Season Preview: Plante (part 1)

In Uncategorized on November 7, 2022 at 2:21 pm

As 22 teams get ready to begin the 2022-23 GWMHL season, here’s part one of our look at what’s changed — and what hasn’t — around the league, starting with the first half of the Plante Conference.

Baltimore Crab

Last season: 42-35-5 (lost in third round)
Draft picks: F Vasily Podkolzin (14), D Lassi Thomson (36), G Karel Vejmelka (57), D Egor Zamula (79)
Notable additions: F Vasily Podkolzin, G Karel Vejmelka
Notable subtractions: F Rocco Grimaldi, D Sami Vatanen, D Lawrence Pilut
Analysis: There have been bumps in the road for the Crab since they were crowned league champs in 2016, but they remain a team that can do some damage. That was especially apparent in this spring’s playoffs, in which Pavel Buchnevich and Sidney Crosby led all playoff scorers with 35 and 33 points respectively, despite the team being eliminated in the conference final. They also got an elite performance from Cale Makar, who may already be the team’s best player and is joined by two more lethal right defensemen in Brent Burns and Tony DeAngelo. Looking ahead, the biggest question marks surround Philipp Grubauer and his ability to repeat last year’s solid numbers. Baltimore drafted goalie Karel Vejmelka and also have Mikko Koskinen ready to go, but that trio doesn’t inspire all that much confidence. The team is committed to last year’s roster and will be in the playoff mix.
Outlook: Playoffs

Charleston Chiefs

Last season: 43-30-9 (lost in Atkinson Cup final)
Draft picks: F Cole Sillinger (16), F Nathan Smith (38), F Sampo Ranta (61), G Ivan Prosvetov (81)
Notable additions: F Brock Boeser, F Cole Sillinger, F Jansen Harkins, D Josh Brown
Notable subtractions: F Tomas Nosek, F Arttu Ruotsalainen, D Morgan Rielly, D Alec Regula, G Jonathan Quick
Analysis: The 2021-22 season was a miracle for the Charleston Chiefs, who — against all the odds — finished second in the conference, then stormed through Salem and Baltimore en route to the Atkinson Cup final, where they pushed the eventual champ Adirondack to seven games. That’s going to be a tough act to follow. Many of the things that made the Chiefs successful are still in place — Adam Fox finished tied for 3rd in the league with 76 assists, and William Nylander and Brayden Point are a good foundation up front, but there are two wild cards. One, winger Dominik Kubalik turned in a 91-point season and any regression will hurt Charleston up front. Maybe newly acquired winger Brock Boeser can fill that gap, but to what degree? Two, after the Chiefs shipped longtime starter Jonathan Quick off to El Dorado, it left their goal in the hands of Kevin Lankinen, Alexandar Georgiev, and Anthony Stolarz. Lankinen had 25 wins and 4 shutouts last season, but actually didn’t play all that well, finishing with a .900 save percentage. The Chiefs were able to outscore their problems, but that will be hard to do for a second year running. When the Chiefs dealt Morgan Rielly away for futures, it signalled that management probably thinks the same way.
Outlook: Bubble

Denver Spurs

Last season: 24-50-8 (missed playoffs)
Draft picks: none
Notable additions: F Vladimir Tarasenko, F Evander Kane, F Tanner Pearson, D Alec Martinez, D Nikko Mikkola, D Erik Johnson, D Marc-Edouard Vlasic, D Simon Benoit, G Erik Kallgren
Notable subtractions: F Cal Clutterbuck, F Matt Calvert, F Nathan Bastian, F Dominik Kahun, F Joakim Nordstrom, D Andrej Sekera, D Michael Del Zotto
Analysis: The team with the league’s third worst record went into the rookie draft with zero picks — a risky proposition, but also familiar territory for the Spurs, who have taken similar big swings in the past to land star players. This time the additions were wingers Vladimir Tarasenko, Evander Kane and change. There’s zero question that the roster looks miles better than it has in several seasons, but will it be enough to lift Denver out of the basement? With Kane expected to miss a good chunk of the season, the team is thin on the left wing, and at centre their top guy might be JG Pageau. On defense, despite the free agent additions of vets Erik Johnson and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, there’s a lack of minute-eating left-handed blueliners.  Even with the solid tandem of Jack Campbell and Binnington in goal, this may prove to be another season in limbo for the Spurs, but they’ll likely improve on last year.
Outlook: Bubble

El Dorado Lynx

Last season: 44-29-9 (lost in second round)
Draft picks: F Kent Johnson (9), D Dysin Mayo (39), F Jacob Perreault (45), G Hugo Alnefelt (82)
Notable additions: F Derek Stepan, D Dysin Mayo, D Luke Schenn, D Dylan DeMelo, G Jonathan Quick, G Sergei Bobrovsky
Notable subtractions: F Denis Gurianov, F Johan Larsson, F Riley Sheahan, D Marc Staal, D Olli Juolevi, D Jacob Larsson, G Carey Price, G Tuukka Rask, G Dustin Tokarski
Analysis: The 2021 champs finished atop the Plante once again but failed to win another title as they were bounced by Baltimore in the conference semifinals. It maked the end of an era, as the Lynx moved on from one of the league’s all-time greatest goaltending tandems in Carey Price and Tuukka Rask and acquired Sergei Bobrovsky and Jonathan Quick in separate deals. They also snagged a bluechip prospect in Kent Johnson thanks to a 2021 draft day trade with Delta that left them with the 9th overall pick. Johnson isn’t going to make an impact this season, but it doesn’t matter — the Lynx have excellent depth up front, led by shooters Alex Ovechkin and Kyle Connor, and a strong supporting cast. Mason Marchment looks poised to break out, which will give them even more options. The Bobrovsky/Quick tandem is intriguing and should be able to hold it down, and while it seems inevitable that Jeff Petry won’t repeat his miraculous 95-point season, which would leave the Lynx without a big-scoring defender, their blueline corps is pretty solid top to bottom now. This team will once again compete for the Plante title.
Outlook: Contender

Great Lakes Pilots

Last season: 27-46-9 (missed playoffs)
Draft picks: F Lucas Raymond (5), F Thomas Bordeleau (26), F Matias Maccelli (48)
Notable additions: F Lucas Raymond, F Zach Parise
Notable subtractions: F Nolan Patrick, F Milan Lucic, F Alex Chiasson, D Troy Stecher
Analysis: After watching top picks like Jesse Puljujarvi and now-released Nolan Patrick falter and enduring the rather slow development of Barrett Hayton and Quinton Byfield, the Pilots selected a sure thing in Lucas Raymond with their 5th overall pick, and the winger will likely step right onto the first line with Tomas Hertl and…someone…else? What the Pilots have going for them — maybe to their detriment if it means dropping draft position — is goaltending, with Andrei Vasilevskiy and Thatcher Demko forming an elite duo. And as Evan Bouchard develops, it should mean a pretty strong blueline alongside Rasmus Dahlin and Jacob Trouba. If only a few forward prospects would take big leaps forward, things would be looking rosier. In the meantime, this is a team that will win a few on goaltending alone and otherwise likely won’t sniff the postseason.
Outlook: Rebuilding

Hershey Bears

Last season: 36-37-9 (lost in first round)
Draft picks: F Anton Lundell (12), D Nick Blankenburg (42), F Taylor Raddysh (56), G Arvid Soderblom (77)
Notable additions: F Anton Lundell, F Taylor Raddysh, F Liam Foudy, D Ilya Lyubushkin, D Will Borgen, D Colin Miller, D Jalen Chatfield
Notable subtractions: F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, F Eric Robinson, F Dustin Brown, F Jesper Boqvist, D Mark Giordano, D Danny DeKeyser, D Patrik Nemeth
Analysis: The expansion Bears made the postseason in their inaugural season. Sure, the expanded playoff format helped, but so did the fact that Hershey finished tied for the lowest goals against in the league. Chris Driedger was excellent all year, finishing with 4 shutouts and a .923 save percentage. Whether the Bears can make another run at the playoffs hinges on goaltending — can deadline acquisition Cal Petersen take the reins if Driedger falters or is injured? What about Antti Raanta? It’s a trio with a lot of question marks. Beyond that, Hershey still has the elements that made it a success last year, with bargain basement finds like Chandler Stephenson, Carter Verhaeghe, Adam Henrique, and Valeri Nichushkin joined by first round draft pick Anton Lundell in a balanced if unspectacular forward group, and Brady Skjei, Dmitry Orlov, and Kevin Shattenkirk able to run things from the blueline. A bubble team that may find itself competing for a second postseason berth or throwing in the towel and trading for futures.
Outlook: Bubble


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