2018-19 WHL Season Preview: Central Division

This is the second 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.

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

Riley Stotts (Candice Ward/Calgary Hitmen)

Calgary Hitmen

Last Season

Having dealt top players like Jake Bean and Matteo Gennaro, the Hitmen began to build around a younger core for the future but ended up missing the playoffs for the first time since 2011. The team was also left searching for their third head coach in as many years as Dallas Ferguson stepped down in the summer.

Forwards

Departing

  • Conner Chaulk (97 – 16-15-31 – Regina Cougars)
  • Justyn Gurney (00 – 1-3-4 – Regina Pats)
  • Jakob Stukel (97 – 37-27-64 – Wichita Thunder)

Returning

  • Hunter Campbell (01 – 4-7-11)
  • Luke Coleman (98 – 15-24-39)
  • Carson Focht (00 – 13-20-33)
  • Zach Huber (00 – 2-3-5)
  • Mark Kastelic (99 – 23-22-45)
  • Jake Kryski (98 – 16-40-56)
  • Tristen Nielsen (00 – 19-16-35)
  • Riley Stotts (00 – 19-25-44)
  • Orca Wiesblatt (00 – 5-8-13)
  • Cael Zimmerman (01 – 6-12-18)

Arriving 

  • Bryce Bader (01 – 2nd in ’16 – 10-15-25 – Sherwood Park Midget Kings)
  • Tye Carriere (01 – Listed – 18-14-32 – Red Deer Chiefs)
  • Riley Fiddler-Schultz (02 – 7th in ’17 – 31-22-53 – Northern Alberta Xtreme)
  • Ryder Korczak (02 – 2nd in ’17 – 12-22-34 – Yorkton Maulers)

NHL Prospects

  • Riley Stotts (Toronto Maple Leafs – Unsigned)

Rights Held

  • Josh Prokop (00 – Swift Current’s 5th in ’15 – 21-15-36 – Vernon Vipers – Ohio State Buckeyes)
  • Noah Prokop (00 – 7th in ’15 – 7-12-19 – Green Bay Gamblers – Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks)

Thanks to their deals with Swift Current and Tri-City for Gennaro and Bean respectively, the Hitmen were able to acquire two young pieces in Focht and Stotts who benefited from more ice time and should be big weapons this season.

When you combine those two with overagers Coleman and Kryski, a strong veteran forward in Kastelic and younger talents like Wiesblatt, Nielsen and Zimmerman, it’s easy to pencil Calgary in as one of the sneaky good offences in the WHL this year.

Defencemen

Departing

  • Drea Esposito (00 – 1-7-8 – Retired)
  • Andrew Viggars (00 – 0-5-5)

Returning

  • Dakota Krebs (99 – 4-12-16)
  • Dominic Schmiemann (99 – 1-13-14)
  • Layne Toder (00 – 1-9-10)
  • Jackson Van De Leest (01 – 1-4-5)
  • Vladislav Yeryomenko (99 – 13-28-41)
  • Egor Zamula (00 – 2-16-18)

Arriving

  • Devan Klassen (01 – Listed – 5-10-15 – Grande Prairie Midget Storm)
  • Luke Prokop (02 – 1st in ’17 – 4-16-20 – Northern Alberta Xtreme)

NHL Prospects

  • Vladislav Yeryomenko (Nashville Predators – Unsigned)
  • Egor Zamula (Philadelphia Flyers – Signed)

Rights Held

  • Max Crozier (00 – Listed – 6-23-29 – Nanaimo Clippers – Sioux Falls Stampede – Providence Friars)
  • Jonny Tychonick (00 – Saskatoon’s 1st in ’15 – 9-38-47 – Penticton Vees – North Dakota Fighting Hawks – Ottawa Senators – Unsigned)

Like the offence, the defensive unit has some upside to it as well. Yeryomenko and Zamula are two darn good import blueliners, plus the team will be getting full seasons out of Krebs and Schmiemann after deadline deals.

There isn’t anyone on the level of Bean at the moment, but Van De Leest and Prokop are highly touted youngsters that will be worth keeping an eye on. Plus, could you imagine if the Hitmen could ever land Tychonick?

Goaltenders

Departing

  • Nick Schneider (97 – 3.70 – 20-30-8-2 – .885 – Stockton Heat – Calgary Flames – Signed)

Returning

  • Matthew Armitage (99 – 3.55 – 4-7-1-0 – .890)

Arriving 

  • Jack McNaughton (01 – Listed – 2.58 – 14-6-1 – .906 – Calgary Midget Royals)
  • Carl Stankowski (00 – 0.00 – 0-0-0 – N/A – Injured Last Season – Seattle Thunderbirds)

NHL Prospects

  • N/A

Rights Held

  • N/A

If there’s one question mark about the Hitmen, it’s easily in goal. With Schneider turning pro, Armitage seemed to be the main man by default, even though he last served as a full-time starter for the Edge School’s Elite 15 program during the 2014-15 season.

Enter Stankowski, who has been beset by injuries after leading the Thunderbirds to the WHL title as a rookie in 2017 when taking over for Rylan Toth in goal prior to the playoffs. Although he’s only played in seven WHL regular season games and he hasn’t suited up since the 2017 Memorial Cup, he might prove to be a heck of a pickup for his hometown team with the core that they have. Of course, he’ll need to stay healthy for that to happen.

Coaching Staff and Management

Departing

  • Dallas Ferguson (Head Coach for One Season – Assistant Coach with the Denver Pioneers)

Returning 

  • Jeff Chynoweth (General Manager – 2nd Season)
  • Trent Cassan (Assistant Coach – 3rd Season)
  • Joel Otto (Assistant Coach – 13th Season)
  • Jason LaBarbera (Goaltending Coach – 3rd Season)

Arriving

  • Steve Hamilton (Head Coach – Previously Head Coach for four seasons with the Edmonton Oil Kings and had spent four seasons with the team as an Assistant Coach)

The Ferguson hiring was an interesting one as it came out of left field following his long tenure with the Alaska-Fairbanks Nanooks. Citing a desire to be closer to his family, he stepped down in the off-season and moved on to be an assistant with the Denver Pioneers. Granted, it’s not closer to home, but Denver is one of the top sides in college hockey.

Hamilton’s last few years with the Oil Kings were to put it mildly, not great, but you could argue he didn’t have much to work with after the team didn’t sell off their assets following the Memorial Cup run in 2014. With more talent at his disposal, he might have a chance to show what he can do away from the provincial capital.

Best Case Scenario

The continuing development of the forwards and defenders, plus a return to form for Stankowski, moves the Hitmen up in the standings and has them in the discussion for a division crown.

Worst Case Scenario

Stankowski is forced to the to the sidelines with injuries and Armitage doesn’t cut the mustard as a starter. Meanwhile, the youngsters don’t take the next step forward and the Hitmen miss out on the playoffs for a second straight year.

Current 2019 Draft Situation

  • Round 1: Two Picks (Tri-City)
  • Round 2: One Pick
  • Round 3: Two Picks (Victoria)
  • Round 4: No Picks
  • Round 5: One Pick
  • Round 6: Two Picks (Lethbridge and Regina)
  • Round 7: One Pick
  • Round 8: No Picks
  • Round 9: One Pick
  • Round 10: One Pick
  • Round 11: One Pick
  • Round 12: One Pick
Trey Fix-Wolansky (Andy Devlin/Edmonton Oil Kings)

Edmonton Oil Kings

Last Season

Instead of making movement up the standings, the Oil Kings had a similar campaign to their disastrous 2016-17 second half and ended up at the bottom of the league table. They did earn the top pick in the draft and selected forward Dylan Guenther, but changes took place behind the scenes to try and bring the team back to the top of the league.

Forwards

Departing 

  • Nick Bowman (00 – 6-6-12 – Moose Jaw Warriors)
  • Brian Harris (99 – 2-1-3 – Swan Valley Stampeders)
  • Colton Kehler (97 – 32-19-51 – UBC Thunderbirds)
  • Kobe Mohr (99 – 11-17-28 – Kamloops Blazers)
  • Davis Murray (99 – 1-4-5 – Kootenay Ice)
  • Tomas Soustal (97 – 22-40-62 – Lakehead Thunderwolves)

Returning

  • Scott Atkinson (00 – 2-9-11)
  • Trey Fix-Wolansky (99 – 32-57-89)
  • Ty Gerla (99 – 3-15-18)
  • Liam Keeler (01 – 3-10-13)
  • Brett Kemp (00 – 17-19-36)
  • David Kope (00 – 14-11-25)
  • Andrei Pavelenko (00 – 3-1-4)
  • Brendan Semchuk (99 – 12-14-26)
  • Carter Souch (01 – 4-5-9)

Arriving

  • Vladimir Alistrov (01 – ’18 Import Draft – 21-29-50 – Team Belarus)
  • Quinn Benjafield (98 – 19-28-47 – Kamloops Blazers)
  • Vince Loschiavo (98 – 19-17-36 – Moose Jaw Warriors)
  • Jalen Luypen (02 – 9th in ’17 – 18-18-36 – Okanagan Hockey Academy)
  • Logan Moon (00 – 9th in ’15 – 2-5-7 – Grande Prairie Storm)
  • Jake Neighbours (02 – 1st in ’17 – 26-31-57 – Calgary Midget Buffaloes)

NHL Prospects

  • Trey Fix-Wolansky (Columbus Blue Jackets – Unsigned)

Rights Held

  • Blake Biondi (02 – Listed – 23-21-44 – Hermantown High School – Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs)

It’s more than likely due to the fact that the Oil Kings haven’t done a heck of lot over the last two years, but Fix-Wolansky might be one of the most underrated forwards in the country. A major threat to find the back of the net any time he steps on the ice, he was rewarded by being selected late in the NHL Draft this year and is a possible contender for the league scoring title.

Kemp and Semchuk aren’t bad secondary threats, but the forward group has been strengthened with a ton of additions. Benjafield and Loschiavo are seasoned WHL vets and will have good overage campaigns, while the youth movement is in full swing with a bevy of prospects coming in. Alistrov was the first import pick by a WHL club this June and Neighbours might be a contender to win the Rookie of the Year award.

Defencemen

Departing

  • Brayden Gorda (99 – 1-3-4)
  • Jantzen Leslie (99 – 1-0-1 – Red Deer College Kings)
  • Jayden Platz (00 – 1-2-3)

Returning

  • Ethan Cap (00 – 5-7-12)
  • Conner McDonald (99 – 10-32-42)
  • Wyatt McLeod (00 – 2-6-8)
  • Matthew Robertson (01 – 7-17-24)
  • Will Warm (99 – 1-11-12)

Arriving

  • Jacson Alexander (01 – 1-4-5 – Swift Current Broncos)
  • Logan Dowhaniuk (02 – 2nd in ’17 – 7-10-17 – OHA Edmonton)
  • Aidan Lawton (01 – Listed – 1-16-17 – Colorado Thunderbirds)

NHL Prospects

  • N/A

Rights Held

  • N/A

When you give up over 300 goals, there’s nowhere to go but up as a defensive unit. Although everyone’s nearly back from that group, there is some potential here.

McDonald can put up points, but all eyes are on Robertson, who is another member of the highly-touted 2001 crop that will hear their names called early at the 2019 NHL Draft.

Plus, the addition of Alexander brings another younger piece to the core. Originally committed to the Denver Pioneers, the former first round pick came over to Swift Current from the BCHL’s Victoria Grizzlies at Christmas last season and took to the ice for the rest of the campaign. Granted, it wasn’t top pairing minutes, but that experience should bode well for his future.

Goaltenders

Departing

  • Travis Child (97 – 4.21 – 6-13-2-0 – .868 – Saskatchewan Huskies)
  • Josh Dechaine (98 – 4.19 – 12-14-3-2 – .867)

Returning

  • Boston Bilous (01 – 4.72 – 0-10-1-0 – .838)
  • Todd Scott (00 – 4.03 – 12-12-3-1 – .874)

Arriving

  • Sebastian Cossa (02 – 2nd in ’17 – 3.37 – 6-10-3 – .915 – Fort Saskatchewan Midget Rangers)
  • Dylan Myskiw (99 – 3.41 – 11-5-2-0 – .887 – Brandon Wheat Kings)

NHL Prospects

  • N/A

Rights Held

  • N/A

Scott carried the load in the second half after coming over from the Giants and will probably be the starter, though he suffered an injury in the pre-season and is out of the lineup for the foreseeable feature.

As such, the Oil Kings brought in Myskiw from the Wheat Kings to take over the starting duties and create a further log jam on the goalie depth chart.   Bilous was college bound before signing with the Oil Kings, but he had a rough rookie campaign, while Cossa was a second round pick a year ago and played great at the Hockey Canada Under-17 Summer Camp.

Coaching Staff and Management

Departing 

  • Randy Hansch (General Manager for Five Seasons and spent 11 Seasons with the Organization – Scout with the Buffalo Sabres)
  • Steve Hamilton (Head Coach for Four Seasons and Assistant Coach for Four Seasons – Head Coach with the Calgary Hitmen)
  • Ryan Marsh (Assistant Coach for Four Seasons – Assistant Coach with the Saskatoon Blades)

Returning

  • Dustin Schwartz (Goaltending Coach – 9th Season)

Arriving

  • Kirt Hill (General Manager and President of Hockey Operations – Amateur Scout for One Season with the Chicago Blackhawks)
  • Brad Lauer (Head Coach – Assistant Coach for Three Seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning)
  • Luke Pierce (Assistant Coach – Assistant Coach with Canada Red at 2017 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge and with Team Canada Sledge Hockey Team at 2018 Paralmypics)

After Hansch moved on to take a NHL scouting gig, the Oil Kings cleaned house on the coaching front. Hamilton didn’t have a heck of a lot to work with, especially since the Oil Kings never traded away pieces like Brett Pollock, Tristan Jarry, Dysin Mayo and Brandon Baddock among others following the Memorial Cup run, but he was probably going to be on the hot seat when the season got underway.

Hill’s worked in the WHL’s Player Development and Recruiting department before joining the Blackhawks, so he knows the ins and outs of the league already. It’s a move that’s gone well for teams elsewhere in the CHL, as the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds brought in the OHL’s Director of Recruiting and Player Development Kyle Raftis in 2014 to replace now Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas.

On the coaching front, Lauer gets his first ever head coaching job after working as an assistant in the pro ranks for over a decade, while Pierce returns to the league after two rough seasons with the rebuilding Kootenay Ice from 2015-17.

Also, the Oil Kings have brought in long-time Swift Current Broncos personnel member Jamie Porter as their Director of Scouting. As a whole, the new regime looks pretty darn solid.

Best Case Scenario

The defence improves dramatically and the additions on offence quickly gel with Fix-Wolansky. The Oil Kings rocket up the standings to return to the playoffs, while Lauer gets consideration for Coach of the Year.

Worst Case Scenario

Nothing is solved when it comes to who starts in goal and the Oil Kings find themselves near the bottom of the division again. Fix-Wolansky gets traded at the deadline and team begins to build around Robertson, Neighbours and Guenther.

Current 2019 Draft Situation

  • Round 1: One Pick
  • Round 2: One Pick
  • Round 3: One Pick
  • Round 4: One Pick (Seattle)
  • Round 5: No Pick
  • Round 6: Three Picks (Moose Jaw and Swift Current)
  • Round 7: One Pick
  • Round 8: One Pick
  • Round 9: One Pick
  • Round 10: One Pick
  • Round 11: One Pick
  • Round 12: One Pick
Peyton Krebs (Robert Murray/WHL)

Kootenay Ice

Last Season

With the rumors of relocation behind them and a new ownership group in charge, the Ice surprised everyone to move into the playoff mix in the Central Division.

However, a second half slide and a shocking resurgence by the Red Deer Rebels resulted in the team missing the playoffs for the third straight year. There was a silver lining though, as they moved up two spots in the draft lottery and selected top defensive prospect Carson Lambos.

Forwards

Departing

  • Alec Baer (97 – 30-31-61 – Rapid City Rush)
  • Michael King (00 – 8-7-15 – Spokane Chiefs)
  • Colton Kroeker (97 – 15-46-61 – Mount Royal Cougars)
  • Sebastian Streu (99 – 9-3-12)
  • Colten Veloso (97 – 25-22-47 – Jacksonville IceMen)

Returning

  • Brett Davis (99 – 25-33-58)
  • Bradley Ginnell (00 – 8-11-19)
  • Cameron Hausinger (99 – 21-22-43)
  • Gilian Kohler (00 – 8-11-19)
  • Peyton Krebs (01 – 17-37-54)
  • Cole Muir (01 – 2-4-6)
  • Kaeden Taphorn (00 – 6-7-13)
  • Keenan Taphorn (00 – 7-14-21)

Arriving

  • Blake Allan (01 – 3rd in ’16 – 10-23-33 – Saskatoon Blazers)
  • Holden Kodak (01 – Portland’s 11th in ’16 – 52-40-92 – Yale Hockey Academy)
  • Connor McClennon (02 – 1st in ’17 – 26-41-67 – Northern Alberta Xtreme)
  • Davis Murray (99 – 1-4-5 – Edmonton Oil Kings)
  • Jakin Smallwood (01 – Moose Jaw’s 5th in ’16 – 17-26-43 – Leduc Midget Oil Kings)
  • Jaeger White (98 – 10-24-34 – Medicine Hat Tigers)

NHL Prospects

  • Brett Davis (Dallas Stars – Unsigned)

Rights Held

  • Ben Sanderson (00 – 6th in ’15 – 20-6-26 – Okotoks Oilers – Dubuque Fighting Saints – Colorado College Tigers)
  • Brett Wieschorster (01 – 5th in ’16 – 2-11-13 – Sherwood Park Crusaders – Vermont Catamounts)

The sky’s the limit for Krebs, the top overall pick in the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft, and he’s got a good supporting cast around him with Davis and Hausinger leading the way.

Granted, losing three overage forwards is tough, but a huge influx of young players should help offset that. The player to watch is McClennon, who was the top forward taken in the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft behind incoming Prince Albert Raiders defenceman Kaiden Guhle.

Evan Thomas, a 10th round pick in the 2014 WHL Draft, signed an entry level contract with the team last September and put up 14 points in his first season of Junior A hockey with the Humboldt Broncos before he was killed in April’s tragic bus accident.

Defencemen

Departing 

  • Ryan Pouliot (98 – 2-8-10 – Swift Current Broncos)
  • Bobby Russell (00 – 1-6-7 – Spokane Chiefs)

Returning

  • Martin Bodak (98 – 7-24-31)
  • Dallas Hines (98 – 4-15-19)
  • Sam Huston (99 – 2-9-11)
  • Zachary Patrick (01 – 0-6-6)
  • Loeden Schaufler (00 – 0-6-6)
  • Jonathan Smart (99 – 6-28-34)

Arriving

  • Jordan Chudley (01 – 4th in ’16 – 2-9-11 – Southwest Midget Cougars)
  • Valtteri Kakkoknen (00 – ’18 Import Draft – 5-7-12 – JYP U20)
  • Nolan Orzcek (01 – 4th in ’16 – 4-10-14 – Calgary Midget North Stars)

NHL Prospects

  • N/A

Rights Held

  • Colby Enns (99 – Listed – 9-18-27 – Minot Minotauros – Central Illinois Flying Aces – Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks)
  • Griffin Mendel (99 – 1st in ’15 – 1-2-3 – Denver Pioneers)
  • Jake Sanderson (02 – 4th in ’17 – 16-27-43 – Edge School – US NTDP – North Dakota Fighting Hawks)

Lambos could probably play in the WHL right now, but his full-time arrival won’t happen for another season. As a result, the defensive group is lacking a little bit, though they do have a decent point producer in Smart and another import arriving in Kakkoknen.

Goaltenders

Departing 

  • Matt Berlin (98 – 3.48 – 15-15-2-2 – .887 – Sherwood Park Crusaders)

Returning

  • Duncan McGovern (00 – 3.11 – 13-13-3-0 – .892)

Arriving

  • Jesse Makaj (01 – 2nd in ’16 – 3.15 – 8-8-1 – Save Percentage Not Available – Greater Vancouver Canadians)

NHL Prospects

  • N/A

Rights Held

  • N/A

Like a number of teams mentioned so far, the goaltending position is interesting. With Berlin not coming back, McGovern will be taking over the reigns full time and Makaj outlasted two other signed prospects to become the new backup.

Coaching Staff and Management

Departing

  • Jamie McCaig (Goaltending Coach for Three Seasons – Goaltending Coach for Merritt Centennials, NAIT Oaks and Spruce Grove Saints)

Returning

  • Matt Cockell (General Manager and President – 2nd Season)
  • James Patrick (Head Coach – 2nd Season)
  • Jon Klemm (Associate Coach – 2nd Season)
  • Gordon Burnett (Assistant Coach – 4th Season)
  • Roman Vopat (Assistant Coach – 3rd Season)

Arriving

  • Nathan Lieuwen (Goaltending Coach – Was Video Coach for the Ice last year)

It’s status quo on the coaching side, and that’s probably for the best. As the Ice continue to look towards the future, it’s good for this young group to have some stability

Best Case Scenario

Thanks in large part to the dynamic duo of Krebs and McClennon, the Ice return to the playoffs for the first time since 2015 and set the stage for a possible division title run in 2020.

Worst Case Scenario

A sub-par defence results in the Ice missing out on the playoffs for a fourth straight year. Something has to give and it ends up being with the coaching staff.

Current 2019 Draft Situation

  • Round 1: One Pick
  • Round 2: One Pick
  • Round 3: No Picks
  • Round 4: One Pick
  • Round 5: Two Picks (Spokane)
  • Round 6: One Pick (Victoria)
  • Round 7: No Picks
  • Round 8: Three Picks (Regina and Spokane)
  • Round 9: Two Picks (Seattle)
  • Round 10: One Pick
  • Round 11: One Pick
  • Round 12: One Pick
Calen Addison (Robert Murray/WHL)

Lethbridge Hurricanes

Last Season

An up-and-down regular season was highlighted by the team trading forward Giorgio Estephan and star netminder Stuart Skinner to Swift Current, which helped them build towards the future by bringing in highly touted forward Logan Barlage and also allowed them to get a solid starting netminder in overager Logan Flodell.

Everything finally clicked in the playoffs as the Hurricanes made a second straight trip to the Eastern Conference final, where they kept the Broncos honest in a six-game battle.

Forwards

Departing

  • Zane Franklin (99 – 14-24-38 – Kamloops Blazers)
  • Shawn Harke (00 – 1-0-1)
  • Brad Morrison (97 – 27-48-75 – Ontario Reign – Los Angeles Kings – Signed)
  • Brendan Stafford (00 – 1-5-6 – Fort McMurray Oil Barons)
  • Ryan Vandervlis (98 – 11-8-19 – Recovering from Burns Suffered in an Off-Season Accident)
  • Egor Zudilov (00 – 7-16-23)

Returning

  • Logan Barlage (01 – 7-13-20)
  • Jordy Bellerive (99 – 46-46-92)
  • Owen Blocker (00 – 2-5-7)
  • Zach Cox (99 – 2-4-6)
  • Dylan Cozens (01 – 22-31-53)
  • Jacob Elmer (98 – 18-19-37)
  • Keltie Jeri-Leon (00 – 8-7-15)
  • Jadon Joseph (99 – 9-23-32)
  • Taylor Ross (98 – 21-21-42)

Arriving

  • Noah Boyko (02 – 1st in ’17 – 20-20-40 – Fort Saskatchewan Midget Rangers)
  • Hayden Clayton (00 – Listed – 4-6-10 – Whitecourt Wolverines)
  • Adam Hall (01 – 8th in ’16 – 7-13-20 – Edmonton Midget Canadians)
  • Justin Hall (01 – 7th in ’16 – 14-10-24 – Edmonton Midget Canadians)
  • Jackson Shepard (00 – 9-13-22 – Kamloops Blazers)

NHL Prospects

  • Jordy Bellerive (Pittsburgh Penguins – Signed)

Rights Held

  • Carson Dyck (01 – Swift Current’s 2nd in ’16 – 7-27-34 – Lethbridge Midget Hurricanes – Okotoks Oilers – Penn State Nittany Lions)
  • Murphy Stratton (99 – Listed – 16-37-53 – Wenatchee Wild – North Dakota Fighting Hawks – 1-3-4 with the Calgary Hitmen during the 2016/17 season)
  • Alex Swetlikoff (01 – Listed – Seattle’s 3rd in ’16 – 3-12-15 – Vernon Vipers – Denver Pioneers)
  • Austin Wong (00 – Kootenay’s 11th in ’15 – 25-29-54 – Okotoks Oilers – Harvard Crimson – Winnipeg Jets – Unsigned)

Having recovered from severe burns in an incident over the summer that left teammate Vandervlis severely injured, Bellerive will be the leader on offence and might even sneak into the World Junior discussion for Canada if all goes well.

The dealing away of Franklin is an interesting one, but Shepard might be a breakout younger talent for the Hurricanes. Ross has the chance to be a strong overage player, Boyko could have a sneaky good rookie campaign and Barlage will probably see his point production increase as a result of getting a steady shift.

With all that said, the player to watch is Cozens. After winning the Rookie of the Year award, the expectations are high for the Whitehorse product as he gears up for his NHL Draft campaign. TSN’s Craig Button has called him the best prospect that’s not Jack Hughes for this season, which is saying something given how many good players there are besides the uber-talented American in the class.

Defencemen

Departing

  • Tate Olson (97 – 2-22-24)

Returning

  • Calen Addison (00 – 11-54-65)
  • Igor Merezhko (98 – 5-28-33)
  • Ty Prefontaine (99 – 5-20-25)
  • Matthew Stanley (98 – 2-9-11)
  • Koletrane Wilson (99 – 3-8-11)

Arriving

  • Alex Cotton (01 – 5th in ’16 – 11-43-54 – Yale Hockey Academy)
  • Nolan Jones (01 – 2nd in ’16 – 7-11-18 – Moose Jaw Generals)
  • Tyler Lowe (00 – Listed – Prince Albert’s 3rd in ’15 – 0-8-8 – Drumheller Dragons)
  • Danila Palivko (01 – ’18 Import Draft – 6-20-26 – Team Belarus)

NHL Prospects 

  • Calen Addison (Pittsburgh Penguins – Unsigned)

Rights Held

  • Justin Lee (00 – Listed – 7-28-35 – Virden Oil Capitals – Lincoln Stars – Denver Pioneers)
  • Jack St. Ivany (99 – Listed – Vancouver’s 7th in ’14 – 6-30-36 – Sioux Falls Stampede – Yale Bulldogs – Philadelphia Flyers – Unsigned)

Addison is easily a contender for the defenceman of the year accolades, and he’ll be joined by a pretty young core with Prefontaine serving as the top veteran. Jones will be intriguing to watch as a rookie, as he spent some time with the Hurricanes at the end of the year.

Goaltenders

Departing

  • Logan Flodell (97 – 3.13 – 38-18-4-0 – .909 – Acadia Axemen)

Returning 

  • Reece Klassen (99 – 3.62 – 5-8-3-0 – .887)

Arriving

  • Akira Schmid (00 – ’18 Import Draft – 2.60 – Record and Save Percentage Not Available – Langnau U20)
  • Carl Tetachuk (01 – Listed – 1.81 – 15-2-1 – .919 – Lethbridge Midget Hurricanes)

NHL Prospects

  • Akira Schmid (New Jersey Devils – Unsigned)

Rights Held

  • Joshua Langford (01 – 4th in ’16 – 2.31 – 9-5-2 – .926 – Dallas Stars U16 – Chippewa Steel – Maine Black Bears)

With Flodell’s graduation, the biggest question mark with the team was who would be the starting netminder, as Klassen is rather unproven at the junior level. That question was answered with the end of the import goalie ban in June as the Hurricanes brought in Schmid, who will more than likely be in the mix for a starting role with Switzerland’s world junior team.

One might expect Klassen to be locked in for the backup job, but that’s not a guarantee with the incredible numbers Tetachuk had in the Alberta Midget ranks last year.

Coaching Staff and Management

Departing

  • N/A

Returning

  • Peter Anholt (General Manager – 5th Season)
  • Brent Kisio (Head Coach – 4th Season)
  • Jeff Hansen (Assistant Coach – 2nd Season)
  • Josh MacNevin (Assistant Coach – 4th Season)
  • Kevin Swanson (Goaltending Coach – 2nd Season)

Arriving

  • N/A

Having yet to win the WHL’s Coach of the Year honors, Kisio will have a great shot at the accolade this year and might get a look from the pro ranks soon. Anholt is known for making moves to shake up the roster at any time, so expect the unexpected when it comes to building this year’s lineup.

Best Case Scenario

Bellerive and Cozens go beast mode on the entire league, while Addison wins the defenceman of the year award. Anholt makes a move for a high-end blueliner at the deadline and the Hurricanes make the final for the first time since 2008 ahead of hosting the 2020 Memorial Cup.

Worst Case Scenario

Bellerive struggles as he looks to get back on track from his off-season injuries, while Schmid doesn’t have a great campaign as he gets used to playing in North America. In addition to missing out on getting next year’s Memorial Cup, the Hurricanes aren’t close to being a title threat and Anholt makes a move or two to solidify a younger core around Cozens and incoming rookie forward Zack Stringer.

Current 2019 Draft Situation

  • Round 1: One Pick
  • Round 2: No Picks
  • Round 3: Two Picks (Moose Jaw)
  • Round 4: One Pick
  • Round 5: One Pick
  • Round 6: No Picks
  • Round 7: No Picks
  • Round 8: One Pick (Kelowna)
  • Round 9: One Pick
  • Round 10: One Pick
  • Round 11: One Pick
  • Round 12: One Pick
James Hamblin (Randy Feere/RJF Productions)

Medicine Hat Tigers

Last Season

Despite losing top forward Mason Shaw to an ACL injury for the entire campaign, the Tigers had another strong regular season and won the Central Division for a second straight year. However, things went pear shaped in the first round of the playoffs as they lost in six games to a Brandon Wheat Kings side that they dominated in the opening two contests.

Forwards

Departing

  • Mark Rassell (97 – 50-30-80 – UNB Varsity Reds)
  • Mason Shaw (98 – 0-0-0 – Injured Last Season – Iowa Wild – Minnesota Wild – Signed)
  • Jaeger White (98 – 10-24-34 – Kootenay Ice)

Returning

  • Baxter Anderson (00 – 1-4-5)
  • Elijah Brown (00 – 8-15-23)
  • Ryan Chyzowski (00 – 21-31-52)
  • Gary Haden (99 – 17-25-42)
  • James Hamblin (99 – 21-43-64)
  • Dawson Heathcote (00 – 6-3-9)
  • Ryan Jevne (98 – 20-27-47)
  • Bryan Lockner (00 – 14-12-26)
  • Hayden Ostir (99 – 9-17-26)
  • Tyler Preziuso (99 – 17-16-33)
  • Henry Rybinski (01 – 3-9-12)
  • Josh Williams (01 – 11-9-20)

Arriving

  • Corson Hopwo (01 – 7th in ‘16 – 19-25-44 – Delta Hockey Academy)
  • Nick McCarry (01 – Listed – 15-20-35 – Calgary Midget North Stars)
  • Jaxon Steele (00 – Listed – 9-9-18 – Calgary Canucks)

NHL Prospects

  • N/A

Rights Held

  • Benjamin Copeland (99 – Listed – 18-44-62 – Waterloo Black Hawks – Colorado College Tigers)
  • Vasili Podkolzin (01 – ’18 Import Draft – 13-17-30 – Vityaz Podolsk U17 – SKA-1946 St. Petersburg)
  • Noah Tussey (02 – Listed – 11-6-17 – Stillwater High School – Minnesota Golden Gophers)
  • Samuel Walker (99 – 7th in ’14 – 28-30-58 – Edina High School – Minnesota Golden Gophers – Tampa Bay Lightning – Unsigned)

Despite losing a 50-goal scorer in Rassell, the Tigers arguably have the best forward depth in the league. It’s a well-balanced mix of veterans in Haden, Hamblin and Jevne, along with youngsters like Brown, Chyzowski, Lockner and Williams alongside them.

The biggest key in all of this though is the possible return of Shaw. Seeing that he missed all of last season, it wouldn’t be that much of a shock to see him return for a full campaign before going pro. If the Wild send him back, the Tigers might become the team to beat in the entire league.

Another big acquisition, though it seems highly unlikely at this point, would be if Podkolzin came over from Russia. He was one of the best forwards at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup and is working his way into the discussion of being a top ten pick at the 2019 NHL Draft.

Defencemen

Departing

  • David Quenneville (98 – 26-54-80 – Bridgeport Sound Tigers – New York Islanders – Signed)
  • Kristians Rubins (97 – 7-20-27 – Newfoundland Growlers)

Returning

  • Cole Clayton (00 – 2-5-7)
  • Joel Craven (00 – 1-6-7)
  • Dalton Gally (98 – 2-10-12)
  • Trevor Longo (00 – 0-4-4)
  • Dylan MacPherson (98 – 4-18-22)
  • Linus Nassen (98 – 1-25-26)

Arriving

  • Daniel Baker (01 – 2nd in ’16 – 9-17-26 – Northern Alberta Xtreme)
  • Eric Van Impe (01 – Spokane’s 2nd in ’16 – 13-20-33 – Calgary Midget North Stars)
  • Ryan Watson (02 – 3rd in ’17 – 4-15-19 – Delta Hockey Academy)

NHL Prospects

  • Linus Nassen (Florida Panthers – Unsigned)

Rights Held

  • N/A

Seeing that the Tigers might have two overage forwards up front in Jevne and Shaw, they might have to part ways with one of Gally and MacPherson to get their three 20-year-olds if Nassen sticks around, which changes things a bit on defence.

Naturally, replacing Quenneville’s production is tough, but the defensive core is going to be really young compared to the rest of the lineup. How quickly they adapt to big minutes and playing in the league on a nightly basis might be the key for any success the Tigers have.

Goaltenders

Departing

  • Michael Bullion (97 – 3.19 – 20-15-3-0 – .891 – UOIT Ridgebacks)

Returning

  • Jordan Hollett (99 – 3.43 – 16-13-4-0 – .896)

Arriving

  • Garin Bjorklund (02 – 1st in ’17 – 1.92 – 10-5-0 – .913 – Calgary Midget Buffaloes)
  • Mads Sogaard (00 – ’18 Import Draft – 2.64 – 11-6-2-0 – .909 – Austin Bruins)

NHL Prospects

  • Jordan Hollett (Ottawa Senators – Unsigned)

Rights Held 

  • Isaiah Saville (00 – Listed – 2.41 – 21-13-3-1 – .927 – Minnesota Magicians – Tri-City Storm – Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks)

After splitting time with Bullion during the regular season, Hollett ended up taking the ball in the playoffs. A former first round pick by the Regina Pats, it’s his time to shine now as he looks to sign with the Senators and start his pro career at year’s end.

Meanwhile, the backup position is going to be interesting, especially as Sogaard is moving up to Canada after a year in the NAHL. Not only would Hollett have more competition if the Dane makes the roster, but Bjorklund would likely be on the outside looking in despite having an awesome 2017-18 season.

Coaching Staff and Management

Departing

  • Bobby Fox (Assistant Coach for Two Seasons – Director of Player Personnel)

Returning

  • Shaun Clouston (General Manager and Head Coach – Seventh Season as General Manager and Ninth Season as Head Coach)
  • Joey Frazer (Assistant Coach – Ninth Season)
  • JF Martel (Goaltending Coach – Eleventh Season)

Arriving

  • Ryan Smith (Assistant Coach – Associate Coach with the Swift Current Broncos for Three Seasons)

The one change with the Tigers saw Fox move up into more of a front office role and Smith coming over from the Broncos after everything got switched around following their title run. It’s a veteran group with the Tigers and it seems to work like a fine-tuned machine.

Best Case Scenario

With one of the best offences in the country and Hollett turning into one of the top netminders in his age group, the defence is able to find their legs and the Tigers go on to have their best season since winning the league in 2007.

Worst Case Scenario

Shaw doesn’t return to the WHL and the defence is a hot mess, forcing the squad into a number of 8-7 thrillers. The Tigers season ends early yet again and Clouston finds himself looking for a new gig.

Current 2019 Draft Situation

  • Round 1: One Pick
  • Round 2: Two Picks (Spokane)
  • Round 3: No Picks
  • Round 4: Two Picks (Calgary)
  • Round 5: One Pick (Seattle)
  • Round 6: Two Picks (Saskatoon)
  • Round 7: One Pick
  • Round 8: One Pick
  • Round 9: One Pick
  • Round 10: One Pick
  • Round 11: One Pick
  • Round 12: One Pick
Alexander Alexeyev (Dave Bruner/Red Deer Rebels)

Red Deer Rebels

Last Season

Despite a disastrous midway part of the year, the Rebels went on a run after the trade deadline and benefited from a slumping Kootenay Ice to make the playoffs yet again. They matched up with the Lethbridge Hurricanes for the second straight season, but were dispatched in short order.

Forwards

Departing

  • Brandon Cutler (00 – 6-5-11 – Victoria Royals)
  • Mason McCarty (97 – 38-36-74 – Rapid City Rush)
  • Grayson Pawlenchuk (97 – 18-34-52 – Alberta Golden Bears)
  • Kristian Reichel (98 – 34-23-57 – Manitoba Moose)

Returning

  • Arshdeep Bains (01 – 2-5-7)
  • Chris Douglas (00 – 9-7-16)
  • River Fahey (01 – 1-2-3)
  • Brandon Hagel (98 – 18-41-59)
  • Reese Johnson (98 – 23-16-39)
  • Alex Morozoff (01 – 6-2-8)
  • Austin Schellenberg (00 – 2-1-3)
  • Zak Smith (01 – 0-1-1)
  • Justin Svenson (01 – 0-0-0)
  • Josh Tarzwell (00 – 10-17-27)

Arriving

  • Jeff De Wit (98 – 11-9-20 – Victoria Royals)
  • Dallon Melin (02 – Victoria’s 2nd in ‘17 – 6-14-20 – Sherwood Park Kings)
  • Blake Sydlowski (01 – Listed – 7-4-11 – St. Albert Midget Raiders)
  • Oleg Zaitsev (01 – ’18 Import Draft – 8-19-27 – MHK Dynamo Moscow)

NHL Prospects

  • N/A

Rights Held

  • Jeffrey Bertrand (01 – 12th in ’16 – 13-21-34 – Alaska Oilers U16 – Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights – Penn State Nittany Lions)
  • Brendan Budy (00 – 4th in ’15 – 22-34-56 – Langley Rivermen – Denver Pioneers)
  • Ivan Drozdov (99 – ’18 Import Draft – 5-3-8 – Team Belarus – Dinamo Minsk)
  • Blake McLaughlin (00 – Listed – 23-29-52 – Chicago Steel – Minnesota Golden Gophers – Anaheim Ducks – Unsigned)
  • Grant Mismash (99 – 5th in ’14 – 9-13-22 – North Dakota Fighting Hawks – Nashville Predators – Unsigned
  • Chase Stevenson (99 – 10th in ’14 – 12-11-23 – West Kelowna Warriors – Surrey Eagles – New Hampshire Wildcats)

With two overagers and an import leaving the roster, the question is who will replace the 43 percent of last year’s team goals that those three players had.

The return of Hagel, who didn’t sign with the Buffalo Sabres, should help with that along with another overager in Johnson. After that though, it’s up to the likes of Tarzwell, a former Rebel first round pick in De Wit and a number of 2001 born players to increase their scoring skills at a rapid pace.

Defencemen

Departing

  • N/A

Returning 

  • Alexander Alexeyev (99 – 7-30-37)
  • Dawson Barteaux (00 – 3-29-32)
  • Hunter Donohoe (00 – 3-2-5)
  • Jacob Herauf (00 – 2-16-18)
  • Colin Paradis (98 – 2-12-14)
  • Ethan Sakowich (99 – 0-10-10)
  • Carson Sass (99 – 1-9-10)

Arriving

  • Ryan Gottfried (01 – 5th in ’16 – 5-24-29 – Winnipeg Wild)
  • Chase Leslie (02 – 8th in ’17 – 5-5-10 – Sherwood Park Kings)

NHL Prospects

  • Alexander Alexeyev (Washington Capitals – Unsigned)
  • Dawson Barteaux (Dallas Stars – Unsigned)

Rights Held

  • Brock Faber (02 – Listed – 5-11-16 – MNBEL Kings – US NTDP – Notre Dame Fighting Irish)
  • Jace Foskey (00 – 7th in ‘15 – 0-5-5 – Tri-City Storm – Madison Capitols – Harvard Crimson)

Since no one is leaving, the defence is already in strong shape. They have a nice duo at the top of the depth chart in Alexeyev and Barteaux, and they have a few younger players that may see an increase in their numbers.

The Rebels also have the rights to highly touted draft eligible American blueliner Cam York, a ninth round pick in the 2016 Bantam Draft who is with the US NTDP at the moment. He just decommitted from Boston College but is still leaning towards the college route.

Goaltenders

Departing

  • Riley Lamb (98 – 3.27 – 13-11-3-2 – .902 – Weyburn Red Wings)

Returning

  • Ethan Anders (00 – 3.09 – 10-19-6-1 – .905)

Arriving

  • Byron Fancy (01 – 2nd in ’16 – 2.47 – 7-3-5 – .892 – Lethbridge Midget Hurricanes)

NHL Prospects

  • N/A

Rights Held

  • N/A

As Lamb heads off to the SJHL, Anders will look to build off of a solid rookie campaign after being signed out of the Saskatchewan Midget AAA ranks last season. Fancy was a high-end pick a couple of years ago, so this might be one of the most interesting goaltending battles in the WHL.

Coaching Staff and Management

Departing

  • Jeff Truitt (Associate Coach for Six Seasons – Assistant Coach with the Prince Albert Raiders)
  • Taylor Dakers (Goaltending Coach for Five Seasons – Goaltending Coach with the Prince George Cougars)

Returning

  • Brent Sutter (General Manager and Head Coach – 14th Season as General Manager and Head Coach – 20th Season as Team Owner)
  • Erik Lodge (Assistant Coach – 2nd Season)

Arriving

  • Ryan Colville (Assistant Coach – General Manager and Head Coach for three seasons with the Cincinnati Thunder)
  • Brad Flynn (Assistant Coach – Head Coach and Director of Hockey Operations for two seasons with the Corpus Christi Ice Rays)-
  • Kraymer Barnstable (Goaltending Coach – First Full-Time Coaching Gig)

Sutter’s obviously staying put, but the other changes should be interesting with three younger guys coming in alongside him. Truitt’s contract wasn’t renewed at the end of last year, though he’s off to a nice situation with the Raiders.

Best Case Scenario

The offence proves to be better than expected and the defensive play of Alexeyev and Barteaux makes the Rebels a team that no one wants to face in the first round of the playoffs.

Worst Case Scenario

No one can score goals and the Rebels sell off Hagel and Alexeyev at the deadline for assets. The Rebels miss out on the playoffs for the first time since losing a tiebreaker game in 2014 and the fans want changes. At least they have Cam Moon calling games.

Current 2019 Draft Situation

  • Round 1: One Pick
  • Round 2: Three Picks (Lethbridge and Moose Jaw)
  • Round 3: Two Picks (Seattle)
  • Round 4: One Pick
  • Round 5: One Pick (Victoria)
  • Round 6: One Pick (Seattle)
  • Round 7: Two Picks (Brandon)
  • Round 8: One Pick
  • Round 9: One Pick
  • Round 10: One Pick
  • Round 11: One Pick
  • Round 12: One Pick