GWMHL

Season Preview: Plante East

In DEN, PIT, SAL, Special Features, SSR, WIN on October 7, 2018 at 11:08 am

Welcome to the first of our 2018-19 season previews: brief overviews of what’s new, what’s old, and what’s expected as 20 GWMHL clubs prepare for a new year.

We start our tour of the league in the Plante East, home of the defending Gump Cup Champs.


Denver Spurs
Last Season’s Finish: 45-29-8 (4th in conference); lost in 1st round
Notable Arrivals: F Martin Frk, F Carl Soderberg, F Stefan Noesen, F Brian Gibbons, F Noel Acciari, G Anton Khudobin.
Notable Departures: F Riley Nash, F Marian Hossa, F Jaromir Jagr, F Lance Bouma, F Derek MacKenzie, D Thomas Hickey

The Spurs headed into last season having acquired Brayden Holtby, Marian Hossa, Mike Fisher, Erik Karlsson, and Jaromir Jagr, and the spending spree paid immediate dividends, vaulting Denver into playoff position and helping them take a high-powered Parry Sound to 6 games. Now, with Jagr and Hossa out, Fisher unlikely to play much, a quiet offseason, and no 2018 draft picks until the fourth round, expectations are lower — a lot lower. The Spurs still have Karlsson to lead a solid defense alongside Keith Yandle, but the forward ranks are paper-thin after Matt Duchene, Cam Atkinson, and Derick Brassard, even after the signing of Carl Soderberg. Spurs fans will likely need to be patient until the 2019 draft when they can start replenishing with top-end talent.

Verdict: Rebuilding


Pittsburgh Hornets
Last Season’s Finish: 32-39-11 (7th in conference); missed playoffs
Notable Arrivals: F Evan Rodrigues
Notable Departures: F Joel Ward, F Matt Martin, D Dmitry Kulikov

After limping along to a 7th place finish in ’17-’18, the Hornets might seem to be stuck in neutral — they didn’t make a single trade during or after the season and most of its top prospects need another year. What the Pittsburgh front office seems to be banking on is the continued growth of a fine core to finally give stars Evgeni Malkin and Victor Hedman the supporting cast they deserve. Bigger contributions from Ivan Provorov and Noah Hanifin on the back end, plus Timo Meier, Anthony Beauvillier, and unheralded Danton Heinen up front should put the Hornets firmly in the playoff race if they can get a strong performance in goal from Ben Bishop.

Verdict: Playoffs


Salem Sabercats
Last Season’s Finish: 42-27-8 (2nd in conference); won Gump Cup
Notable Arrivals: F Anze Kopitar, F Vladimir Sobotka, D Brandon Montour, D Samuel Girard, G Marc-Andre Fleury
Notable Departures: F Mattias Janmark, F Patrick Sharp, F Sonny Milano, F Ondrej Kase, F Brendan Perlini, G Craig Anderson, G Steve Darling

It shocked many observers that Salem, widely seen as a team on the decline, managed to capture yet another championship. But smart drafting has kept the Sabercats competitive even as key vets have retired. A drop-off seemed inevitable, despite the emergence of young forwards Yanni Gourde, Bo Horvat, and Travis Konecny, plus the addition of Brandon MontourSamuel Girard, and Travis Dermott to a very deep blueline, keeping them in the mix. Above all, the acquisition of Marc-Andre Fleury from South Side will have the biggest impact, allowing the Cats to trim some fat in goal. At the end of the day, Salem’s best veterans — Alex Pietrangelo, Nicklas Backstrom — can still produce with the best of them, and the late-preseason pickup of Anze Kopitar will be crucial in keeping up with other contenders’ top-line talent.

Verdict: Contender


South Side Renegades
Last Season’s Finish: 17-60-5 (10th in conference); missed playoffs
Notable Arrivals: F Nico Hischier, F Teuvo Teravainen, F Artem Anisimov, F Sonny Milano, D Cody Ceci, D Deryk Engelland, D Jake Dotchin, D Dylan DeMelo, G Tristan Jarry
Notable Departures: F Ryan O’Reilly, F Micheal Ferland, F Nikolai Kulemin, F Lee Stempniak, D Jake Muzzin, D Jonas Brodin, D Cody Franson

Renegades fans survived a terrible season with the best kind of silver lining: the first overall pick. With it, South Side gained centre Nico Hischier and a fresh new outlook. With four first round picks in 2018, plus the acquisition of young forward Teuvo Teravainen, the rebuild is off to a good start — but it’s not over yet. Although Hischier joins a nice group up the middle, alongside Dylan Larkin and Mika Zibanejad, there isn’t much talent on the wings yet. And the once-strong South Side defense corps is looking pretty shaky after Seth Jones, Colin Miller, and Cody Ceci. Connor Hellebuyck will probably steal them some games and it would be surprising if they plumbed the same depths as last season, but it’s looking like another rebuilding year for the Renegades.

Verdict: Rebuilding


Winnipeg Falcons
Last Season’s Finish: 44-32-6 (5th in conference); missed playoffs
Notable Arrivals: F Chandler Stephenson, F Vinnie Hinostroza, F Kyle Brodziak, D Will Butcher, D Trevor Daley, D Carl Gunnarsson, G Darcy Kuemper
Notable Departures: D Andrei Markov, D Fedor Tyutin

The Falcons missed the playoffs by a mere four points last season, and they remain a bubble team this year. Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Mike Hoffman will still lead things up front, and the addition of rookie Will Butcher will be a boon to Winnipeg’s defense. But there are many question marks: Can Ryan Suter lead a blueline comprised of mostly 4-5-6th defensemen? (His partner may well be someone like Trevor Daley, a late free agent pick.) Can netminder Jake Allen rise to the challenge as starter? Will the real Corey Perry please stand up? The Falcons are a team that can surprise opponents, especially if they get favourable line matchups, but they’ll need some luck to break into the conference’s top four for a playoff berth.

Verdict: Bubble

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