2018-19 WHL Season Review: The Finalists

This is the fifth in a six-part series that has recapped how each WHL team faired this season, how wrong Daily Herald sports reporter Lucas Punkari was in his assessments for each club and what the future holds for them.

The final part of the year-end recaps will run after the Memorial Cup, where we will look back at Lucas’ pre-season predictions. Oh, the fun we’ll have.

Davis Koch (Doug Westcott/Vancouver Giants)

Vancouver Giants (48-15-3-2 – 1st in BC Division – Lost to the Prince Albert Raiders in seven games)

What I Predicted:

Best Case Scenario

A strong offensive showing and excellent goaltending from David Tendeck leads the Giants to their first division crown since 2010 and their best playoff run since that season. Although the Vancouver Canucks miss out on getting Jack Hughes, they get a nice consolation prize by drafting Bowen Byram on draft day.

Worst Case Scenario

The losses of Tyler Benson and Ty Ronning are too much to overcome and Tendeck takes a step back. The Giants fail to get out of the first round yet again as the fans wonder why head coach Jason McKee was let go in the first place.

What Actually Happened:

The Giants were easily the class of the BC Division thanks to an offence that got better as the season went on, a one-two punch in goal with Tendeck and Trent Miner and a blueline that was led by Byram. The Game 7 loss to the Prince Albert Raiders was a heartbreaker, but it was still an amazing run for a Giants team that hadn’t even won a playoff series since 2010.

What Lies Ahead:

As Michael Dyck prepares for his second season behind the bench with the Giants, he’ll be involved with one of the most intriguing teams in the league. Jared Dmytriw and Davis Koch will both graduate, while Milos Roman’s status is up in the air as he’s yet to sign with the Calgary Flames, but forwards such as overage candidate Jadon Joseph, Tristen Nielsen and the top 2002-born scorer in the league in Justin Sourdif can all return to help lead the way up front.

Tendeck could come back in goal if he doesn’t sign with the Arizona Coyotes, but Miner seems set to become the starter on a full-time basis. If a team’s looking to get an upgrade between the pipes, Tendeck might be a candidate if he isn’t in the pros.

The defence is only losing one player in overager Dallas Hines as everyone else can come back. However, Byram’s incredible play in the post-season should assure him of being a top five pick in June, much to the chagrin of Canucks fans. There’s a chance that Monday’s contest at the Art Hauser Centre was his last in the WHL, which would be a huge hole to try and fill for the Giants if they hope to contend for the league again.

Brett Leason (Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald)

Prince Albert Raiders (54-10-2-2 – 1st in East Division – 2019 Ed Chynoweth Cup Champions)     

What I Predicted:

Best Case Scenario

An excellent defensive core helps Ian Scott become the top netminder in the league. The Raiders get Noah Gregor back from the San Jose Sharks organization to increase their firepower and they go on their best run since 2005.

Worst Case Scenario

Scott doesn’t take the next step to become an elite starter in the league and Gregor never arrives. An early playoff exit leaves fans flummoxed as the longest playoff losing streak in the Canadian Hockey League continues.

What Actually Happened:

The best season in a generation for Raiders fans. Gregor was reassigned by the Sharks, Scott was the top goalie in the league and Brett Leason casually rattled off a 30-game point streak to start the campaign.

While many of the key contributors from this year’s team had been here for many years or were drafted by the Raiders, it was the move to get forward Dante Hannoun from the Victoria Royals in January proved to be the biggest piece as his Game 7 overtime winner on Monday night gave the franchise their first league title since 1985.

What Lies Ahead:

A trip to Halifax is next on the docket for the Raiders as they start their quest for the Memorial Cup on Friday and attempt to be the first WHL team to win the trophy since the Edmonton Oil Kings in 2014.

As for next season, there will be some holes that will need to be filled on offence with Hannoun, Gregor and Sean Montgomery graduating and Parker Kelly set to move on to the Ottawa Senators organization, in addition to Leason’s possible departure as he’s expected to be a first round pick at June’s NHL Entry Draft. While those are all big losses, the likes of Cole Fonstad, Aliaksei Protas and Ozzy Wiesblatt are all returning and should lead the way.

Sergei Sapego will more than likely be gone as a dual-slot player, but everyone else is eligible to come back on the Raiders blueline. Granted, Brayden Pachal, Max Martin, Zack Hayes and Jeremy Masella are all overage candidates next year so that will have to be addressed, but it’s still a great core on defence. Plus, Kaiden Guhle should have a bigger role in his second year and Nolan Allan is set to enter the WHL after demolishing the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League playoffs with the Saskatoon Blazers.

The biggest question mark on the roster though is who will be the new starting netminder as Scott moves on to the Toronto Maple Leafs organization. Boston Bilous, who was acquired from the Oil Kings at the trade deadline, has the inside track over Brett Balas for the spot at the moment, but it will be quite a change for the program after Scott held the starting duties for the last three seasons.