Season Preview: Plante (part 1)

In Uncategorized on November 25, 2021 at 12:15 pm

The 2021-22 GWMHL season is about to begin. Here’s the first of four previews looking at the state of the league’s 22 teams ahead of what promises to be another great season.

Baltimore Crab

Last season: 49-29-4 (lost in 1st round)

Draft picks: F Joe Veleno (19), D Ian Mitchell (41), G Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (58), D Dylan Coghlan (84)

Notable additions: F Derrick Brassard, F Colin Blackwell, D Lucas Carlsson

Notable subtractions: F Vladimir Tarasenko, F Tyler Johnson, F Victor Rask, F Josh Archibald, D Hampus Lindholm

Analysis: In 2020-21, the Crab bounced back from a sub-.500 season to post a very good record, although it didn’t ultimately translate into a long playoff drive. And while Sidney Crosby isn’t getting any younger, he forms–along with Mark Scheifele–one of the league’s top one-two punches at centre. Overall, the Crab’s forward depth isn’t what it once was, but the blueline is a solid mix of high-flying offense-first guys and stay-at-home defensemen, and Philipp Grubauer can be a high-end starter. That means the Crab will again be in the playoff mix, with a chance of breaking into the second round.

Player to watch: The emergence of Cale Makar — and the 2020 lottery luck that allowed the Crab to get him — changed the face of the team, as he’s taken the baton from Brent Burns as the team’s offensive engine from the back end. Makar played a big part in the team’s turnaround.

Outlook: Playoffs

Charleston Chiefs

Last season: 35-38-9 (missed playoffs)

Draft picks: F Jan Jenik (30), F Arttu Ruotsalainen (64), D Alec Regula (74)

Notable additions: F Miles Wood, F Tomas Nosek, F Nick Bjugstad, G Anthony Stolarz

Notable subtractions: F Scott Laughton, F Brock McGinn, F Artturi Lehkonen, F Nikita Gusev, D Marc-Edouard Vlasic, D Haydn Fleury

Analysis: The Chiefs had a mediocre season, but it could have been worse considering they didn’t have a 2021 first rounder, having dealt that pick to Ice Harbor in order to draft Adam Fox at the ’20 draft. The Chiefs have some big gaps — namely, a lack of big-minute scoring wingers to support centres Nicklas Backstrom and Brayden Point — and they face some big questions in goal. Charleston could really use a hot-shot rookie or two, but unless Oliver Wahlstrom takes off, none seem to be waiting in the wings. The Chiefs did pick up Kevin Lankinen in the draft, and it’s possible he supplants Jonathan Quick as the starter, or maybe that’s Alexandar Georgiev’s role to take — who can say? It adds up to a lot of question marks.

Player to watch: The risky move to acquire Fox last season has paid off, and he figures to be a transformative player this year and in the future, alongside fellow young gun Miro Heiskanen.

Outlook: Bubble

Denver Spurs

Last season: 28-44-10 (missed playoffs)

Draft picks: F Alex Newhook (8), F Nolan Foote (29), F Mikhail Maltsev (51), F Nathan Bastian (73)

Notable additions: F Cal Clutterbuck, F Joakim Nordstrom, D Michael Del Zotto, D Andrej Sekera

Notable subtractions: F Luke Glendening, F Michael Dal Colle, F Tyler Ennis, F Zachary Senyshyn, D Justin Braun, D Jay Bouwmeester, G Alex Stalock

Analysis: The Spurs had a rough year, but wisely held onto their first round pick and with it grabbed Alex Newhook. The sky’s the limit for him, but he won’t be joining the team this season. That leaves the Spurs lacking in depth up front, with arguably one top-line talent in Cam Atkinson — two if Matt Duchene can rebound — surrounded by role players (Teddy Blueger, JG Pageau, Barclay Goodrow) who may be forced to fill top six roles. Where Denver is strongest is in goal, where the duo of Jordan Binnington and Jack Campbell could steal some games, but it’s fair to say that the Spurs still need to reload with young talent for a season or two before returning to the playoffs.

Player to watch: Erik Karlsson is Denver’s best defenseman by a mile, and that’s a concern because his decline is clear as day. If he can find his game again, though, it will help offset the team’s lack of goal-scoring up front.

Outlook: Rebuilding

El Dorado Lynx

Last season: 53-19-10 (won Atkinson Cup)

Draft picks: D Jacob Bernard-Docker (37), F Aleksi Heponiemi (44), D Olli Juolevi (66), F Mason Marchment (87)

Notable additions: F Johan Larsson, F Andrew Cogliano, G Dustin Tokarski

Notable subtractions: F Mats Zuccarello, F Dustin Brown, F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, F Valtteri Filppula, F Alexnder Volkov, D Jack Johnson, D Christian Wolanin

Analysis: The Lynx lost two key wingers — Mats Zuccarello and Dustin Brown — to expansion, yet the defending Atkinson Cup champions still boast some of the league’s best depth on the wings, and have a solid D group too, especially if youngsters Nicolas Hague and Erik Brannstrom can take on some meaningful bottom four time. Of course, El Dorado can likely count on Alex Ovechkin and Kyle Connor to deliver clutch goals. The burning question is, has El Dorado’s biggest historical advantage — its unrivaled goaltending duo of Carey Price and Tuukka Rask — turned into a liability? Neither goalie is getting any younger, and their all-star days may be behind them. Price and Rask have led the team for so long, it’s hard to predict what will happen if they both turn in a below-average season.

Player to watch: Strong on the wings but weaker at centre, the Lynx will once again be relying on Ryan O’Reilly to do it all at both ends of the ice.

Outlook: Contender

Great Lakes Pilots

Last season: 27-49-6 (missed playoffs)

Draft picks: F Quinton Byfield (7), D Cam York (26), F Ross Colton (49)

Notable additions: F Milan Lucic, F Curtis Lazar, D Zdeno Chara, D Mike Reilly, D Jani Hakanpaa

Notable subtractions: F Tyler Bozak, F Loui Eriksson, F Jimmy Vesey, D Brendan Smith, D Jake Gardiner, D Erik Johnson

Analysis: The hard-luck kids have had a rough go of it in the injury and prospect development departments. For proof, look no further than the struggling Nolan Patrick and Barrett Hayton. 2021 7th overall pick Quinton Byfield projects to be a difference-maker, but not this year. That leaves a fanbase that’ll have to wait another year to see if the team can take a step forward. They did pick up veteran giant Zdeno Chara to solidify the D, and Andrei Vasilevskiy and Thatcher Demko will no doubt win some games singlehandedly, but at the end of the day Tomas Hertl and Victor Olofsson can only do so much by themselves. Goals will be hard to come by.

Player to watch: The stalled development of Jesse Puljujarvi was another setback for the Pilots, but he’s rejoined the team and seems ready to take a step — his talent is sorely needed.

Outlook: Rebuilding

Hershey Bears

Last season: N/A

Draft picks: D Ty Smith (13), F Brandon Hagel (36), F Rasmus Kupari (63)

Notable additions: All of them

Notable subtractions: F Ivan Barbashev, F Tyler Bozak, F Brandon Sutter

Analysis: Hershey seems slightly better positioned than its expansion mate Clarington to make an impact in its inaugural season. The late-round 2020 steal of Carter Verhaege — who is on the precipice of a breakout — gives them a surprisingly interesting dimension in their top six, alongside Chandler Stephenson and vets Dustin Brown and Adam Henrique. The team also managed to dig up a decent amount of blueline scoring in Mark Giordano and Dmitry Orlov (along with Hampus Lindholm, though he’s battling injuries), who will be joined by rookie Ty Smith. And in goal, if Mike Smith and Chris Driedger are on, they’ll win some games. The Bears aren’t about to vie for a championship, but they have the pieces to stay out of the basement and surprise some opponents.

Player to watch: Of all the defensemen taken in the expansion draft, Giordano has the most offensive potential and will help Hershey’s special teams right out of the gate.

Outlook: Bubble


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