2019-20 WHL Season Preview: East Division

This is the first of a five-part series that will preview the 2019-20 Western Hockey League campaign. The first four parts will go over each of the divisions before I make my predictions in the final part.

A huge thanks goes to Robert Murray of the WHL, Brett Smith of the Prince Albert Raiders and Marc Smith of CTV Regina for sending along photos of the players from around the circuit, in addition to the ones that I took over the course of last season. 

Another thanks goes to Guy Flaming of The Pipeline Show as he chatted with the general managers and or head coaches of the 22 WHL teams (well, except the Winnipeg Ice because of reasons) in the lead-up to the upcoming campaign. Those interviews were a valuable resource in putting this together.

All roster info is based upon what’s on the WHL website and will be updated leading into Friday’s 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 website.

Luka Burzan (Marc Smith)

Brandon Wheat Kings

Last Season

After entering the campaign as a potential threat to win the East Division, the Wheat Kings were an up-and-down team all season long as they missed out on the playoffs for the first time since 2013. That led to the end of the tenures for both general manager Grant Armstrong and head coach Dave Anning after three seasons in those roles.

Forwards

Departing

  • Linden McCorrister (98 – 14-15-29)
  • Stelio Mattheos (99 – 44-52-96 – Charlotte Checkers – Carolina Hurricanes – Signed)
  • Baron Thompson (99 – 8-9-17 – Dauphin Kings)

Returning

  • Luka Burzan (00 – 40-38-78)
  • Caiden Daley (00 – 9-13-22)
  • Ridly Greig (02 – 14-21-35)
  • Connor Gutenberg (99 – 16-31-47)
  • Jonny Hooker (01 – 3-3-6)
  • Lynden McCallum (00 – 4-3-7)
  • Ben McCartney (01 – 21-20-41)
  • Cole Reinhardt (00 – 22-23-45)
  • Marcus Sekundiak (00 – 3-4-7)
  • Ty Thorpe (02 – 1-5-6)

Arriving

  • Jake Chiasson (03 – 1st in ’18 – 27-42-69 – Yale Hockey Academy)
  • Riley Ginnell (02 – Kamloops’s 7th in ’17 – 10-9-19 – Edge School)
  • Bode Hagan (02 – 8th in ’17 – 9-39-48 – OHA Edmonton)
  • Marcus Kallionkieli (01 – ’19 Import Draft – 29-24-53 – Sioux City Musketeers)
  • Nolan Ritchie (02 – 3rd in ’17 – 39-55-94 – Brandon Midget Wheat Kings)

NHL Prospects

  • Luka Burzan (Colorado Avalanche – Unsigned)
  • Marcus Kallionkieli (Vegas Golden Knights – Signed)

Rights Held

  • Kyle Bettens (01 – 4th in ’16 – 10-19-29 – Steinbach Pistons – Bemidji State Beavers)
  • Braden Costello (00 – Listed – 3-4-7 – Green Bay Gamblers – Trail Smoke Eaters – North Dakota Fighting Hawks)
  • Vladislav Firstov (01 – ’19 Import Draft – 26-32-58 – Waterloo Black Hawks – UConn Huskies – Minnesota Wild – Unsigned)
  • Dylan James (03 – 2nd in ’18 – 20-14-34 – Calgary Midget Buffaloes – North Dakota Fighting Hawks)
  • Matthew Osadick (00 – Listed – 29-34-63 – Swan Valley Stampeders – Merritt Centennials – Maine Black Bears)

After battling testicular cancer during the summer, Mattheos was back skating with the Wheat Kings earlier this month but is expected to make the jump to the AHL, especially after being a part of the Checkers run to the Calder Cup this past spring.

With his departure, Burzan is now in charge of leading the offence as he looks to improve on a 40-goal campaign that saw him get drafted by the Avalanche after being passed over the year before.

As per usual, the depth is good up front for the Wheat Kings, especially with Greig, Gutenberg, McCartney and Reinhardt all coming back, in addition to newcomers Chiasson and Ritchie.

Although Firstov doesn’t appear to be joining the team, the addition of Kallionkieli is a nice one for the Wheat Kings. The Finnish forward was a point per game player in the USHL last season alongside Philadelphia Flyers prospect Bobby Brink and he’s already signed a pro contract, though he’s currently sidelined with an injury and is rehabbing in Vegas.

Defencemen

Departing

  • Braydyn Chizen (98 – 3-8-11 – Alberta Golden Bears)

Returning

  • Vincent Iorio (02 – 1-4-5)
  • Jonny Lambos (01 – 0-2-2)
  • Chad Nychuk (01 – 3-10-13)
  • Neithan Salame (01 – 1-6-7)
  • Braden Schneider (01 – 8-16-24)
  • Zach Wytinck (99 – 5-38-43)

Arriving

  • Jack Zayat (02 – 4th in ’17 – 2-18-20 – Calgary Midget Buffaloes)

NHL Prospects

  • N/A

Rights Held

  • Owen Gallatin (02 – 9th in ’17 – 2-13-15 – US NTDP – Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs)
  • Anthony Kehrer (02 – 2nd in ’17 – 1-10-11 – Sioux City Musketeers – Wisconsin Badgers)

The top two blueliners are impressive for the Wheat Kings, with Schneider being pegged as one of the first WHL players to hear his name called at the 2020 NHL Draft and Wyntick looking to improve on a breakout campaign last year.

However, the rest of the defence does have some question marks around it. Obviously, there is some room to grow with some experience under their belts, but it’s still a fairly young and unproven group. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see another veteran added to the core before the deadline.

Goaltenders

Departing

  • N/A

Returning

  • Ethan Kruger (01 – 3.60 – 8-7-3 – .890)
  • Jiri Patera (99 – 3.31 – 22-20-5 – .906)

Arriving

  • Connor Ungar (02 – Listed – 2.24 – 6-3-0 – .916 – Northern Alberta Xtreme)

NHL Prospects

  • Jiri Patera (Vegas Golden Knights – Unsigned)

Rights Held

  • N/A

As a dual-slot overage import player, Patera will need to have improved numbers from his first season in the WHL if the Wheat Kings are looking to have any success this season. At this point, Kruger appears to have the inside track for the backup job for the second straight campaign, especially as Ungar was all over the place last season.

Coaching Staff and Management

Departing

  • Grant Armstrong (General Manager for three seasons – Scout with the Tampa Bay Lightning)
  • David Anning (Head Coach for three seasons – Was with the team for seven seasons)

Returning

  • Don MacGillivray (Assistant Coach – Fourth Season)
  • Tyler Plante (Goaltending Coach – Fourth Season)

Arriving

  • Darren Ritchie (General Manager – Director of Scouting for the last three seasons – Has been with the Wheat Kings for 14 seasons)
  • Dave Lowry (Head Coach – Assistant Coach with the Los Angeles Kings for the last two seasons)
  • Mark Derlago (Assistant Coach – Concluded a 11-year pro career last season with the Esbjerg Energy)

After the team missed the playoffs last season, it felt like change was inevitable in Brandon. They kept things in house on the general manager front by promoting Richie and made a nice hire in Lowry, who made the Victoria Royals an exciting team to watch during his time behind the bench there. It will be interesting to see if the speed element that was present in those Royals sides becomes the norm in Brandon.

Best Case Scenario

The changes in the Wheat Kings regime pay off in spades as the team has a balanced offensive attack under Lowry’s new systems. The defence gets its footing underneath itself early as Patera has a solid campaign in goal, which turns the Wheat Kings into one of the top sides in the East.

Worst Case Scenario

Although they improve enough to make the post-season, the steps forward aren’t dramatic enough to make the Wheat Kings a true threat. The real improvement happens next year as a bevy of young players come to town.

Current 2020 Draft Situation

  • Round 1: One Pick
  • Round 2: One Pick
  • Round 3: One Pick
  • Round 4: One Pick
  • Round 5: Two Picks (Kelowna)
  • Round 6: No Picks
  • Round 7: Two Picks (Vancouver)
  • Round 8: One Pick
  • Round 9: Two Picks (Swift Current)
  • Round 10: One Pick
  • Round 11: One Pick
  • Round 12: One Pick
Brayden Tracey (Marc Smith)

Moose Jaw Warriors

Last Season

Thanks to one of the best lines in the country, the Warriors had a surprising campaign and finished third in the East Division, only to be swept aside by the Saskatoon Blades in a matchup that was much closer than the four-game result would indicate.

Forwards

Departing

  • Justin Almeida (99 – 33-78-111 – Wilkes/Barre Scranton Penguins – Pittsburgh Penguins – Signed)
  • Yegor Buyalski (01 – 6-8-14)
  • Kale Clouston (00 – 0-3-3)
  • Kjell Kjemhus (01 – 3-3-6 – Saskatoon Blades)
  • Tristin Langan (98 – 53-60-113 – San Jose Barracuda)
  • Luke Ormsby (99 – 8-12-20)
  • Alec Zawatsky (99 – 14-14-28)

Returning

  • Carson Denomie (00 – 8-9-17)
  • Tate Popple (00 – 11-8-19)
  • Daniil Stepanov (01 – 8-11-19)
  • Cameron Sterling (01 – 1-4-5)
  • Kaeden Taphorn (00 – 4-8-12)
  • Keenan Taphorn (00 – 15-11-26)
  • Brayden Tracey (01 – 36-45-81)

Arriving

  • Eric Alaire (03 – 1st in ’18 – 17-29-46 – Rink Hockey Academy)
  • Calder Anderson (02 – 7th in ’17 – 20-30-50 – Brandon Midget Wheat Kings)
  • Cade Hayes (02 – 8th in ’17 – 23-35-58 – Tisdale Trojans)
  • Jadon Joseph (99 – 22-31-53 – Vancouver Giants)
  • Bryden Kiesman (02 – Listed – 17-12-29 – Winnipeg Bruins)
  • Ryder Korczak (02 – 8-7-15 – Calgary Hitmen)
  • Peyton McKenzie (02 – 3rd in ’17 – 17-27-44 – OHA Edmonton)
  • Kade Runke (02 – Listed – 23-40-63 – Eastman Selects)

NHL Prospects

  • Brayden Tracey (Anaheim Ducks – Unsigned)

Rights Held

  • Trey Fechko (03 – 9th in ’18 – 15-22-37 – Holy Family Catholic High School – Arizona State Sun Devils)
  • Erik Middendorf (00 – 4th in ’15 – 7-4-11 – Colorado College Tigers)

Two-thirds of the Warriors’ top line are gone as Langan and Almeida are both set to start their careers in the AHL, which leaves Tracey to shoulder the load on offence in his second WHL campaign.

The acquisition of Joseph from the Giants will certainly help out Tracey early on, but the likes of the Taphorn twins and Korczak, who was acquired in the Jett Woo trade during May’s Bantam Draft, will need to step up their games.

New faces like Alaire, Hayes and McKenzie might be able to contribute as well, but it could end up being a one-man offence if things don’t gel together quickly.

There’s still a chance that Almedia could return as he’s recovering from shoulder surgery that he underwent during the off-season, but the Warriors would probably deal him off as soon as they could to get some assets back.

Defencemen

Departing

  • Josh Brook (99 – 16-59-71 – Laval Rocket – Montreal Canadiens – Signed)
  • Dalton Hamaliuk (98 – 4-19-23 – Alberta Golden Bears)
  • Jett Woo (00 – 12-54-66 – Calgary Hitmen)

Returning

  • Matthew Benson (00 – 0-1-1)
  • Drae Gardiner (01 – 1-4-5)
  • Daemon Hunt (02 – 7-13-20)
  • Matt Sanders (01 – 0-2-2)
  • Alek Sukunda (01 – 1-3-4)

Arriving

  • Cole Jordan (02 – Listed – 12-32-44 – Brandon Midget Wheat Kings)
  • Cory King (02 – 5th in ’17 – 10-42-52 – Southwest Cougars)
  • Braden Miller (02 – Listed – 3-2-5 – Sherwood Park Kings)

NHL Prospects

  • N/A

Rights Held

  • Corson Ceulemans (03 – 5th in ’18 – 13-16-29 – OHA Edmonton – Brooks Bandits – Wisconsin Badgers)
  • Austin Chorney (00 – 2nd in ’15 – 3-8-11 – West Kelowna Warriors – Ohio State Buckeyes)
  • Vladislav Yeryomenko (99 – 7-26-33 – Calgary Hitmen – Dinamo Minsk)

With Brook turning pro and Woo being dealt in May, the defence is going to look dramatically different, especially with Yeryomenko not showing up in The Friendly City to play in the KHL.

Like the offence, the Warriors defence is a one-man attack as well with Hunt already leading the way in his sophomore campaign. Unlike the offence, there aren’t any high-end guys coming until first round pick Denton Mateychuk arrives for the 2020-21 campaign. If no one else develops behind Hunt, it could be a long campaign.

Goaltenders

Departing

  • Brodan Salmond (98 – 2.73 – 21-10-5 – .906 – Queen’s Golden Gaels)

Returning

  • Adam Evanoff (00 – 2.62 – 19-10-3 – .916)

Arriving

  • Jackson Berry (02 – 6th in ’17 – 2.83 – 12-7-1 – .911 – OHA Edmonton)
  • Bailey Brkin (99 – 2.75 – 27-11-3 – .914 – Spokane Chiefs)

NHL Prospects

  • N/A

Rights Held

  • Jesper Wallstedt (02 – ’19 Import Draft – 2.65 – 12-8-0 – .901 – Lulea U20)

After splitting time with Salmond last season, Evanoff was expected to take over the reins for the Warriors this year. However, a hip injury has him out for the first half of the season and has the Warriors without their projected starting netminder for the third straight year, as Brody Willms’ junior career ended with a hip ailment after the 2017-18 campaign and Zach Sawchenko moved up to U Sports following the 2016-17 season.

Although it seemed like a bit of a gamble when he was picked in June, the Warriors were hoping to get Wallstedt to head across the pond for this season when they drafted him, but the highly touted netminder for the 2021 NHL Draft has elected to stay in Sweden for the upcoming campaign.

As a result, the Warriors brought in Brkin this past week, who was surprisingly the odd man out in Spokane despite posting solid numbers in the Chiefs’ run to the Western Conference final. With a young defence in front of the goalies, it’s good to have a veteran to fill that role for now, especially as Berry has yet to play in a WHL game.

Coaching Staff and Management

Departing

  • N/A

Returning

  • Alan Millar (General Manager – Eighth Season – Tenth with the team)
  • Tim Hunter (Head Coach – Sixth Season)
  • Mark O’Leary (Associate Coach – Eighth Season)
  • Scott King (Assistant Coach – Fourth Season)
  • Matt Weninger (Goaltending Coach – Third Season)

Arriving

  • N/A

Everyone is back for another campaign, but Hunter’s status could be worth keeping an eye on. Having been rumoured for a pro gig after the 2017-18 campaign, he stayed in Moose Jaw and was given the chance to lead Canada’s bench at the World Juniors.

Following the quarter-final loss to Finland in Vancouver and the opening round sweep by Saskatoon, there could be calls for a change amongst Warriors fans if this campaign doesn’t go according to plan.

Best Case Scenario

Tracey and Hunt put the team on their backs with impressive sophomore campaigns and the team gets an added boost when a healthy Evanoff arrives after Christmas. Thanks to those players, and a couple of surprise breakout performances, the Warriors sneak their way into the playoffs as a wild card.

Worst Case Scenario

Evanoff misses the entire campaign due to his hip injury and the backend is a complete mess other than Hunt. Tracey is dealt in January in the hopes of adding assets that were lost in the 2018 run and the Warriors miss the playoffs for the first time since 2015, which leads to a coaching change. There is one positive, however, as the Warriors still have their 2020 first round pick and end up winning the Connor Bedard sweepstakes.

Current 2020 Draft Situation

  • Round 1: One Pick
  • Round 2: One Pick (Saskatoon)
  • Round 3: No Picks
  • Round 4: One Pick (Red Deer)
  • Round 5: One Pick
  • Round 6: No Picks
  • Round 7: One Pick
  • Round 8: One Pick
  • Round 9: One Pick
  • Round 10: One Pick
  • Round 11: One Pick
  • Round 12: One Pick
Aliaksei Protas (Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald)

Prince Albert Raiders

Last Season

The Raiders put together their best campaign in a generation as Dante Hannoun’s Game 7 overtime heroics gave the team their first WHL title since 1985. The Memorial Cup didn’t go as planned as they went 0-3, which extended the league champions’ losing streak at the tournament to 13 straight games.

Forwards

Departing

  • Noah Gregor (98 – 43-45-88 – San Jose Barracuda – San Jose Sharks – Signed)
  • Dante Hannoun (98 – 29-38-67 – Atlanta Gladiators)
  • Parker Kelly (99 – 35-32-67 – Belleville Senators – Ottawa Senators – Signed)
  • Brett Leason (99 – 36-53-89 – Hershey Bears – Washington Capitals – Signed)
  • Sean Montgomery (98 – 29-30-59 – Western Mustangs)

Returning

  • Jakob Brook (02 – 6-6-12)
  • Cole Fonstad (00 – 29-44-73)
  • Spencer Moe (00 – 9-24-33)
  • Justin Nachbaur (00 – 19-12-31)
  • Eric Pearce (01 – 7-4-11)
  • Aliaksei Protas (01 – 11-29-40)
  • Ozzy Wiesblatt (02 – 15-24-39)

Arriving

  • Evan Herman (02 – 3rd in ’17 – 13-13-26 – Rink Hockey Academy)
  • Ivan Kechkin (02 – ’19 Import Draft – 6-12-18 – Rus Moskva U18)
  • Tyson Laventure (03 – 2nd in ’18 – 24-32-56 – OHA Edmonton)
  • Cole Nagy (01 – Listed – 26-39-65 – Saskatoon Blazers)
  • Cohner Saleski (02 – 1st in ’17 – 9-19-28 – Prince Albert Mintos)
  • Ilya Usau (01 – Listed – 7-9-16 – Salisbury School)

NHL Prospects

  • Cole Fonstad (Montreal Canadiens – Unsigned)
  • Aliaksei Protas (Washington Capitals – Signed)

Rights Held

  • Dominik Bokk (00 – ’17 Import Draft – 8-15-23 – Vaxjo Lakers – Rogle – St. Louis Blues – Signed)
  • Garrett Clegg (00 – 7th in ’15 – 32-38-70 – Sherwood Park Crusaders – Robert Morris Colonials)
  • Gavin Hain (00 – 8th in ’15 – 6-3-9 – North Dakota Fighting Hawks – Philadelphia Flyers – Unsigned)
  • Aaron Huglen (01 – Listed – 17-35-42 – Roseau High School – Fargo Force – Minnesota Golden Gophers – Buffalo Sabres – Unsigned)
  • Brett Moravec (03 – 5th in ’18 – 13-23-36 – Edge School – Okotoks Oilers – Wisconsin Badgers)
  • Arseni Smekhnov (01 – 4th in ’16 – 1-2-3 – Youngstown Phantoms – UConn Huskies)

With Leason set to start his pro career in Hershey, the Raiders will lose five big weapons from last year’s offence. They still have Fonstad, Protas and Wiesblatt around to help shoulder the load, plus the likes of Laventure and Saleski are moving up from midget to pace the younger side of the forward core.

Although he doesn’t fit in on either category, Usau looks to be a nice addition as well as he joins the Raiders instead of going to the NCAA’s UConn Huskies. It’s not the same juggernaut as what the team had a year ago, but there enough weapons to keep teams honest.

Defencemen

Departing

  • Sergei Sapego (99 – 10-33-43 – Toronto Marlies)
  • Loeden Schaufler (00 – 0-4-4)

Returning

  • Kaiden Guhle (02 – 3-14-17)
  • Zack Hayes (99 – 3-24-27)
  • Max Martin (99 – 6-35-41)
  • Jeremy Masella (99 – 2-12-14)
  • Brayden Pachal (99 – 15-36-51)

Arriving

  • Nolan Allan (03 – 1st in ’18 – 12-23-35 – Saskatoon Blazers)
  • Remy Aquilon (01 – 0-4-4 – Victoria Royals)
  • Braydon Clark (02 – 3rd in ’17 – 7-3-10 – Valley West Giants)
  • Landon Kosior (02 – Listed – 9-43-52 – Tisdale Trojans)

NHL Prospects

  • N/A

Rights Held

  • Jake Ratzlaff (02 – Listed – 10-15-25 – Rosemount High School – Minnesota Golden Gophers)

Although they still have to figure out the overage situation, the defence is once again the pillar of strength for the Raiders. Hayes and Pachal are more than likely going to be back to lead the way, plus Guhle will have more minutes this year to show what he could do.

The Raiders were also able to land another strong young blueliner in Kosior, who was impressive in the Midget AAA ranks last year and had been courted by a couple of USHL teams.

The player to watch though is Allan, especially after he dominated the SMAAAHL playoffs with 21 points in 13 games for the Blazers. How much of an impact he will make remains to be seen, but the future is looking bright for what’s already an excellent defence.

Goaltenders

Departing

  • Ian Scott (99 – 1.83 – 38-8-3 – .932 – Toronto Marlies – Toronto Maple Leafs – Signed)

Returning

  • Boston Bilous (01 – 3.34 – 8-4-2 – .867)

Arriving

  • Brett Balas (01 – 3rd in ’16 – 5.27 – 4-22-2 – .879 – Calgary Canucks)
  • Carter Serhyenko (02 – Listed – 3.80 – 6-14-0 – .890 – Battlefords Stars)

NHL Prospects

  • N/A

Rights Held

  • N/A

A new era in goal begins as Scott heads to the Maple Leafs system after a three-year run as the starter. Bilous, who was once committed to the NCAA’s Denver Pioneers, should earn the starting duties unless things go awry early.

Balas and the newly signed Serhyenko are going to battle it out for the backup job and could push Bilous, especially as there are no youngsters in the prospect pipeline that have signed with the team. If the Raiders are going to go far this year, the goaltending will be the key piece of the puzzle.

Coaching Staff and Management

Departing

  • Mike Brodeur (Goaltending Coach for One Season – Assistant Coach and Goaltending Coach with the Fort McMurray Oil Barons)

Returning

  • Curtis Hunt (General Manager – Fifth Season)
  • Marc Habscheid (Head Coach – Sixth Season)
  • Jeff Truitt (Assistant Coach – Second Season)
  • Dan Gendur (Assistant Coach – Second Season)

Arriving

  • Kelly Guard (Goaltending Coach – Was an Assistant Coach with the Lloydminster Bobcats for One Season)

In returning to the Raiders bench for another campaign, Habscheid is the first coach to defend a league championship since Derek Laxdal led the Edmonton Oil Kings to a title in 2012.

The only change sees Guard returning to a Raiders coaching staff that he served several roles in for six seasons before his one-year stint in the AJHL.

Best Case Scenario

With a solid defence and the offence clicking right away, the Raiders get off to a good start as Bilous finds his legs as a starter and they are once again among the contenders in the East Division.

Worst Case Scenario

The replacement for Scott isn’t found and the offence takes a step back. The Raiders make a third straight trip to the playoffs, but their season ends in quick fashion.

Current 2020 Draft Situation

  • Round 1: One Pick
  • Round 2: One Pick
  • Round 3: No Picks
  • Round 4: One Pick
  • Round 5: One Pick
  • 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
Max Paddock (Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald)

Regina Pats

Last Season

A tough start and the trading away of Jake Leschyshyn and Nick Henry to the Lethbridge Hurricanes resulted in a rough second half for the Pats, as they missed the playoffs for the first time since 2013.

Forwards

Departing

  • Sergei Alkhimov (01 – 13-14-27 – Vancouver Giants)
  • Brett Clayton (98 – 5-6-11 – UBC Thunderbirds)
  • Koby Morrisseau (00 – 1-3-4 – Dauphin Kings)
  • Sebastian Streu (99 – 7-15-22 – Eisbaren Berlin)

Returning

  • Blake Allan (01 – 1-5-6)
  • Cole Dubinsky (02 – 5-4-9)
  • Ty Kolle (00 – 16-12-28)
  • Riley Krane (00 – 12-12-24)
  • Carter Massier (01 – 5-4-9)
  • Logan Nijhoff (01 – 7-10-17)
  • Duncan Pierce (00 – 8-12-20)
  • Austin Pratt (99 – 25-26-51)
  • Garrett Wright (01 – 7-4-11)

Arriving

  • Drew Englot (02 – Lethbridge’s 4th in ’17 – 21-20-41 – Notre Dame Hounds)
  • Robbie Holmes (99 – 12-14-26 – Everett Silvertips)
  • Dawson Holt (99 – 6-13-19 – Vancouver Giants)
  • Cale Sanders (02 – Listed – 16-19-35 – Edge School)
  • Sloan Stanick (03 – Everett’s 7th in ’18 – 21-20-41 – Yellowhead Chiefs)

NHL Prospects

  • N/A

Rights Held

  • Kaden Bohlsen (01 – 9th in ’16 – 11-8-19 – Fargo Force – Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks)
  • Daniil Gushchin (02 – ’19 Import Draft – 16-20-36 – Muskegon Lumberjacks)
  • Trevor Janicke (00 – Listed – 22-26-48 – Central Illinois Flying Aces – Notre Dame Fighting Irish – Anaheim Ducks – Unsigned)
  • Lukas Sillinger (00 – 6th in ’15 – 14-11-25 – Penticton Vees – Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks)

With Pratt coming back, Hughes being reacquired from the Silvertips and Holt coming over from Vancouver, the Pats have a strong overage trio to lead the way on offence. They probably need to as well as there’s not a true high-end young talent waiting in the wings at the moment.

However, there are a couple of possibilities for someone to fill that role. One of them is their import pick Gushchin, who is heading back to the USHL and has a chance to be another high-end Russian prospect from the Lumberjacks like Andrei Svechnikov and Egor Afanasyev.

The other is draft-eligible US NTDP player Ty Smilanic, who had 38 points in the USHL last year and is no longer committed to the NCAA’s Denver Pioneers. If one of those two were to end up in Regina, the future outlook for the Pats would improve dramatically.

Defencemen

Departing

  • Brady Pouteau (98 – 5-11-16 – Manitoba Bisons)
  • Liam Schioler (98 – 5-3-8 – Queen’s Golden Gaels)
  • Steven Zonneveld (01 – 1-6-7)

Returning

  • Ryker Evans (01 – 1-10-11)
  • Tyson Feist (01 – 0-3-3)
  • Makai Mitchell (02 – 0-1-1)
  • Nikita Sedov (01 – 0-19-19)
  • Kyle Walker (00 – 2-10-12)

Arriving

  • Jake Johnson (03 – 10th in ’18 – 3-14-17 – Phoenix Jr. Coyotes)
  • Sam McGinley (02 – 5th in ’17 – 10-19-29 – Edge School)

NHL Prospects

  • N/A

Rights Held

  • Jake Boltmann (01 – Listed – 4-9-13 – Edina High School – Lincoln Stars – Minnesota Golden Gophers)

When Aaron Hyman was dealt to Tri-City last December, the Pats’ defensive scoring output fell off dramatically. The likes of Sedov and Evans could have breakout campaigns on offence and Walker is a nice older piece on the backend, but they also lack the true young talent to turn things around. That will change next year though when first round pick Layton Feist joins the side.

Goaltenders

Departing

  • Dean McNabb (00 – 4.17 – 8-16-1 – .876 – Winnipeg Ice)

Returning

  • Max Paddock (00 – 3.52 – 11-28-3 – .896)

Arriving

  • Danton Belluk (01 – Everett’s 10th in ’16 – 2.90 – 14-12-0 – .922 – Eastman Selects)

NHL Prospects

  • N/A

Rights Held

  • N/A

Paddock’s back for another campaign, but what happens at the deadline could set the tone for the future of the goaltending job. Given his showing at the Memorial Cup in 2018, he could be someone that a contending team looks towards if they want to make an upgrade between the pipes.

Coaching Staff and Management

Departing

  • N/A

Returning

  • ­John Paddock (General Manager – Fifth Season – Sixth with the team)
  • Dave Struch (Head Coach – Second Season – Sixth with the team)
  • Brad Herauf (Assistant Coach – Fifth Season)
  • Robert Muntain (Goaltending Coach – Ninth Season)

Arriving

  • N/A

Everything remains the same in Regina, which is a good thing as they continue to rebuild from their title run in 2017 and their Memorial Cup hosting duties a year later. The squad should start to make improvements in a year a two, but whether everyone will still be there at that point remains to be seen.

Best Case Scenario

A strong overage trio, a bounce-back campaign by Paddock and the surprise arrival of either Gushchin or Smilanic helps the Pats earn a wild card spot. Plus, they also end up with the top overall pick in the Bantam Draft as they got Swift Current’s first round pick (which was dealt to Lethbridge during the madness that was the 2018 trade deadline) from the Hurricanes last season.

Worst Case Scenario

The bottom falls out completely for the Pats and they end up in last place in the league table. To make matters worse, the Saskatoon Blades end up having the chance to take Bedard on draft day as they got Regina’s first round pick at the 2018 trade deadline for Ryan Kubic and Cameron Hebig.

Current 2020 Draft Situation

  • Round 1: One Pick (Swift Current)
  • Round 2: One Pick (Everett)
  • Round 3: No Picks
  • Round 4: One Pick
  • Round 5: No Picks
  • Round 6: One Pick (Vancouver)
  • Round 7: No Picks
  • Round 8: No Picks
  • Round 9: One Pick
  • Round 10: One Pick
  • Round 11: One Pick
  • Round 12: One Pick
Nolan Maier (Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald)

Saskatoon Blades

Last Season

In the best campaign for the team in almost a decade, the Blades reached the post-season for the first time since they hosted the Memorial Cup in 2013 and won their first playoff series in eight years. They ended up losing in six games to the Raiders in the quarter-finals, but it was still a massive success for a franchise that had been on the outside looking in for several seasons.

Forwards

Departing

  • Max Gerlach (98 – 42-32-74 – HC Ambri-Piotta)
  • Gary Haden (99 – 31-34-65 – Victoria Royals)
  • Kristian Roykas Marthinsen (99 – 13-16-29 – HC Dalen – Washington Capitals – Unsigned)

Returning

  • Kyle Crnkovic (02 – 11-20-31)
  • Kirby Dach (01 – 25-48-73)
  • Eric Florchuk (00 – 21-29-50)
  • Zach Huber (00 – 8-3-11)
  • Ryan Hughes (99 – 30-39-69)
  • Riley McKay (99 – 12-25-27)
  • Cyle McNabb (00 – 7-3-10)
  • Tristen Robins (01 – 9-16-25)
  • Randen Schmidt (00 – 1-3-4)
  • Chase Wouters (00 – 15-24-39)

Arriving

  • Colton Dach (03 – 1st in ’18 – 16-12-28 – Fort Saskatchewan Rangers)
  • Tyler Ho (00 – Listed – 3-9-12 – Vernon Vipers)
  • Kjell Kjemhus (01 – 3-3-6 – Moose Jaw Warriors)
  • Braden Plaschewsky (02 – 2nd in ’17 – 6-10-16 – Calgary Midget Buffaloes)
  • Jayden Wiens (03 – 8th in ’18 – 7-27-34 – Tisdale Trojans)

NHL Prospects

  • Kirby Dach (Chicago Blackhawks – Signed)
  • Eric Florchuk (Washington Capitals – Unsigned)

Rights Held

  • Niklas Norman (01 – 6th in ’16 – 16-33-49 – Shattuck St. Mary’s – Jamestown Rebels – Minnesota Golden Gophers)
  • Grant Silianoff (01 – 9th in ’16 – 18-23-41 – Cedar Rapids Roughriders – Notre Dame Fighting Irish)
  • Kalen Szeto (02 – 5th in ’17 – 12-9-21 – Langley Rivermen – Yale Bulldogs)

All eyes are on Dach after he was picked third overall by the Blackhawks in June. He’ll miss some time with the start of the NHL campaign and the World Juniors, but he should be among the very best players in the country when he’s in the Blades lineup. However, if he ends up staying in Chicago on a full-time basis, Saskatoon’s title window may have slammed shut much quicker than they anticipated.

Although they had to give up Haden in order to address their biggest off-season question mark on the blueline, there are still some strong players on offence. Hughes is back for an overage campaign and the likes of Wouters, Florchuk, Crnkovic and Robins are all looking to increase their numbers, though a lot of that might depend on what happens with the man who wears number 77.

Defencemen

Departing

  • Dawson Davidson (98 – 13-62-75 – Alberta Golden Bears)
  • Reece Harsch (99 – 4-16-20 – Winnipeg Ice)
  • Emil Malysjev (01 – 3-14-17 – Vaxjo Lakers U20)
  • Brandon Schuldhaus (98 – 8-23-31 – Queen’s Golden Gaels)

Returning

  • Aidan De La Gorgendiere (02 – 0-5-5)
  • Majid Kaddoura (01 – 1-1-2)
  • Nolan Kneen (99 – 6-39-45)

Arriving

  • Radek Kucerik (01 – ’19 Import Draft – 6-17-23 – HC Kometa Brno U19)
  • Parker Malchuk (01 – 0-1-1 – Victoria Royals)
  • Scott Walford (99 – 9-38-47 – Victoria Royals)
  • Charlie Wright (03 – 4th in ’18 – 4-31-35 – Northern Alberta Xtreme)
  • Libor Zabransky (00 – ’19 Import Draft – 4-12-16 – Fargo Force)

NHL Prospects

N/A

Rights Held

  • Powell Connor (00 – 8th in ’15 – 2-9-11 – Trail Smoke Eaters – Michigan State Spartans)
  • Nicholas Kent (01 – 7th in ’16 – 0-1-1 – Green Bay Gamblers – Vernon Vipers – Quinnipiac Bobcats)

As it was heading into last year, the gap between the older players to the younger faces on the blueline was the biggest need that the Blades needed to address, especially since Malysejv went back to Europe following a single season in Saskatoon.

The addition of Zabransky, who spent time with the Kelowna Rockets for two seasons, was smart but the bigger move was landing Walford to create a dynamic one-two punch with him and Kneen. The rest of the younger blueliners have yet to prove what they could do, but the veterans should ease that process in the early stages.

Goaltenders

Departing

  • Dorrin Luding (99 – 2.91 – 9-5-2 – .909 – Winkler Flyers)

Returning

  • Nolan Maier (01 – 2.64 – 36-10-6 – .910)

Arriving

  • Koen MacInnes (02 – 2nd in ’17 – 2.21 – 15-2-0 – .907 – Burnaby Winter Club)

NHL Prospects

  • N/A

Rights Held

  • Ryan Ullan (00 – Listed – 5.02 – 1-5-2 – .851 – Green Bay Gamblers – Bismarck Bobcats – Northern Michigan Wildcats)

After not being drafted last year, Maier will be looking to prove the scouts wrong in his third campaign in Saskatoon as he’s already in the discussion of being one of the top goalies in the league.

With Luding moving on to the MJHL, MacInnes will become the full-time back up with 2004-born netminder and local product Ethan Chadwick waiting in the wings behind him.

Coaching Staff and Management

Departing

  • N/A

Returning

  • Colin Priestner (General Manager – Fourth Season)
  • Mitch Love (Head Coach – Second Season)
  • Ryan Marsh (Associate Coach – Second Season)
  • Ryan Keller (Assistant Coach – Fourth Season)
  • Tim Cheveldae (Goaltending Coach – Sixth Season)

Arriving

  • N/A

After being maligned for some of his early moves as a general manager, Priestner’s reputation certainly improved quite a bit as the transactions that he made over the course of last season helped to turn the Blades into a top-tier side. What he does now with a team that many expect to be a title threat will be interesting to watch over the next few months, and he’s already shown his hand a bit with the Walford for Haden trade.

Although fans weren’t happy that Dean Brockman was shown the door after the 2017-18 campaign, Love did a great job in his first season as a head coach and has also earned the chance to work as an assistant coach with Canada at this year’s World Juniors.

Best Case Scenario

A dynamic offence, a great season from Maier and a defence that only gets stronger as the year goes on propels the Blades to their best season in a generation. Not only are they in the mix for a league title, but they are also able to land the next great piece for the franchise by taking Bedard first overall at the Bantam Draft with a pick that they got from the Pats.

Worst Case Scenario

Dach makes the jump to the NHL and everything changes for the Blades a result. They still make the playoffs, but the question of what-if hangs over the side all year as they miss out on the chance to make their first trip to the conference final since 1994.

Current 2020 Draft Situation

  • Round 1: One Pick (Regina)
  • Round 2: One Pick (Winnipeg)
  • Round 3: One Pick
  • Round 4: One Pick
  • Round 5: One Pick (Victoria)
  • Round 6: No Picks
  • Round 7: One Pick (Victoria)
  • Round 8: No Picks
  • Round 9: Two Picks (Victoria)
  • Round 10: One Pick
  • Round 11: One Pick
  • Round 12: One Pick
Peyton Krebs (Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald)

Winnipeg Ice

Last Season

It was a disastrous campaign for the Ice as they didn’t show any of the promise they had from being in the mix for a playoff spot a year earlier. In the worst-kept secret of the campaign, the Ice finally bid farewell to Cranbrook, B.C. as they announced they would be moving to Winnipeg. The move to Manitoba’s capital also resulted in a shift to the East Division and landing the top pick in the WHL Draft.

Forwards

Departing

  • River Fahey (01 – 2-4-6 – Victoria Royals)
  • Brandon Machado (00 – 4-3-7 – Swift Current Broncos)
  • Davis Murray (99 – 9-6-15)
  • Jaeger White (98 – 28-24-52 – Carleton Ravens)

Returning

  • Bradley Ginnell (00 – 16-26-42)
  • Holden Kodak (01 – 3-7-10)
  • Peyton Krebs (01 – 19-49-68)
  • Connor McClennon (02 – 14-15-29)
  • Mikey Milne (02 – 3-4-7)
  • Cole Muir (01 – 11-16-27)
  • Owen Pederson (02 – 4-3-7)
  • Austin Schellenberg (00 – 5-9-14)
  • Jakin Smallwood (01 – 13-16-29)

Arriving

  • Logan Danis (02 – Listed – 14-23-37 – Rink Hockey Academy)
  • James Form (02 – 3rd in ’17 – 13-14-27 – Saskatoon Blazers)
  • Isaac Johnson (99 – 12-20-32 – Tri-City Americans)
  • Nino Kinder (01 – ’19 Import Draft – 17-24-41 – Eisbaren Berlin U20)
  • Michal Teply (01 – ’19 Import Draft – 4-6-10 – HC Benatky Nad Jizerou)

Kind Of Sort Of Arriving

  • Matthew Savoie (04 – 1st in ’19 – 31-40-71 – Northern Alberta Xtreme)

NHL Prospects

  • Peyton Krebs (Vegas Golden Knights – Unsigned)
  • Michal Teply (Chicago Blackhawks – Unsigned)

Rights Held

  • Jacob Braccini (01 – Listed – 34-27-61 – Buffalo High School – Minnesota Golden Gophers)
  • Eric Fawkes (01 – Seattle’s 2nd in ’16 – 15-22-37 – Winkler Flyers – Minnesota Wilderness – RPI Engineers)
  • Dylan Holloway (01 – Everett’s 6th in ’16 – 40-48-88 – Okotoks Oilers – Wisconsin Badgers)
  • Carter Loney (02 – Victoria’s 10th in ’17 – 8-22-30 – Rink Hockey Academy – Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs)
  • Rhett Pitlick (01 – Listed – 28-33-61 – Chaska High School – Omaha Lancers – Minnesota Golden Gophers – Montreal Canadiens – Unsigned)
  • Ben Sanderson (00 – 6th in ’15 – 5-9-14 – Vernon Vipers – Colorado College Tigers)
  • Carter Savoie (02 – Regina’s 9th in ’17 – 31-42-73 – Sherwood Park Crusaders – Denver Pioneers)
  • Brett Wieschorster (01 – 5th in ’16 – 11-17-28 – Sherwood Park Crusaders – Vermont Catamounts)

With Krebs out for the time being with an ACL injury, it’s up to the likes of McClennon, Muir, Ginnell and Smallwood to lead the way among the returning players. Johnson left the Americans partway through last season but could be a good solid piece on the cheap, while the addition of Blackhawks prospect Teply should certainly help to add to their offensive depth. They also made moves in the off-season to get Holloway and Carter Savoie, though it seems unlikely they move to the WHL this year.

Then there’s the big wild card. How many games does the highly-touted Matthew Savoie play? After the top overall pick signed with the Ice and did away with his commitments to the Denver Pioneers in the process, there were a number of rumours as to where he would spend the 2019-20 campaign and how the Ice would have him in the lineup for more than the regular allotment of five games for 15-year-olds in the WHL.

Though not offically confirmed by the league, Winnipeg Free Press reporter Mike Sawatzky wrote in an article earlier this month that “after negotiations with the WHL and the Ice resulted in a deal for him to play at least half of Winnipeg’s 68 regular-season games as an underage player, Savoie decided to skip the NCAA and signed a WHL player agreement.”

If that’s the case, you can bet that all the other teams in the league will be asking for their prospects to play more than the allotted five games in the future, in addition to highly-touted 2020 WHL Draft prospect Connor Bedard wanting the same deal applied to him if he gets picked first overall next May and isn’t granted exceptional status.

As for Savoie’s actual on-ice impact, his presence is certainly going to improve Winnipeg’s chances quite a bit. He’s the most-hyped rookie to enter the WHL since Tyler Benson and he will be the most-watched player in the league all season long. The question of who’s better between him and Kingston Frontenacs rookie forward Shane Wright, who was granted exceptional status by Hockey Canada and will enter the OHL on a full-time basis this fall, will be a fun one to debate for the next few years.

Defencemen

Departing

  • Martin Bodak (98 – 11-14-25 – HC Vitkovice)
  • Jordan Chudley (01 – 0-2-2 – Spokane Chiefs)
  • Valtteri Kakkonen (00 – 1-9-10 – JYP)
  • Brenden Kwiatkowski (00 – 0-3-3 – Grande Prairie Storm)

Returning

  • Marco Creta (00 – 4-14-18)
  • Chase Hartje (99 – 5-21-26)
  • Nolan Orzeck (01 – 4-8-12)
  • Zachary Patrick (02 – 2-5-7)

Arriving

  • Reece Harsch (99 – 4-16-20 – Saskatoon Blades)
  • Mike Ladyman (01 – 4-24-28 – Winnipeg Blues)
  • Carson Lambos (03 – 1st in ’18 – 14-16-30 – Rink Hockey Academy)
  • Anson McMaster (02 – 2nd in ’17 – 9-12-21 – Okotoks Midget Oilers)
  • Ben Zloty (02 – 6th in ’17 – 4-23-27 – Calgary Midget Royals)

NHL Prospects

  • N/A

Rights Held

  • Evan Bushy (02 – Listed – 18-15-33 – Thief River Falls High School – St. Cloud State Huskies)
  • Jackson LaCombe (01 – Listed – 22-67-89 – Shattuck St. Mary’s – Minnesota Golden Gophers – Anaheim Ducks – Unsigned)
  • Jake Sanderson (02 – 4th in ’17 – 4-20-24 – US NTDP – North Dakota Fighting Hawks)

If the Ice are going to truly contend for a playoff spot this season, this is where they need to improve the most. Hartje and Creta both return and Harsch arrives from Saskatoon, but the big piece is Lambos. He was widely considered to be the best blueliner available at the 2018 WHL Draft, though Raiders prospect Nolan Allan might have a say in the matter now thanks to his fantastic Midget AAA campaign.

It’s a lot to ask for a 16-year-old to be the guy as soon as they arrive to a team, but that might be the case for Lambos when his rookie season starts in Winnipeg, especially if the rest of the blueline isn’t up to snuff and the youngsters have to lead the way.

Goaltenders

Departing

  • Curtis Meger (98 – 4.46 – 2-7-0 – .864 – Regina Cougars)

Returning

  • Jesse Makaj (01 – 4.41 – 5-22-8 – .878)
  • Duncan McGovern (00 – 4.77 – 6-16-2 – .868)

Arriving

  • Gage Alexander (02 – 7th in ’17 – 2.52 – 9-7-2 – .918 – Okotoks Midget Oilers)
  • Will Gurski (02 – 4th in ’17 – 2.21 – 14-2-1 – .902 – Shawnigan Lake School)
  • Dean McNabb (00 – 4.17 – 8-16-1 – .876 – Winnipeg Ice)

NHL Prospects

  • N/A

Rights Held

  • Hobie Hedquist (03 – Listed – 1.76 – 6-2-1 – .908 – Sioux Falls Power – Colorado College Tigers)

Like the defence, the goaltending needs to show a massive improvement if the Ice are to make the playoffs. Makaj was ranked by NHL Central Scouting last season and would appear to be the favourite to be the starter, but he’s been sidelined with an illness all pre-season and Duncan McGovern is out with an injury.

As a result, the Ice acquired McNabb from the Pats on Monday, but where he fits in remains to be seen once everyone is healthy.

Coaching Staff and Management

Departing

  • Gordon Burnett (Assistant Coach for Five Seasons – Head Coach with the Winnipeg Blues)
  • Nathan Lieuwen (Goaltending Coach for Two Seasons – Was with the team for Three Seasons)

Returning

  • Matt Cockell (General Manager and President – Third Season)
  • James Patrick (Head Coach – Third Season)
  • Jon Klemm (Associate Coach – Third Season)

Arriving

  • Josh Green (Assistant Coach – Assistant Coach with the Winnipeg Blues for One Season)
  • Dan Ferguson (Goaltending Coach – Goaltending Coach with the Steinbach Pistons for Seven Seasons and the Flin Flon Bombers for Three Seasons)

While there have been some changes elsewhere in the organization, the main jobs are intact after the move. With that said, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Patrick is on the hot seat coming into the campaign as the Ice are looking to make a splash in Winnipeg and return to the playoffs for the first time since 2015.

Best Case Scenario

With an offence that benefits from the early arrival of Savoie ahead of Krebs’ return from injury and a much improved backend, the Ice end up making the playoffs and build some buzz in their first year in Winnipeg before they unleash Savoie and Conor Geekie on a full-time basis next season.

Worst Case Scenario

Krebs’ misses more time than expected, Savoie doesn’t make an immediate impact in his limited appearances and the backend remains a mess as the Ice miss the playoffs once again. Their young talent makes them a team to watch in 2020-21, but it will be with a new coach behind the bench.

Current 2020 Draft Situation

  • Round 1: One Pick
  • Round 2: One Pick (Red Deer)
  • Round 3: One Pick (Moose Jaw)
  • Round 4: No Picks
  • Round 5: One Pick
  • Round 6: One Pick
  • Round 7: One Pick
  • Round 8: One Pick
  • Round 9: One Pick
  • Round 10: One Pick
  • Round 11: One Pick
  • Round 12: One Pick