Season Preview: Sawchuk West

In Uncategorized on October 17, 2020 at 2:14 pm

Welcome to the Sawchuk West, home of the contending Delta Sturgeon and then a big blob of teams that are all pretty good with very little to separate them from each other. But we’ll try anyway.

Missed the first two previews? Read them here and here.

Delta Sturgeon

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

Draft picks: F Liam Foudy (22), F Yakov Trenin (53), F Matthew Highmore (65), F Alexander True (88)

Notable additions: F Nick Foligno, F Colton Sceviour

Notable subtractions: F Dylan Strome, F Nate Thompson, F Valentin Zykov, F Kyle Okposo, D Alex Goligoski

Analysis: It was the shocker of the postseason when Delta got swept by Boston in the Sawchuk conference final. But this team still has all the pieces to make another legit run at the promised land. Nathan McKinnon and Nikita Kucherov form one of the best offensive duos in the league, the team has outstanding depth up front and on D, and the Sturgeon added hard-nosed Nick Foligno and Colton Sceviour to make them even tougher to play against. Some are forecasting a down year for starting goalie John Gibson, though, and if he stumbles, that leaves injury prone Antti Raanta and Adin Hill taking on a lot of starts. Still, the Sturgeon are uniquely equipped at both ends of the ice to make up for middling goaltending, with a top-notch D and plenty of defensively responsible forwards. This team is again among the GWMHL elite.

Player to watch: Aaron Ekblad. Delta’s need for big-time point-producing defenseman has had them giving up assets for Jake Muzzin and Erik Gustafsson in seasons past. It’s time for Ekblad to step up and be The Guy on this very good blueline.

Outlook: Contender

Vancouver Night Train

Last season: 42-34-6 (lost in first round)

Draft picks: D John Marino (14), F Klim Kostin (36), G Chris Driedger (45), F Zach MacEwen (57), F Nico Sturm (67), F Tim Gettinger (78)

Notable additions: F Martin Necas, D John Marino, G Tristan Jarry, G Chris Driedger

Notable subtractions: F Nick Foligno, D Matt Grzelcyk, D Nikita Zadorov, G Sergei Bobrovsky

Analysis: Given how many of its longtime stars the Night Train had dealt away in recent years — from Rinne to Toews to Ekman-Larsson — it came as a surprise to see the team back in the playoffs in 2020. And although they got absolutely steamrolled by Boston in the opening round, the success seems to have moved up the team’s competitive timetable. They once again shed veterans, including Sergei Bobrovsky and Nick Foligno, to make room for younger players — they are, in fact, the league’s youngest non-expansion team — including Tristan Jarry, who will likely see the lion’s share of starts. The Night Train have a deep, young defensive corps, led by Thomas Chabot and Shea Theodore, and a solid group of forwards. It lacks high-end, dynamic offensive talent, though, outside of Mat Barzal, although Mark Stone, Elias Lindholm, and Kyle Palmieri can provide plenty of workmanlike goals. This team likely can’t hang with the conference’s big guns, but it should be in the playoff mix.

Player to watch: Shea Weber. He’s the oldest player on the team by a mile, and even though the torch will soon be passed to younger defensemen like Chabot, Theodore, and Filip Hronek, he’s still the Night Train’s most important PP asset.

Outlook: Bubble

Ice Harbor Storm

Last season: 36-36-10 (missed playoffs)

Draft picks: F Eetu Luostarinen (61)

Notable additions: F Boone Jenner

Notable subtractions: F Brandon Pirri, G Henrik Lundqvist

Analysis: Last year was most disappointing for the Ice Harbor Storm, a talented team that failed to put it together with any consistency. Fortunately, a fresh start is ahead: the team officially moved on from Henrik Lundqvist, as young Carter Hart appears ready to run with the starter’s job. They also added Boone Jenner for some jam in the bottom six. On paper, there aren’t many weaknesses here. Although the team’s playmaker-to-sniper ratio is a little off, Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Matthew Tkachuk, et al should still be good for enough goals. The forward depth is truly excellent, and the blueline is rounding into form — we may even also see Storm coaching staff experimenting with defense pairings for a more balanced lineup compared to last year. Even in a very competitive conference, it seems impossible that this team could miss the playoffs again…

Player to watch: Kris Letang. A healthy Letang, potentially moved to the left side, would be a godsend to this club, which has struggled in recent years with a glut of right-handed defensemen and not enough going on on the left. Either way, he’ll be asked to drive the offense from the back end.

Outlook: Playoffs

Hamilton Ti-Cats

Last season: 32-42-8 (missed playoffs)

Draft picks: F Kirby Dach (8), D Adam Boqvist (17)

Notable additions: F Ryan Getzlaf, F Dylan Strome, F Kirby Dach, D Alex Goligoski

Notable subtractions: F Travis Zajac, F Andrew Shaw, D Matt Benning

Analysis: It’s difficult to know what to make of Hamilton, a team that is only a year removed from dealing superstar Patrick Kane away. But that move apparently wasn’t a harbinger of a full-on rebuild, as the Ti-Cats switched gears this summer and added veterans, including Ryan Getzlaf to shore up the middle six and Alex Goligoski to provided some much-needed defensive depth. So it’s not a rebuilding team, but of all the bubble teams in the Sawchuk conference, they’re probably furthest away from the postseason. Recent draftees Kirby Dach and Adam Boqvist are a season away from contributing, and there’s a lack of snipers up front. Add to that the offensive declines of TJ Brodie and PK Subban and goaltending that isn’t bad but isn’t all-star caliber either and you have a team that probably won’t nab a playoff spot but should still rack up a few wins.

Player to watch: Roman Josi. Despite the team’s warts, Josi is the X factor this year. He has the ability to make a big impact at both ends of the ice, and that alone should keep Hamilton out of the basement.

Outlook: Bubble

Portland Winterhawks

Last season: 31-43-8 (missed playoffs)

Draft picks: F Nick Suzuki (7), D Mario Ferraro (28), F Blake Lizotte (49), F Rasmus Asplund (69)

Notable additions: F Nick Suzuki, F Blake Lizotte, D Mario Ferraro

Notable subtractions: F Zach Aston-Reese, F Luke Glendening, F Jason Spezza, F Chris Wagner, G Carter Hutton

Analysis: The Winterhawks have 1) a truly lethal one-two punch at left wing in Artemi Panarin and Brad Marchand, 2) a very good goaltending trio in Mackenzie Blackwood, Jaroslav Halak, and free agent draftee Cam Talbot, and 3) a forward corps that is sneakily rounding into form, as younger players like Andrei Svechnikov, Tyler Bertuzzi, and Jesper Bratt develop into important contributors. Drafting Nick Suzuki helps solidify the ‘Hawks down the middle, too. So why aren’t they in the playoff conversation? Because their defense group is a mess. Only one defenseman on the team, Matt Niskanen, has any meaningful offensive potential, and that just isn’t enough to compete in the GWMHL. Portland has enough talent to do some damage and take some teams by surprise, and it’s certainly more competitive than some of the other rebuilding teams in the league, but until the blueline is addressed it’s a group on the outside looking in.

Player to watch: Andrei Svechnikov. Everyone keys in on Panarin and Marchand, but they can’t be on the ice together so Portland needs highly touted Svechnikov to be a difference maker on the opposite wing.

Outlook: Rebuilding


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