Thursday, September 20, 2012

WHL Central Division Preview

Here are the team previews for the WHL Central Division as compiled and released by the Western Hockey League...

Calgary Hitmen

General Manager: Kelly Kisio

Head Coach: Mike Williamson

2012 pre-season: 4-2-0-0

2011-12 Record: 44-25-2-1, 91pts (2nd in Central Div., 3rd in Eastern Conf.) GF: 273  GA: 221

2011-12 Power Play / Penalty Killing ranking: PP: 20.9% (12th); PK: 81.0% (4th)

2012 Playoffs: Lost in five games to Brandon in first round

2011-12 Top Scorers:

Jimmy Bubnick  72gp-36g-41a-77pts

Cody Sylvester  66gp-23g-45a-68pts

Victor Rask       64gp-33g-30a-63pts

Up Front:  The Hitmen lose their top scorer from last year, Jimmy Bubnick, to graduation, but still return four forwards who scored at least 23 goals last season.  19-year-old Swede Victor Rask will be the key cog in the offense.  The Carolina Hurricanes prospect scored 33 goals as a rookie last season, and could dominate this year.  Also back is 20-year-old veteran Cody Sylvester, who is the leading point-getter among returning players.  19-year-old Brady Brassart, who tallied 25 goals and 59 points last season, will factor heavily in the offense while more will be expected from players like Greg Chase, Chase Clayton and Calder Brooks.  Expect young Jake Virtanen, the first overall pick of the 2011 WHL Bantam Draft, to contribute in his rookie campaign.  With three quality 20-year-old forwards – Sylvester, Brooks Macek and Trevor Cheek – and overage veteran defenceman Spencer Humphries still in the mix, the Hitmen will have tough decisions to make on who fills the maximum three overage spots. 

On The Blue Line:  Led by 20-year-old Spencer Humphries, the Hitmen return five regulars from last season.  Humphries, a two-way defender, put up eight goals and 38 points along with a solid +17 rating last season.  He will log plenty of minutes this season, should he survive the overage situation.  Also back are 19-year-olds Peter Kosterman, Alex Roach and Washington Capitals prospect Jaynen Rissling, who all bring plenty of size and experience to the blue line.  18-year-old Kenton Helgesen, an Anaheim Ducks prospect, newcomer Darian Henry and rookies Josh Thrower and Colby Harmsworth give the Hitmen a lot of depth on defence.

Goaltending: 18-year-old Chris Driedger will be the Hitmen’s top man in goal this season after platooning with Brandon Glover last year.  Driedger, selected in the third round of the 2012 NHL Draft by the Ottawa Senators, appeared in 44 games last season, posting 24 wins and a 2.80 goals-against average.  17-year-old rookie Mack Shields will take on back-up duties.  Shields was a fourth-round pick by the Hitmen in the 2010 WHL Bantam Draft.

Player to Watch:  Victor Rask
... The Hitmen’s top pick, third overall, in the 2011 CHL Import Draft, Rask came over to Calgary for the 2011-12 campaign and was one of their top offensive players, netting an impressive 33 goals and 63 points in 64 games.  The Carolina Hurricanes’ second-rounder boasts elite level puck skills, shoots the puck well and has good size and skating ability.  Once questioned on his compete level, Rask answered back with a strong rookie season in the WHL, showing he could handle the workload.  Look for the 19-year-old Swede to be a dominant performer for the Hitmen this season.


Edmonton Oil Kings

General Manager: Bob Green

Head Coach: Derek Laxdal

2012 pre-season: 3-2-0-0
2011-12 Record: 50-15-3-4, 107pts (1st in Central Div., 1st in Eastern Conf.)
GF: 310  GA: 193
2011-12 Power Play / Penalty Killing ranking: PP: 27.6% (2nd); PK: 83.7% (2nd)

2012 Playoffs: 2012 WHL Champions

2011-12 Top Scorers:
Michael St. Croix  72gp-45g-60a-105pts

Dylan Wruck  66gp-21g-59a-80pts

T.J. Foster  69gp-30g-45a-75pts       
Up Front:  The Oil Kings are set to return most of their forwards from last year’s team that boasted the second-best offensive output in the WHL.  Veterans Michael St. Croix, Dylan Wruck, T.J. Foster, Travis Ewanyk, Stephane Legault and Mitch Moroz are all back, looking to pick up where they left off.  St. Croix, a New York Rangers prospect, is a candidate to lead the WHL in scoring this season.  Wruck and Foster are also expected to put up big numbers.  Sophomore Henrik Samuelsson is primed for a big year after being drafted in the first round of the NHL Draft in June, while 17-year-old Curtis Lazar should also be able to better the 20 goals and 31 points he scored last season.  Latvian rookie Edgars Kulda and veteran Klarc Wilson provide good scoring depth to what will be a very dangerous offense.

On The Blue Line:  Though they lose last year’s captain Mark Pysyk to the AHL, the Oil Kings still return a deep and talented group of defencemen who helped the team to the second-best defensive record last season.  19-year-olds Keegan Lowe and Martin Gernat, along with 18-year-old Griffin Reinhart, provide the Oil Kings with as good a top 3 defencemen as there is in the WHL.  Gernat and Reinhart form a terrific duo for the Oil Kings’ power play as both possess great shots from the point.  19-year-old Cody Corbett, 18-year-old Ashton Sautner and 17-year-old Mason Geertsen are also back, giving the Oil Kings tremendous defensive depth.  16-year-olds Aaron Irving, the ninth overall pick from the 2011 WHL Bantam Draft, and Dysin Mayo are waiting in the wings to join the talented Oil Kings’ defence corps.

Goaltending:  Laurent Brossoit took over the starting job in the Oil Kings’ cage last season and led them to the WHL championship, where he was named the MVP of the championship series.  The Calgary Flames prospect is back and ready to help the Oil Kings in their quest to defend their WHL title.  In Brossoit, the Oil Kings have one of the WHL’s top netminders at their disposal.  17-year-old Tristan Jarry is also returning, and will back up Brossoit for a second season.  Jarry posted an 8-2-1 record with a 2.93 goals-against average in 14 games last season.

Player to Watch:  Curtis Lazar
... The Oil Kings’ first-round pick, second overall, in the 2010 WHL Bantam Draft, Lazar established himself as a big-time player as a 16-year-old last year, despite playing on a team with tremendous offensive depth.  The Vernon, B.C., product scored 20 goals and 31 points in 63 games, then took his game up a level in the post-season with eight goals and 19 points in 20 contests to help the team win the WHL championship.  Blessed with size, speed and an outstanding shot, Lazar is a tough player to handle for opposing defencemen.  Whether it’s bulling his way to the net or making finesse plays, Lazar can do damage in a lot of different ways.  Expect the 17-year-old to see his numbers increase this season and cement himself as a top prospect for the 2013 NHL Draft.


Kootenay Ice

General Manager: Jeff Chynoweth

Head Coach: Ryan McGill

2012 pre-season: 2-3-0-0
2011-12 Record: 36-26-6-4, 82pts (4th in Central Div., 8th in Eastern Conf.) GF: 222  GA: 201

2011-12 Power Play / Penalty Killing ranking: PP: 19.7% (16th); PK: 80.5% (5th)

2012 Playoffs: Lost in four games to Edmonton in first round
2011-12 Top Scorers:
Max Reinhart  61gp-28g-50a-78pts

Sam Reinhart  67gp-28g-34a-62pts

Jesse Ismond  71gp-16g-39a-55pts

Up Front:  The Ice return just two of their top five scorers from last season, including reigning WHL Rookie of the Year Sam Reinhart.  Though he won’t have his older brother, Max, to help him this season, Sam has already proven to be a top-line scorer for the Ice, despite being only 17 years old.  The Vancouver, B.C., product is expected to be a go-to guy for what will be a younger group of forwards.  20-year-olds Brock Montgomery, Elgin Pearce and Drew Czerwonka are battling for the overage spots.  All three would be valuable to the Ice.  Czerwonka, a feisty, crash-and-bang leader, has been named the team’s captain, while both Pearce and Montgomery are coming off 20-goal campaigns.  Younger players like Luke Philp, Levi Cable and Jaedon Descheneau will need to step their games up, while the Ice also hope Czech rookies Jakub Prochazka and Petr Vesely can find the back of the net.

On The Blue Line:  20-year-old Joey Leach and 19-year-olds Jagger Dirk and Tanner Muth are the elder statesmen on the Ice blue line.  Leach is one of four 20-year-olds battling for three overage spots, but would be an invaluable cog in the defence corps with his two-way ability and veteran experience.  Dirk put up seven goals, 29 points and a +22 rating last season, and will be relied on for heavy minutes this season.  18-year-olds Mike Simpson and Jeff Hubic add size to the back end while 17-year-old sophomore Spencer Wand, who stands 6’5”, has shown potential as a solid shut-down defender.  Wand and fellow sophomore Tanner Faith are two of four 17-year-olds looking for regular duty on the Ice blue line.  

Goaltending:  With Nathan Lieuwen moving on to the AHL, the Ice will have a new face as their starting netminder.  The starting job looks to be in the hands of 18-year-old Mackenzie Skapski, who got into 19 games as Lieuwen’s back-up last season.  Skapski was a third-round pick in the 2009 WHL Bantam Draft.  17-year-old Wyatt Hoflin will push Skapski for playing time in his first season in the WHL.  Hoflin, a Spruce Grove, AB, product, was a second-round pick, 37th overall, in the 2010 WHL Bantam Draft.

Player to Watch:  Sam Reinhart
... The youngest of three Reinhart brothers, Sam made his debut for the Ice last season and immediately established himself as one of the team’s top offensive players.  The 16-year-old put up 28 goals and 62 points in 67 games for the Ice, and was named the WHL Rookie of the Year for his efforts.  The captain of Canada’s Under-18 team that won Gold at the 2012 Memorial for Ivan Hlinka tournament, Reinhart has tremendous offensive skills, great vision and hockey sense, and a strong work ethic.  As the go-to guy up front for the Ice this season, expect to see Reinhart among the upper echelons in the WHL scoring race this season and continue to establish himself as a contender for the first overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft.


Lethbridge Hurricanes

General Manager / Head Coach: Rich Preston

2012 pre-season: 3-3-0-0

2011-12 Record: 29-42-0-1, 59pts (6th in Central Div.,11th in Eastern Conf.) GF: 225  GA: 292

2011-12 Power Play / Penalty Killing ranking: PP: 21.8% (11th); PK: 76.0% (19th)

2012 Playoffs: Did not qualify
Top Scorers:
Brody Sutter  65gp-30g-30a-60pts

Nick Buonassisi  69gp-16g-33a-49pts

Philip Tot  61gp-14g-31a-45pts

Up Front:  The Hurricanes boast a young and talented group of forwards who should help mold the team into a contender over the next couple of years.  20-year-old Graham Hood, 19-year-old Brady Ramsay and 18-year-old Russ Maxwell are the most experienced returning forwards, with only Hood having more than 200 games of WHL experience.  Expect those three to take on big roles in providing leadership to a forward unit dominated by 17 and 18-year-olds.  Sophomores such as Jay Merkley, Sam McKechnie, Craig Leverton and Jamal Watson will have to take on more responsibility in the offense while rookies like Reid Duke and Remi Laurencelle should see plenty of opportunity to contribute as well.  17-year-old Swedish rookie Axel Blomqvist joins his older brother, Albin, on the ‘Canes’ roster after being drafted in the 2012 CHL Import Draft.

On The Blue Line:  20-year-old Daniel Johnston heads up a group of five rearguards who are back from last year’s team.  Johnston will be relied on to play heavy minutes and be the glue that cements together a young defence corps.  19-year-olds Spencer Galbraith and Albin Blomqvist are also back while 17-year-old Macoy Erkamps looks to be ready for an increased role.  Erkamps should be able to improve on the four goals and 20 points he put up last season.  16-year-old rookie Ryan Pilon is highly regarded by the ‘Canes and could make an impact in his first WHL season.  17-year-olds Joel Topping and Adam Henry are also hoping for regular duty on the ‘Canes’ blue line.   

Goaltending:  The Hurricanes acquired 20-year-old veteran Ty Rimmer from the Tri-City Americans during the offseason, giving them one of the best netminders in the WHL.  Rimmer led all goaltenders with a 2.43 goals-against average and boasted an impressive .922 save percentage last season for the Ams, and was a finalist for the WHL Goaltender of the Year award.  Though he may see more action with a younger defence in front of him, Rimmer should give the ‘Canes a chance to win every night he plays.  Rookies Tanner Kovacs, 18, and Christopher Tai, 16, are in the running for the back-up job.

Player to Watch:  Reid Duke... 
The second of two top-5 picks for the Hurricanes in the 2011 WHL Bantam Draft, Duke is expected to become a major impact player for the ‘Canes’ over the next few seasons.  A talented offensive player who has put up points at every level, Duke already showed he can contribute at the WHL level with two goals and six points in 12 games for the Hurricanes as a 15-year-old call-up last season.  Duke also played for Canada’s entry at the 2012 Youth Olympic Games, helping the team to a Bronze medal, and played for Team Alberta in the 2011 Western Canada Under-16 Challenge Cup, helping the team to a Gold medal.  With the Hurricanes icing a younger group of forwards this season, expect Duke to establish himself as an important cog in the offense, even as a 16-year-old.


Medicine Hat Tigers

General Manager: Brad McEwen

Head Coach: Shaun Clouston

2012 pre-season: 2-3-0-0
2011-12 Record: 42-24-2-4, 90pts (3rd in Central Div., 4th in Eastern Conf.) GF: 255  GA: 209

2011-12 Power Play / Penalty Killing ranking: PP: 24.3% (5th); PK: 77.3% (14th)

2012 Playoffs: Lost in four games to Moose Jaw in second round

2011-12 Top Scorers:
Emerson Etem  65gp-61g-46a-107pts

Hunter Shinkaruk  66gp-49g-42a-91pts

James Bettauer  74gp-21g-37a-58pts

Up Front:  The Tigers will miss the 61 goals off the stick of Emerson Etem, who has moved on to the pro ranks.  However, in Hunter Shinkaruk, the Tigers return one of the most exciting and offensively gifted forwards in the WHL.  The Calgary, AB, product is coming off a 49-goal, 91-point season last year, his second WHL campaign, and is a safe bet to hit the 50-goal plateau this season.  Shinkaruk will be the focus of opposition defences, meaning the Tigers will need to get scoring from other sources.  19-year-old Curtis Valk scored 24 goals and 51 points last season, and will be counted on to up those totals this season.  Players like Boston Leier, Jayden Hart and Miles Koules will also be expected to play a role in generating scoring up front.  20-year-old veteran Kale Kessy should provide plenty of physical play and leadership for what will be a smaller group of Tigers forwards.

On The Blue Line:  20-year-olds Alex Theriau and Derek Ryckman and 19-year-old Dylan Busenius anchor the Tigers’ blue line that loses their top two rearguards from last season.  Ryckman, who was acquired from Tri-City during the pre-season, is a solid defensive presence who posted a +27 rating with the Ams last season.  Theriau is recovering from offseason surgery and won’t be ready until October.  Expect 18-year-old rookie Kyle Becker to step in and take on a big role, especially on the power play, while sophomores Tyler Lewington and Spenser Jensen should see increased responsibilities.  Rookies Ty Stanton and Matt Staples will both get their feet wet in their first WHL campaigns.

Goaltending:  With the graduation of Tyler Bunz, the Tigers will go with a new starting netminder for the first time in three years.  Czech goaltender Marek Langhamer, who was selected by the Tigers in the 2012 CHL Import Draft, hopes to fill the big shoes left with the departure of Bunz, the reigning WHL Goalie of the Year.  Langhamer is a Phoenix Coyotes prospect who has good size and athleticism.  19-year-old Kenny Cameron, last year’s back-up, and 18-year-old Dawson MacAuley are battling for the other netminding job.

Player to Watch:  Hunter Shinkaruk
... At 5’10”, 175-lbs, Hunter Shinkaruk may not be the most intimidating physical specimen.  Yet, when the puck is on his stick, the Calgary, AB, product can strike fear in the most seasoned of WHL defencemen.  After an impressive rookie campaign in 2010-11, Shinkaruk exploded for 49 goals and 91 points last year, playing alongside star sniper Emerson Etem.  Now that Etem is gone, Shinkaruk becomes the focal point of the Tigers’ attack.  Supremely skilled with the puck, and with speed to burn, Shinkaruk may be one of the most exciting players to watch in the WHL this season, and is considered a top prospect for the 2013 NHL Draft.  Expect him to be right near the top of the WHL scoring ladder as the 2012-13 season progresses.


Red Deer Rebels

General Manager: Brent Sutter

Head Coach: Jesse Wallin

2012 pre-season: 0-5-1-0

2011-12 Record: 32-34-1-5, 70pts (5th in Central Div., 9th in Eastern Conf.) GF: 204  GA: 231

2011-12 Power Play / Penalty Killing ranking: PP: 16.9% (19th); PK: 79.9% (8th)

2012 Playoffs: did not qualify

2011-12 Top Scorers:
John Persson  70gp-23g-35a-58pts

Matt Dumba  69gp-20g-37a-57pts

Alex Petrovic  68gp-12g-36a-48pts

Up Front:  The Rebels will look to their veterans in hopes of improving on what was the lowest-scoring offense in the Eastern Conference last season, with 20-year-old forwards Turner Elson, Charles Inglis and Adam Kambeitz expected to carry a heavy load up front.  Elson and 19-year-old Tyson Ness are the only returning forwards to have hit the 20-goal mark last season, while Elson and Inglis are the only two returning forwards to top the 40-point mark.  19-year-old Colten Mayor should be able to improve on his 14 goals from last season while other returnees like Chad Robinson and Cory Millette should add some secondary scoring.  Look for 16-year-old rookie Conner Bleackley to help out the offense this season after getting into 16 games as a 15-year-old last season.

On The Blue Line:  There will be no underestimating the importance of 18-year-old Mathew Dumba for the Rebels this season.  Not only will the Minnesota Wild first rounder be counted on to anchor the blue line, Dumba will also be tasked to contribute significant offense as well.  Coming off a 20-goal, 57-point season last year, Dumba is one of the WHL’s most exciting blue liners, capable of scoring big goals and delivering big hits.  Also back from last season are 19-year-old Cody Thiel, 18-year-olds Stephen Hak and Devan Fafard, and 17-year-old Kayle Doetzel.  Doetzel played a strong shutdown role for Canada’s Under-18 team this past summer, and should see more responsibility in the Rebels’ end this season.  The Rebels are hoping 6’2” Czech rookie Jan Bittner, 19, can provide some solid two-way play this season.

Goaltending:  19-year-old Czech netminder Patrik Bartosak is back to assume the starting job for the Rebels.  Bartosak was very impressive in the Rebels’ cage through the early part of last season until an injury sidelined him for the rest of the season.  With Bartosak healthy, the Rebels should get steady and stingy netminding.  18-year-old Bolton Pouliot returns to fill the back-up role.  Pouliot was strong in 17 appearances last year, posting a .909 save percentage and a 2.60 goals-against average.  With Bartosak and Pouliot in the fold, goaltending should be a strong point for the Rebels.

Player to Watch:  Mathew Dumba... 
If the Rebels are to make the post-season this year, there is no question that Matt Dumba will need to play a huge role for the team.  The 18-year-old from Calgary, AB, is well known as one of the WHL’s top defencemen and a player who makes an impact in all areas of the ice.  The seventh overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, Dumba is feared for his offensive exploits and his physical presence.  Coming off a 20-goal campaign last year, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if Dumba led the Rebels in scoring this season.  Yet, as the anchor of the Rebels’ blue line, Dumba will have to be equally strong in his own end.  Fans can also expect to see the 6’0”, 182-lb defender suiting up for Canada at the 2013 World Junior Championship after being the youngest invite to last year’s selection camp.

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