2018-19 WHL Season Preview: East Division

This is the first part of a five-part series that will preview the 2018-19 campaign. The first four parts will go over each WHL division before I make my predictions in the final part.

A huge thanks to Robert Murray of the Western Hockey League who passed along the photos of many of the players from around the circuit, along with Perry Bergson of the Brandon Sun who sent along the photo of Braden Schneider.

All roster info is based upon what’s on the WHL website and will be updated leading into Friday’s season opener. Also, the listed college committed prospects are based upon Allan Caldwell’s database that was released earlier this summer and any stats/current team information comes from Elite Prospects.

Finally, the overview of each team’s picks for next year’s draft is courtesy of Caldwell’s database, which can also be seen on the Dub Network. 

Braden Schneider (Brandon Sun File Photo)

Brandon Wheat Kings

Last Season

Although they traded away Kale Clague and Tanner Kaspick, the Wheat Kings still made the playoffs as the first wildcard in the Eastern Conference. Despite losing their first two playoff games by a combined score of 14-5, they rattled off four straight wins to knock out the Medicine Hat Tigers before falling to the Lethbridge Hurricanes in the quarter-final round.

Forwards

Departing

  • Gunnar Wegleitner (98 – 10-9-19 – Traded to Kootenay Ice but cut after pre-season)
  • Evan Weinger (97 – 31-26-57 – San Jose Barracuda)

Returning

  • Rylan Bettens (00 – 7-7-14)
  • Luka Burzan (00 – 15-25-40)
  • Caiden Daley (00 – 7-12-19)
  • Connor Gutenberg (99 – 18-35-53)
  • Jonny Hooker (01 – 3-5-8)
  • Ty Lewis (98 – 44-56-100)
  • Stelio Mattheos (99 – 43-47-90)
  • Ben McCartney (01 – 2-10-12)
  • Linden McCorrister (98 – 20-23-43)
  • Cole Reinhardt (00 – 19-15-34)
  • Marcus Sekundiak (00 – 4-5-9)
  • Baron Thompson (99 – 13-13-26)

Arriving

  • Ridly Greig (02 – 1st in ’17 – 24-30-54 – Lethbridge Midget Hurricanes)
  • Lynden McCallum (00 – Listed – 36-38-74 – Brandon Midget Wheat Kings)
  • Ty Thorpe (02 – Victoria’s 3rd in ’17 – 15-18-33 – Rink Hockey Academy)

NHL Prospects

  • Ty Lewis (Colorado Avalanche – Signed)
  • Stelio Mattheos (Carolina Hurricanes – Unsigned)

Rights Held

  • Kyle Bettens (01 – 4th in ’16 – 40-55-95 – Winnipeg Wild – Fargo Force – Bemidji State Beavers)
  • Braden Costello (00 – Listed – 8-4-12 – Des Moines Buccaneers – North Dakota Fighting Hawks)
  • Riese Gaber (99 – Listed – 26-22-48 – Steinbach Pistons – Dubuque Fighting Saints – Western Michigan Broncos)
  • Martin Kaut (99 – ’17 Import Draft – 9-7-16 – HC Dynamo Pardubice – Colorado Eagles – Colorado Avalanche – Signed)
  • Matthew Osadick (00 – Listed – 15-26-41 – Swan Valley Stampeders – Cedar Rapids RoughRiders – Maine Black Bears)

If Lewis starts off his pro career and doesn’t come back to the Wheat Kings, Mattheos will more than likely shoulder the load to lead the offence and he might end up being a valuable trade chip if the team aims to get younger.

In typical Wheat Kings fashion, unheralded players like Gutenberg, McCorister and Reinhardt have become key cogs up front and should continue to trend upwards offensively. Meanwhile, Burzan will be determined to prove NHL scouts wrong in his first full season in Brandon after he was surprisingly undrafted in June.

Of the new faces, Greig will be the one to keep an eye out for as he was dominant in the midget ranks last season in helping the Hurricanes make it to the Telus Cup.

Defencemen

Departing

  • Daniel Bukac (99 – 0-8-8 – Niagara Ice Dogs – Boston Bruins – Unsigned)
  • James Shearer (97 – 2-10-12 – Calgary Dinos)

Returning

  • Ty Ettinger (00 – 2-5-7)
  • Chase Hartje (99 – 3-22-25)
  • Schael Higson (98 – 5-23-28)
  • Braden Schneider (01 – 1-21-22)
  • Zach Wytinck (99 – 4-19-23)

Arriving

  • Vincent Iorio (02 – 2nd in ’17 – 4-19-23 – Shattuck St. Mary’s)
  • Jonathon Lambos (01 – Victoria’s 3rd in ’16 – 5-23-28 – Rink Hockey Academy)
  • Chad Nychuk (01 – Listed – 17-44-61 – Yellowhead Chiefs)
  • Neithan Salame (01 – 7th in ’16 – 8-20-28 – Knights Of Columbus Pats)

NHL Prospects

  • N/A

Rights Held

  • Mikey Anderson (99 – 11th in ’14 – 5-18-23 – Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs – Los Angeles Kings – Unsigned)
  • Erik Brannstrom (99 – ’18 Import Draft – 2-13-15 – HV71 – Chicago Wolves – Vegas Golden Knights – Signed)
  • Sean Comrie (00 – 2nd in ’15 – 7-27-34 – Spruce Grove Saints – Denver Pioneers)
  • Owen Gallatin (02 – 9th in ’17 – 3-22-25 – White Bear Lake High School – US NTDP – Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs)
  • Jarrod Gourley (99 – 3rd in ’14 – 9-18-27 – Spruce Grove Saints – Arizona State Sun Devils)
  • Anthony Kehrer (02 – 2nd in ’17 – 5-12-17 – Rink Hockey Academy – Sioux City Musketeers – Wisconsin Badgers)
  • Ian Mitchell (99 – 2nd in ’14 – 2-28-30 – Denver Pioneers – Chicago Blackhawks – Unsigned)

The defensive side of things should be intriguing to watch, especially with the youth involved. Higson’s leadership will be key, but the continued development of Schneider might be the key moving forward, especially with Bukac now a member of the OHL’s Niagara IceDogs.

Naturally, this all changes dramatically if Brannstrom shows up in Brandon. As a signed prospect of the Golden Knights, he’s expected to start this season in the AHL, but his addition could make the Wheat Kings a potential title threat.

Goaltenders

Departing

  • Dylan Myskiw (99 – 3.41 – 11-5-2-0 – .887 – Edmonton Oil Kings)
  • Logan Thompson (97 – 3.41 – 29-22-1-2 – .908 – Brock Badgers)

Returning

  • N/A

Arriving

  • Ethan Kruger (01 – 5th in ’16 – 3.05 – 8-9-1 – .910 – Sherwood Park Kings)
  • Jiri Patera (99 – ’18 Import Draft – 3.24 – 13-13-6-0 – .901 – Cedar Rapids Roughriders)

NHL Prospects

  • Jiri Patera (Vegas Golden Knights – Unsigned)

Rights Held

  • N/A

With Thompson heading to U Sports, the stage was seemingly set for Myskiw to take over the starting duties. However, that changed with the return of import goalies being drafted and Patera’s arrival, which eventually led to Myskiw being traded to Edmonton Wednesday.

As a prospect of the Vegas Golden Knights, Patera has experience playing on this side of the world after a stint in the USHL, so he should have a good transition. Kruger jumps in to the backup spot with Wednesday’s trade and will more than likely be the starter next year.

Coaching Staff and Management

Departing

  • N/A

Returning

  • Grant Armstrong (General Manager – 3rd Season)
  • David Anning (Head Coach – 3rd Season – 6th Season with Organization)
  • Don MacGillivray (Assistant Coach – 3rd Season)
  • Tyler Plante (Goaltending Coach – 3rd Season)

Arriving

  • N/A

It’s all status quo in the hockey operations side of things, who have a bevy of picks to work with after dealing Clague and Kaspick last January. With so many pieces at their disposal, it’s going to be intriguing to see how Armstrong builds the squad in the years ahead.

Best Case Scenario

Brannstrom arrives to become the top first year import in the league, the offence gets contributions from all over and the Wheat Kings make a run at the conference title.

Worst Case Scenario

Brannstrom stays in the AHL and the defence has some rough nights. Lewis turns pro, Mattheos gets dealt in January and the Wheat Kings have to wait another year before returning to the top of the East Division.

Current 2019 Draft Situation

  • Round 1: Three Picks (Moose Jaw and Victoria)
  • Round 2: One Pick
  • Round 3: One Pick
  • Round 4: No Picks
  • Round 5: Two Picks (Edmonton)
  • Round 6: Two Picks (Kootenay)
  • Round 7: No Picks
  • Round 8: One Pick
  • Round 9: One Pick
  • Round 10: One Pick
  • Round 11: One Pick
  • Round 12: One Pick
Josh Brook (Robert Murray/WHL)

Moose Jaw Warriors

Last Season

The Warriors put together their best regular season ever to lead the league. However, despite the addition of Kale Clague at the trade deadline, things never seemed to gel as expected.

After being pushed to the limit by the Prince Albert Raiders in the opening round, the Warriors were ousted in the quarter-final by the Swift Current Broncos in seven games and saw their title hopes end with a 6-0 loss at home in the series decider.

Forwards

Departing

  • Brayden Burke (97 – 31-82-113 – Tucson Roadrunners – Arizona Coyotes – Signed)
  • Jayden Halbgewachs (97 – 70-59-129 – San Jose Barracuda – San Jose Sharks – Signed)
  • Brett Howden (98 – 24-51-75 – Hartford Wolf Pack – New York Rangers – Signed)
  • Tanner Jeannot (97 – 40-40-80 – Milwaukee Admirals – Nashville Predators – Signed)
  • Branden Klatt (98 – 7-8-15 – Yorkton Terriers)
  • Vince Loschiavo (98 – 19-17-36 – Edmonton Oil Kings)
  • Barrett Sheen (98 – 5-16-21 – Okotoks Oilers)

Returning

  • Justin Almeida (99 – 43-55-98)
  • Tristyn DeRoose (99 – 4-3-7)
  • Tristan Langan (98 – 16-26-42)
  • Ryan Peckford (99 – 20-29-49)
  • Tate Popple (00 – 6-16-22)
  • Tyler Smithies (00 – 1-4-5)
  • Brecon Wood (00 – 3-1-4)

Arriving

  • Nick Bowman (00 – 6-6-12 – Edmonton Oil Kings)
  • Yegor Buyalsky (01 – ’18 Import Draft – 19-29-48 – Team Belarus)
  • Kale Clouston (00 – 5th in ’17 – 8-7-15 – Okotoks Oilers)
  • Jesse Mistelbacher (01 – Listed – Prince George’s 6th in ’16 – 15-32-47 – Eastman Midget Selects)
  • Daniil Stepanov (01 – ’18 Import Draft – 3-20-23 – Team Belarus)
  • Cameron Sterling (01 – Listed – 7-14-21 – Calgary Midget Buffaloes)
  • Brayden Tracey (01 – 1st in ’16 – 21-31-52 – Calgary Midget North Stars)

NHL Prospects

  • Justin Almeida (Pittsburgh Penguins – Unsigned)

Rights Held

  • Erik Middendorf (00 – 4th in ’15 – 7-10-17 – US NTDP – Colorado College Tigers)

With the graduating overagers and Howden alone, the Warriors are losing 165 goals from their forward core. Needless to say, that’s not going to be replaced overnight.

Given his impressive campaign, Almedia is expected to lead the way and he should be helped by the likes of Langan and Peckford. Peckford will be an interesting piece to watch going forward as well, as he was dealt for Noah Gregor prior to the Christmas break last year.

With the import picks being a bit of an unknown, Tracey is the one new piece expected to contribute early. Having not made the Warriors lineup last year and returning to the midget ranks in the process, he should get a chance to show what he can do at the start of the season.

Defencemen

Departing

  • Kale Clague (98 – 11-60-71 – Ontario Reign – Los Angeles Kings – Signed)
  • Oleg Sosunov (98 – 7-19-26 – Syracuse Crunch – Tampa Bay Lightning – Signed)
  • Dimitri Zaitsev (98 – 6-22-28 – Metallurg Magnitogorsk)

Returning

  • Matthew Benson (00 – 0-11-11)
  • Josh Brook (99 – 3-29-32)
  • Brenden Kwiatkowski (00 – 0-1-1)
  • Brandon Schuldhaus (98 – 8-19-27)
  • Jett Woo (00 – 9-16-25)

Arriving

  • Drae Gardiner (01 – 8th in ’16 – 3-12-15 – Calgary Midget Buffaloes)
  • Dalton Hamaliuk (98 – 4-12-16 – Spokane Chiefs)
  • Daemon Hunt (02 – 1st in ’17 – 4-36-40 – Brandon Midget Wheat Kings)
  • Matt Sanders (01 – 5th in ’16 – 3-12-15 – Calgary Midget Buffaloes)
  • Alek Sukunda (01 – 6th in ’16 – 5-10-15 – Vancouver NW Giants)

NHL Prospects

  • Josh Brook (Montreal Canadiens – Signed)
  • Jett Woo (Vancouver Canucks – Unsigned)

Rights Held

  • Austin Chorney (00 – 2nd in ’15 – 6-4-10 – Salmon Arm Silverbacks – Vernon Vipers – Ohio State Buckeyes)

Naturally, the departure of the Russian blueliners and Clague are big holes to fill, but the Warriors do have a pretty solid defensive group returning and have another overager in the mix with Hamaliuk arriving from Spokane.

After being acquired from Red Deer last year, Schudlhuas was arguably the best pickup the Warriors received in their deadline moves and should have a solid overage season. Meanwhile, Brook and Woo are two of the best defenders in the league, but they’ll need to stay healthy if the team wants to go far.

In the trade for Clague back in January, the Warriors refused to deal away Hunt to his hometown squad. There’s a reason why they did that, as he looks to be a dynamite prospect for the future. If Brook gets dealt this season, Hunt will more than likely move into a more prominent role in short order.

Goaltenders

Departing

  • Brody Willms (98 – 3.00 – 37-11-2-2 – .898 – Hip Injury)

Returning

  • Adam Evanoff (00 – 2.65 – 15-4-0-1 – .906)

Arriving

  • Ethan Fitzgerald (01 – 6th in ’16 – 3.63 – 4-13-0 – .884 – Okanagan Hockey Academy)
  • Brodan Salmond (98 – 3.67 – 13-10-0-1 – .880 – Kelowna Rockets)

NHL Prospects

  • N/A

Rights Held

  • N/A

He may have been maligned by the fan base at times, but Willms was the biggest reason why the Warriors even got to a seventh game with the Broncos as he turned aside 58 shots two nights earlier in a contest where they were outshot badly. His loss is a big one for the team as it’s the second straight year that an overage netminder didn’t come back for his final season, though in the case of Zach Sawchenko it was because he elected to start his U Sports career with the Alberta Golden Bears.

So now who is going to be the starter? Seeing that he played mostly as backup last year, Evanoff should have the inside track for the vacancy, though Salmond has been brought in after being surpassed by a pair of talented youngsters in Kelowna.

Coaching Staff and Management

Departing

  • N/A

Returning

  • Alan Millar (General Manager – 7th Season – 9th Season with Organization)
  • Tim Hunter (Head Coach – 5th Season)
  • Mark O’Leary (Assistant Coach – 7th Season)
  • Scott King (Assistant Coach – 3rd Season)
  • Matt Weninger (Goaltending Coach – 2nd Season)

Arriving

  • N/A

There had been some talk that Hunter might move up to the pro ranks, but he’s back for another season in Moose Jaw and is set to coach Canada at the World Juniors this year. Millar also earned a chance to work with Hockey Canada this summer as he served as the General Manager for the Under-18 team that won the Hlinka Gretzky Cup.

Best Case Scenario

With a solid defence, the Warriors are able to find their footing after a bit on offence as more pieces develop to play with Almedia. Evanoff handles the reigns as a starter and the Warriors make their fourth straight trip to the playoffs.

Worst Case Scenario

Brook and Woo miss time due to injuries, Almedia can’t come close to his offensive production of a year ago and the goaltending is a mess. Hunter moves up to the pro ranks after the Warriors miss the post-season.

Current 2019 Draft Situation

  • Round 1: No Picks
  • Round 2: No Picks
  • Round 3: No Picks
  • Round 4: One Pick
  • Round 5: One Pick
  • Round 6: One Pick (Seattle)
  • Round 7: One Pick
  • Round 8: One Pick
  • Round 9: One Pick
  • Round 10: One Pick
  • Round 11: One Pick
  • Round 12: One Pick
Cole Fonstad (Daily Herald File Photo)

Prince Albert Raiders

Last Season

After a slow start, the Raiders went supernova in the second half to earn the second wild card slot in the Eastern Conference.

Despite finishing fifth in their division and 32 points behind the Moose Jaw Warriors, the Raiders almost pulled off a stunner in the first round. They pushed the league’s best team in the regular season to seven games before dropping a 5-4 decision in the series decider in the closest the franchise has come to winning a playoff series since a run to the conference final in 2005.

Forwards

Departing

  • Curtis Miske (97 – 27-37-64 – Alberta Golden Bears)
  • Regan Nagy (97 – 25-20-45 – Calgary Dinos)
  • Jordy Stallard (97 – 44-47-91)

Returning

  • Cole Fonstad (00 – 21-52-73)
  • Parker Kelly (99 – 29-30-59)
  • Nikita Krivokrasov (00 – 3-0-3)
  • Brett Leason (99 – 16-17-33)
  • Kody McDonald (98 – 34-32-66)
  • Carson Miller (00 – 1-7-8)
  • Spencer Moe (00 – 9-13-22)
  • Sean Montgomery (98 – 12-17-29)
  • Justin Nachbaur (00 – 9-11-20)
  • Eric Pearce (01 – 4-2-6)

Arriving

  • Jakob Brook (02 – 2nd in ’17 – 12-24-36 – Rink Hockey Academy)
  • Aliaksei Protas (01 – ’18 Import Draft – 9-11-20 – Team Belarus)
  • Ozzy Wiesblatt (02 – 2nd in ’17 – 21-20-41 – Calgary Midget Buffaloes)

NHL Prospects

  • Cole Fonstad (Montreal Canadiens – Unsigned)
  • Parker Kelly (Ottawa Senators – Signed)

Rights Held

  • Dominik Bokk (00 – ’17 Import Draft – 14-27-41 – Vaxjo Lakers U20 – St. Louis Blues – Signed)
  • Noah Gregor (98 – 29-36-65 – Victoria Royals – San Jose Barracuda – San Jose Sharks – Signed)
  • Gavin Hain (00 – 8th in ’15 – 7-11-18 – US NTDP – North Dakota Fighting Hawks – Philadelphia Flyers – Unsigned)
  • Arseni Smekhnov (01 – 4th in ’16 – 2-13-15 – Salisbury School – Youngstown Phantoms – UConn Huskies)
  • Ilya Usov (01 – Listed – 8-9-17 – Salisbury School – UConn Huskies)

With all three overagers being on offence, there’s some holes to fill on the forward sides of things, but the returning players should be able to make that a moot point.

Fonstad and Kelly are the obvious weapons, but McDonald’s contributions after being traded from the Prince George Cougars were an important part of the Raiders second half run to the playoffs and he’ll look to continue that form this year.

In addition to those three, Leason and Montgomery will contribute to the attack, along with guys like Miller and Moe. The Raiders brass are also expecting Protas, who they got in the import draft, to play a strong role at both ends of the ice.

With that said, the possibility of adding Gregor to the lineup could give the Raiders a true offensive weapon. Having put up 205 points in 194 games over the last four years with the Warriors and the Royals, Gregor is expected to start his pro career in the AHL. However, if he does show up at the Art Hauser Centre, it changes the dynamic of the team and their overall standing with the rest of the league’s contenders.

Defencemen

Departing

  • Vojtech Budik (98 – 14-27-41 – HC Dynamo Pardubice)

Returning

  • Konrad Belcourt (00 – 1-2-3)
  • Zackary Hayes (99 – 3-14-17)
  • Max Martin (99 – 8-24-32)
  • Jeremy Masella (99 – 4-10-14)
  • Brayden Pachal (99 – 7-19-26)
  • Sergei Sapego (99 – 4-15-19)

Arriving

  • Kaiden Guhle (02 – 1st in ’17 – 14-25-39 – OHA Edmonton)
  • Lane Kirk (00 – 5th in ’15 – 2-17-19 – Swan Valley Stampeders)

NHL Prospects

  • N/A

Rights Held

  • Jake Ratzlaff (02 – Listed – 4-18-22 – Rosemount High School – Minnesota Golden Gophers)

Budik’s graduation leaves a hole on the blueline, but it’s not as massive as one might think with the core of the Raiders defence returning.

As the Warriors can attest, the Raiders were extremely hard to matchup with in the first round, and guys like Hayes, Martin, Pachal and Sapego should be even tougher to play against as they turn a year older.

With his brother Brendan being a star player for the Raiders and himself being the first overall pick in the 2017 WHL Draft, all eyes will be on the younger Guhle sibling when the campaign begins. He’s put up over a point per game the last two seasons with the OHA Edmonton program and he’ll be among the main contenders to be named Rookie of the Year at season’s end.

Adam Herold, a second round pick in the 2016 WHL Draft who had 30 points in 43 games and served as the captain for the Regina Pat Canadians last year, was expected to be a key newcomer this season. Tragically, he lost his life in the Humboldt Broncos bus accident in April, leaving a big hole that will take some time to fill as the Raiders build towards the future.

Goaltenders

Departing

  • N/A

Returning

  • Curtis Meger (98 – 3.43 – 8-10-5-1 – .886)
  • Ian Scott (99 – 3.10 – 24-16-3-3 – .897)

Arriving

  • Donovan Buskey (00 – 3.56 – 10-10-0-0 – .871 – Spokane Chiefs)

NHL Prospects

  • Ian Scott (Toronto Maple Leafs – Unsigned)

Rights Held

  • N/A

As Carter Hart and Stuart Skinner move up to the pro ranks, you can make the claim that Scott is in the discussion to be the top netminder in the WHL, though Victoria’s Griffen Outhouse and Kamloops’ Dylan Ferguson would stake a claim to that honour.

Having appeared in 50 games in each of the last two seasons, Scott’s fourth year with the Raiders is without a doubt his biggest to date. Not only is he expected to lead the way for his team, but he’s also trying to earn a pro contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs and he’s also competing to earn a spot on Canada’s World Junior team.

Buskey should be the backup after coming over from Spokane at the start of the pre-season and will probably take over the starting duties from Scott next year. Brett Balas, a third round pick in 2016, will more than likely head back to the Midget ranks, while Meger’s next destination is unclear at this point.

Coaching Staff and Management

Departing

  • Dave Manson (Associate and Assistant Coach for Seven Seasons – Now an Assistant Coach with the Bakersfield Condors)
  • Kelly Guard (Goaltending Coach for One Season)

Returning

  • Curtis Hunt (General Manager – 4th Season)
  • Marc Habscheid (Head Coach – 5th Season)

Arriving

  • Jeff Truitt (Assistant Coach – Previously Associate Coach for Six Seasons with the Red Deer Rebels)
  • Dan Gendur (Assistant Coach – Previously Head Coach for One Season with the Airdrie CFR Bisons)
  • Mike Brodeur (Goaltending Coach – Previously Assistant Coach for One Season with the Fort McMurray Oil Barons)

It’s a 2004 Memorial Cup championship reunion behind the bench for the Raiders this year, as Truitt served as an assistant coach under Habscheid when the Kelowna Rockets won in their home rink.

There’s also a familiarity with the other two new hires. Gendur was an intern with the team at the end of last season, while Brodeur worked with Hunt in 2015 when the Oil Barons hosted the Western Canada Cup.

Best Case Scenario

An excellent defensive core helps Scott become the top netminder in the league. The Raiders get Gregor 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.

Current 2019 Draft Situation

  • Round 1: One Pick
  • Round 2: One Pick
  • Round 3: One Pick (Prince George)
  • Round 4: One Pick
  • Round 5: No Picks
  • Round 6: Two Picks (Calgary)
  • Round 7: No Picks
  • Round 8: One Pick
  • Round 9: One Pick
  • Round 10: One Pick
  • Round 11: One Pick
  • Round 12: One Pick
Max Paddock (Keith Hershmiller/Regina Pats)

Regina Pats

Last Season

Following a dominant campaign that saw them fall to the Seattle Thunderbirds in the 2017 WHL final, the Pats were all over the map in the first half as they geared up to host the Memorial Cup.

After making a bevy of trades, the Pats had a strong finish to the regular season but were knocked out in the first round of the playoffs by the Broncos. Despite a lengthy layoff, the Pats made it to the Memorial Cup final but lost to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Acadie-Bathurst Titan.

Forwards

Departing

  • Matt Bradley (97 – 37-42-29 – Toronto Marlies)
  • Jesse Gabrielle (97 – 13-6-19 – Providence Bruins – Boston Bruins – Signed)
  • Cameron Hebig (97 – 41-49-90 – Bakersfield Condors – Edmonton Oilers – Signed)
  • Jared Legien (98 – 23-27-50 – Yorkton Terriers)
  • Emil Oksasnen (98 – 16-32-48 – SaiPa)
  • Sam Steel (98 – 33-50-83 – San Diego Gulls – Anaheim Ducks – Signed)

Returning

  • Nick Henry (99 – 14-15-29)
  • Robbie Holmes (99 – 16-13-29)
  • Jake Leschyshyn (99 – 18-22-40)
  • Scott Mahovlich (99 – 0-4-4)
  • Koby Morrisseau (00 – 6-6-12)
  • Logan Nijhoff (01 – 3-3-6)
  • Duncan Pierce (00 – 0-1-1)
  • Bryce Platt (98 – 4-2-6)
  • Austin Pratt (99 – 7-13-20)

Arriving

  • Sergei Alkhimov (01 – ’18 Import Draft – 8-15-23 – Colorado Evolution)
  • Cole Dubinsky (02 – 4th in ’17 – 7-23-30 – Delta Hockey Academy
  • Justyn Gurney (00 – 1-3-4 – Calgary Hitmen)
  • Riley Krane (00 – 8th in ’15 – 11-9-20 – Cariboo Cougars)
  • Carter Massier (01 – Listed – 20-19-39 – Grande Prairie Midget Storm)
  • Garrett Wright (01 – Listed – 17-12-29 – Anaheim Jr. Ducks U16)

NHL Prospects

  • Nick Henry (Colorado Avalanche – Unsigned)
  • Jake Leschsyhyn (Vegas Golden Knights – Signed)

Rights Held

  • Kaden Bohlsen (01 – 9th in ’16 – 12-18-30 – Shattuck St. Mary’s – Des Moines Buccaneers – Minnesota Golden Gophers)
  • Trevor Janicke (00 – Listed – 6-7-13 – US NTDP – Central Illinois Flying Aces – Notre Dame Fighting Irish)
  • Carter Savoie (02 – 9th in ’17 – 20-38-58 – Northern Alberta Xtreme – Sherwood Park Crusaders – Denver Pioneers)
  • Ty Smilanic (02 – 3rd in ’17 – 25-35-60 – Colorado Thunderbirds – US NTDP – Denver Pioneers)

It’s the official start of a new era in Regina as Steel moves up to the pro ranks after a dominating performance at the Memorial Cup in his final games with the Pats. Obviously the departures of Bradley, Gabrielle, Hebig and Oksanen are big, but it will take a long time before a player of Steel’s ilk will be with the team.

Henry and Leschyshyn should help to lead the way on offence, but both players will probably be trade bait as the Pats look to rebuild from their last two playoff runs. If those moves happen, the likes of Holmes, Morrisseau and Pratt will end up in more prominent roles.

Defencemen

Departing

  • Libor Hajek (98 – 12-27-39 – Hartford Wolf Pack – New York Rangers – Signed)
  • Josh Mahura (98 – 22-47-69 – San Diego Gulls – Anaheim Ducks – Signed)

Returning

  • Marco Creta (00 – 1-3-4)
  • Cale Fleury (98 – 12-39-51)
  • Parker Gavlas (99 – 0-0-0)
  • Jonas Harkins (00 – 0-1-1)
  • Aaron Hyman (98 – 3-10-13)
  • Brady Pouteau (98 – 1-12-13)
  • Liam Schioler (98 – 0-9-9)

Arriving

  • Ryker Evans (01 – 10th in ’16 – 4-16-20 – Notre Dame Midget Hounds)
  • Nikita Sedov (01 – ’18 Import Draft – 3-8-11 – Colorado Evolution)
  • Steven Zonneveld (01 – Listed – 7-11-18 – Calgary Midget Flames)

NHL Prospects

  • Cale Fleury (Montreal Canadiens – Unsigned)

Rights Held

  • Jake Boltmann (01 – Listed – 2-13-15 – Edina High School – Minnesota Golden Gophers)
  • Tyler Jubenvill (99 – Spokane’s 9th in ’14 – 5-14-19 – Cedar Rapids RoughRiders – Bemidji State Beavers)

With an abundance of 1998-born players on last year’s roster, you can expect this blueline to be a bit younger but still have some veteran leadership. Since the Habs having another year to sign him, Fleury’s possible return could be huge for the Pats and gives them yet another trade asset.

Goaltenders

Departing

  • Ryan Kubic (98 – 3.62 – 13-15-3-0 – .889)

Returning

  • Max Paddock (00 – 2.90 – 19-7-1-1 – .904)

Arriving

  • Kyle Dumba (98 – 4.00 – 9-18-0-1 – .892 – Salmon Arm Silverbacks)
  • Matthew Pesenti (01 – Listed – 3.49 – 9-17-0 – .900 – Saskatoon Blazers)
  • Carter Woodside (01 – Kootenay’s 6th in ’16 – 2.53 – 15-5-0 – .900 – Prince Albert Mintos)

NHL Prospects

  • N/A

Rights Held

  • N/A

Despite acquiring Kubic at the trade deadline and him starting in the playoff series against the Broncos, Paddock took the ball and ran with it at the Memorial Cup. He’ll now enter his first season as a starter and should be busy on a nightly basis.

With Kubic moving on from the league, the backup job is wide open. Although Dumba is at camp, either Pesenti or Woodside is more than likely going to be getting that role.

Jacob Wasserman, an eighth round pick by the Vancouver Giants in 2015 that played in two games for the Pats last season after a trade, would have been in the mix for a spot on the team but was paralyzed from the waist down in the Humboldt Broncos bus accident.

Coaching Staff and Management

Departing

  • N/A

Returning

  • John Paddock (General Manager – 4th Season – 5th Season with the Pats – Had been the Head Coach for the last four years)
  • Dave Struch (Head Coach – 1st Season – Had been an assistant coach with the Pats for the last four years)
  • Brad Herauf (Assistant Coach – 4th Season)
  • Robert Muntain (Goaltending Coach – 8th Season)

Arriving

  • N/A

Although the staff remains the same, there’s been a few changes as Paddock moves up into a full time management job and Struch gets the chance to run things behind the bench. He was the head coach for the Saskatoon Blades in the 2013-14 season before he was shoved aside in favour of Bob Woods after the Preistner family bought the club.

Best Case Scenario

Paddock continues to develop as a starter and the assets gained from dealing Henry or Leschyshyn moves the Pats into a wildcard slot.

Worst Case Scenario

With the new rules curtailing the amount of youngsters that can be traded in the league, the Pats are unable to add as many assets as they would like and they fall to the bottom of the standings. They then miss out on getting uber-prospect Matthew Savoie in the draft as they dealt their first round pick to the Saskatoon Blades for Hajek.

Current 2019 Draft Situation

  • Round 1: No Picks
  • Round 2: No Picks
  • Round 3: No Picks
  • Round 4: No Picks
  • Round 5: Two Picks (Medicine Hat)
  • Round 6: No Picks
  • Round 7: One Pick
  • Round 8: One Pick (Victoria)
  • Round 9: One Pick
  • Round 10: One Pick
  • Round 11: One Pick
  • Round 12: One Pick
Kirby Dach (Herald File Photo)

Saskatoon Blades

Last Season

Although they had more points than the Lethbridge Hurricanes and the Red Deer Rebels, the WHL’s playoff format meant that the Blades missed on the post-season by three points as the Raiders beat them out in the race for the second wild card spot.

A second half slide, which came after dealing away Cameron Hebig and Libor Hajek to the Regina Pats, would later lead to the Blades canning Dean Brockman after his second season behind the bench as the club’s streak of missing the playoffs extended to five straight seasons.

Forwards

Departing

  • Caleb Fantillo (98 – 7-3-10 – Retired)
  • Gage Ramsay (98 – 6-14-20 – Retired)
  • Braylon Shmyr (97 – 37-51-88 – Allen Americans)
  • Alec Zawatsky (99 – 3-5-8 – Swift Current Broncos)

Returning

  • Logan Christensen (99 – 5-7-12)
  • Kirby Dach (01 – 7-39-46)
  • Michael Farren (00 – 11-11-22)
  • Eric Florchuk (00 – 16-33-49)
  • Max Gerlach (98 – 35-35-70)
  • Bradly Goethals (98 – 15-17-32)
  • Brandon Machado (00 – 1-3-4)
  • Josh Paterson (99 – 31-22-53)
  • Chase Wouters (00 – 18-33-51)

Arriving

  • Kyle Crnkovic (02 – 1st in ’17 – 36-28-64 – Northern Alberta Xtreme)
  • Riley McKay (99 – 4-9-13 – Spokane Chiefs)
  • Brady Nicholas (01 – 5th in ’16 – 8-7-15 – St. Albert Midget Rangers)
  • Tristen Robins (01 – Regina’s 4th in ’16 – 20-34-54 – Rink Hockey Academy)
  • Kristian Roykas Marthinsen (99 – 23-8-31 – Almtuna U20)

NHL Prospects

  • Eric Florchuk (Washington Capitals – Unsigned)
  • Kristian Roykas Marthinsen (Washington Capitals – Unsigned)

Rights Held

  • Kyler Kupka (99 – Listed – 29-30-59 – Camrose Kodiaks – Alaska-Fairbanks Nanooks)
  • Niklas Norman (01 – 6th in ’16 – 15-20-35 – Shattuck St. Mary’s – Minnesota Golden Gophers)
  • Grant Silianoff (01 – 9th in ’16 – 35-32-67 – Shattuck St. Mary’s – Cedar Rapids RoughRiders – Notre Dame Fighting Irish)
  • Kalen Szeto (02 – 5th in ’17 – 23-52-75 – Burnaby Winter Club – Langley Rivermen – Yale Bulldogs)

Thanks to some of their deadline moves, the Blades have a lot of intriguing pieces coming back, with the most notable being Dach who is projected to be a first round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft.

Gerlach has the potential to be one of the top overagers in the league, with Florchuk, Paterson and Wouters all set to continue their upward trajectory. Combine those players with incoming rookies Crnkovic and Robins, plus a Capitals prospect in new import Marthinsen, and goal scoring should be the least of the Blades worries.

Defencemen

Departing

  • Evan Fiala (97 – 7-13-20 – Saskatchewan Huskies)
  • Mark Rubinchik (99 – 4-19-23 – Salavat Yulaev Ufa)

Returning 

  • Seth Bafaro (00 – 3-7-10)
  • Jackson Caller (99 – 3-23-26)
  • Dawson Davidson (98 – 10-33-43)
  • Jake Kustra (99 – 4-14-18)
  • Randen Schmidt (00 – 0-7-7)

Arriving 

  • Zach Ashton (01 – 3rd in ’16 – 5-26-31 – Calgary Midget Buffaloes)
  • Aidan De La Gorgendiere (02 – 1st in 17 – 3-14-17 – Yale Hockey Academy)
  • Majid Kaddoura (01 – Listed – 5-20-25 – Edge School)
  • Emil Malysjev (01 – ’18 Import Draft – 0-4-4 – HV71 U20)

NHL Prospects

  • N/A

Rights Held

  • Alec Capstick (99 – 4th in ’14 – 1-13-14 – Langley Rivermen – Notre Dame Fighting Irish)
  • Powell Connor (00 – 8th in ’15 – 2-19-21 – Chilliwack Chiefs – Michigan State Spartans)
  • Nicholas Kent (01 – 7th in ’16 – 0-0-0 – Wenatchee Wild – Buffalo Jr. Sabres – Quinnipiac Bobcats)

The one question mark that the Blades might have is on the defensive side of things as they look to be a fairly young blueline, especially with Rubinchik heading over to Russia a year early.

Having Davidson back should help, along with Kustra and Caller, but guys like De La Gorgendiere and Ashton might have to be play big minutes early if those veterans take a step back.

Goaltenders

Departing 

  • Tyler Brown (97 – 3.44 – 19-17-3-0 – .889 – Manitoba Bisons)

Returning

  • Nolan Maier (01 – 3.31 – 23-17-1-1 – .895)

Arriving

  • Dorrin Luding (99 – 3.78 – 9-15-1-0 – .884 – Seattle Thunderbirds)

NHL Prospects

  • N/A

Rights Held

  • Ryan Ullan (00 – Listed – 2.69 – 12-12-2-0 – .910 – Bismarck Bobcats – Green Bay Gamblers – Northern Michigan Wildcats)

Although the Blades had brought in Ryan Kubic at the start of the year and dealt Logan Flodell to Swift Current in the process, which later led to the Blades moving Kubic for Brown and the Broncos upgrading Flodell with Stuart Skinner, it was the rookie Maier who took the ball and ran with it for the team in their quest for the playoffs.

As the undisputed starter, Maier will be expected to continue his development as he might end up being the first goalie taken in next year’s NHL Draft if he has a stellar sophomore campaign. Luding, who was acquired in a trade this off-season, will take the backup job after beating out high draft pick Koen MacInnes in training camp.

Coaching Staff and Management

Departing

  • Dean Brockman (Head Coach for Two Seasons and Assistant Coach for Two Seasons – Head Coach and Director of Hockey Operations with the Swift Current Broncos)
  • Bryce Thoma (Assistant Coach for Two Seasons)

Returning

  • Colin Priestner (General Manager – 3rd Season)
  • Ryan Keller (Assistant Coach – 3rd Season)
  • Tim Cheveldae (Goaltending Coach – 6th Season)

Arriving

  • Mitch Love (Head Coach – Previously Assistant Coach for Seven Seasons with the Everett Silvertips)
  • Ryan Marsh (Associate Coach – Previously Assistant Coach for Four Seasons with the Edmonton Oil Kings)

Priestner made a number of interesting moves over the course of last year but there’s a number of assets to work with going forward if they want to become a legit title threat. The firing of Brockman wasn’t well received, but the team made a nice hire in Love, who’s been biding his time for his first head coaching opportunity.

Best Case Scenario

With a strong offensive core and a talented young netminder in Maier, the Blades not only make the playoffs but earn their first post-season series win since 2011. Plus, they end up getting Savoie in the draft thanks to their deadline move with the Pats last year.

Worst Case Scenario

The defence never really gets into gear and Maier takes a step back. The Blades snap their post-season drought, but an early exit leads to more questions as they wait for their window to open.

Current 2019 Draft Situation

  • Round 1: One Pick (Regina)
  • Round 2: No Picks
  • Round 3: One Pick (Regina)
  • Round 4: No Picks
  • Round 5: Two Picks (Swift Current)
  • Round 6: One Pick (Everett)
  • Round 7: Two Picks (Victoria)
  • Round 8: One Pick
  • Round 9: One Pick (Prince George)
  • Round 10: One Pick
  • Round 11: One Pick
  • Round 12: One Pick
Joel Hofer (Robert Murray/WHL)

Swift Current Broncos

Last Season

With the best line in the country of Glenn Gawdin, Aleksi Heponiemi and Tyler Steenbergen in their back pocket, the Broncos went beyond all-in at the trade deadline as Manny Vivierios acquired Stuart Skinner, Josh Anderson, Giorgio Estephan, Matteo Gennaro and Beck Malenstyn among others.

Thanks to their strengthened roster, the Broncos battled their way through the playoffs to capture their first WHL title since 1993. The Memorial Cup, however, didn’t go anywhere near as planned as they became the third straight WHL titleholders to go 0-3 at the big dance.

Forwards

Departing

  • Giorgio Estephan (97 – 30-56-86 – Toronto Marlies)
  • Kole Gable (98 – 6-10-16 – Fort McMurray Oil Barons)
  • Glenn Gawdin (97 – 56-69-125 – Stockton Heat – Calgary Flames – Signed)
  • Matteo Gennaro (97 – 42-37-79 – Tucson Roadrunners)
  • Aleksi Heponiemi (99 – 28-90-118 – Karpat – Florida Panthers – Unsigned)
  • Beck Malenstyn (98 – 17-15-32 – Hershey Bears – Washington Capitals – Signed)
  • Tyler Steenbergen (98 – 47-55-102 – Tucson Roadrunners – Arizona Coyotes – Signed)

Returning

  • Kaden Elder (98 – 18-14-32)
  • Andrew Fyten (98 – 9-14-23)
  • Tanner Nagel (98 – 5-6-11)
  • Max Patterson (99 – 9-15-24)
  • Ethan Regnier (00 – 2-6-8)
  • Quinton Waitzner (00 – 1-0-1)
  • Mackenzie Wight (99 – 1-3-4)

Arriving

  • Matthew Culling (01 – Edmonton’s 10th in ’16 – 25-37-62 – Regina Pat Canadians)
  • Eric Houk (01 – Listed – 9-23-32 – Regina Pat Canadians)
  • Ben King (02 – 1st in ’17 – 13-21-34 – Okanagan Rockets)
  • Joona Kiviniemi (01 – ’18 Import Draft – 1-2-3 – Karpat U18)
  • Colum McGauley (00 – 2-0-2 – Kelowna Rockets)
  • Ethan O’Rourke (99 – 6-12-18 – Everett Silvertips)
  • Alec Zawatsky (99 – 3-5-8 – Saskatoon Blades)

NHL Prospects

  • N/A

Rights Held

  • Josh Groll (01 – Listed – 28-24-52 – Anaheim Jr. Ducks U16 – Chicago Steel – Michigan Wolveriners)
  • Nolan Renwick (01 – 6th in ’16 – 17-35-52 – Notre Dame Midget Hounds – Notre Dame Hounds – Maine Black Bears)

To say that the Broncos are losing a ton of offence would be a massive understatement. They were already going to be losing many of their big weapons to graduation, but Heponiemi’s move to Europe leaves the team without any members of their deadly line and robs them of their biggest piece at this year’s trade deadline as they try to regain assets.

Patterson and Elder are now the big guns, but to expect them to replace the likes of Gawdin and Steenbergen overnight would be foolish. Getting in some younger players helps, along with the addition of O’Rourke via a trade, but this is certainly not the Broncos offence that we have come to expect.

Defencemen

Departing 

  • Jacson Alexander (01 – 1-4-5 – Edmonton Oil Kings)
  • Josh Anderson (98 – 3-11-14 – Colorado Eagles – Colorado Avalanche – Signed)
  • Sahvan Khaira (98 – 6-20-26 – Everett Silvertips)
  • Colby Sissons (98 – 13-58-71 – Binghamton Devils – New Jersey Devils – Signed)

Returning

  • Connor Horning (01 – 3-4-7)
  • Noah King (99 – 0-5-5)
  • Arytom Minulin (98 – 13-30-43)

Arriving 

  • Ryan Pouliot (98 – 2-8-10 – Kootenay Ice)
  • Sam Pouliot (00 – 0-3-3 – Powell River Kings)
  • Roope Pynnonen (01 – ’18 Import Draft – 0-2-2 – HPK U18)
  • Christian Riemer (00 – 5th in ’15 – 2-7-9 – Swift Current Legionnaires)
  • Billy Sowa (02 – Listed – 1-24-25 – Northern Alberta Xtreme)
  • Carter Spenst (01 – Listed – 3-11-14 – Northern Alberta Xtreme)

NHL Prospects 

  • N/A

Rights Held

  • Seth Barton (99 – Listed – 6-27-33 – Trail Smoke Eaters – UMass-Lowell River Hawks – Detroit Red Wings – Unsigned)
  • Jacob Bernard-Docker (00 – 5th in ’15 – 20-21-41 – Okotoks Oilers – North Dakota Fighting Hawks – Ottawa Senators – Unsigned)

Three of the top four blueliners are gone, their top young piece in Alexander was traded away to the Oil Kings and Minulin is unable to play until December after undergoing shoulder surgery. Even if the Russian comes back and ends up being a two-spot player, the defence is going to be a work in progress.

Pouliot was a nice pick up off waivers for a veteran presence and King showed flashes during last season in limited minutes, but you might need a program for a few weeks to know everyone else on the blueline.

Goaltenders

Departing

  • Stuart Skinner (98 – 3.07 – 30-21-3-1 – .905 – Bakersfield Condors – Edmonton Oilers – Signed)

Returning 

  • Joel Hofer (00 – 2.61 – 8-3-1-1 – .914)

Arriving

  • Isaac Poulter (01 – 6th in ’16 – 1.68 – 13-3-1 – .938 – Rink Hockey Academy)

NHL Prospects

  • Joel Hofer (St. Louis Blues – Unsigned)

Rights Held

  • N/A

After Jordan Papirny, Logan Flodell and Skinner manned the crease for the last couple of years, it’s time for Hofer to take over the reigns on a permanent basis. He’s shown flashes in a backup role and was drafted by the St. Louis Blues in the summer, but he’ll be facing a ton of rubber in his first year as a starter as he’s sure to play a ton of minutes with an unproven backup behind him.

Coaching Staff and Management

Departing

  • Manny Viverios (Head Coach and Director of Player Personnel for Two Seasons – Assistant Coach with the Edmonton Oilers)
  • Jamie Porter (Director of Hockey Operations for Two Seasons – 16 Years with the Organization – Director of Scouting with the Edmonton Oil Kings)
  • Ryan Smith (Associate Coach for Three Seasons – Assistant Coach with the Medicine Hat Tigers)
  • Jamie Heward (Assistant Coach for Six Seasons – Assistant Coach with the Vancouver Giants)

Returning

  • Dave Rathjen (Goaltending Coach – 2nd Season)

Arriving

  • Dean Brockman (Head Coach and Director of Hockey Operations – Previously Head Coach for two seasons with the Saskatoon Blades)
  • Gary Aubin (Director of Player Personnel – Previously a Scout for 11 Seasons with the Spokane Chiefs)
  • Brandin Cote (Assistant Coach – Previously Associate Coach for one season with the Red Deer College Kings)
  • Scott Dutertre (Assistant Coach – Previously an Assistant Coach for four seasons with the Saskatchewan Huskies)

The whole sale changes also took place behind the bench, as Vivieros moved up to the NHL and everyone else moved elsewhere following the appointment of Brockman.

After two campaigns as the head coach in Saskatoon, Brockman will be in a role that’s similar to what he had in the SJHL with the Humboldt Broncos. He was able to turn them into a national power, but it will take some time for him to do the same with Swift Current.

Best Case Scenario

With the experience of last year’s championship run, the veteran players are able to step up their games and Hofer develops into a top-end starter. They won’t be a division threat, but their hard-working attitude propels them into the playoffs as a wild card.

Worst Case Scenario

With little assets to get any major pieces for the rebuild, the bottom completely falls out for the defending champions. Not only do they miss the playoffs, but they also miss out on the Matthew Savoie sweepstakes as their first round pick belongs to the Prince George Cougars after the Anderson trade.

Current 2019 Draft Situation

  • Round 1: One Pick (Vancouver)
  • Round 2: No Picks
  • Round 3: One Pick
  • Round 4: Two Picks (Edmonton)
  • Round 5: No Picks
  • Round 6: No Picks
  • Round 7: No Picks
  • Round 8: One Pick
  • Round 9: One Pick
  • Round 10: One Pick
  • Round 11: One Pick
  • Round 12: One Pick

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