Thursday, March 20, 2014

WHL Playoff Predictions

Back in September I posted my predictions for both the East and West WHL conferences. 

Looking back now, not too bad; 7 of 8 correct playoff teams in the East including Edmonton, Calgary and Swift Current in their correct seeding. In the West, 6 of 8 playoff teams.

Every year there are a couple teams I badly underestimate and a couple I overestimate. This year I don't think anyone predicted that Lethbridge would implode like they did and I certainly expected better from Kamloops. Tri-City and Prince Albert both made the playoffs but I expected more from both clubs. 

Now it's time for the playoffs so let's get right to the first round predictions...


(1) Edmonton Oil Kings vs (8) Prince Albert Raiders

Photo: Andy Devlin
The Oil Kings will obviously be the favourite going into this series but I think the Raiders are capable of putting a scare into the 2-time defending East champs. P.A. has won twice in Edmonton this year and are getting heroic goaltending from '97 born Nick McBride. Still, the Oil Kings will have the edge in goal with Tristan Jarry (PGH), on the blueline (although Josh Morrissey vs Griffin Reinhart will be interesting) and up front as well with just too much depth. I expect the Raiders to be strong at home in front of a loud crowd.  The side story in this series will be the opportunity for Oilers fans to get a closer look at Leon Draisaitl, a player the NHL club has interest in for the 2014 Draft.

Edmonton in 6.

(2) Regina Pats vs (7) Brandon Wheat Kings 

Photo: Regina Leader Post
I'm taking the "over" in this series for every game; both teams can score and both teams get scored on a lot. The Pats have the higher end scoring with Chandler Stephenson, Morgan Klimchuk, Boston Leier and Dyson Stevenson all of whom scored more than any player in Brandon. That said, the Wheat Kings have more offensive depth with seven 20-goal scorers on the roster including Peter Quenneville who only played in 44 games. I give the blueline edge the Brandon and it might be a wash in net. Easier said than done but if the Wheat Kings can keep Regina's top line in check, their depth should win out. 

Brandon in 7.

(3) Calgary Hitmen vs (6) Kootenay Ice

Photo: Calgary Herald
This shouldn't be a close series to me but I am guilty of underrating Kootenay all the time. The Ice and Hitmen met eight times this year, each team winning four times. The series features top ranked Sam Reinhart against Jake Virtanen. I have a hard time believing that the depth of the Hitmen though won't prove to be too much for Kootenay. Jaedon Descheneau will get drafted this year as will Luke Philp and Rinat Valiev but the absence of Tim Bozon will obviously be a big factor although the good news on his improved condition should at least ease the stress in the room. Calgary's forward depth is as strong as anywhere in the WHL with Greg Chase, Brady Brassart, Mike Winther, Connor Rankin and Adam Tambellini. The goaltending, for me, is tipped heavily in favor of Chris Driedger.

Calgary in 6.

(4) Medicine Hat vs (5) Swift Current

Photo: Swift Current Broncos
The Broncos were very hot and cold this year where they went on 4-5 game winning and losing streaks in regularity. With 8 wins heading into the playoffs, the Swift is playing up to their potential or are ripe for a losing streak. I think they have much better blueline group than Medicine Hat and I also give a slight nod to Eetu Laurikainen over Marek Langhamer too. This flies in the face of the stats though; the Tigers scored more and allowed fewer goals than Swift Current did in a tougher division, but I think head to head, I like the Broncos to win. Barely. 

Swift Current in 7.

Western Conference

(1) Kelowna Rockets vs (8) Tri-City Americans 

Photo: Marissa Baecker
They are the #1 ranked team in the entire CHL for a reason. Very solid on the backend, lots of offence as one of only two teams to score over 300 goals, and a veteran goaltender having a career year. Ryan Huska is one of the best coaches in the league and gets the absolute most from his players and when you have names like Madison Bowey, Damon Severson, Ryan Olsen, Myles Bell, Nick Merkley, Rourke Chartier... that's saying a lot. The Rockets will have to make due without Tyson Baillie for another 2-3 weeks but that won't matter against Tri-City. Honestly, I think Eric Comrie can steal a game but it would take an upset of biblical proportions to see the Americans advance. 

Kelowna in 4.

(2) Portland Winterhawks vs (7) Vancouver Giants

Photo: Vancouver Province
I recently had Giants colour analyst Bill Wilms on the show and asked him how much of a shot the Giants, who played much better in the second half of the season than the first, had in pulling off the upset. His answer was simply "None". The Portland juggernaut just keeps rolling and after a 21-game streak late in the season, many see them as THE team to beat in the WHL once again. The Giants could put up a fight but in the end it's pretty hard to believe they'll withstand the endless offensive attack of Nic Petan, Brendan Leipsic, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Derrick Pouliot, Mathew Dumba, Chase DeLeo and company. 

Portland in 4.

(3) Victoria Royals vs (6) Spokane Chiefs

Photo: Spokesman Review
Another series which I think will be over quickly. Now that the Royals are healthy, their biggest problem is deciding on which goaltender they should start. Seriously, Patrik Polivka has 28 wins, a 2.56 GAA and .915 sv% but that's second best on his team. Coleman Vollrath boasts a 2.29 GAA and a league best .928 sv%. It will be great for scouts to see Joe Hicketts play in the post season as well. Spokane is still a 1-line team and if you can limit the chances for Mitch Holmberg, easier said than done, you're halfway to beating them. The Royals are simply a much better team that the Chiefs are this year. 

Victoria in 4.

(4) Seattle Thunderbirds vs (5) Everett Silvertips 

Photo: Jason Kurylo
The toughest series to call in the WHL. The young T-Birds are going to be WHL contenders inside of 24 months but they are still a relatively young club. The Silvertips have been playing well down the stretch but Josh Winquist is by far their most dangerous offensive weapon. The supporting cast in Everett is good with Jujhar Khaira, Ivan Nikolishin and Matt Pufhal but that doesn't match up to Seattle's offensive potential in my opinion. Matt Barzal, Ryan Gropp, Shea Theodore, Branden Troock, Alex Delnov and Roberts Lipsbergs can be dynamic. One thing we should expect is that Kevin Constantine will try to beat Seattle through defence and counter attacking. I give the Austin Lotz an edge in goal over Taran Kozun despite the way the latter has played since the trade dealine. Should be a fun series to watch. 

Seattle in 7.

Those are MY picks, I look forward to getting yours. Send me a note on Twitter or in the comments below. Tell me if you agree or disagree and why!   


1 comment:

pellmell said...

I'm not as familiar with the eastern conference but I think you've pretty much nailed things out west. I do think Tri-City could take a game from Kelowna but I agree, it would take a serious hail-mary to make any real noise in that series. Having seen Portland come through here (Seattle) a couple of times in the second half I'm really not sure who is capable of stopping them right now, as they are making it look very easy. Getting Dumba was monstrous - when I saw them a couple of weeks ago he was playing pretty much every second shift and really controlling things. Kelowna is a well-oiled machine but they have been flat at times in the 2nd half for me and I see them having their hands full to get past the winner of the SEA/EVT series.