Season Preview: Sawchuk (part 1)

In Uncategorized on November 9, 2022 at 12:05 pm

The third of our four-part series previewing the 2022-23 GWMHL season turns to the Sawchuk Conference, home of the defending champs — and another of contenders for the throne.

Adirondack Aces

Last season: 57-20-5 (won Atkinson Cup)
Draft picks: G Daniil Tarasov (22), D Vladislav Kolyachonok (44), F Alexei Toropchenko (66)
Notable additions: G Casey DeSmith, G Jaroslav Halak
Notable subtractions: F James Neal, F Drew O’Connor, D Sean Walker, D Ethan Bear, G Jaroslav Halak
Analysis: The Aces cruised to first overall with a commanding 57 wins, but their postseason opponents made them work for the championship as Adirondack went to seven games in all three of its series, culminating in a storybook Atkinson Cup just one year after they finished dead last in the league. The rise to dominance came faster than anyone expected, but when you look at the team’s construction it isn’t really that surprising. Patrice Bergeron is still probably the league’s best defensive forward, Semyon Varlamov turned in a very good performance all season long, and then you’ve got the X factor of Kirill Kaprizov, whose 89 points was best of the rookie class. He was a big boost to a potent offense that already featured Johnny Gaudreau, Chris Kreider, and Roope Hintz. This is a lineup with very few weaknesses — forward depth to burn, a defense that will benefit from the emergence of Noah Dobson and Gustav Forsling (now there was a shrewd acquisition!) in the absence of injured Drew Doughty, and Varlamov is joined by Kaapo Kahkonen and Casey DeSmith for a solid trio in goal. A repeat is far from a sure thing, but last year was no fluke. The Aces will contend.
Outlook: Contender

Boston Banshees

Last season: 29-42-11 (missed playoffs)
Draft picks: F Matty Beniers (7), Philip Tomasino (21), D Alex Vlasic (47), D Jordan Harris (51), D Alexander Alexeyev (69), F Brayden Tracey (75)
Notable additions: F Jakub Voracek, F Zach Hyman, F Reilly Smith, F Scott Laughton, F Kyle Palmieri, F Erik Haula, F Philip Tomasino, F Alexandre Texier, D Ryan Pulock, D Brian Dumoulin, D Pierre-Olivier Joseph, D Alec Regula, D Alex Vlasic
Notable subtractions: F Brock Boeser, F Sean Couturier, F Filip Chytil, F Charlie Coyle, F Andreas Athanasiou, F Andreas Johnsson, F Danton Heinen, F Julien Gauthier, D Dante Fabbro, D Ryan Ellis, D Logan Stanley, D Nicolas Beaudin, D Alec Martinez, D Niko Mikkola, G Cayden Primeau, G Stuart Skinner, G Matt Murray
Analysis: Ah, the Banshees. Always in the middle of all the offseason action. Last season, Boston embraced a retool and came away with the 7th overall pick. Matty Beniers won’t be ready to join the big club yet, but a dozen or so other new faces, mostly acquired through a flurry of trades, will. That list includes wingers Jakub Voracek, Zach Hyman, and Reilly Smith, who will all be key parts of a lineup that’s now built upon its top three centres, Mika Zibanejad, Robert Thomas, and Tage Thompson, the latter two of whom seem especially poised for a big breakout year. The Banshee’s blueline is as strong as ever, especially with the additions of veterans Ryan Pulock and Brian Dumoulin, and Ilya Sorokin should be able to hold things down in goal. It’s always possible the lineup won’t gel when it counts, but on paper, Boston fans will find their team right back in the playoff mix, with an outside shot of going deep.
Outlook: Playoffs

Clarington Coyotes

Last season: 13-60-9 (missed playoffs)
Draft picks: D Moritz Seider (1), F Seth Jarvis (3), F Alexander Holtz (11), F Cole Perfetti (17), G Mads Sogaard (67)
Notable additions: F Filip Chytil, F Denis Gurianov, F Ryan Poehling, F Janne Kuokkanen, F Chris Tierney, D Gustav Lindstrom, G Eric Comrie
Notable subtractions: F Nazem Kadri, F Vladimir Tarasenko, F Jeff Skinner, F Mats Zuccarello, F Scott Laughton, F Tanner Pearson, F Vitaly Abramov, F Tyler Benson, F Mitchell Stephens, F Jake Virtanen, D Sebastian Aho, D Cale Fleury, D Gustav Lindstrom, D Brendan Smith, G Sergei Bobrovsky
Analysis: Next to Denver, the Clarington Coyotes might have had the most daring offseason. They looked at a roster that could actually have had a shot, if a distant one, at a playoff spot, and decided to blow it all up instead. That meant trading away most of a solid top six — Kadri, Tarasenko, Zuccarello, Skinner — and a good starter in Bobrovsky to set the team up for the future with three additional first rounders to go along with the number one pick overall. The huge draft haul that followed included defenseman Moritz Seider and forwards Seth Jarvis, Cole Perfetti, and Alexander Holtz. Seider and Jarvis will join the team right away, and remaining veteran netminded Jacob Markstrom has the ability to steal them a few games, but otherwise Clarington is going to be spending at least another year in the basement as they rely on the offensive wizardry of Jeff Carter and Artturi Lehkonen. It won’t be pretty but it’s probably the best move.
Outlook: Rebuilding

Delta Sturgeon

Last season: 34-42-6 (missed playoffs)
Draft picks: F Hendrix Lapierre (23), F JJ Peterka (25), D Braden Schneider (29), F Alex Turcotte (31), F Yegor Chinakhov (32), F Aliaksei Protas (43), F Logan Brown (65), F Joe Snively (74)
Notable additions: F Sam Steel, F Eric Robinson, F Dustin Brown, D Dante Fabbro, D Logan Stanley
Notable subtractions: F Evander Kane, F Taylor Hall, F Zach Hyman, F Jonathan Toews, F Erik Haula, F Liam Foudy, F Tyler Johnson, F Joe Snively, F Blake Comeau, D Ryan Pulock, D Colin Miller, D Erik Gustafsson
Analysis: Following a rough 2021-22 season that saw them miss the playoffs, and looking at an aging and injury-riddled lineup, Delta management said ‘nope’. The Sturgeon purge meant parting ways with Kane, Hall, Hyman, Toews, and Pulock for a heap of second round picks, and they’ll have to hope that they hit a few bullseyes as they try to rebuild the roster while its remaining core — Nathan MacKinnon, Aaron Ekblad, Nikita Kucherov — are still playing good hockey. MacKinnon, especially, is the bedrock on which the team will be built, alongside goalie Jake Oettinger, who cost them their 2022 first but already seems ready to take over from John Gibson. The team still has Colton Parayko and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, too — but after that it’s thin gruel. Delta fans can expect to see a lot of Corey Perry, Yakov Trenin, and Pius Suter in what promises to be a very long year.
Outlook: Rebuilding

Farmington Fighting Saints

Last season: 50-23-9 (lost in second round)
Draft picks: F William Eklund (19), D Ryan Merkley (41), D Robin Salo (63), F Cole Schwindt (84)
Notable additions: D Mark Giordano, D Trevor Van Riemsdyk, G Charlie Lindgren
Notable subtractions: F Cody Eakin, F Henrik Borgstrom, D Niklas Hjalmarsson, D Oscar Klefbom, D Nikolai Knyzhov, D Nikita Zaitsev, G Pekka Rinne
Analysis: The Fighting Saints got eliminated by the eventual champs in the second round, but this is a team with the potential to make an even stronger run this year. The team had a fairly quiet offseason until the acquisition of veteran defenseman Mark Giordano just ahead of the preseason trade freeze, a move that sneakily addressed a big need on the blueline. Up front, the Saints have one of the league’s deepest forward groups, led by Mikko Rantanen, JT Miller, Kevin Fiala, and young Josh Norris, and Giordano joins John Carlson, Devon Toews, and Vince Dunn on an above-average blueline. This team will be able to generate scoring opportunities whichever line or pairing is on the ice — a must for any true GWMHL contender. Where they’re weakest is in goal. Robin Lehner will likely see the most starts, but can Ilya Samsonov hold down the fort as backup? Even if third-stringer Logan Thompson plays well, it’s a long 82 games and the Saints may find themselves having to outscore their flaws. The team is equipped to do exactly that, but for now that’s the only thing keeping this team from being a clear contender.
Outlook: Playoffs

Hamilton Ti-Cats

Last season: 34-38-10 (missed playoffs)
Draft picks: F Jake Neighbours (10)
Notable additions: F Taylor Hall, F Andreas Johnsson, F Danton Heinen, G Matt Murray, G Sam Montembeault
Notable subtractions: F Sam Steel, F Jakub Voracek, F Nick Cousins, D PK Subban, G Joonas Korpisalo
Analysis: The Ti-Cats turned heads early in the offseason when they acquired Taylor Hall, then again late in the offseason when they sent longtime winger Jakub Voracek packing — perhaps a lateral move. In any case, what the team lacks in sheer goal-scoring star power it makes up in depth, with the ability to roll four lines that can hurt you, led by Claude Giroux, Bryan Rust, Joel Eriksson Ek, young Cole Caufield, and now Hall. Its blueline was once one of the league’s most feared, and while it isn’t quite the same powerhouse it once was, it has one of the deadliest weapons in the GWMHL in Roman Josi fronting a deep group. James Reimer is the nominal starter and a good one at that, but his main backup, Sam Montembeault, is a lot shakier. Ultimately, as the balance of power in the Sawchuk begins to shift, Hamilton may be the toughest team to pin down. It feels like a playoff team, but can it keep up with possible big risers like San Jose, let alone powerhouses like West Virginia and Adirondack?
Outlook: Bubble


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