Season Preview: Sawchuk (part 2)

In Uncategorized on November 28, 2021 at 11:26 am

We conclude our four-part preseason preview with a look at the rest of the Sawchuk Conference. Missed the rest? Here they are: Plante part 1 and part 2; Sawchuk part 1.

Ice Harbor Storm

Last season: 42-37-3 (missed playoffs)

Draft picks: G Spencer Knight (9), F Dylan Cozens (12), F Arthur Kaliyev (34), D Wyatt Kalynuk (78)

Notable additions: F Trevor Moore, F Victor Rask, F Sam Carrick

Notable subtractions: F Boone Jenner, F Nazem Kadri, F Kyle Turris, F Justin Williams, D Calvin De Haan, G Malcolm Subban

Analysis: Ice Harbor’s excellent depth up front — led by Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau, with Alex DeBrincat, Matthew Tkachuk, Brayden Schenn, Blake Wheeler, and Sam Reinhart filling in the ranks — helped to absorb the fairly heavy losses of Nazem Kadri and Boone Jenner in the expansion draft. The team has yet to address its glut of righthanded defensemen, however, which puts perhaps unfair pressure on lefties Nick Leddy and Mike Matheson, and the team made waves by drafting Spencer Knight, which many saw as a vote of non-confidence in Carter Hart. Knight is a season away, and the team is hoping to shelter Hart with Jonathan Bernier and Linus Ullmark. The gambit could pay off. On paper, this is a playoff-caliber team — but that was true last season as well.

Player to watch: The Storm have a pretty good defensive group, but only one dynamic offensive presence in the form of Kris Letang. The Storm’s fortunes have often risen and fallen with Letang’s health. If he can play most of the season, it bodes well.

Outlook: Playoffs

Portland WinterHawks

Last season: 20-46-16 (missed playoffs)

Draft picks: F Yegor Sharangovich (5), D Mikey Anderson (25), G Vitek Vanecek (47), D Jacob Bryson (69)

Notable additions: F Ryan Hartman, F Alexander Barabanov

Notable subtractions: F Blake Lizotte, F Jake Virtanen, D Matt Niskanen, D Brent Seabrook, G Jaroslav Halak

Analysis: The rebuilding WinterHawks drafted four players who could step in right away, including a top-nine forward in Yegor Sharangovich, a much-needed defenseman in Mikey Anderson, and goalie Vitek Vanecek. Sharangovich joins a strong forward group that also includes Brad Marchand, Artemi Panarin, Andrei Svechnikov, Phil Kessel, and Nick Suzuki. They should be able to generate goals. And the trio of Vanecek, Mackenzie Blackwood, and Cam Talbot is solid too. But, as in recent years, Portland lacks high-end defensemen and of their current group, only Nick Schultz has much offensive pop. Can he hold down top time? It’s a team slowly on the rise, but likely not quite there yet.

Player to watch: Rumour is that David Krejci is contemplating retiring from the GWMHL after this season. The ‘Hawks desperately need him for now as a veteran presence down the middle to keep Suzuki from burning out.

Outlook: Bubble

San Jose Hosers

Last season: 37-38-7 (missed playoffs)

Draft picks: D Bowen Byram (10), F Janne Kuokkanen (31), D Mattias Samuelsson (53), G Alexei Melnichuk (65)

Notable additions: F Tobias Rieder, G Laurent Brossoit, G Anton Forsberg

Notable subtractions: F Joe Thornton, F Ivan Barbashev, F Warren Foegele, F Ilya Kovalchuk, G Braden Holtby, G Aaron Dell, G Anders Nilsson

Analysis: The Hosers put up 11 more wins last season than in the one before, but it still wasn’t enough to get to the playoffs. They still seem poised to fight for a spot, though, especially if Delta and Ice Harbor regress. San Jose’s biggest question mark is Jack Eichel’s health. The team has excellent depth, especially if young wingers Oliver Bjorkstrand and Max Comtois can take strides, but if Eichel misses lots of time, things are looking a little thin at centre after John Tavares and Phillip Danault. At least the D won’t be a problem — Charlie McAvoy, John Klingberg, and Mikhail Sergachev make a fine core — and the Hosers may have finally solved their woes in goal with Igor Shesterkin, who’ll likely see the lion’s share of starts. A team on the upswing.

Player to watch: Nobody thinks Alex Wennberg is going to be a star in the league, but some solid production from him would go a long way and allow the defensive-minded Danault to take a checking role.

Outlook: Playoffs

Vancouver Night Train

Last season: 54-17-11 (lost in 2nd round)

Draft picks: F Grigori Denisenko (21), D Artem Zub (48), F William Lockwood (75), F Morgan Barron (80), Tanner Jeannot (86)

Notable additions: F Paul Stastny, G Michael Hutchinson

Notable subtractions: F Adam Henrique, F Adam Gaudette, D Dmitry Orlov, G Chris Driedger, G David Rittich

Analysis: It was clear at the beginning of last season that Vancouver was a playoff-calibre team, but no one saw their 54 wins coming. Did it translate into a championship? No, as the team was ousted by West Virginia in the second round, and then proceeded to lose three solid contributors in the expansion draft. Fortunately, what they lack in superstars up front, they make up for in depth. They can roll four lines with the ability to hurt you, and Elias Lindholm-Mark Stone has proven to be an elite two-way duo. And even as Shea Weber’s star fades and retirement looms, the defense still boasts Thomas Chabot, Shea Theodore and the emerging Mackenzie Weegar. The only red flag is between the pipes. Can one of Tristan Jarry or Cal Petersen–who didn’t even play in the GWMHL last season–take the reins? Nevertheless, the team seems ready to build on last season’s regular season success and is definitely in the running.

Player to watch: Connor Brown. May be pressed into first-line duty… can he succeed as a two-way guy who can win battles and pot goals?

Outlook: Contender

West Virginia River Rats

Last season: 47-29-6 (lost in final)

Draft picks: D K’Andre Miller (18), D Pierre-Olivier Joseph (40)

Notable additions: F Joe Pavelski, F Jason Spezza, G Brian Elliott

Notable subtractions: F Robert Thomas, F Nicolas Roy, D Mark Giordano, D David Savard, G Jacob Markstrom

Analysis: The River Rats, who lost to El Dorado in a six-game cup final, also lost three important vets in expansion — defensemen Mark Giordano and David Savard and goaltender Jacob Markstrom. Despite that, the team is poised to be a force yet again. The acquisition of Joe Pavelski instantly boosts their top nine, as does the development of Jack Hughes and Pavel Zacha to support bonafide stars like Leon Draisaitl, Sebastian Aho, Nikolaj Ehlers, and Jake Guentzel. They’re going to be an offensive powerhouse. They also have a solid, balanced blueline led by Jaccob Slavin and Dougie Hamilton. But what to do about the loss of Markstrom? With Pavel Francouz injured, the team signed Brian Elliott to back up Juuse Saros. Saros has the potential to steal games, but Elliott is a liability for which the formidable West Virginia offense will have to compensate.

Player to watch: If Jakob Chychrun can blossom into an elite rearguard, it would be a huge win for West Virginia, allowing Slavin to concentrate on defense.

Outlook: Contender


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