2019-20 Season Preview: Plante East

In News, Special Features on October 7, 2019 at 11:55 am

Welcome to part one of our annual season previews, profiling all GWMHL teams division by division as we look ahead to 2019-20. Beginning our series, a glimpse at the Plante East, home of the defending champs.

Denver Spurs

Last season: 25-53-4 (8th in conference; missed playoffs)

Draft picks: Dominik Kahun (15), Mathieu Joseph (34), Michael McLeod (43), Michael Dal Colle (55), Sam Montembeault (59), Teddy Blueger (75), Zach Senyshyn (79)

Additions: F Dominik Kahun, F Mathieu Joseph, F Jean-Gabriel Pageau, F J.T. Compher, F Barclay Goodrow, D Jay Bouwmeester, G Jack Campbell

Subtractions: F Noel Acciari, F Martin Frk, F Brian Gibbons, F Tom Kuhnhackl, F Stefan Noesen, F Tyler Pitlick, F Dominic Turgeon, F Colin Wilson, F Daniel Winnik, D Jonathan Ericsson, D Dylan McIlrath, D Brooks Orpik, D Duncan Siemens

Analysis: It’s been a few seasons now since Denver boldly went all-in, acquiring Erik Karlsson and Braden Holtby, among other vets. It didn’t translate into a cup, and the ripple effects are still being felt. While Karlsson and Holtby are still key parts of the team, the rest have retired or moved on, leaving a rebuilding roster. The Spurs took a risk and traded down at the draft, and used their many picks to replenish the ranks, though only wingers Dominik Kahun and Mathieu Joseph are likely to see significant playing time this year. The defense is okay, but after Matt Duchene and Cam Atkinson, the forward group is still lacking oomph — expect to see trade acquisition J.T. Compher up and down the lineup, but even then, the team’s makeup is such that we may be in for a Zack Smith stint on the first line.

Player to watch: Tom Wilson has untapped offensive potential, something the Spurs badly need, but the real X factor on this team is goaltender Anton Khudobin, who may yet be able to steal a 1B role in net from Holtby.

Outlook: Rebuilding

Pittsburgh Hornets

Last season: 35-40-7 (7th in conference; missed playoffs)

Draft picks: Quinn Hughes (9), Dillon Dube (28), Trent Frederic (51), Cooper Marody (68)

Additions: F Zach Sanford, G Matt Murray

Subtractions: F Pontus Aberg, F Bryan Little, F Evan Rodrigues, F Brandon Sutter, D Mark Pysyk, G Ben Bishop

Analysis: A perennial bubble team, the Hornets’ new draftees aren’t ready to make the jump, so what you saw last year isn’t so different than what they’ll be icing to start Q1. The big changes came in the preseason cuts, as the team parted ways with long-time vets Bryan Little and Brandon Sutter. The loss of former second-line centre Little in particular throws the lineup into question — the team will likely need to insert Alex Galchenyuk or Nick Bonino into that role, or risk wearing Evgeni Malkin out. The departure of Ben Bishop may also change this team’s fortunes, although management seems to feel that Matt Murray can shoulder the majority of starts. Having said all that, the Hornets have a high-end blueline led by Victor Hedman and young Ivan Provorov, and the ability to score timely goals up and down the lineup. Those factors alone give Pittsburgh an outside shot at the postseason.

Player to watch: Malkin has to play with somebody, and that may be a gift for winger Timo Meier, who seems poised for a breakout on the Russian star’s wing.

Outlook: Bubble

Salem Sabercats

Last season: 56-20-6 (1st in conference; won Gump Cup)

Draft picks: Jaret Anderson-Dolan (20), Kristian Vesalainen (30), Brett Howden (40), Jimmy Schuldt (60)

Additions: F Patrick Kane, F Brett Howden

Subtractions: F Loui Eriksson, F Charles Hudon, F Vladimir Sobotka, D Andrew MacDonald

Analysis: The first draft of this writeup read more like an obituary for the defending champs. Surely this was the year the wheels would come off the wagon. Then they went and acquired superstar Patrick Kane from Hamilton and everything changed. A solid roster with glaring weaknesses — namely, the likelihood of Gustav Nyquist on the first line — was totally overhauled in one trade. Kane, one of the league’s most consistently electric forwards, changes the team’s complexion completely. Playing with Nicklas Backstrom (or with Bo Horvat or Anze Kopitar if the team wants to spread the scoring around), Kane will absolutely be a game-changing contributor. One could argue that the ‘Cats could still use a top-six winger, but with solid forward depth, a good blueline, and a great duo in goal… well, we’ve been down this road before.

Player to watch: How could it be anyone other than Patrick Kane? Just as the preseason acquisition of Anze Kopitar turned the team into a contender last season, Kane is poised to have a similar effect this time around.

Outlook: Contender

South Side Renegades

Last season: 21-53-8 (9th in conference; missed playoffs)

Draft picks: Brady Tkachuk (4), Erik Cernak (16), Jordan Binnington (22), Caleb Jones (37), Maxime Lajoie (62), Christian Jaros (76)

Additions: F Brady Tkachuk, D Erik Cernak, D Alec Martinez, D Chris Tanev, D Maxime Lajoie, D Christian Jaros, G Jordan Binnington, G Keith Kinkaid

Subtractions: F Frederik Gauthier, F Valeri Nichushkin, F Devante Smith-Pelly, D Erik Gustafsson, D Jake Dotchin, D Alexei Emelin, D Ben Harpur, D Alexander Petrovic, D Luca Sbisa, G Tristan Jarry

Analysis: It’s another rebuilding year for South Side, yet the acquisitions of vets Alec Martinez and Chris Tanev signal a subtle shift in mindset. Recent draftees Nico Hischier (2018) and Brady Tkachuk (2019) will be big parts of this team in 2019-20 and the future, but outside of the top five or so forwards (those two, plus Teuvo Teravainen, Dylan Larkin, and maybe Anthony Cirelli) the team has a long way to go. On the bright side, the team drafted three guys who will all likely make the roster — Tkachuk, Erik Cernak, and Jordan Binnington. Binnington is the wild card here — Connor Hellebuyck is good, but a run from Binnington could vault the team up the standings. Into a playoff spot? Very doubtful. Letting go of Erik Gustafsson on the back end may have lasting ramifications, as it will force Seth Jones or another defenseman to the left side. The team will likely stay out of the basement but the rebuild isn’t over yet.

Player to watch: Even with Hischier and Cirelli, much depends upon Dylan Larkin‘s ability to run the offense. The team doesn’t have the depth to spare — if he slumps, the Renegades slump.

Outlook: Rebuilding

Winnipeg Falcons

Last season: 35-38-9 (6th in conference; missed playoffs)

Draft picks: Elias Pettersson (3), Austin Wagner (49), Sammy Blais (69)

Additions: F Elias Pettersson, F Marcus Foligno, F Brad Richardson

Subtractions: F Kyle Brodziak, F Marian Gaborik, D Trevor Daley, G Steve Mason

Analysis: What a strange twist of fate. Winnipeg wasn’t expecting to come out of the draft with a forward, but when Rasmus Dahlin and Miro Heiskanen went one-two, they suddenly found themselves with Elias Pettersson. A defender would have addressed the team’s bigger weakness, but Pettersson slots in behind Tyler Seguin to give the lineup some scoring power it was otherwise lacking. Still, the team is still short of impact wingers outside of the first line and will be relying heavily on journeyman types like Vinnie Hinostroza and Joel Armia to pick up the slack. And that blueline: the left side looks pretty good with Ryan Suter and Will Butcher, but when Mike Green inevitably falls to injury, who’s playing on the right? Jordie Benn? Ben Chiarot? Dan Girardi? This team has the ability to play above its pay grade, but it’s tough to imagine playoff contention at this stage.

Player to watch: The team has struggled in goal over the years, but seems confident in Darcy Kuemper‘s ability to steal games. If that comes to pass, it could keep Winnipeg in the mix.

Outlook: Rebuilding


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