Previewing the WHL Playoffs

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Brandon Wheat Kings (1) VS Edmonton Oil Kings (4)

Season Series: Edmonton 3-1

Players to Watch

Brandon Wheat Kings : Jayce Hawryluk (Fla. 32, 2014) Nolan Patrick ( Eligible for the 2017 draft) Ivan Provorov (Phi. 7, 2015)

Edmonton Oil Kings : Brett Pollock (Dal. 45, 2014) Dysin Mayo (Ari. 133, 2014)

Brandon comes in as a heavy favorite in this 1st round rematch of the 2015 opening round matchup. The Wheat Kings finished atop the WHL in offense and goals scored, led by the Florida Panthers 2014 2nd round pick Jayce Hawryluk, who finished 4th in WHL scoring with 106 points. He is supported with a strong supporting cast including standout center Nolan Patrick, a high ranking prospect eligible for the 2017 draft, and one of the most dominant defenseman in junior hockey in Ivan Provorov, who was selected 7th overall in the 2015 draft by the Philadelphia Flyers. Provorov boasts an incredible +64 rating, and put up 21 goals and 73 points in a great season by the Wheat Kings. The Oil Kings come in after winning a one game playoff with the Medicine Hat Tigers, earning the right to play the East Leading Wheat Kings.  Calgary Flames prospect Brett Pollock (acquired from Dallas in the Kris Russell trade), chosen in 45th overall in 2014, will be leading the way for the Oil Kings, having scored 8pts against Brandon in 4 games, and finishing as the team scoring leader with 78 points in 72 games. Although Edmonton has had an impressive 3-1 record against Brandon this season, they are in for a tough matchup and should suffer the same result as last season when they lost in the first round to the Wheat Kings. Brandon is poised for a deep run in the playoffs and the Oil Kings should not be the ones to stand in their way.

Prediction: Wheat Kings in Five

 

Lethbridge Hurricanes (1) VS Regina Pats (4)

Season Series: Regina 3-1

Players to Watch

Lethbridge Hurricanes: Brayden Burke (2016 Eligible) Giorgio Estephan (Buf. 152, 2015) Andrew Nielsen (Tor. 65, 2015) Egor Bobenko (2016 Eligible)

Regina Pats: Adam Brooks (2016 Eligible) Sam Steel (2016 Eligible) Connor Hobbs (Wsh. 143, 2015)

This should be an exciting series, as these teams are well matched. Lethbridge has been a surprise this season after missing the playoffs last season, and coming back to win their division this year. They have a deeper team with balanced scoring, and are led by some exciting players eligible for this year’s draft. Brayden Burke has been outstanding for the Hurricanes, and put up 27 goals and 109 points in 72 games this season, good for 3rd in WHL scoring. He’s also produced against the Pats with 13 points in 4 games. He is joined by a couple of 2015 draft picks in Andrew Nielsen (18G 52A in 70 GP) and Giorgio Estephan (30G 44A in 59GP) in carrying the offense for Lethbridge. Regina has played well against the Hurricanes this year taking the series 3-1. They have a great top line bolstered for offense, but can’t match the depth of the Hurricanes. Adam Brooks, the WHL Scoring leader paves the way for the Pats. He’s a fine talent who is eligible for this year’s draft and surely won’t go unnoticed. Fellow prospect Sam Steel and 2015 Washington Capitals prospect Connor Hobbs help strengthen Regina’s offense. This should be an exciting series, and has upset potential, but Lethbridge’s depth should be able to pull this one out.

Prediction: Hurricanes in Seven

 

Red Deer Rebels (2) VS Calgary Hitmen (3)

Season Series: Calgary 4-2-0-1

Players to Watch

Red Deer Rebels: Adam Helewka (SJ, 106, 2015) Jake DeBrusk (Bos 14, 2015) Michael Spacek (Win, 108, 2015) Hayden Fleury (Car, 7, 2014)

Calgary Hitmen: Jake Bean (2016 Eligible) Travis Sanheim  (Phi 17, 2014)  Radel Fazeleyev (Phi 168, 2014)

This another good matchup with loads of talent to watch. Both teams enter the playoffs on a bit of a roll, as Red Deer went 8-2 down the stretch, and Calgary finished 7-3. The Memorial Cup hosting Rebels, have reinforced their lineup with some top grade talent. Acquiring Adam Helewka from Spokane (45 pts in 34 games), Jake Debrusk from Swift Current (39 pts in 37 games), and Luke Philp from Kootenay (16 pts in 17 games), has given them formidable depth and balance throughout their lines.  Red Deer is a stingy team that finished second fewest in goals against. They boast a great tandem in the back end with Haydn Fleury, Carolina’s first round pick from 2014, and Kayle Doetzel. With Red Deer missing their starting goalie as Rylan Toth is out with a lower body injury, Trevor Martin will be carrying the load. The Rebels are also missing Colorado Avalanche 2014 1st round pick (and current property of the Arizona Coyotes, following the Mikael Boedker trade) Conner Bleackley who is also suffering with a lower body injury. Calgary also comes into this series showing some top end talent. They are led by playmaking center Radel Fazleev (Phi 168, 2014), and have a solid blue line with 2016 draft prospect Jake Bean, and Philadelphia Flyers 2014 1st round draft pick Travis Sanheim. Calgary also acquired wingers Jakob Stukel (56 points in 57 Games) and Jackson Houck (44 points in 44 games) earlier this year from the Vancouver Giants to help with their scoring. This should be a closer series than anticipated, but as long as Red Deer gets decent goaltending, they should take this series.

Prediction: Rebels in Six

 

Prince Albert Raiders (2) VS Moose Jaw Warriors (3)

Season Series: Moose Jaw 6-2

Players to Watch

Prince Albert Raiders: Reid Gardiner (2016 Eligible) Simon Stransky (2016 Eligible) Luke Coleman (2016 Eligible)

Moose Jaw Warriors: Brayden Point (TB ,79, 2014) Noah Gregor (2016 Eligible) Brett Howden (2016 Eligible)

Neither of these teams blazed their way into the playoffs to finish the season. The Warriors did take the season series against P.A. by winning 6 of the 8 meetings, including the final 5 meetings. Although these teams seem to match up well against one another, the Warriors did seem to have the Raiders number. The Warriors were led by Captain Brayden Point, Tampa Bay’s 2014 3rd round pick, who has been dominant against the Raiders with 15 points in 7 games (88 points in 48 games). He will be joined by leading scorer and line mate Dryden Hunt (58 goals 58 Assists in 72 games), and 2016 draft-eligible prospects Noah Gregor (73 points in 72 games), and Brett Howden (64 points in 68 games). The Raiders will counter with another one of the 2016 draft’s prominent prospects in Reid Gardiner (43 goals and 92 points in 71 games). He will be supported with a couple of other 2016 draft eligible players in Simon Stransky (62 points in 62 games) and Luke Coleman. I don’t know if you would necessarily call the Warriors winning an upset, but they should disperse of the Raiders.

Prediction: Warriors in Six

 

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Victoria Royals (1) VS Spokane Chiefs(4)

Season Series: Tied 2-2

Players to Watch

Victoria Royals : Joe Hicketts (Det- 2015) Tyler Soy ( Undrafted – eligible in 2015), Matthew Phillips (2016 Eligible)
Spokane Chiefs : Kailer Yamamoto (2017 Eligible)   Hudson Elynuik (2016 Eligible)

Victoria has set the standard and finished tops in the WHL season with dominant play. They closed out the season in fine form with a 13 game win streak, and have good depth down the lines. Coach Lowry has this team firing on all cylinders, led by Captain and MVP Joe Hicketts, and an offense led by Alex Forsberg, Tyler Soy, and outstanding rookie Matthew Phillips. Spokane comes in to the series having dropped 5 of their last 8 and are in tough against a very good Victoria team. They are led by 2017 draft prospect Kailer Yamamoto who has flourished in his second season with the Chiefs and led the team in scoring. 2016 draft prospect Hudson Elynuik has also had a productive season (44pts in 56 games), and those two should share in the load of the team’s offense. Even after splitting the regular season series with Victoria, Spokane will have a hard time matching up against the high powered Royals.

Prediction: Royals in Five

 

Kelowna Rockets (2) VS Kamloops Blazers (3)

Season Series: Kelowna 5-3

Players to Watch                                                                                                                                 Kelowna Rockets: Justin Kirkland (Nash, 62, 2014)  Dillon Dube (2016 Eligible) Rourke Chartier (SJ, 149, 2014) Lucas Johansen ( 2016 eligible)

Kamloops Blazers: Collin Shirley (Undrafted) Gage Quinney (Undrafted) Devon Sideroff (Ana, 84,2015) Garrett Pilon (2016 Eligible)

This will be an interesting first round matchup. The Rockets have limped in to the playoffs going 5-4-1 down the stretch, but did manage to win their last 2 games to finish. Last season’s WHL champions have had a rough stretch to finish the season, losing starting goalie Jackson Whistle to a torn labrum in his hip, and losing 2015 Arizona Coyotes first round pick Nick Merkley to a torn ACL. The Rockets have a lot of leadership, depth, and experience. They will be led by veterans Tyson Baillie, Justin Kirkland, and Rourke Chartier. Youngsters Dillon Dube (who stepped up in last years playoffs and Memorial Cup) will also be showcased along with teammate Lucas Johansen as projected 2016 draft prospects, and 2017 prospect Cal Foote. This is a rivalry that will be fun to watch. The Kamloops Blazers have gotten hot at the right time, and enter this year’s playoffs on a 9-1 run, including a back to back series sweep against Kelowna in a home and home set.  Kelowna has won the season series 5-3 by winning the first 5 matchups, and Kamloops has taken the last 3 meetings. The Blazers are being led on offense by a couple of undrafted 20 year olds. Collin Shirley led the team in all offensive categories and has had an excellent season to date. He starred in the Canada-Russia Subway series and has had a tremendous effect on the Blazers resurrection this season. His line mate Gage Quinney has been right by his side. The former Rocket acquired earlier this year had been an instrumental part of the Rockets Memorial Cup run last season, has put up equally impressive numbers (50 points in 48 games including 27 goals) and has had great chemistry and success alongside Shirley. The Blazers have a young team, and Don Hay has them playing great hockey, working hard, and believing in themselves. This should be a very close series, and although Kamloops looks to have the edge in goaltending and momentum, there is no reason to think that the Rockets experience and depth won’t prevail.

Prediction: Rockets in Seven

 

Seattle Thunderbirds (1) VS Prince George Cougars (4)

Season Series: Split 2-2

Players to Watch

Seattle Thunderbirds: Matthew Barzal (NYI, 16, 2015)  Ryan Gropp  (NYR , 41, 2015)  Ethan Bear (EDM, 124, 2015)

Prince George Cougars: Jansen Harkins (Win, 47, 2015) Jesse Gabrielle (Bos,105, 2015) Brogan O’Brien (2016 Eligible)

These 2 teams come into the playoffs going in different directions. The T-birds roll in to the playoffs on a 9-0-1 tear, while the Cougars come in with a 0-4-1 record in their last 5. Seattle has a good offense led by Barzal and Gropp. Barzal, a first round pick of the New York Islanders, scored 88 points in 58 games to help lead the T-Birds to the division title. The T-Birds also have a solid blue line, with Oilers draft prospect Ethan Bear pitching in on both ends of the ice.  The Cougars are led offensively by undrafted scoring leader Chase Witala (79 points), Jesse Gabrielle (40 goals and 75 points) and Winnipeg Jets prospect Jansen Harkins (57 points in 69 games). Surprising rookie, and 2016 prospect, Brogan O’Brien (18 goals and 56 points) has been quite the story for the Cougars. Even though the series was tied over the course of the regular season, it would be hard to visualize the T-Birds dropping to the Cougars as they have more depth, determination, and drive.

Prediction: Thunderbirds in Five

 

Everett Silvertips (2) VS Portland Winter Hawks (3)

Season Series: Split 5-5

Players to Watch

Everett Silvertips: Patrick Bajkov (2016 Eligible) Noah Juulsen (Mon, 26, 2015)

Portland Winter Hawks: Dominic Turgeon (Det, 63, 2014) Caleb Jones (Edm, 117, 2015) Jack Dougherty (Nash, 51, 2014) Keegan Iverson (NYR, 85, 2014)

These are two evenly matched teams, and they split the regular season series five wins apiece and most of the games were really close. Dominic Turgeon is the Winter Hawks captain and leading scorer (36 goals 34 Assists). He’s a 2014 3rd round pick of Detroit’s, and will lead the offensive attack alongside of Richards Bukarts (53 points in 55 games) and Alex Schoenborn (57 points in 67 games) for Portland. The blue line is anchored by Caleb Jones (55 points in 72 games), the younger brother of Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones and an Edmonton Oiler’s draft prospect, and Jack Dougherty (Nashville pick – 52 points in 68 games) who have both had strong seasons for the Winter Hawks. Everett comes in with a balanced scoring attack, and the second best goals against average in the WHL. On the watch for the Silvertips are 2016 eligible prospect Patrick Bajkov (46 points in 71 games), and defenseman Noah Juulsen ( Montreal Canadiens first rounder from 2015 – 28 points in 63 games). Both teams enter this series similar in many ways, and with them being equally matched, this should be a long series which could go either way. Everett is deeper, but Portland has a more appealing lineup to me.

Prediction: Winter Hawks in Seven

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