Prior to the Pandemic
With Kirby Dach making the leap to the Chicago Blackhawks a year earlier than expected, the Blades were left with a huge hole on offence, but they still had enough pieces to keep teams honest as the playoffs drew near last March.
It’s hard to judge a 24-game season compared to other campaigns, but this Blades side might have been one of their best.
In finishing third in the East Division with a 16-5-2-1 record, their .729 point percentage ended up being tied with the 1982-83 side for the third best in team history, though that 52-19-1 Blades squad ended up being upset in six games by the eventual league champion Lethbridge Broncos in that year’s quarter-final round.
While Saskatoon’s 3.33 goals per game average was actually lower than the 3.34 mark they had a year ago, it was the defence that puts this squad into the conversation of top Blades clubs. This year’s team had a goals against per game average of 2.58, which beat the previous record of 2.70 that was shared by the 1972-73 team that lost to the Medicine Hat Tigers in the league final and the 2008-09 squad that was stunned by the Lethbridge Hurricanes in the first round.
- Caiden Daley (7-7-14 in 24 games)
- Chase Wouters (10-12-22 in 21 games)
- Alex Morozoff (2-4-6 in 24 games)
- Evan Patrician (4-4-8 in 21 games)
- Tristen Robins (10-13-23 in 16 games – San Jose Sharks prospect)
- Blake Stevenson (7-7-14 in 24 games)
- Kyle Crnkovic (11-22-33 in 24 games)
- Josh Paulhus (0-0-0 in 17 games)
- Braden Plaschewsky (0-1-1 in 20 games)
- Kalen Szeto (Unsigned 5th round pick in 2017 – 7-8-15 in 17 games for Trail Smoke Eaters – Committed to the Yale Bulldogs)
- Colton Dach (10-9-19 in 20 games)
- Brad Lambert (Unsigned 2020 Import Pick – 7-8-15 in 46 games for JYP in Finland)
- Sammy May (0-1-1 in 11 games)
- Jayden Wiens (7-6-13 in 63 games for the Blades in 2019-20)
- Brandon Lisowsky (8-9-17 in 24 games)
- Hayden Smith (0-0-0 in 13 games)
- Carter Streek (0-0-0 in 15 games)
- Lukas Hansen (2nd round pick in 2020 – 4-2-6 in four games for the Winnipeg Under-18 Bruins – 43-42-85 in 36 games for the Winnipeg Under-15 Warriors in 2019-20)
- Jordan Keller (3rd round pick in 2020 – 2-0-2 in five games for the Yale Hockey Academy Under-18 Prep Team – 20-27-47 in 25 games for the Yale Hockey Academy Under-15 Prep Team in 2019-20)
- Mikhail Volotovskii (4th round pick in 2020 – 1-1-2 in five games for the Calgary Under-18 Buffaloes – 15-33-48 in 30 games for the Calgary Under-15 Bisons in 2019-20)
Coming into this season, the Blades knew that Riley McKay would be too old to play in the league, but the pandemic meant that potential double-slot forward Martin Fasko-Rudas stayed in Europe, while rookie Jayden Wiens did not return for his sophomore campaign.
Although the depth chart looked slightly different than planned, it was the Blades big weapons that did the damage. San Jose Sharks prospect Tristen Robins had a strong season, despite being limited to sixteen games, while Kyle Crnkovic and Colton Dach could both hear their names called in next month’s NHL Draft with their showings in the Regina bubble.
Two new faces to the Blades lineup also had good seasons. Blake Stevenson was an effective part of the offence after being acquired from the Tri-City Americans and Brandon Lisowsky made an immediate impact on the team that picked him ninth overall in the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft.
This year also marked the end of an era for the team as three-year captain Chase Wouters played his final major junior games. General Manager Colin Priestner has already said that the Lloydminster product will be the last Blades player to ever wear the number 44 jersey, with a formal retirement planned at some point in the future.
- Wyatt McLeod (3-11-14 in 24 games – 2-2-4 in 15 games for the Utah Grizzlies)
- Radek Kucerik (0-2-2 in 21 games for HC Kometa Brno in the Czech Republic – 3-10-13 in 49 games for the Blades in 2019-20)
- Rhett Rhinehart (5-11-16 in 21 games)
- Aidan De La Gorgendiere (2-10-12 in 18 games)
- Marek Schneider (0-1-1 in 13 games)
- Spencer Shugrue (0-0-0 in 15 games)
- Charlie Wright (1-6-7 in 24 games)
- Pavel Bocharov (0-1-1 in 16 games)
- Ben Saunderson (0-1-1 in 10 games)
- Tanner Molendyk (0-2-2 in 17 games)
Going into this season, the biggest question involving the Blades was with their defensive scoring. Graduating players Nolan Kneen and Scott Walford both found the back of the net 12 times in 2019-20, which was the total number of goals that the rest of the blueline had combined.
Despite their departures, and import Radek Kucerik not coming back, Saskatoon’s backend ended up being very strong. Overager Wyatt McLeod was a great addition from the Edmonton Oil Kings and would have had a career season under normal circumstances, as would have veterans Rhett Rhinehart and Aidan De La Gorgendiere.
When it came to the younger side of the defence, Charlie Wright showed a lot of improvement in his second go-around in the WHL and Tanner Molendyk’s future looks very bright after the Blades took him fifth overall in 2020.
- Nolan Maier (12-3-2 with a 2.34 GAA, a .915 save percentage and two shutouts)
- Koen MacInnes (4-2-1 with a 2.57 GAA, a .912 save percentage and zero shutouts)
- Ethan Chadwick (3rd round pick in 2019 – 3-0-0 with a 1.00 GAA, a .958 save percentage and zero shutouts for the Saskatoon Under-18 Contacts – 9-7-0 with a 2.70 GAA, a .910 save percentage and one shutout for the Contacts in 2019-20)
- Austin Elliott (12th round pick in 2019 – 4-2-0 with a 2.23 GAA, a .933 save percentage and zero shutouts for the Notre Dame Under-18 Hounds – 15-7-1 with a 2.78 GAA, a .918 save percentage and three shutouts for the Hounds Elite 15’s in 2019-20)
Like Taylor Gauthier in Prince George, the fact that a NHL team hasn’t drafted Nolan Maier is beyond baffling. The 20-year-old from Yorkton had another spectacular season for the Blades and has his name on just about every goaltending record in club history. If he doesn’t get a shot somewhere in the future, it would be a darn shame.
Although he only played in seven games, Koen MacInnes improved his goals against average and save percentage in his sophomore campaign, while Saskatoon product Ethan Chadwick joined the team in Regina to gain experience for the future.
As the Blades prepare for the 2021-22 campaign, the biggest question mark is the status of Robins. As a signed prospect of the Sharks, one might expect that he’s set to move on to the AHL’s San Jose Barracuda. However, recent seasons have seen the likes of Joachim Blichfeld, Noah Gregor and Dillon Hamaliuk sent back to the WHL by San Jose.
If Robins returns and the Blades are somehow able to land Finnish forward Brad Lambert, who they picked in the 2020 CHL Import Draft and is expected to be a top three pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, Saskatoon would have a legit shot at winning their first Ed Chynoweth Cup.
Even if Robins doesn’t come back and Lambert stays in Europe, the Blades should still be a strong team next year. Everyone but McLeod can return on the blueline, the goaltending is set in stone with Maier preparing for his fifth year as the starter and the offence has a number of weapons to keep teams honest.
The draft situation for Saskatoon will also be worth keeping an eye on this year, especially if they are in contention in the Eastern Conference and decide to load up.
Although their first round pick was dealt to Victoria in 2018 for Eric Florchuk and now belongs to Moose Jaw after the Brayden Tracey deal last year, the Blades have Vancouver’s second round pick (from sending Florchuk to the Giants at the 2020 trade deadline), Regina’s third round pick (acquired for Ryan Kubic and Cameron Hebig in 2018), Kamloops’ third round pick (from the Ryan Hughes trade in 2019), their own third round pick and Vancouver’s fifth round pick (which they got for Seth Bafaro a little over two years ago).
When it comes to the 2022 WHL Prospects Draft, Saskatoon has their own picks in the first, second and third rounds, along with a second round pick from Kamloops that was part of the Hughes trade. However, their only other picks in the draft come in the 8th, 10th, 11th and 12th rounds, so they may have to dig deep into the well of future assets if they want to make a big move.