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2019-20 Season Preview: Sawchuk West

In News, Special Features on October 10, 2019 at 10:34 am

At last we come to our fourth and final season preview, now that the Plante East and West and Sawchuk East are out of the way. There’s real intrigue to be found in the Sawchuk West, with a couple of very strong teams and three others in various states of transition.

Delta Sturgeon

Last season: 51-23-8 (1st in conference; lost in Gump Cup final)

Draft picks: Calle Rosen (46), Max Veronneau (63), Adin Hill (71), Lawrence Pilut (77), C.J. Smith (78)

Additions: D Erik Gustafsson, G Adin Hill

Subtractions: F Rick Nash, F Jay Beagle, F Victor Ejdsell, D Alec Martinez, D Lawrence Pilut, D Dan Hamhuis

Analysis: It was a disappointing result for the emergin’ Sturgeon — a Gump Cup Final loss to Salem in 6. But this team is still just entering its prime, with an extremly deep roster headlined by superstars Nathan MacKinnon and Nikita Kucherov and top-flight goaltending from John Gibson. Last season’s acquisition of Jonathan Toews was shrewd, as the centre was a key defensive and faceoff presence all year and into the postseason, and could find himself contributing more on the scoresheet in ’19-’20. He’ll need to, if rumours of Taylor Hall’s injury problems are true. The team’s big acquisition this summer was Erik Gustafsson, believed by team management to have the potential to run the powerplay — an X factor sorely lacking on an otherwise very good blueline (Ekblad, Muzzin, Pulock, Lindell, Parayko). In any case, Delta remains in the upper echelons of Gump and should vie for a finals berth again.

Player to watch: Gustafsson is the big addition, but Nikita Kucherov‘s gamebreaking ability is the real storyline this season. He has more to give. Can he pull away from the scoring pack and keep Delta in elite company?

Outlook: Contender

Hamilton Ti-Cats

Last season: 33-45-4 (8th in conference; missed playoffs)

Draft picks: Sam Steel (7), Michael Rasmussen (26), Jake Bean (46)

Additions: F Travis Konecny, F Michael Rasmussen, G Joonas Korpisalo

Subtractions: F Patrick Kane, F Henrik Zetterberg, D Gustav Olofsson, D Luke Schenn, D Chris Wideman

Analysis: It looked as though this once-contending team might have started the season in more or less the same position as last year. Then came the shocking news that Patrick Kane had been traded to Salem for Travis Konecny and picks. Is this the moment the Hamilton rebuild begins? The roster still boasts some high-end talent in Claude Giroux, Jeff Skinner, and Jakub Voracek, and the D group, led by Tyson Barrie and Roman Josi, is also quite strong. But much will be asked of Blake Coleman, Bryan Rust, Alex Iafallo, et al, while draftees Steel and Rasmussen develop. Most crucially, the team’s trio of goaltenders — Craig Anderson, Jason Reimer, and Joonas Korpisalo — is not likely strong enough to stop high-powered division mates Delta and Ice Harbor. Hamilton has too much vet talent to truly call “rebuild” at this stage, but it could be a different story come the trade deadline. A playoff berth isn’t impossible, but seems unlikely.

Player to watch: In light of the Kane trade, perhaps the biggest question is how this affects Claude Giroux‘s production. The two have been joined at the hip for years. Can he drive the offense without one of the league’s best point producers on his wing?

Outlook: Bubble

Ice Harbor Storm

Last season: 45-32-5 (3rd in conference; lost in 1st round)

Draft picks: Carter Hart (5), Juuso Valimaki (29), Michael Dipietro (64)

Additions: G Carter Hart

Subtractions: F Tyler Pitlick, D Erik Gudbranson, D Jay Bouwmeester

Analysis: Prior to the draft, the Ice Harbor Storm took their big swing — trading into the top five to draft goaltending phenom Carter Hart. The move addressed the Storm’s biggest need: a goalie to eventually take the starting job from Henrik Lundqvist. (And if he can’t, the team has 5 other goaltenders waiting in the wings!) But it’s doubtful that Hart will see enough action to make a huge impact this season. That said, the Storm have an extremely deep and well-balanced lineup, including three top-flight talents in Aleksander Barkov, Blake Wheeler, and Jonathan Huberdeau, supported by two young triggermen in Matthew Tkachuk and Alex DeBrincat. A healthy year for Kris Letang would give Ice Harbor a dangerous back end, too. On paper, this is a team on the cusp of contender status — and so we come back to goaltending and whether middle-of-the-road numbers will be enough to push the Storm past Delta or Boston and into the second round.

Player to watch: Even with Hart in the fold, Henrik Lundqvist will be getting the lion’s share of starts, yet his stats have suffered mightily with age. The Storm likely do have the scoring to win plenty of games by sheer force, but will still need Lundqvist to hold it together against top teams.

Outlook: Playoffs

Portland Winterhawks

Last season: 24-49-9 (10th in conference; missed playoffs)

Draft picks: Andrei Svechnikov (6), Mackenzie Blackwood (24), Jonas Siegenthaler (56), Matt Luff (58)

Additions: F Andrei Svechnikov, F Zach Aston-Reese, D Erik Gudbranson, G Mackenzie Blackwood

Subtractions: F Tobias Rieder, F Riley Nash, F Spencer Foo, D Sebastian Aho, D Brandon Manning, G Keith Kinkaid

Analysis: It’s not like anyone thought this team was a contender, but last season was surprisingly ugly for the Winterhawks, as the team finished last in the conference. At least that translated into a couple of nice additions at the rookie draft in winger Andrei Svechnikov and goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood. Svechnikov should step right in and add some scoring from the middle six, bolstering a group that already features Brad Marchand, Phil Kessel, Artemi Panarin, David Krejci, and Pierre-Luc Dubois. The team may also be hoping Jaro Halak and Blackwood can soak up starts from Carter Hutton, who’s a bit of a question mark as a starter. The overall outlook would be much brighter if it wasn’t for the defense. When your top two blueliners are (on paper) Ryan Murray and Matt Niskanen, you’re in deep trouble. Portland will be lucky to get 30 points out of anyone on their blueline — they desperately need an impact defender or two.

Player to watch: No player is more important to this club’s fortunes than Brad Marchand. Without his scoring and two-way play, Portland would be completely sunk. If his supporting cast can help him to a career season, the Winterhawks should steal a few games.

Outlook: Rebuilding

Vancouver Night Train

Last season: 39-37-6 (5th in conference; missed playoffs)

Draft picks: Jesper Kotkaniemi (12), Jordan Kyrou (18), Filip Hronek (19), Ryan Poehling (32), Cal Peterson (52), Joel L’Esperance (72)

Additions: F Jesper Kotkaniemi, D Filip Hronek, G Cal Peterson

Subtractions: F Andrew Cogliano, F David Kampf, F Denis Malgin, F Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, F Joel L’Esperance, D Chris Tanev

Analysis: The Night Train brass were surprised to find themselves in the playoff mix last season, though they didn’t ultimately make it to the show. The team has slowly but steadily parted ways with its veteran core — Toews, Rinne, Ekman-Larsson, Kessel, to name just four — over the last two seasons in the world’s slowest rebuild, but the expected high draft picks haven’t come, leaving the team in a sort of no man’s land. On paper, Vancouver is only average — some excellent veterans remain in Mark Stone and a possibly healthy Shea Weber, but the team is also one of the league’s youngest, and it shows. A monster year from Thomas Chabot or Mat Barzal or Anthony Mantha could net some Ws, as could some stellar play from Sergei Bobrovsky. But the Night Train lacks the top-end firepower or defensive depth to go far, and while 2019 draftees Kotkaniemi and Hronek have made the roster, they’ll likely be used sparingly. Nevertheless, it’s impossible to call Vancouver a rebuilding team when they always seem to be on the bubble.

Player to watch: Barzal’s point-per-game rookie season (tops among freshmen) was one highlight of last season. But to hedge against a sophomore slump, the team seems willing to try Elias Lindholm as the top centre — a role he’s never held before. Can he carry the load?

Outlook: Bubble

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2019-20 Season Preview: Sawchuk East

In News, Special Features on October 9, 2019 at 9:35 am

Now that we’ve looked at both the Plante East and Plante West — home to eight straight league titles, by the way — it’s time to preview the Sawchuk Conference, beginning with the Sawchuk West.

Adirondack Aces

Last season: 32-38-12 (7th in conference; missed playoffs)

Draft picks: Roope Hintz (8), Henri Jokiharju (27), Dennis Cholowski (47), Karson Kuhlman (67)

Additions: F Roope Hintz, D Henri Jokiharju, D Dennis Cholowski

Subtractions: F Henrik Sedin, F Patrick Eaves, D Stephen Johns, D Ian McCoshen, D Michael Del Zotto

Analysis: The Aces should have much more to show than what we’ve seen the last couple of years. A deep forward group, led by a couple of players with truly elite skill sets in Johnny Gaudreau and Patrice Bergeron, plus an increasingly solid blueline and good-if-not-elite goaltending should add up to more than a lottery pick. First rounder Roope Hintz is a future contributor, and will eventually help offset the loss of Henrik Sedin to retirement, but draftees Henri Jokiharju and Dennis Cholowski in particular will likely get good looks on a D corps that lacks offense after Drew Doughty and Zach Werenski. If one of Devan Dubnyk or Semyon Varlamov can turn in a good season, this team should have playoff aspirations.

Player to watch: To compete in this league, scoring from the bottom six is a must. The lines are tough to call, but assuming he’s on the third line, the Aces will be relying on a breakout year from Alex Tuch to provide that sneaky offense.

Outlook: Playoffs

Boston Banshees

Last season: 48-27-7 (2nd in conference; lost in 2nd round)

Draft picks: Dante Fabbro (23), Alex Nedeljkovic (42), Oliver Kylington (44), Connor Clifton (48)

Additions: F Mikhail Vorobyev, D Oliver Kylington, G Ben Bishop, G Casey DeSmith, G Cory Schneider

Subtractions: F Micheal Ferland, F Patric Hornqvist, F Jean-Gabriel Pageau, F J.T. Compher, F Nick Merkley, G Matt Murray, G Ryan Miller, G Curtis McElhinney

Analysis: As usual, the Banshees made a lot of adjustments over the offseason, including acquiring goalie Curtis McElhinney from Parry Sound, then trading him right back in a later deal. Boston shed a ton of players overall, with the biggest additions coming between the pipes in the form of brand-new tandem Ben Bishop and Casey DeSmith. Outside of Connor Clifton, none of Boston’s 2019 draftees are expected to make the club in any meaningful capacity, but that shouldn’t matter — the Banshees’ real strength is down the middle, where Sean Couturier, Mika Zibanejad, and Max Domi are all slated to play. That’s a top 3 that’s near the top of the league if all three put together good seasons, and it won’t hurt that they’ve got top-flight snipers like Brock Boeser and Joe Pavelski riding shotgun. On D, Mark Giordano still has it, too.

Player to watch: With few glaring weaknesses up and down the lineup, all eyes are on Ben Bishop. His play will dictate the Banshees’ fortunes. He’s eligible to play all playoff games, so if he’s hot come postseason time — look out!

Outlook: Contender

Farmington Fighting Saints

Last season: 40-33-9 (4th in conference; lost in 1st round)

Draft picks: Drake Batherson (14), Devon Toews (33), Conor Garland (54), Josh Mahura (74)

Additions: D Devon Toews, F Conor Garland

Subtractions: F Daniel O’Regan, D Christian Djoos, D Greg Pateryn, G Thomas Greiss

Analysis: Change has been slow to come for the Fighting Saints, and from afar it looks as though this past spring’s playoff appearance may be the last one for a little while. Its core isn’t getting any younger, and its younger prospects are a year or two out. For every Mikko Rantanen emerging as a star, there’s a Tyler Toffoli, slumping into middle-six production just as the team needs secondary scoring more than ever. The Saints have also struggled to keep their formidable centre group (Ryan Johansen, Mikko Koivu, Vincent Trocheck, Paul Stastny) all healthy at the same time. There’s hope — Devon Toews joins a nice D corps, along with 2018 draftee Vince Dunn behind John Carlson and Dustin Byfuglien — but it seems that Farmington’s at least a season away from reloading and getting back into the playoff mix.

Player to watch: If there’s one wild card this year for Farmington, it’s netminder Robin Lehner. If he can take the reins from injury-plagued Corey Crawford and put together a really solid season, it could keep the Saints in the middle of the pack. The team had the confidence to deal Thomas Greiss away, pointing to Lehner being given every chance to succeed.

Outlook: Bubble

San Jose Hosers

Last season: 29-49-4 (9th in conference; missed playoffs)

Draft picks: Max Comtois (10), Taro Hirose (25), Radim Simek (65)

Additions: F Steven Stamkos, D Radim Simek, G Collin Delia

Subtractions: F Patrick Maroon, F Nic Petan, F Ty Rattie, D Derrick Pouliot, G Cam Talbot

Analysis: The Hosers’ ongoing struggles are a mystery wrapped in an engima. The team has come together nicely in its rebuilding years, yet remains stuck on the launch pad (or the launch pad’s sub-basement). The splashy acquisition of Steven Stamkos will make a huge difference — with him, John Tavares, and Jack Eichel, that’s a formidable trio of centres. Or maybe Stamkos plugs in on the wing, where he’ll join emerging star Mitch Marner as bonafide offensive weapons on the right side. The defense, too, looks good, if defensively a little suspect — at least the team should be able to count on John Klingberg, Shayne Gostisbehere, and Mikhail Sergachev for some points. Alas, things fall apart with a rough group in goal. Is Martin Jones the guy? Jimmy Howard? If either flounders — and the outlook isn’t so good — it will leave the Hosers once again in the trade market and struggling to get into the playoff picture. Still, even without big saves, San Jose should light the lamp more than often enough to be entertaining.

Player to watch: If Gabriel Landeskog can join Tavares and Stamkos as one of the team’s go-to triggermen, it would give San Jose one of the league’s most intriguing top sixes and cement the team’s bubble status.

Outlook: Bubble

West Virginia River Rats

Last season: 36-35-11 (6th in conference; missed playoffs)

Draft picks: Robert Thomas (11), Alexandre Texier (31)

Additions: F Robert Thomas, D Radko Gudas, D Jordan Oesterle

Subtractions: F Sam Gagner, D Jan Rutta, G Joonas Korpisalo

Analysis: With Sebastian Aho, Leon Draisatl, and Jake Guentzel, the River Rats have the makings of one of the league’s most dynamic young top lines. And they can chase that with Patrik Laine, Nikolaj Ehlers, and veteran T.J. Oshie. That’s a great foundation for any club. But questions still abound, namely: Can Brock Nelson centre the second line on a playoff team? If Matt Dumba is hurt, as is rumoured, does the team have enough depth on defense? We know Dougie Hamilton can be a powerplay performer, but can he anchor the top pairing and eat big minutes with Jaccob Slavin? (The team’s signings of Radko Gudas and Jordan Oesterle suggests management has similar concerns.) And finally, is Jacob Markstrom a capable GWMHL starter? It seems safe to suggest that the team can probably expect middle-of-the-pack goaltending and production from its blueline, at least. Combine that with its near-elite group of forwards and the playoffs seem like a good bet.

Player to watch: Much will depend on the top line, in particular Sebastian Aho. Used at wing in previous seasons, if he can adapt to playing centre, the rest should fall into place.

Outlook: Playoffs

2019-20 Season Preview: Plante West

In News, Special Features on October 8, 2019 at 10:00 am

Yesterday we looked at the Plante East. Today, it’s part two of our annual season previews, including two rebuilding clubs and three teams that seem ready to make some real noise in ’19-’20.

Baltimore Crab

Last season: 37-33-12 (4th in conference; lost in 1st round)

Draft picks: Filip Zadina (13), Philippe Myers (38)

Additions: F Jay Beagle, F Antti Suomela, D Lawrence Pilut, G Mikko Koskinen, G Pheonix Copley

Subtractions: F Frans Nielsen, F A.J. Greer, D Kevin Connauton, D Karl Alzner, G Roberto Luongo, G Kari Lehtonen

Analysis: Not much has changed for the one-time contenders, outside of swapping aging and declining Roberto Luongo for European import Mikko Koskinen in goal. The team still has a flat-out great top 6, headlined by Sidney Crosby, Mark Scheifele, Filip Forsberg, and Vladimir Tarasenko, and a deadly top defense pairing in Ryan McDonagh and Brent Burns. But the team’s depth is something of a question mark, especially on the blueline. After Hampus Lindholm, the team will be relying a lot on the likes of young Tony DeAngelo and aging Johnny Boychuk, among others. If they flop, the Crab could be in the market for a D-man before the deadline.

Player to watch: Mikko Koskinen is a total unknown. Can he take the reins from Luongo and lead Baltimore back into contention? He’ll have to, since backup Philipp Grubauer isn’t eligible to play in all postseason games.

Outlook: Playoffs

Charleston Chiefs

Last season: 38-38-6 (5th in conference; missed playoffs)

Draft picks: Miro Heiskanen (2), Rudolfs Balcers (50), Mason Appleton (66), Jakub Zboril (70), Trevor Moore (73)

Additions: D Miro Heiskanen, F Rudolfs Balcers, F Mason Appleton

Subtractions: F Steven Stamkos, F David Backes, F Ryan Hartman, D Andreas Borgman, D Mirco Mueller

Analysis: Rebuilds are painful. After a disappointing season that nevertheless saw them within a few points of a playoff berth, the Chiefs traded up in the draft in the hopes of nabbing Rasmus Dahlin, only to watch him go first overall. At number 2, they picked up Miro Heiskanen, who will immediately slot in on the team’s first pairing with Morgan Rielly. That’s good. Unfortunately, it meant losing Steven Stamkos and a lot of offensive punch beyond Brayden Point and Viktor Arvidsson. There’s William Nylander, but a contract dispute may keep him out for part of the season. The team is looking thin at both left wing and centre, where Casey Mittelstadt will likely be thrown to the wolves in a key role, and the defense features no real game-breakers after the first pair. Oh, and Jonathan Quick has seen better days. It could be a long season.

Player to watch: Josh Anderson isn’t exactly heralded, but he’s slowly emerged as a top-six talent. Much will be expected of him this year to partially make up for the loss of Stamkos and, potentially, Nylander.

Outlook: Rebuilding

El Dorado Lynx

Last season: 48-24-10 (3rd in conference; lost in 1st round)

Draft picks: Erik Brannstrom (17), Carl Grundstrom (36), Vitaly Abramov (57), Nathan Bastian (80)

Additions: none

Subtractions: F Patrik Berglund, D Niklas Kronwall, F Vitaly Abramov, F Nathan Bastian

Analysis: After a first-round loss to Parry Sound, the Lynx had a quiet offseason, and highly-touted Erik Brannstrom isn’t ready for prime time. Yet any team featuring Alex Ovechkin and Ryan O’Reilly is going to be in the mix. The team has an extremly deep group on both wings — some of the best depth in the league, in fact — which it hopes will offset the lack of quality after O’Reilly down the middle. The steep decline of Ryan Kesler’s play has left the likes of Valteri Filppula (or possibly Mikael Granlund shifted from wing) as the second-line centre. In brighter news, the improvements El Dorado made to its blueline last year with the acquisitions of Alex Edler and Jonas Brodin have made for the team’s most balanced defense corps in years. If Mattias Ekholm and Jeff Petry can play like top-pairing d-men, they’ll have a shot at a long playoff run.

Player to watch: The team has been riding the coattails of the Carey Price/Tuukka Rask tandem for years, and this season will be no different. If Price in particular can play to his talent level, it will make a world of difference for the Lynx.

Outlook: Contender

Great Lakes Pilots

Last season: 17-56-9 (10th in conference; missed playoffs)

Draft picks: Rasmus Dahlin (1), Evan Bouchard (21), Victor Olofsson (35), Isac Lundestrom (41), Urho Vaakanainen (54), Dylan Gambrell (61)

Additions: F Ilya Kovalchuk, D Rasmus Dahlin

Subtractions: F Markus Granlund, F Jason Pominville, F Riley Sheahan, F Ryan Spooner, D Madison Bowey, D Nick Jensen, D Julius Honka

Analysis: The rebuilding Pilots had a great draft, nabbing Rasmus Dahlin first overall, and following it with two second rounders who could be ready for regular action in 2020 in Evan Bouchard and Victor Olofsson. But it’ll be a rocky year as the team pins its hopes on the continuing development of Jonathan Drouin, Nolan Patrick, and Colin White. Outside of those three, Tomas Hertl is the team’s only potential scoring threat up front, though the team hopes last year’s acquisition of Alexander Wennberg will pay dividends eventually. Things look bright on the back end, though, as the Pilots now have an excellent  top-6 headlined by Dahlin, Jacob Trouba, Jake Gardiner, and Danny DeKeyser, backstopped by one of the league’s best starters in Andrei Vasilevskiy. That group will put a few notches in the W column for sure.

Player to watch: Purely out of necessity, Tomas Hertl is the straw that stirs the drink for the Pilots. The question is, how much offense can he create on his own, with the likes of Alex Chiasson possibly riding shotgun?

Outlook: Rebuilding

Parry Sound Orrsmen

Last season: 52-18-12 (2nd in conference; lost in 2nd round)

Draft picks: Max Jones (39)

Additions: F Micheal Ferland, F Patric Hornqvist,G Thomas Greiss

Subtractions: F Colton Sceviour, F Daniel Sedin, F Maxim Mamin, F Mikhail Vorobyev, F Tyler Motte, D Thomas Hickey, G Casey DeSmith

Analysis: After a second-straight year of postseason disappointment, the Parry Sound Orrsmen are once again looking to claim a title in 2019-20. The team made a few significant, if not earth-shattering, changes during the offseason, most notably in acquiring goaltender Thomas Greiss from Farmington. Should Pekka Rinne stumble, Greiss will be waiting. The team also added wingers Micheal Ferland and Patric Hornqvist, both of whom should help shore up the team’s shaky-looking bottom six. At the end of the day, the team is more or less where it was last year — a good-but-not-great blueline (bolstered by the trade deadline acquisition of Oliver Ekman-Larsson), and a truly stellar, high-powered top six up front, led by Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, and Evgeni Kuznetsov. If that engine is running on all cylinders, look out.

Player to watch: David Pastrnak has the talent to be a game-breaker, and will once again have a world-class centre (no matter how the lines shuffle) feeding him the puck. A monster year from him could be coming.

Outlook: Contender

 

2019-20 Season Preview: Plante East

In News, Special Features on October 7, 2019 at 11:55 am

Welcome to part one of our annual season previews, profiling all GWMHL teams division by division as we look ahead to 2019-20. Beginning our series, a glimpse at the Plante East, home of the defending champs.

Denver Spurs

Last season: 25-53-4 (8th in conference; missed playoffs)

Draft picks: Dominik Kahun (15), Mathieu Joseph (34), Michael McLeod (43), Michael Dal Colle (55), Sam Montembeault (59), Teddy Blueger (75), Zach Senyshyn (79)

Additions: F Dominik Kahun, F Mathieu Joseph, F Jean-Gabriel Pageau, F J.T. Compher, F Barclay Goodrow, D Jay Bouwmeester, G Jack Campbell

Subtractions: F Noel Acciari, F Martin Frk, F Brian Gibbons, F Tom Kuhnhackl, F Stefan Noesen, F Tyler Pitlick, F Dominic Turgeon, F Colin Wilson, F Daniel Winnik, D Jonathan Ericsson, D Dylan McIlrath, D Brooks Orpik, D Duncan Siemens

Analysis: It’s been a few seasons now since Denver boldly went all-in, acquiring Erik Karlsson and Braden Holtby, among other vets. It didn’t translate into a cup, and the ripple effects are still being felt. While Karlsson and Holtby are still key parts of the team, the rest have retired or moved on, leaving a rebuilding roster. The Spurs took a risk and traded down at the draft, and used their many picks to replenish the ranks, though only wingers Dominik Kahun and Mathieu Joseph are likely to see significant playing time this year. The defense is okay, but after Matt Duchene and Cam Atkinson, the forward group is still lacking oomph — expect to see trade acquisition J.T. Compher up and down the lineup, but even then, the team’s makeup is such that we may be in for a Zack Smith stint on the first line.

Player to watch: Tom Wilson has untapped offensive potential, something the Spurs badly need, but the real X factor on this team is goaltender Anton Khudobin, who may yet be able to steal a 1B role in net from Holtby.

Outlook: Rebuilding

Pittsburgh Hornets

Last season: 35-40-7 (7th in conference; missed playoffs)

Draft picks: Quinn Hughes (9), Dillon Dube (28), Trent Frederic (51), Cooper Marody (68)

Additions: F Zach Sanford, G Matt Murray

Subtractions: F Pontus Aberg, F Bryan Little, F Evan Rodrigues, F Brandon Sutter, D Mark Pysyk, G Ben Bishop

Analysis: A perennial bubble team, the Hornets’ new draftees aren’t ready to make the jump, so what you saw last year isn’t so different than what they’ll be icing to start Q1. The big changes came in the preseason cuts, as the team parted ways with long-time vets Bryan Little and Brandon Sutter. The loss of former second-line centre Little in particular throws the lineup into question — the team will likely need to insert Alex Galchenyuk or Nick Bonino into that role, or risk wearing Evgeni Malkin out. The departure of Ben Bishop may also change this team’s fortunes, although management seems to feel that Matt Murray can shoulder the majority of starts. Having said all that, the Hornets have a high-end blueline led by Victor Hedman and young Ivan Provorov, and the ability to score timely goals up and down the lineup. Those factors alone give Pittsburgh an outside shot at the postseason.

Player to watch: Malkin has to play with somebody, and that may be a gift for winger Timo Meier, who seems poised for a breakout on the Russian star’s wing.

Outlook: Bubble

Salem Sabercats

Last season: 56-20-6 (1st in conference; won Gump Cup)

Draft picks: Jaret Anderson-Dolan (20), Kristian Vesalainen (30), Brett Howden (40), Jimmy Schuldt (60)

Additions: F Patrick Kane, F Brett Howden

Subtractions: F Loui Eriksson, F Charles Hudon, F Vladimir Sobotka, D Andrew MacDonald

Analysis: The first draft of this writeup read more like an obituary for the defending champs. Surely this was the year the wheels would come off the wagon. Then they went and acquired superstar Patrick Kane from Hamilton and everything changed. A solid roster with glaring weaknesses — namely, the likelihood of Gustav Nyquist on the first line — was totally overhauled in one trade. Kane, one of the league’s most consistently electric forwards, changes the team’s complexion completely. Playing with Nicklas Backstrom (or with Bo Horvat or Anze Kopitar if the team wants to spread the scoring around), Kane will absolutely be a game-changing contributor. One could argue that the ‘Cats could still use a top-six winger, but with solid forward depth, a good blueline, and a great duo in goal… well, we’ve been down this road before.

Player to watch: How could it be anyone other than Patrick Kane? Just as the preseason acquisition of Anze Kopitar turned the team into a contender last season, Kane is poised to have a similar effect this time around.

Outlook: Contender

South Side Renegades

Last season: 21-53-8 (9th in conference; missed playoffs)

Draft picks: Brady Tkachuk (4), Erik Cernak (16), Jordan Binnington (22), Caleb Jones (37), Maxime Lajoie (62), Christian Jaros (76)

Additions: F Brady Tkachuk, D Erik Cernak, D Alec Martinez, D Chris Tanev, D Maxime Lajoie, D Christian Jaros, G Jordan Binnington, G Keith Kinkaid

Subtractions: F Frederik Gauthier, F Valeri Nichushkin, F Devante Smith-Pelly, D Erik Gustafsson, D Jake Dotchin, D Alexei Emelin, D Ben Harpur, D Alexander Petrovic, D Luca Sbisa, G Tristan Jarry

Analysis: It’s another rebuilding year for South Side, yet the acquisitions of vets Alec Martinez and Chris Tanev signal a subtle shift in mindset. Recent draftees Nico Hischier (2018) and Brady Tkachuk (2019) will be big parts of this team in 2019-20 and the future, but outside of the top five or so forwards (those two, plus Teuvo Teravainen, Dylan Larkin, and maybe Anthony Cirelli) the team has a long way to go. On the bright side, the team drafted three guys who will all likely make the roster — Tkachuk, Erik Cernak, and Jordan Binnington. Binnington is the wild card here — Connor Hellebuyck is good, but a run from Binnington could vault the team up the standings. Into a playoff spot? Very doubtful. Letting go of Erik Gustafsson on the back end may have lasting ramifications, as it will force Seth Jones or another defenseman to the left side. The team will likely stay out of the basement but the rebuild isn’t over yet.

Player to watch: Even with Hischier and Cirelli, much depends upon Dylan Larkin‘s ability to run the offense. The team doesn’t have the depth to spare — if he slumps, the Renegades slump.

Outlook: Rebuilding

Winnipeg Falcons

Last season: 35-38-9 (6th in conference; missed playoffs)

Draft picks: Elias Pettersson (3), Austin Wagner (49), Sammy Blais (69)

Additions: F Elias Pettersson, F Marcus Foligno, F Brad Richardson

Subtractions: F Kyle Brodziak, F Marian Gaborik, D Trevor Daley, G Steve Mason

Analysis: What a strange twist of fate. Winnipeg wasn’t expecting to come out of the draft with a forward, but when Rasmus Dahlin and Miro Heiskanen went one-two, they suddenly found themselves with Elias Pettersson. A defender would have addressed the team’s bigger weakness, but Pettersson slots in behind Tyler Seguin to give the lineup some scoring power it was otherwise lacking. Still, the team is still short of impact wingers outside of the first line and will be relying heavily on journeyman types like Vinnie Hinostroza and Joel Armia to pick up the slack. And that blueline: the left side looks pretty good with Ryan Suter and Will Butcher, but when Mike Green inevitably falls to injury, who’s playing on the right? Jordie Benn? Ben Chiarot? Dan Girardi? This team has the ability to play above its pay grade, but it’s tough to imagine playoff contention at this stage.

Player to watch: The team has struggled in goal over the years, but seems confident in Darcy Kuemper‘s ability to steal games. If that comes to pass, it could keep Winnipeg in the mix.

Outlook: Rebuilding

Patrick Kane Traded to Salem

In HAM, SAL, Transactions on September 21, 2019 at 8:54 am

For the second season in a row, the Salem Sabercats have pulled off a major post-draft trade. Last year, it was the acquisition of Anze Kopitar, who went on to be a major part of its cup run. Now the Sabercats have taken an even bigger swing, acquiring star winger Patrick Kane and a third round pick from the Hamilton Ti-Cats for young winger Travis Konecny and Salem’s first and second round picks in 2020.

In 11 seasons with the Hamilton franchise, Kane has scored 30 goals five times, 40 goals once, and put together a monster 70-goal year in ’16-’17. He had a relatively down season by his standards in ’18-’19, with 33 goals and 69 points in 82 games. Salem hopes he’ll bounce back to point-per-game form. Konecny, entering his third GWMHL year, had 14 goals and 38 points in 57 contests last season.

Kane was a first overall pick for a then-Sacramento team that was on the cusp of moving to Nashville. The second pick that year? His new team- and (probably) linemate Nicklas Backstrom. There’s no question that the acquisition changes Salem’s outlook for the year: it addresses its biggest weakness (top-6 wingers) and puts one of the world’s best players in a position that otherwise might have been occupied by Gustav Nyquist. Whether this signals a rebuild or retool for Hamilton is another question. With Claude Giroux, Jeff Skinner, and Jakub Voracek, the team still has veteran star power up front. But the loss of Kane, who twice led the league in scoring, will be felt keenly.

Former GWMHL Star Kovalchuk Returns in Free Agent Draft

In Transactions on September 17, 2019 at 9:57 am

The 2019 Preseason Free Agent Draft has ended, headlined by one-time GWMHL star left-winger Ilya Kovalchuk, who went to the Great Lakes Pilotfirst overall.

Kovalchuk, the second overall pick in 2002, is 8th all-time in career goals and a member of the exclusive 1,000-point club. His arrival to the Portland Winterhawks via trade in 2006 led to four straight Gump Cups, and with Jarome Iginla and Joe Thornton, he formed possibly the league’s most potent trio. He notched a league-record 96 goals in 2008-09.

There was considerably less star power to be had in the rest of the Free Agent Draft, however, as teams fine-tuned their rosters ahead of the season. Grinder Garnet Hathaway went second to South Side, while Denver added goalie Jack Campbell third. Baltimore was the only team to make more than two picks, adding Mikko KoskinenJay BeaglePheonix Copley, and Antti Suomela.

Get the full 2019 Preseason Free Agent Draft results here.

South Side Shuffles Blueline

In DEL, SSR, Transactions, VAN on September 11, 2019 at 11:00 am

The South Side Renegades looked pretty good coming out of the rookie draft, having nabbed winger Brady Tkachuk, goaltender Jordan Binnington, and a quartet of young defensemen in Erik Cernak, Caleb Jones, Maxime Lajoie, and Christian Jaros.

But the rebuilding Renegades weren’t quite content with the makeup of their blueline, and made a pair of trades to change that. First, South Side acquired stay-at-home righty Chris Tanev from the Vancouver Night Train for third and fourth round rookie picks in 2020. Then, they flipped promising offensive rearguard Erik Gustafsson to the Delta Sturgeon for veteran Alec Martinez and Delta’s first rounder in 2020.

For Vancouver, it meant clearing roster space for recent draftee Filip Hronek. For Delta, what it hopes will be a PP superweapon to help get to the promised land. For South Side, it means a facelift of a blueline that, after Seth Jones, has long been in flux and either a step closer to a playoff berth or trade assets at the deadline if they’re out of the race.

Defensemen Top 2019 Draft

In News on September 8, 2019 at 1:56 pm

It took exactly one pick to throw the floor at the 2019 GWMHL Rookie Draft into a tizzy, as the Great Lakes Pilots surprised many by forgoing phenom centre Elias Pettersson in favour of defenseman Rasmus Dahlin. That meant that the Charleston Chiefs, who dealt Steven Stamkos along with the 10th pick to move up to 2nd with the intention of picking Dahlin had to “settle” for Miro Heiskanen. Pettersson finally went at #3, to Winnipeg, where he’ll learn the ropes from Tyler Seguin.

The South Side Renegades picked Brady Tkachuk with the fourth pick, setting the stage for the next surprise of the morning when the Ice Harbor Storm, with a pick acquired from Denver in a move that sent two players and 6 picks the other way, chose goaltende Carter Hart at #5.

Andrei Svechnikov (Portland), Sam Steel (Hamilton), Roope Hintz (Adirondack), Quinn Hughes (Pittsburgh), and Max Comtois (San Jose) rounded out the top 10.

After Hart, the biggest question among goaltending prospects was Jordan Binnington, thought by some to have the potential to seize a starting job if given the chance. No team wanted to risk a first for him, but he finally went to South Side with the second pick of the second round.

Check out the full results of the 2019 rookie draft here.

It was a quiet draft on the trade front, with teams seemingly content to sit tight and see how the chips fell. Only two player-involved trades were made on the draft floor, beginning with the biggest: Boston trading goaltender Matt Murray, a 3rd rounder, and a 1st in 2020 to Pittsburgh for goalie Ben Bishop, a 3rd and a 4th. Portland also sent goaltender Keith Kinkaid to South Side for a 3rd, while Delta traded a pair of 2020 picks for four late 2019 selections in a pair of deals.

Charleston Deals Stamkos, Takes Centre Stage at the Draft

In CHA, SJH, Transactions on July 27, 2019 at 10:58 am

The Charleston Chiefs have dealt one of its top players, centre Steven Stamkos, and the 10th overall rookie pick in 2019 to the San Jose Hosers for the 2nd overall pick in 2019.

The move is the biggest of the offseason so far, and marks the second straight year the rebuilding Chiefs have dealt a top centre. Stamkos had 70 points in 78 games this past season, and a disappointing 19 goals. He was a first overall pick for the Chiefs in 2009.

The move seems designed to nab a top-shelf defenseman — either Rasmus Dahlin or Miro Heiskanen — for the Chiefs’ thin blueline. Stamkos, meanwhile, joins a San Jose team that’s already stacked down the middle, led by John Tavares and Jack Eichel. It’s possible that he may shift to the wing, where the Hosers are weaker.

Denver Loads Up in Two Deals

In BOS, DEN, IHS, Transactions on July 12, 2019 at 2:06 pm

Hobbled by long-term injuries and the retirement of its veterans over the last two seasons, the Denver Spurs have swung a pair of trades to fill out its ranks ahead of the 2019-20 season.

The first, and biggest, sees the Spurs sending out its first round rookie pick in 2019, 5th overall, to the Ice Harbor Storm. In return, Denver receives a whopping eight assets: Ice Harbor’s 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th round rookie picks, Salem’s 4th round rookie pick, Ice Harbor’s 1st round free agent pick, forward Tyler Pitlick and veteran defenseman Jay Bouwmeester.

The influx of draft picks freed the Spurs up to make a second deal, this time with the Boston Banshees. In exchange for Denver’s 2nd round rookie pick, the Banshees are sending back forwards Jean-Gabriel Pageau and J.T. Compher, along with Parry Sound’s 3rd round rookie pick. Both players could land in the Spurs’ top nine this season barring more moves.