defense against a very young Giants team from Vancouver. Straight up, the Giants don’t come anywhere close to the fire power the Winterhawks posses. Petan, Bjorkstrand, Pouliot, Dumba, Leipsic, Leier, De Leo, it is ridiculous. No shock they had the top PP unit in the league this season, also 4th on the PK. Head coach Mike Johnston will likely stick with Sean Burke’s kid Brendan for this series, but Corbin Boes has been equally great in net for Portland. This series actually might be more of a mismatch than the Kelowna/Tri-Cities matchup. Giants have one of the all time great WHL coaches in Don Hay, but he would have to work some absolutely incredible magic to even take this series 6. I don’t think they win a game.
#3 Victoria Royals vs #6 Spokane Chiefs
This is a matchup of the team (the Royals) vs the star (Mitch Holmberg). Holmberg lead the dub this season with 118 points. So Royals head coach Dave Lowry’s game plan will be as elementary as it gets: stop Mitch Holmberg. And he has the squad to do it. Nothing flashy about the Royals. Brandon McGee was the only point per game player for the Royals this season, with 67 points in 65 games. It is a young team too, with 9 players who are eligible for either this year or next year’s draft. The Chiefs lack size. Their tallest kid up front is 6’4 Hudson Elynuik who is only 172 pounds and isn’t draft eligible until the 2016. Only 2 kids up front are over 200 pounds. That could be a lot of fun for Royals blueliner and Flames draft pick Keegan Kanzig (6’5, 242). Maybe the Chiefs take a game once it gets back to Spokane and they’ll have last change and a chance to get Holmberg more favorable matchups, but I don’t see anything more than that.
Victoria 4 games to 1
#4 Seattle Thunderbirds vs #5 Everett Silvertips
While McDavid and American Jack Eichel are getting the love right now for the 2015 draft, another stud for that draft wears number 13 for the T-birds and that is Matt Barzal. 54 points in 59 games this season for the 16 year old who often draws comparisons to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. But the T-birds are led by Ducks 2013 1st rounder Shea Theodore as the D-man led them in scoring with 79 points in just 70 games. Eye popping stats for a D-man. The Silvertips also got a 2013 1st round D-man having an impressive season for them in Sharks prospect Mirco Mueller. They also have one of the leading scorers in the dub in Josh Winquist who registered 93 points in 67 games this season. As you would expect out of a 4/5 matchup though, there isn’t a lot seperating these teams. The Silvertips have more size, but the T-birds have some big boys themselves. T-birds tendy Taran Kozun had a .910 save percentage, but his G.A.A. was 3.22. Silvertips tendy Austin Lotz had a 2.52 G.A.A. but only a .905 save percentage. Both teams PP and PK were middle of the pack this season. So it’s tough. But at the end of the day I’m going to look behind the bench and suggest Silvertips bench boss Kevin Constantine has more experience than T-birds coach Steve Konowalchuk.
Everett 4 games to 2
WHL Finals Predicition
As much as I don’t like to say this, I got the Hitmen in a slight upset over the Oil Kings in the East final. I think they’ll be a little more hungry than the Oil Kings, and in the WHL finals I believe for a 4th straight year the Portland Winterhawks will represent the West. It looks as though it’ll be Portland and Kelowna in the West and if that’s the case while the Rockets might be a bit better coached, the Winterhawks just have too much talent. If it comes to that it would be a heck of a matchup as both teams are deep up front, the Winterhawks would have that great top pairing of Dumba and Pouliot, but 1-6 the Hitmen are pretty solid on the blueline. I’ll take the Winterhawks in 6 to repeat as WHL champs and head back to the Memorial Cup.
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