GWMHL

Season Preview: Sawchuk East

In Uncategorized on October 15, 2020 at 7:32 pm

What better way to start our series of division-by-division season previews with the Sawchuk East, home of the defending champs, the Boston Banshees? This division is tough to predict, with a jumble of bubble teams out of which any one or two could emerge. It also features one team we predict rising from the basement to contender status.


Boston Banshees

Last season: 57-17-8 (won Gump Cup)

Draft picks: G Cayden Primeau (34), D Timothy Liljegren (42), D Nicolas Beaudin (44), F Julien Gauthier (47)

Notable additions: F Erik Haula, F Radek Faksa, F Danton Heinen, F Colton Sissons, D Matthew Dumba, G Anton Khudobin

Notable subtractions: F Max Domi, F Ryan Getzlaf, F Boone Jenner, D Mark Giordano, D Neal Pionk, D Connor Murphy, G Casey DeSmith

Analysis: Leave it to Boston to win a championship — in commanding fashion — on the back of its goaltending and defense corps, only to rejig both in the offseason. The Banshees parted ways with Mark Giordano and Neal Pionk, among others, and brought in goaltender Anton Khudobin to back up Ben Bishop and Matthew Dumba to play the right side on a jam-packed blueline. Where does that leave the defending champs? Once again a favourite to go far in the postseason. Even without a ton of scoring depth up front — although the team is hoping for big things from Mika Zibanejad, who looks poised for a breakout year — it boasts a lethal combination of a tough, defensively sound group of defensemen and one of the best goalie tandems in the league. It remains to be seen whether they’ll be as dominant as last season, but the Banshees are definitely among the cream of the crop in the GWMHL.

Player to watch: Brock Boeser. Boeser, along with Zach Parise and Jason Zucker, is one of the team’s only scoring wingers, and its best weapon on the right side. His performance will be crucial.

Outlook: Contender


Adirondack Aces

Last season: 46-25-11 (lost in first round)

Draft picks: D Noah Dobson (19), G Kaapo Kahkonen (41), F Joel Kiviranta (63), F Logan O’Connor (84)

Notable additions: F David Kampf

Notable subtractions: F Michael Grabner, F Justin Williams, F Karson Kuhlman, D Kris Russell

Analysis: Adirondack had a great 2019-20 season, finishing third in the Sawchuk and taking the powerful Delta Sturgeon to seven games, but they might find repeating that success difficult. The elements that make this team good are all still there — Patrice Bergeron’s elite two-way play, solid secondary scoring down the lineup, and a dangerous top pairing in Zach Werenski and Drew Doughty — but there are gaps, too. The biggest is in goal, where Semyon Varlamov will be asked to take on the lion’s share of work and observers wonder if Devan Dubnyk could end up being a liability. The team also needs offense from some inconsistent players, including William Karlsson and Nino Niederreiter. Down years from either of those leave holes in the offense. A huge dropoff doesn’t seem likely, but the Aces may find themselves in a fight for a playoff berth.

Player to watch: Johnny Gaudreau. If Gaudreau plays like the elite offensive weapon he can be, it takes pressure off the rest of the Adirondack lineup.

Outlook: Bubble


Farmington Fighting Saints

Last season: 32-41-9 (missed playoffs)

Draft picks: G Ilya Samsonov (9), F Josh Norris (30), D Tobias Bjornfot (40), D Zach Whitecloud (51), D Andrew Peeke (71)

Notable additions: G Ilya Samsonov

Notable subtractions: F Bobby Ryan, F Brendan Lemieux, D Dustin Byfuglien, G Laurent Brossoit

Analysis: Despite never really entering full rebuild territory, the Saints have quietly amassed an intriguing prospect pool, although few of its young guns project to make a big difference this coming season. But that’s just about the only thing that’s predictable about this Farmington club. The team’s historically strong centre depth now looks a little dodgy, with no clear top guy. It used to be Ryan Johansen, but there are still questions about his ability to produce consistently, and the same goes for Vincent Trocheck. The defense isn’t the deepest and the Saints miss the element that Dustin Byfuglien brought, but it does still boast a game breaker in John Carlson. The Saints also added Ilya Samsonov to the Corey Crawford/Robin Lehner mix in goal — very intriguing indeed. It seems premature to call Farmington’s retool over, yet the team looks too good on paper to rule out of the playoffs completely.

Player to watch: J.T. Miller. Always a supporting player, never a star, but the Fighting Saints think he could establish himself in 2020-21 as a key cog in the team’s offense. For a team that needs consistent production on the wings, that would be huge.

Outlook: Bubble


West Virginia River Rats

Last season: 30-45-7 (missed playoffs)

Draft picks: F Jack Hughes (2), F Gabriel Vilardi (26), F Ilya Mikheyev (38), F Noah Gregor (64), F Jansen Harkins (70), G Jonas Johansson (75)

Notable additions: F Jack Hughes, F Travis Zajac, F Cody Eakin, F Ilya Mikheyev, D Mark Giordano, D Connor Murphy, G Pavel Francouz

Notable subtractions: F Erik Haula, F Radek Faksa, F Richard Panik, F Brett Ritchie, D Matthew Dumba, D Jordan Oesterle, D Mike Reilly

Analysis: Last season was a big disappointment for the River Rats, although they at least got highly touted Jack Hughes out of it. But if there’s any team poised to vault up the standings, it’s this one. The fact that they swapped younger Matthew Dumba for older but more defensively sound Mark Giordano signals that team management likes its chances, too. Even with Jake Guentzel expected to miss significant time, this team’s top forwards — Leon Draisaitl, Sebastian Aho, Patrick Laine — can score with the best of them, and adding free agent Pavel Francouz to take on some starts from Jacob Markstrom and Juuse Saros should add a few Ws over the course of a season. On top of that, the additions of Giordano and Connor Murphy has this blueline looking better than it has in years — especially if Dougie Hamilton has a big offensive year to make up for the loss of Dumba. Bold prediction: this team will contend for a title.

Player to watch: Jaccob Slavin. Hamilton might be the big scorer, but Slavin has emerged as one of the league’s best two-way defensemen. He will be asked to shoulder a heavy load this season.

Outlook: Contender


San Jose Hosers

Last season: 26-46-10 (missed playoffs)

Draft picks: G Igor Shesterkin (5), D Jeremy Lauzon (62), D Gustav Lindstrom (68)

Notable additions: F Alexander Wennberg, D Matt Grzelcyk, G Igor Shesterkin

Notable subtractions: F Mathieu Perreault, F Conor Sheary, F Dominik Simon, F Taro Hirose D Troy Stecher, D Radim Simek, G Martin Jones

Analysis: If the Hosers aren’t finally in the playoff mix, heads may have to roll. On paper, the team should have climbed out of the basement already, with Jack Eichel poised to take another step forward offensively and his support case (Marner, Stamkos, Tavares) all still playing at a high level, plus positive signs that the bottom six will be able to contribute. When healthy, the team’s defense is very deep, especially if Mikhail Sergachev can shoulder PP QB duties. But, as with several teams across the league, it all threatens to be undone by suspect goaltending. The team acquired Braden Holtby last season, but insiders wonder if he has enough good hockey left in him. The team drafted Igor Shesterkin seemingly in response to this very concern, but he likely won’t be ready to see much action in 2020-21, so the Hosers may find themselves having to outscore the opposition in some old-fashioned shinny. They may make it, but a playoff berth is by no means a lock.

Player to watch: Oliver Bjorkstrand. The Hosers need secondary scoring, and there’s a chance Bjorkstrand forces his way into the top 6. Even if he doesn’t, the punch he’d add to the bottom 6 could be a difference-maker.

Outlook: Bubble

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