Thursday, September 20, 2012

WHL Eastern Conference Preview: Millard

The WHL kicks off another season tonight with a match up of the past 2 Ed Chynoweth Cup Champions.  Edmonton entertains Kootenay (which used to be Edmonton) at Rexall Place before a full slate of games hit the ice from Brandon to Portland on Friday.  Here is how I see the WHL shaking down in 2012-2013.

Here are my predictions for standings, MVP, top scorer, defenceman, goalie, rookie of the year, top coach and G.M.

1. Edmonton Oil Kings

Not only should they be the top team in the WHL, but should probably start the season ranked #1 in the country.  This team always had offence, now it has size and toughness to go along with it.  Cody Corbet and Ashton Sautner could make their blue line very dynamic, if they can take steps forward, and in goal Laurent Brossoit will look to continue his remarkable play from last year.  While most in the country saw Brossoit struggle at the Memorial Cup, those in the WHL know he will likely be the league's top pipeman this year.

2. Saskatoon Blades

The Memorial Cup hosts I think will actually have the 3rd most points, but get this spot as a division leader.  Despite trailing Calgary and Edmonton in points, the Blades should be very hard to play against.  Lukas Sutter will need to score more then the 28 he notched last year, and Matej Stransky who led the Blades in scoring last season could challenge for the league lead this year.  Duncan Siemens and Dalton Thrower will form the back bone of the blue line, and Lorne Molleken will add to the recipe as the season goes on.

3. Calgary Hitmen

Alberta hockey fans are hoping to see the Hitmen and Oil Kings in the Eastern Conference final, and that would mean Calgary taking another step forward. Last year's 91 point campaign was great, but a first round exit in 5 games was a giant disappointment.  Victor Rask will be a force and 2nd year draft eligible forward Greg Chase won't be fun to play against for a number of reasons.  If Chris Driedger finds the groove for the whole season the Hitmen will be solid.

4. Prince Albert Raiders

Mark McNeil will lead a dynamic attack up front that will include German sniper Leon Draisaitl and Josh Morrissey - who qb'd the power play as a 16 year old - on the back end. The only question is whether or not they can keep the puck out.  Pre season goals against averages say no, if it turns around they could host a playoff series.

5. Swift Current Broncos

Right behind the Raiders will be another small town Saskatchewan team that will start realizing how good they are.  Reece Scarlett is their back end horse while Adam Lowry will drive the bus up front. Like the Raiders goaltending is a question mark, but that could be fixed through trade.  The Broncos biggest foe might be the financial one.  The playoffs are needed to save this team, and it might even need to host a series to get that extra revenue and get them back to level, which will help in keeping the team in speedy creek.

6. Medicine Hat Tigers

The dynamic duo Emerson Etem and Hunter Shinkaruk combined for 109 goals last year. 61 of that is gone with Etem moving on to the AHL and that will leave Shinaruk to carry the load, or find another wing man.  It could be Miles Koules who joined the Tigers from the U.S. National development team or 24 goal man from last year Curtis Valk.

7. Regina Pats

The offence will go through Morgan Klimchuk this year but he's not Jordan Weal and 116 points.  The goals for might go down, but hopefully the goals against with Matt Hewitt will decrease as well.

8. Brandon Wheat Kings

The Regina Pats went through it, Shawinigan is starting it, Saskatoon will go through it, and Brandon is right in the middle of the Memorial Cup host rebuild. Mark Stone is gone and the offence could be up to Alessio Bertaggia who will need more then the 50 points he put up. The blue line will be strong with Ryan Pulock and Eric Roy and Corbin Boes will have to steal a few wins for the Wheat Kings to make the playoffs a 13th straight year.
It's next year land for Lethbridge, Red Deer, Moose Jaw and Kootenay but not by much and Lethbridge and Red Deer will be right on the heels of the final playoff spots

MVP: Hunter Shinkaruk (Medicine Hat Tigers)

Top Scorer: Michael St. Croix (Edmonton Oil Kings)

Top Defenceman: Ryan Pulock (Brandon Wheat Kings)

Top Goalie: Laurent Brossoit (Edmonton Oil Kings)

Rookie of the Year: Brayden Point (Moose Jaw Warriors)

Coach of the Year: Derek Laxdal (Edmonton Oil Kings)

G.M of the Year: Lorne Molleken (Saskatoon Blades)

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