2019-20 WHL Season Preview: Central Division

This is the second 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.

James Malm (Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald)

Calgary Hitmen

Last Season

With a good core of veteran players and newer faces, the Hitmen put together a surprising campaign as they stunned the Lethbridge Hurricanes in the opening round for their first playoff series win in four years before being swept aside by the Edmonton Oil Kings.

Forwards

Departing

  • Luke Coleman (98 – 20-24-44 – Lethbridge Pronghorns)
  • Kaden Elder (98 – 27-33-60)
  • Ryder Korczak (02 – 8-7-15 – Moose Jaw Warriors)
  • Jake Kryski (98 – 19-27-46 – UBC Thunderbirds)

Returning

  • Hunter Campbell (01 – 3-10-13)
  • Tye Carriere (01 – 6-2-8)
  • Riley Fiddler-Schultz (02 – 4-7-11)
  • Carson Focht (00 – 26-38-64)
  • Mark Kastelic (99 – 47-30-77)
  • James Malm (99 – 34-43-77)
  • Josh Prokop (00 – 9-19-28)
  • Riley Stotts (00 – 19-38-57)
  • Cael Zimmerman (01 – 7-19-26)

Arriving

  • Zac Funk (03 – 2nd in ’18 – 34-24-58 – Fraser Valley Thunderbirds)
  • Samuel Krajc (02 – ’19 Import Draft – 11-8-19 – HK Dukla Trencin)
  • Adam Kydd (02 – Listed – 13-23-36 – Regina Pat Canadians)
  • Jonas Peterek (01 – ’19 Import Draft – 2-9-11 – HC Frydek-Mistek)
  • Sean Tschigrel (03 – 1st in ’18 – 21-26-47 – OHA Edmonton)
  • Orca Wiesblatt (00 – 6-9-15 – Portage Terriers)

NHL Prospects

  • Carson Focht (Vancouver Canucks – Unsigned)
  • Mark Kastelic (Ottawa Senators – Unsigned)
  • Riley Stotts (Toronto Maple Leafs – Unsigned)

Rights Held

  • David Hymovitch (03 – 4th in ’18 – 11-11-22 – Phoenix Jr. Coyotes – Quinnipiac Bobcats)
  • Jackson Niedermayer (01 – 5th in ’16 – 2-4-6 – Penticton Vees – Arizona State Sun Devils)
  • Quinn Olson (01 – Prince Albert’s 6th in ’16 – 20-46-66 – Okotoks Oilers – Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs – Boston Bruins – Unsigned)
  • Noah Prokop (00 – 7th in ’15 – 14-12-26 – Green Bay Gamblers – Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks)
  • Tristan Zandee (03 – 2nd in ’18 – 20-14-34 – Airdrie Bisons – Canmore Eagles – Colorado College Tigers)

Although they do lose three overagers on offence, the Hitmen still have a lot of weapons with Malm, Focht and Stotts among the key veterans up front. They will also have a full season from Prokop after he came over from the BCHL’s Vernon Vipers partway through last year, plus the arrival of Tschigrel for his rookie campaign.

However, the biggest question is if Kastelic comes back as an overager or if he turns pro in the Ottawa system. Although they have several guys that can find the back of the net, his loss would be tough to overcome as he might be the favourite to win the league scoring title.

Defencemen

Departing

  • Vladislav Yeryomenko (99 – 7-26-33 – Dinamo Minsk – Rights Traded to the Moose Jaw Warriors)

Returning

  • Devan Klassen (01 – 1-3-4)
  • Dakota Krebs (99 – 4-21-25)
  • Luke Prokop (02 – 1-8-10)
  • Layne Toder (00 – 2-11-13)
  • Jackson Van De Leest (01 – 1-20-21)
  • Egor Zamula (00 – 10-46-56)

Arriving

  • Rory Neill (03 – 3rd in ’18 – 8-16-24 – Rink Hockey Academy)
  • Andrew Viggars (00 – 1-9-10 – West Kelowna Warriors)
  • Jett Woo (00 – 12-54-66 – Moose Jaw Warriors)

NHL Prospects

  • Jett Woo (Vancouver Canucks – Signed)
  • Egor Zamula (Philadelphia Flyers – Signed)

Rights Held

  • Max Crozier (00 – Listed – 10-33-43 – Sioux Falls Stampede – Providence Friars – Tampa Bay Lightning – Unsigned)
  • Jonny Tychonick (00 – Saskatoon’s 1st in ’15 – 0-4-4 – North Dakota Fighting Hawks – Ottawa Senators – Unsigned)

The entire defence returns from last year other than Yeryomenko, but his rights were dealt for Woo in a move that turned the Hitmen into a legit title threat with an impressive one-two punch on the backend with him and Zamula.

They also have a good veteran presence in Krebs and a couple of top younger guys in Van De Lees and Prokop who are expected to step up their offensive numbers. Plus, there’s also a chance that they could try and go after Tychonick if he struggles at North Dakota for a second straight season.

Goaltenders

Departing

  • N/A

Returning

  • Jack McNaughton (01 – 3.25 – 25-14-4 – .888)
  • Carl Stankowski (00 – 3.83 – 10-11-2 – .879)

Arriving

  • Brayden Peters (02 – 5th in ’17 – 1.49 – 12-3-0 – .944 – Lethbridge Midget Hurricanes)

NHL Prospects

  • N/A

Rights Held

  • N/A

It was a breakout campaign for McNaughton as he overtook Stankowski for the starting job and he’s expected to take that role once again in the hopes of becoming one of the top netminders in the league and also helping the Hitmen to a league title.

The bigger question though is what’s next for the former WHL champion Stankowski. Does he stay as the backup or is he overtaken by Hein or Peters and goes elsewhere for the next stop in his wild junior hockey career.

Coaching Staff and Management

Departing

  • N/A

Returning

  • Jeff Chynoweth (General Manager – Third Season)
  • Steve Hamilton (Head Coach – Second Season)
  • Trent Cassan (Assistant Coach – Fourth Season)
  • Joel Otto (Assistant Coach – Fourteenth Season)
  • Jason LaBarbera (Goaltending Coach – Fourth Season)

Arriving

  • N/A

Everything is the same with the Hitmen and Hamilton is getting a chance to show what he can do after a rough finish to his time in Edmonton. A Coach of the Year accolade wouldn’t be a surprise with how high the expectations are for this side.

Best Case Scenario

Kastelic and Malm form a one-two punch up front, the defence is excellent with Zamula and Woo leading the way and McNaughton continues to grow as a starter as the Hitmen are a legit title threat for the first time in five years.

Worst Case Scenario

Kastelic turns pro, the defence isn’t great behind the top two and the goaltending sputters. The Hitmen make the playoffs, but they are nowhere close to being a championship contender.

Current 2020 Draft Situation

  • Round 1: One Pick
  • Round 2: Two Picks (Tri-City)
  • Round 3: Two Picks (Everett and Vancouver)
  • Round 4: One Pick
  • Round 5: Two Picks (Tri-City)
  • Round 6: Two Picks (Saskatoon)
  • Round 7: Two Picks (Regina)
  • Round 8: One Pick
  • Round 9: One Pick
  • Round 10: One Pick
  • Round 11: One Pick
  • Round 12: One Pick
Matthew Robertson (Andy Devlin/LA Media)

Edmonton Oil Kings

Last Season

Although they were expected to be an improved side after two rough campaigns, the Oil Kings were far better than many predicted as they won the Central Division and made a trip to the Eastern Conference final for the first time since their Memorial Cup run in 2014. They held a 2-1 lead over the Prince Albert Raiders but ended up falling in six games as the eventual WHL champions got back on track.

Forwards

Departing

  • Quinn Benjafield (98 – 15-39-54 – UBC Thunderbirds)
  • Trey Fix-Wolansky (99 – 37-65-102 – Cleveland Monsters – Columbus Blue Jackets – Signed)
  • Andrew Fyten (98 – 18-23-41)
  • Vince Loschiavo (98 – 37-25-62 – Asiago)
  • Andrei Pavlenko (00 – 9-17-26 – Dinamo Minsk)
  • Zach Russell (99 – 1-5-6)

Returning

  • Vladimir Alistrov (01 – 12-26-38)
  • Scott Atkinson (00 – 15-18-33)
  • Liam Keeler (01 – 8-16-24)
  • David Kope (00 – 14-14-28)
  • Jalen Luypen (02 – 7-6-13)
  • Jake Neighbours (02 – 11-13-24)
  • Carter Souch (01 – 10-35-45)
  • Josh Williams (01 – 14-19-33)

Arriving

  • Dylan Guenther (03 – 1st in ’18 – 32-26-58 – Northern Alberta Xtreme)
  • Tyler Hortsmann (02 – 4th in ’17 – 13-19-32 – Delta Hockey Academy)
  • Brendan Kuny (02 – 7th in ‘17 – 14-17-31 – Sherwood Park Midget Kings)
  • Raphael Pelletier (02 – 3rd in ’17 – 9-17-26 – Northern Alberta Xtreme)
  • Riley Sawchuk (99 – 20-33-53 – Tri-City Americans)
  • Jesse Seppala (02 – ’19 Import Draft – 17-31-48 – Tappara U18)

NHL Prospects

  • N/A

Rights Held

  • Blake Biondi (02 – Listed – 28-27-55 – Hermantown High School – Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs)
  • AJ Hodges (01 – Listed – 14-21-35 – Wenatchee Wild – Muskegon Lumberjacks – Union Dutchmen)
  • Jackson Jutting (01 – Listed – 14-28-42 – Prior Lake High School – Cedar Rapids Roughriders – Colorado College Tigers)
  • Luke Levandowski (02 – Listed – 21-16-37 – Rosemount High – Wisconsin Badgers)
  • Johnny Meiers (02 – Listed – 18-31-49 – Eagan High – Colorado College Tigers)
  • Jack Smith (02 – Listed – 24-29-53 – St. Cloud Cathedral – Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs)

All three overagers were up front and the Oil Kings also lost their most dynamic offensive weapon in Fix-Wolansky. However, there’s still lots to like in the returning talents like Alistrov, Atkinson, Neigbours, Souch and Williams.

Neighbours will be looking for a big year as a potential first round pick at the NHL Draft, while Williams will attempt to bounce back after a disappointing sophomore season that saw him go undrafted in June after starting the campaign as an ‘A’ listed prospect by NHL Central Scouting.

They also brought in Sawchuk from Tri-City to replace the hole left by the graduating talent and there is also the arrival of the top overall pick in the 2018 WHL Bantam Draft in Guenther, who had four points in eight games last season as an underage player and also appeared in three playoff contests.

Defencemen

Departing

  • Parker Gavlas (99 – 1-10-11 – Medicine Hat Tigers)
  • Will Warm (99 – 0-2-2 – Victoria Royals)

Returning

  • Jacson Alexander (01 – 3-2-5)
  • Ethan Cap (00 – 5-21-26)
  • Logan Dowhaniuk (02 – 1-5-6)
  • Aidan Lawson (01 – 1-1-2)
  • Conner McDonald (99 – 19-31-50)
  • Wyatt McLeod (00 – 4-15-19)
  • Matthew Robertson (01 – 7-26-33)

Arriving

  • Keegan Slaney (03 – 1st in ’18 – 6-17-23 – Edge School)

NHL Prospects

  • Matthew Robertson (New York Rangers – Unsigned)

Rights Held

  • Ryan Conroy (01 – Listed – 3-21-24 – Fort McMurray Oil Barons – Yale Bulldogs)
  • Connor Kelley (02 – Listed – 0-3-3 – US NTDP – Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs)
  • Jake Martin (03 – Listed – 6-12-18 – Gentry Academy – US NTDP – Miami Redhawks)
  • Ben Wozney (01 – 9th in ’16 – 0-7-7 – Powell River Kings – Bowling Green Falcons)
  • Bennett Zmolek (02 – Listed – 7-24-31 – Rochester Century High – Minnesota State Mavericks)

While they lost Warm to the Royals and dealt Gavlas to the Tigers on Monday, everyone else on the defence is back. Robertson fell to the second round and could be a steal for the Rangers, McDonald is one of the most underrated blueliners in the league and Cap had a good campaign last year.

Alexander is looking to bounce back from a season-ending injury that he sustained in the early stages of the 2018-19 campaign and the Oil Kings also gain another first rounder from 2018 in Slaney. With so many players returning, this could be the best blueline in the league.

Goaltenders

Departing

  • N/A

Returning

  • Dylan Myskiw (99 – 2.53 – 28-11-5 – .914)
  • Todd Scott (00 – 2.79 – 11-3-2 – .906)

Arriving

  • Sebastian Cossa (02 – 2nd in ’17 – 3.01 – 6-5-2 – .919 – Fort Saskatchewan Rangers)

NHL Prospects

  • N/A

Rights Held

  • Carter Gylander (01 – Listed – 2.43 – 16-4-0 – .915 – Sherwood Park Crusaders – Colgate Raiders – Detroit Red Wings – Unsigned)

What the Oil Kings do in goal might be the most interesting part of their team going into this season. Myskiw should be back as the starter, but Scott is right there behind him and Cossa is ready to go after some time in the midget ranks.

It’s doubtful that Gylander makes the move to major junior this season as Sherwood Park is a legit contender in the AJHL, but he could be an asset come deadline time.

Coaching Staff and Management

Departing

  • N/A

Returning

  • Kirt Hill (General Manager and Persistent of Hockey Operations – Second Season)
  • Brad Lauer (Head Coach – Second Season)
  • Luke Pierce (Assistant Coach – Second Season)
  • Dustin Schwartz (Goaltending Coach – Tenth Season)

Arriving

  • N/A

Year one of the Hill and Lauer regime was a big success and more of the same should be expected for their second year together, especially with everything staying intact.

Best Case Scenario

With a number of great offensive pieces, a stellar defence and solid goaltending, the Oil Kings strengthen an already strong lineup at the deadline and return to the top of the mountain.

Worst Case Scenario

Despite having a lot of solid veterans and exciting youth on the roster, the goaltending is average and the loss of the three overagers and Fix-Wolansky are too much to overcome up front as the Oil Kings exit the playoffs much earlier than planned.

Current 2020 Draft Situation

  • Round 1: One Pick
  • Round 2: No Picks
  • Round 3: One Pick
  • Round 4: Three Picks (Kamloops and Winnipeg)
  • Round 5: No Picks
  • Round 6: Two Picks (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
Dylan Cozens (Lucas Chudleigh/Apollo Multimedia)

Lethbridge Hurricanes

Last Season

A team that was expected to be a title threat when the season got underway bolstered their offence by acquiring Jake Leschyshyn and Nick Henry from the Regina Pats, but they had a rotating door in the starting goaltender position. Despite boasting one of the best offences in the league, the Hurricanes title bid went awry in the first round as they lost to the Calgary Hitmen in seven games.

Forwards

Departing

  • Jordy Bellerive (99 – 33-50-83 – Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins – Pittsburgh Penguins – Signed)
  • Zach Cox (99 – 11-4-15 – Nipawin Hawks)
  • Jake Elmer (98 – 39-42-81 – Hartford Wolf Pack – New York Rangers – Signed)
  • Nick Henry (99 – 29-65-94 – Colorado Eagles – Colorado Avalanche – Signed)
  • Jake Leschyshyn (99 – 40-41-81 – Chicago Wolves – Vegas Golden Knights – Signed)
  • Scott Mahovlich (99 – 6-7-13 – Nanaimo Clippers)
  • Taylor Ross (98 – 34-35-69 – Fort Wayne Komets)
  • Jackson Shepard (00 – 5-17-22 – Vancouver Giants)

Returning

  • Logan Barlage (01 – 15-24-39)
  • Noah Boyko (02 – 7-8-15)
  • Dylan Cozens (01 – 34-50-84)
  • Adam Hall (01 – 1-4-5)
  • Justin Hall (01 – 3-6-9)

Arriving

  • Jacob Boucher (02 – 9th in ’17 – 12-22-34 – Fort Saskatchewan Rangers)
  • Nick Dorrington (02 – Listed – 8-7-15 – Yale Hockey Academy)
  • D-Jay Jerome (99 – 23-19-42 – Victoria Royals)
  • Jett Jones (02 – Listed – 10-20-30 – Airdrie Bisons)
  • Dino Kambeitz (00 – 9-16-25 – Victoria Royals)
  • Ty Nash (03 – 9th in ’18 – 15-16-31 – Phoenix Jr. Coyotes)
  • Oliver Okuliar (00 – ’19 Import Draft – 14-28-42 – Sherbrooke Phoenix)
  • Tyson Phare (02 – Prince George’s 1st in ’17 – 1-9-10 – Delta Hockey Academy)
  • Zack Stringer (03 – 1st in ’18 – 14-27-41 – Lethbridge Midget Hurricanes)
  • Alex Thacker (02 – Swift Current’s 6th in ’17 – 10-27-37 – Fort Saskatchewan Rangers)
  • Chase Wheatcroft (02 – Listed – 20-13-33 – Calgary Royals)

NHL Prospects

  • Dylan Cozens (Buffalo Sabres – Signed)

Rights Held

  • Carson Dyck (01 – Swift Current’s 2nd in ’16 – 7-21-28 – Okotoks Oilers – Penn State Nittany Lions)
  • Austin Wong (00 – Kootenay’s 11th in ’15 – 29-33-62 – Okotoks Oilers – Harvard Crimson – Winnipeg Jets – Unsigned)

To say that the offence for the Hurricanes is going to be dramatically different would be an understatement. Cozens has recovered from a thumb injury that he suffered at the Sabres’ rookie camp this summer and should come back to Lethbridge, while Barlage could finally get a chance to show what he was able to do at the bantam and midget levels with a full top-six role.

There’s a lot of pieces coming on board to fill the holes from the graduating players, with the biggest being Jerome and Kambeitz arriving from the Royals. Okuliar could prove to be a solid import pick as he already has major junior experience from playing in the QMJHL, while Stringer is a highly-touted prospect that probably would have ended up in Regina as part of the Leschyshyn and Henry trade if it wasn’t for the new trade regulations.

Another interesting player to watch is Phare, who was a former first round pick by the Cougars but was converted to a blueliner. He’s back as a forward in Lethbridge and he’s a reclamation project that’s worth keeping an eye out for.

Defencemen

Departing

  • Igor Merzehko (98 – 4-31-35 – Humo Tashkent)
  • Nolan Jones (01 – 2-10-12 – Victoria Royals)

Returning

  • Calen Addison (00 – 11-54-65)
  • Alex Cotton (01 – 2-9-11)
  • Danila Palivko (01 – 2-13-15)
  • Ty Prefontaine (99 – 2-11-13)
  • Koletrane Wilson (99 – 0-19-19)

Arriving

  • Joe Arntsen (03 – 2nd in ’18 – 6-9-15 – Swift Current Legionnaires)
  • Dylan Ashe (02 – Listed – 1-7-8 – Tisdale Trojans)
  • Rylan Thiessen (01 – Listed – 12-18-30 – Brandon Midget Wheat Kings)

NHL Prospects

  • Calen Addison (Pittsburgh Penguins – Signed)

Rights Held

  • Justin Lee (00 – Listed – 6-24-30 – Fargo Force – Denver Pioneers)

Not only is Addison one of the best blueliners in the league, but he might be the biggest trade chip at this year’s deadline. If the Hurricanes aren’t among the top teams in the East, they could get a lot of assets back after dealing a number of them away last season in their quest to win the league.

Although they dealt Jones to Victoria, there’s still several guys that can produce points from the back end. It’s a good mix of youth and experience, though no one is a household name like Addison is.

Goaltenders

Departing

  • N/A

Returning

  • Carl Tetachuk (01 – 2.88 – 24-9-2 – .909)
  • Bryan Thomson (02 – 3.46 – 3-1-0 – .898)

Arriving

  • N/A

NHL Prospects

  • N/A

Rights Held

  • Josh Langford (01 – 4th in ’16 – 3.63 – 10-26-2 – .888 – Chippewa Steel – Green Bay Gamblers – Maine Black Bears)

If there was one positive from the goaltending roller coaster that was the 2018-19 campaign, it was the fact that the Hurricanes found a long-term starter in Tetachuk. It also allowed Thomson to gain a little experience in the second half, which gives the team a nice one-two punch of younger talent if needed.

Coaching Staff and Management

Departing

  • N/A

Returning

  • Peter Anholt (General Manager – Sixth Season)
  • Brent Kisio (Head Coach – Fifth Season)
  • Jeff Hansen (Assistant Coach – Third Season)
  • Josh MacNevin (Assistant Coach – Fifth Season)
  • Kevin Swanson (Goaltending Coach – Third Season)

Arriving

  • N/A

Everything is the same in the hockey operations department as Anholt gears up to do a bit of retooling with the Hurricanes roster, which is something that he’s done a good job of in the past, especially in their run to the Eastern Conference final in 2018.

Best Case Scenario

Thanks to having two of the best players in the league in Addison and Cozens, the Hurricanes are able to build off of their performances and find themselves in the Central Division title hunt once again.

Worst Case Scenario

With the offensive losses proving way too much to overcome, Anholt pulls the trigger and deals both Addison and Cozens at the trade deadline as the Hurricanes have to scratch and claw their way into the post-season.

Current 2020 Draft Situation

  • Round 1: One Pick
  • Round 2: One Pick
  • Round 3: One Pick (Swift Current)
  • Round 4: No Picks
  • Round 5: One Pick
  • Round 6: No Picks
  • Round 7: Two Picks (Spokane)
  • Round 8: One Pick
  • Round 9: One Pick
  • Round 10: One Pick
  • Round 11: One Pick
  • Round 12: One Pick
Mads Sogaard (Andy Devlin/LA Media)

Medicine Hat Tigers

Last Season

Despite a number of changes on offence and some injury woes, the Tigers made it to the playoffs once again and pushed the Oil Kings to six games in the opening round. The big story though came in May when Shaun Clouston left the club and Willie Desjardins returned to Medicine Hat.

Forwards

Departing

  • Logan Christensen (99 – 7-15-22)
  • Ryan Jevne (98 – 32-36-68 – Alberta Golden Bears)
  • Jaxon Steele (00 – 2-3-5)

Returning

  • Baxter Anderson (00 – 4-3-7)
  • Elijah Brown (00 – 11-15-26)
  • Ryan Chyzowski (00 – 27-28-55)
  • James Hamblin (99 – 33-44-77)
  • Corson Hopwo (01 – 6-11-17)
  • Brett Kemp (00 – 33-27-60)
  • Bryan Lockner (00 – 9-17-26)
  • Nick McCarry (01 – 3-3-6)
  • Hayden Ostir (99 – 11-11-22)
  • Tyler Preziuso (99 – 21-29-50)

Arriving

  • Jonathan Brinkman (01 – ’19 Import Draft – 1-5-6 – Aalborg Pirates)
  • Noah Danielson (02 – 4th in ’17 – 6-17-23 – Red Deer Chiefs)
  • Cole Sillinger (03 – 1st in ’18 – 31-45-76 – Regina Pat Canadians)
  • Caleb Willms (02 – Listed – 18-13-31 – Airdrie Bisons)

NHL Prospects

  • N/A

Rights Held

  • Vasili Podkolzin (01 – ’18 Import Draft – 6-2-8 – SKA-1946 St. Petersburg – Vancouver Canucks – Unsigned)
  • Scout Truman (02 – 2nd in ’17 – 9-21-30 – Drumheller Dragons – UMass-Lowell River Hawks)
  • Noah Tussey (02 – Listed – 13-22-35 – Stillwater High School – Minnesota Golden Gophers)

There’s a lot coming back to the Tigers up front as their only major loss is Jevne. They still have to figure out the overage spots despite releasing Christensen, but Hamblin and Preziuso should have the inside track with their offensive production.

Kemp and Lockner are also among the key veterans, but the big new piece is Sillinger, who led the SMAAAHL in scoring with 76 points in 39 games. It would be nice if the Tigers could figure out a way to get Podolzkin to come over, but that seems highly unlikely.

Defencemen

Departing

  • Joel Craven (00 – 3-1-4 – Retired in February Due to Concussions)
  • Dylan MacPherson (98 – 2-10-12 – Springfield Thunderbirds)
  • Linus Nassen (98 – 7-39-46 – Vaxjo Lakers – Florida Panthers – Unsigned)

Returning

  • Daniel Baker (01 – 2-15-17)
  • Cole Clayton (00 – 4-16-20)
  • Trevor Longo (00 – 5-8-13)
  • Eric Van Impe (01 – 2-4-6)

Arriving

  • Damon Agyeman (02 – Listed – 4-6-10 – Airdrie Bisons)
  • Parker Gavlas (99 – 1-10-11 – Edmonton Oil Kings)
  • Dru Krebs (03 – 2nd in ’18 – 1-18-19 – Okotoks Midget Oilers)
  • Ryan Watson (02 – 3rd in ’17 – 5-7-12 – Greater Vancouver Canadians)

NHL Prospects

  • N/A

Rights Held

  • Tyler Bates (02 – 11th in ’17 – 2-26-28 – Edge School – Brooks Bandits – Colorado College Tigers)

With two of the graduating overagers being from the defence, there’s a bit of a question mark with how strong this part of the team is compared to the goaltending and the forward core.

Clayton, Baker and Longo are set to lead the way, but there’s going to be a lot of new faces in the mix. A move for a veteran or two isn’t out of the realm of possibility and it’s already happened with Gavlas coming over from Edmonton.

Goaltenders

Departing

  • Jordan Hollett (99 – 3.50 – 14-19-2 – .895)

Returning

  • Mads Sogaard (00 – 2.64 – 19-8-4 – .921)

Arriving

  • Garin Bjorklund (02 – 1st in ’17 – 2.44 – 13-5-1 – .909 – Calgary Midget Buffaloes)

NHL Prospects

  • Mads Sogaard (Ottawa Senators – Unsigned)

Rights Held

  • Isaiah Saville (00 – Listed – 1.90 – 25-4-3 – .925 – Tri-City Storm – Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks – Vegas Golden Knights – Unsigned)

With Hollet moving on from junior hockey, the pipeline is set for the next couple of years with Bjorklund waiting in the wings behind Sogaard, who should be among the contenders for the best goaltender in the league to go along with his title of the best flow in the WHL.

Coaching Staff and Management

Departing

  • Shaun Clouston (General Manager for Eight Seasons and Head Coach for Ten Seasons – Head Coach with the Kamloops Blazers)
  • JF Martel (Goaltending Coach for Eleven Seasons)

Returning

  • Bobby Fox (Director of Player Personnel – Second Season – Fourth Season with the team)
  • Ryan Smith (Assistant Coach – Second Season)
  • Joe Frazer (Assistant Coach – Tenth Season)

Arriving

  • Willie Desjardins (General Manager and Head Coach – Head Coach with the Los Angeles Kings Last Season – Previously served as the Head Coach from 2002 to 2010 and was the General Manager from 2005 to 2010)
  • Matt Wong (Goaltending Coach – Goaltending Coach with the Brooks Bandits for Five Seasons)

What’s old is new again in Medicine Hat as Desjardins returns for his second stint with the team. Having won two championships during his first run behind the bench, the expectations will be high for Desjardins to succeed, especially with the Clouston era ending in a bit of a whimper.

Best Case Scenario

A great offence and a strong sophomore season by Sogaard turns the Tigers into a surprise contender in the Eastern Conference in Desjardins’ first year back in town.

Worst Case Scenario

Although they make the playoffs, the defensive struggles prevent Medicine Hat from truly being in the mix. They deal away some of their veterans at the deadline as they look towards the future.

Current 2020 Draft Situation

  • Round 1: Two Picks (Saskatoon)
  • Round 2: One Pick
  • Round 3: Two Picks (Seattle)
  • Round 4: One Pick
  • Round 5: One Pick
  • Round 6: One Pick
  • Round 7: One Pick
  • Round 8: One Pick
  • Round 9: One Pick
  • Round 10: Two Picks (Kelowna)
  • Round 11: One Pick
  • Round 12: One Pick
Ethan Anders (Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald)

Red Deer Rebels

Last Season

The Rebels put together an impressive start to the campaign, but a late season slide meant that they had to claw their way into the playoffs, where they were swept aside by the Prince Albert Raiders.

Forwards

Departing

  • Jeff De Wit (98 – 27-17-44 – Concordia Stingers)
  • Brandon Hagel (98 – 41-61-102 – Rockford IceHogs – Chicago Blackhawks – Signed)
  • Alex Morozoff (01 – 8-7-15 – Seattle Thunderbirds)
  • Reese Johnson (98 – 27-26-53 – Rockford IceHogs – Chicago Blackhawks – Signed)
  • Blake Sydlowski (01 – 1-2-3 – Sherwood Park Crusaders)
  • Oleg Zaitsev (01 – 13-30-43 – Dynamo Tver)

Returning

  • Arshdeep Bains (01 – 6-12-18)
  • Brett Davis (99 – 20-30-50)
  • Chris Douglas (00 – 15-17-32)
  • Cam Hausinger (99 – 21-33-44)
  • Dallon Melin (02 – 1-2-3)
  • Zak Smith (01 – 13-11-24)
  • Josh Tarzwell (00 – 11-17-28)

Arriving

  • Jordan Borysiuk (02 – 3rd in ’17 – 12-4-16 – Lloydminster Bobcats)
  • Jayden Grubbe (03 – 1st in ’18 – 4-22-26 – Calgary Buffaloes)
  • Jace Isley (02 – 5th in ’17 – 12-22-34 – Sherwood Park Kings)
  • Ethan Rowland (02 – 1st in ’17 – 5-10-15 – Calgary Canucks)
  • Keaton Sorenson (02 – Listed – 33-32-65 – Notre Dame Midget Hounds)
  • Jaxsen Wiebe (02 – 7th in ’17 – 13-13-26 – Nipawin Hawks)

NHL Prospects

  • N/A

Rights Held

  • Jeffrey Bertrand (01 – 12th in ’16 – 6-6-12 – Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights – Penn State Nittany Lions)
  • Blake McLaughlin (00 – Listed – 5-15-20 – Minnesota Golden Gophers – Anaheim Ducks – Unsigned)

With all three overagers being up front and Zaitsev heading back to Europe after not being picked at the NHL Draft, the question that’s hanging over the squad for the second straight year is where are the goals going to come from.

After being acquired from Kootenay last season, Davis and Hausinger are expected to be the main cogs, but the likes of Smith, Tarzwell and Douglas will all be expected to up their point totals if the Rebels want to succeed.

Defencemen

Departing

  • Alexander Alexeyev (99 – 10-33-43 – Hershey Bears – Washington Capitals – Signed)
  • Hunter Donohoe (00 – 0-3-3 – Seattle Thunderbirds)
  • Jacob Herauf (00 – 1-15-16 – Victoria Royals)
  • Carson Sass (99 – 3-7-10 – Kelowna Rockets)

Returning

  • Dawson Barteaux (00 – 7-27-34)
  • Ryan Gottfried (01 – 1-7-8)
  • Chase Leslie (02 – 1-1-2)
  • Ethan Sakowich (99 – 4-14-18)

Arriving

  • Blake Gustafson (02 – 10th in ’17 – 3-1-4 – Sherwood Park Kings)
  • Kyle Masters (03 – 1st in ’18 – 5-15-20 – OHA Edmonton)
  • Christoffer Sedoff (02 – ’19 Import Draft – 0-3-3 – HIFK U20)
  • Joel Sexsmith (02 – Swift Current’s 1st in ’17 – 5-7-12 – Delta Hockey Academy)
  • Mason Ward (02 – Listed – 6-11-17 – Lloydminster Midget Bobcats)

NHL Prospects

  • Dawson Barteaux (Dallas Stars – Unsigned)

Rights Held

  • Brock Faber (02 – Listed – 3-7-10 – US NTDP – Notre Dame Fighting Irish)
  • Jace Foskey (00 – 7th in ’15 – 0-3-3 – Madison Capitols – Harvard Crimson)
  • Cam York (01 – 9th in ’16 – 7-26-33 – US NTDP – Michigan Wolverines – Philadelphia Flyers – Unsigned)

Although Alexeyev has moved on to the pro ranks and three members of last year’s blueline are now with other teams in the league, the defence is still in decent shape, especially with Barteaux leading the way.

Sexsmith has been dealt twice already in his young WHL career, but he was almost a point per game player last season despite missing four months of his CSSHL campaign due to blood clots. Sedoff is also worth keeping an eye out for as he’s already played for Finland on the international stage.

Goaltenders

Departing

  • N/A

Returning

  • Ethan Anders (00 – 3.09 – 28-22-5 – .907)
  • Byron Fancy (01 – 3.30 – 5-7-1 – .894)

Arriving

  • N/A

NHL Prospects

  • N/A

Rights Held

  • N/A

Given some of the questions with the rest of the lineup, it’s huge to have Anders back for another campaign. Fancy is still waiting his turn to show what he could do and he might get that chance this year, especially if the Rebels end up dealing Anders to a contender.

Coaching Staff and Management

Departing

  • N/A

Returning

  • Brent Sutter (General Manager and Head Coach – Fifteenth Season in Both Roles – Twenty-First Season as Team Owner)
  • Erik Lodge (Assistant Coach – Third Season)
  • Ryan Colville (Assistant Coach – Second Season)
  • Brad Flynn (Assistant Coach – Second Season)
  • Kraymer Barnstable (Goaltending Coach – Second Season)

Arriving

  • N/A

It’s status quo in Red Deer, but given the fact that the team has had two straight mid-to-late seasons swoons and just clawed their way into the playoffs both times, it wouldn’t be a surprise if some sort of change takes place if it happens again.

It’s odd to stay that given all of Sutter’s roles and the fact that everyone else is early in their tenures, but only so much can happen before a fanbase starts to demand changes.

Best Case Scenario

Although the offence doesn’t scare anybody, the Rebels backend is solid and puts them in the playoff picture once again as they are a thorn in the side of the top Eastern Conference teams all season.

Worst Case Scenario

The lack of offence means that the Rebels miss the playoffs for the first time since 2014. Changes take place in the off-season and a new coaching tandem of Cam Moon and Byron Hackett take over, much to the confusion of everyone in Red Deer.

Current 2020 Draft Situation

  • Round 1: One Pick
  • Round 2: Two Picks (Moose Jaw and Victoria)
  • Round 3: Three Picks (Lethbridge and Regina)
  • Round 4: No Picks
  • Round 5: One Pick
  • Round 6: Two Picks (Portland)
  • Round 7: One Pick
  • Round 8: One Pick
  • Round 9: One Pick
  • Round 10: One Pick
  • Round 11: One Pick
  • Round 12: One Pick
Joona Kiviniemi (Lucas Chudleigh/Apollo Multimedia)

Swift Current Broncos

Last Season

With Dean Brockman dealing every asset in sight, the Broncos went from the top of the league to the bottom as they had the worst record in the WHL and missed out on the post-season for the first time since 2016. They also moved from the East Division to the Central at the end of the year with the relocation of the Kootenay Ice to Winnipeg.

Forwards

Departing

  • Ian Briscoe (99 – 3-8-11)
  • Tyler Lees (00 – 2-4-6)
  • Tanner Nagel (98 – 13-10-23 – Utah Grizzlies)

Returning

  • Owen Blocker (00 – 5-4-9)
  • Kye Buchanan (01 – 0-1-1)
  • Carter Chorney (01 – 14-12-26)
  • Matthew Culling (01 – 11-10-21)
  • Eric Houk (01 – 3-3-6)
  • Ben King (02 – 5-21-26)
  • Joona Kiviniemi (01 – 16-9-25)
  • Ethan O’Rourke (99 – 11-9-20)
  • Ethan Regnier (00 – 10-12-31)
  • Tyler Smithies (00 – 2-7-9)

Arriving

  • Aiden Bulych (01 – Listed – 13-36-49 – Yorkton Terriers)
  • Brandon Machado (00 – 4-3-7 – Kootenay Ice)
  • Brecon Wood (00 – 4-5-9 – Seattle Thunderbirds)

NHL Prospects

  • N/A

Rights Held

  • Josh Groll (01 – Listed – 9-19-18 – Chicago Steel – Lincoln Stars – Michigan Wolverines)
  • Nolan Renwick (01 – 6th in ’16 – 11-16-27 – Notre Dame Hounds – Omaha Lancers – Maine Black Bears)
  • Finlay Williams (03 – 3rd in ’18 – 12-30-42 – Burnaby Winter Club – Prince George Spruce Kings – Michigan Wolverines)

It’s still a young lineup for the Broncos up front, but there is some upside with the likes of King, Chorney and Kiviniemi already getting big roles on the roster. Reigner is a nice veteran piece to have, but a couple more older players would be nice to add to the squad and help bridge the gap to the younger guys.

Defencemen

Departing

  • Austin Herron (01 – 0-2-2)
  • Roope Pynnonen (01 – 0-0-0 – Sport U20)
  • Christian Riemer (00 – 1-6-7)
  • Matthew Stanley (98 – 3-3-6 – Manitoba Bisons)

Returning

  • Connor Horning (01 – 8-23-31)
  • Alex Moar (01 – 2-14-16)
  • Garrett Sambrook (00 – 0-10-10)
  • Billy Sowa (02 – 2-7-9)

Arriving

  • Hendrik De Klerk (02 – Spokane’s 7th in ’17 – 6-31-37 – Swift Current Legionnaires)
  • Jake Kustra (99 – 0-2-2 – Victoria Royals)
  • Chase Lacombe (02 – Edmonton’s 5th in ’17 – 0-3-3 – Humboldt Broncos)
  • Kasper Puutio (02 – ’19 Import Draft – 4-8-12 – Karpat U18)

NHL Prospects

  • N/A

Rights Held

  • Jacob Bernard-Docker (00 – 5th in ’15 – 5-12-17 – North Dakota Fighting Hawks – Ottawa Senators – Unsigned)

Like the offence, there are a couple of younger blueliners with upside in Moar and Horning, but they also made a nice pickup in Kustra, who had an 18-point campaign two years ago with the Saskatoon Blades.

The Finnish pipeline to Swift Current also continues with Puutio, who was the top pick in the CHL Import Draft and was tied with Jamie Drysdale of the Erie Otters and two other defencemen for the most points by a blueliner at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup with four.

Goaltenders

Departing

  • Riley Lamb (98 – 4.75 – 2-10-2 – .898 – Manitoba Bisons)

Returning

  • Isaac Poulter (01 – 4.25 – 3-20-1 – .891)

Arriving

  • Jordan Fairlie (02 – Listed – 4.43 – 4-14-0 – .906 – Okanagan Hockey Academy)

NHL Prospects

  • N/A

Rights Held

  • N/A

Poulter is about to get thrown into the fire as a starter, but two of his wins came over Edmonton last year so he has shown that he can steal games against tough opponents. There could be a move to add an older netminder in the coming days, but for now, the youngsters will get a chance to show what they can do.

Coaching Staff and Management

Departing

  • N/A

Returning

  • Dean Brockman (Head Coach and Director of Hockey Operations – Second Season)
  • Gary Aubin (Director of Player Personnel – Second Season)
  • Brandin Cote (Assistant Coach – Second Season)
  • Scott Dutertre (Assistant Coach – Second Season)
  • Dave Rathjen (Goaltending Coach – Third Season)

Arriving

  • N/A

Thanks to a bevy of trades last year, Brockman was able to add several assets to restock a bare cupboard from the Broncos run in 2018. There’s still a long way to go, but things appear to be on track.

Best Case Scenario

The young talent ends up improving the Broncos’ fortunes much earlier than expected as they end up in the wild card mix.

Worst Case Scenario

The change that comes with moving to a strong Central Division proves tough for the Broncos as they end up with the worst record in the league for the second straight season. To make matters worse, the Regina Pats end up with the top pick in the draft as they acquired the Broncos’ first round pick from Lethbridge last season.

Current 2020 Draft Situation

  • Round 1: No Picks
  • Round 2: Two Picks (Edmonton and Portland)
  • Round 3: No Picks
  • Round 4: Four Picks (Everett, Moose Jaw and Portland)
  • Round 5: Three Picks (Edmonton and Everett)
  • Round 6: No Picks
  • Round 7: One Pick
  • Round 8: One Pick
  • Round 9: No Pick
  • Round 10: One Pick
  • Round 11: One Pick
  • Round 12: One Pick