Season Preview: Plante East

In Uncategorized on October 16, 2020 at 2:20 pm

This is the second in our series of division-by-division season previews. Read the preview for the Sawchuk East division here.

The Plante East is a division in flux, as it may soon be time for longtime powerhouse Salem to pass the torch to one of its up-and-coming rivals. But which team is the most ready to take that step in 2020-21?

Salem Sabercats

Last season: 44-26-12 (lost in first round)

Draft picks: D Kale Clague (50), D Martin Fehervary (60), F Mitchell Stephens (82)

Notable additions: F David Perron, F Mitchell Stephens

Notable subtractions: F Nicklas Backstrom, F Anders Bjork, G Oscar Dansk

Analysis: Many observers thought they were a team on decline two seasons ago, but the Sabercats proved them wrong with yet another title. That said, if its 2020 playoff performance is any indication, the time for Salem to become a middle-of-the-pack team is finally here. That said, this team has few glaring weaknesses — and addressed its lack of winger depth by acquiring Patrick Kane last season and David Perron just weeks ago. Duncan Keith and Alex Pietrangelo, two of the biggest reasons for the team’s consistent success, are aging but still top-flight contributors. Even the loss of Nicklas Backstrom, in the Perron deal, will be offset if Bo Horvat can be effective as a second-liner. Still, the Sabercats are the league’s oldest team, and their their depth just isn’t enough to intimidate opponents anymore. A mediocre season from Frederik Andersen or M-A Fleury could be tough for this team to overcome.

Player to watch: Anze Kopitar. The acquisition of the veteran two years ago was instrumental in their last Gump Cup win, and if he can keep producing, he’s still the kind of centre that wins big games in the GWMHL.

Outlook: Playoffs

Denver Spurs

Last season: 37-35-10 (lost in first round)

Draft picks: F Martin Kaut (25), D Connor Timmins (35), F Aleksi Saarela (56), F Maxim Letunov (77)

Notable additions: F Max Domi, G Alex Stalock

Notable subtractions: F Colton Sissons, F Thomas Vanek, F Frans Nielsen, G Anton Khudobin, G Sam Montembeault

Analysis: Let’s face it. Despite some win-now moves, like picking up Jordan Binnington and grabbing vets in the free agent draft, on paper, this Spurs roster qualifying for the 2020 playoffs came as something of a surprise. And although they didn’t make it past the first round, they opened a lot of eyes by pushing Parry Sound to six games. The smart offseason acquisition of Max Domi adds needed depth, but the team’s reliance on Cam Atkinson’s scoring touch is a bit of a house of cards: if he falters, it’ll be up to the likes of JG Pageau and Tom Wilson to pick up the slack. They’re both very good players in their own right, but GWMHL top-liners? The forward ranks are full of solid roleplayers but little secondary scoring. Likewise, the Spurs will need someone in its bottom four defensemen to contribute, since the aging Keith Yandle and oft-injured Erik Karlsson can’t do it all. Ultimately, despite its success last year, this seems like a team that may take a step back this year.

Player to watch: Jordan Binnington. Ultimately, the Spurs’ fortunes hinge on Binnington’s play. If he can steal games, as he did last season, they could be playoff-bound again.

Outlook: Rebuilding

Pittsburgh Hornets

Last season: 35-39-8 (missed playoffs)

Draft picks: F Morgan Frost (11), D Rasmus Sandin (20), F Jason Robertson (32), F Givani Smith (54)

Notable additions: F Tyler Motte, F Dillon Dube, D Quinn Hughes, D Neal Pionk

Notable subtractions: F Danton Heinen, F James Neal, D Justin Schultz

Analysis: Despite missing the 2020 playoffs, the Hornets have a lot going for them. One, there’s very solid forward depth, with a top nine that can hurt you at even strength despite a lack of truly elite scorers. Two, there’s an exciting prospect pipeline, although several blue-chippers are still a season or two away. And three, there’s probably the best trio of lefthanded defensemen in the entire league in Victor Hedman, Ivan Provorov and highly touted rookie Quinn Hughes. Pittsburgh is quite clearly coalescing into a competitive team. Flipping Danton Heinen for Neal Pionk really rounded out its blueline, too. The team’s Achilles heel is likely to be in goal — the tandem of Petr Mrazek and Matt Murray is as inconsistent as they come. That alone could keep the Hornets out of the postseason for another year. But they’ll likely be close.

Player to watch: Victor Hedman. If the Hornets had more reliable netminding, the answer might be Evgeni Malkin. But the team’s fortunes depend upon Hedman to not only run the offense but to be a defensive beast keeping pucks away from Mrazek/Murray.

Outlook: Bubble

Winnipeg Falcons

Last season: 31-45-6 (missed playoffs)

Draft picks: G Elvis Merzlikins (6), F Morgan Geekie (27), D Carson Soucy (48)

Notable additions: F Max Pacioretty, F Darren Helm, D Carson Soucy, D Mark Pysyk, D Mark Borowiecki, G Elviz Merzlikins

Notable subtractions: F Cal Clutterbuck, F Michael Frolik, F Vinnie Hinostroza, F Brad Richardson, D Jordie Benn, D Mike Green, D Carl Gunnarsson, D Dan Hamhuis

Analysis: The Falcons’ only off-season trade was a big one, as they acquired scoring winger Max Pacioretty from El Dorado. Pacioretty instantly becomes Winnipeg’s top left winger, and will be an important linemate for either Elias Pettersson or Tyler Seguin. On top of that, the team took a big swing to draft goaltender Elvis Merzlikins sixth overall; he, Darcy Kumper, and Jake Allen have the potential to form a top-flight trio in goal. Meanwhile, the Falcons jettisoned a bunch of underperforming veteran defensemen, and brought in Carson Soucy, Mark Pysyk, and Mark Borowiecki. It’s a small improvement to an area of weakness: after Ryan Suter, there’s not much offensive oomph on D and a Ben Chiarot or a Will Butcher will be asked to play over his head. Despite that, this team seems poised to take a big step forward this year.

Player to watch: Max Pacioretty. Pacioretty, Pettersson and Mike Hoffman are the team’s only real natural goal scorers, and Pacioretty is the most dangerous of the bunch. The team needs him to produce to help offset Jamie Benn’s slow offensive decline.

Outlook: Playoffs

South Side Renegades

Last season: 21-47-14 (missed playoffs)

Draft picks: F Kaapo Kakko (3), F Joel Farabee (13), D Ville Heinola (16), D Vladislav Gavrikov (23)

Notable additions: F Kaapo Kakko, F Joel Farabee, F Carter Rowney, F Tyler Pitlick, F Oskar Lindblom, D Nikita Zadorov, D Vladislav Gavrikov, G Mike Smith

Notable subtractions: F Garnet Hathaway, F Melker Karlsson, F Antoine Roussel, F Devin Shore, F Mathieu Joseph, F Joakim Nordstrom, D Colin Miller, D Deryk Engelland, G Keith Kinkaid

Analysis: The Renegades have had nine first round picks over the last three drafts, and several of those picks — Brady Tkachuk, Nico Hischier, and Anthony Cirelli — have already established themselves as major contributors. Despite that, success is a ways off. Several of those first rounders, including Kaapo Kakko, are likely a season or two away from making any kind of impact at the GWMHL level, which leaves the team with few point producers up front after the reliable Dylan Larkin and Teuvo Teravainen. And the Renegades’ defense features a lot of defensively sound and/or hard-hitting defensemen but only one truly offensive rearguard in Seth Jones. There’s the outline of a competitive team here, but we won’t likely see it until 2021 or later.

Player to watch: Connor Hellebuyck. South Side should have more wins than last season, and that’ll be thanks to a defensively sound blueline group (Tanev, Martinez, etc.) playing in front of a goalie who can win games single-handedly.

Outlook: Rebuilding


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