Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning: Awful Trades and A Slow Off-Season

Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois has not impressed anyone yet. Since taking over a star-studded team built by former GM Steve Yzerman, BriseBois decided not to add at the trade deadline.

 

His team, regardless of that, had an historic season. Or should I say, Yzerman’s team did, because BriseBois only added Jan Rutta, who played 14 games in blue and white. He also called up Cameron Gaunce, who stepped in for two games.

Then, with forward Brayden Point waiting for a contract as a Restricted Free Agent, BriseBois tests everyone’s patience by first extending Rutta, and then trading a bright, young, and talented goaltending prospect in Connor Ingram for a bucket of pucks. I mean a seventh round pick, in a draft three years from now, ultimately has the same value as a bucket of pucks. But at least you can get the pucks immediately and not wait three years for them. You’re welcome Nashville.

 

Why Is The Ingram Trade Bad?

First off, Ingram is a prospect, and the best in the Lightning system for his position. That alone should be reason enough for him to warrant a hell of a lot more than a seventh round pick in 2021. But there’s a lot more than meets the eye, so a deeper dive should do the trick.

 

Who Is Connor Ingram?

Ingram is a 22 year old goalie, who was drafted in the third round (88th overall) in 2016, where he was ranked as a top-10 goalie (and the eighth off the board).

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After being drafted, he returned to the Kamloops Blazers of the Western Hockey League, where he had played for the previous two seasons. In 45 games, he posted a 2.44 goals against average (GAA) and a .927 save percentage (SV%). Then, in six postseason games, he was magnificent, with a 2.18 GAA and .946 SV%.

The following season, he began with the Lightning’s ECHL affiliate at the time, the Adirondack Thunder, where he quickly proved he was too good to be there. With a 1.30 GAA and .960 SV% in three games, he was called up to the Lightning’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch. There, he stepped into a big role, starting 35 games and posting a 2.33 GAA and .914 SV%.

Ingram started this season once again with Syracuse. But then, out of the blue, his playing time was rolled back. Despite being in the AHL all-star game this past season for his stellar season with the Crunch, he was sent to the new ECHL affiliate, the Orlando Solar Bears, after 22 games.

In those said 22 games, Ingram had a solid 2.26 GAA and .922 SV%. He was beginning to show why he was worthy of being a third-round selection (about where top goalies tend to get selected). That’s when things fell apart. According to personal sources, there was a dispute between Ingram and Lightning management, though it is unclear what exactly the disputes were about at this time. He did not play well in the 13 regular season ECHL games that followed (2.81 GAA, .914 SV%), but did play up to expectations in the playoffs (10 games, 1.94 GAA, .935 SV%), before ultimately falling short and getting knocked out of the playoffs.

 

In Conclusion

His frustrations were clear in his struggles at a low-level of hockey, and he reportedly requested a trade when he initially was sent down to the ECHL.

Just like with the Jonathan Drouin situation however, Ingram went back to his true on-ice self in the playoffs, and the problems seemingly, were no longer problems anymore. But at least the Lightning were able to snag Mikhail Sergachev for Drouin. Granted, Drouin had a lot more value than Ingram does, but the Lightning could have easily gotten more. At least get a third round pick back for him, or even a B-level prospect. But instead, in essence, a bucket of pucks that will get delivered in 2021.

 

All stats via Elite Prospects

Featured Image Photo Credit: Nikos Michals

Philadelphia Flyers

Philadelphia Flyers: Offseason Draft Preview

Easily one of the most interesting parts of the National Hockey League, the entry draft provides teams an opportunity to add the best young players in the world to their rosters, trade picks and players to improve their team, and agree to contracts with some of the most coveted players in the league.

 

Since I already covered some players to target come free agency, I am left to take a look at some upcoming draft eligible talent that I feel would greatly improve the Philadelphia Flyers organization. First, we must take a look at the strengths and weaknesses within the organization.

Centres

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Top NHL Centre: 

Sean Couturier (26 Y/O, 80GP-33G-76P, 53.3 CF% 98.8 PDO)

Weakest NHL Centre:

Jori Lehtera (31 Y/O, 27GP-1G-3P, 46.1 CF% 94.7 PDO) *Leaving*

Top Centre Prospects:

Morgan Frost (19 Y/O, 58GP-109P Ontario Hockey League, Playmaking centre)

Tanner Laczynski (21 Y/O, 27GP-30P NCAA, Two-Way centre)

German Rubtsov (20 Y/O, 14GP-10P American Hockey League, Physical & Well Rounded)

Marcus Westfalt (19 Y/O, 12GP-10P SuperElit Sweden, Two-Way)

General Observation:

The depth at centre starts off very strong but vanishes quickly. Scoring centres are a much-needed commodity.

Wingers (LW/RW)

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Top NHL Winger:

Claude Giroux (31 Y/O, 82GP-22G-85P, 53 CF% 101.1 PDO)

Weakest NHL Winger

Justin Bailey (23 Y/O, 11GP-0G-1P, 44 CF% 102.9 PDO)

Top Winger Prospects

Isaac Ratcliffe (20 Y/O, 65GP-50G-82P OHL, Power forward)

Matthew Strome (20 Y/O, 68GP-28G-79P OHL, Fiesty two-way forward)

David Kase (22 Y/O, 40GP-8G-23P AHL, Speedy playmaker)

Nic Aube-Kubel (22 Y/O, 54GP-16G-30P AHL, Speedy goal scorer)

General Observation: 

NHL depth is lacking, and very top-heavy. The same can be said for prospects. High-quality depth on the wings is a need.

Defense

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Top NHL Defender:

Shayne Gostisbehere (26 Y/O, 78GP-8G-37P, 52.2 CF% 97.1 PDO)

Weakest NHL Defender:

Andrew MacDonald (32 Y/O, 47GP-0G-9P, 47.7 CF% 99.3 PDO)

Top Defensive Prospects:

Philippe Myers (22 Y/O, 54GP-9G-33P AHL, Physical two-way D)

Yegor Zamula (19 Y/O, 61GP-10G-56P Western Hockey League, All offense all the time)

Wyatt Kalynuk (22 Y/O, 37GP-9G-25P NCAA, Solid offensive presence)

Adam Ginning (19 Y/O, 48GP-1G-5P Swedish Hockey League, Physical Shutdown D)

Wyatt Wylie (19 Y/O, 67GP-11G-47P WHL, Solid two-way presence)

General Observation:

NHL depth is a major concern, but there are some solid prospects in the system. High quality, skill-first prospects are a need.

Goaltending

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Top NHL Goaltender:

Carter Hart (20 Y/O, 31GP-16W-2.83 GAA-.917SV%)

Weakest NHL Goaltender:

Michal Neuvirth (31 Y/O, 7GP-1W-4.27 GAA-.859SV%) *Leaving*

Top Goaltending Prospects:

Samuel Ersson (19 Y/O, 36GP-1.95 GAA-.933SV% Allsvenskan)

Felix Sandstrom (22 Y/O, 19GP-2.16 GAA-.911SV% SHL)

Kirill Ustimenko (20 Y/O, 46GP-1.78 GAA-.927SV% MHL)

Ivan Fedotov (22 Y/O, 26GP-1.67 GAA-.929SV% VHL)

General Observation: 

Depth is solid all around, with some really good goalies emerging as late round gems. For the first time in a long time, goaltending is not a major need.

Draft Preview

Round 1-Pick #11

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Personal Favourites at #11: 

Arthur Kaliyev (LW), Victor Soderstrom (D), Cole Caufield (RW)

Personal Selection:

Arthur Kaliyev (17 Y/O, 6’2″ 190 lbs, 67GP-51G-102P OHL, AVG Rank #17)

A Zach Parise type player, Kaliyev is strong scorer who excels at creating (and acting on) high danger scoring chances.

Kaliyev possesses strong shooting ability, offensive instincts, and puck handling skills.

Kaliyev’s main weaknesses are his play in the defensive zone and keeping up with game pace. Both of which are going to improve with age, as Kaliyev is only 17 and dominating the OHL.

Round 2-Pick #41

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Personal Favourites at #41:

Nathan Legare (RW), Graeme Clarke (RW), Jackson LaCombe (D)

Personal Selection:

Jackson LaCombe (18 Y/O, 6’1″172 lbs, 54GP-22G-89P USHS, AVG Rank 46)

LaCombe is an all offense all the time defender that is excellent at rushing the puck. The biggest concern is that LaCombe played in high school this past season, which, judging by his production, is far below his skill set and may cause problems when he struggles to adjust in the NCAA next season.

Strengths include speed, passing ability, and shooting

Jackson’s main weakness is his responsibility in the defensive zone. LaCombe seems to be a very high-risk, high reward pick, but one that would certainly be worth it.

Round 3-Pick #65 (From EDM for Cooper Marody)

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Personal Favourites at #65:

Alexander Campbell (C), Samuel Fagemo (F), Daniil Gutik (LW)

Personal Selection:

Sam Fagemo (19 Y/O, 5’11” 194 lbs, 42GP-14G-25P SHL, AVG Rank 70)

Fagemo excels in all offensive situations, although he is very independent on the ice and tries to do a lot by himself. Fagemo is a very interesting pick because some (such as Jokke Nevalalainen of DobberProspects) believe that the Swedish winger should be closer to a second-round selection.

Fagemo’s strengths include shooting, puck handling, and speed

Fagemo has some injury history and expected defensive issues. Overall a very good bet anywhere in the draft, Fagemo has very high potential.

Round 3-Pick #72

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Personal Favourites at #72:

Alexander Campbell (C), Daniil Gutik (LW), Layton Ahac (D)

Personal Selection:

Alexander Campbell (18 Y/O, 5’10” 148lbs, 53GP-21G-67P BCHL, AVG Rank 71)

A small forward that is able to use an impressive combination of elite stick handling skills and speed to execute plays quickly and effectively. These skills strike me as building-block strengths similar to that of league superstars Connor McDavid and Johnny Gaudreau.

Campbell’s major strengths include speed, puck handling, shooting ability, and passing skills.

To use these skills, something in Campbell’s game must suffer. That something is his defensive play, which is extremely lacking. However, if Campbell can fully realize his already strong potential, the Flyers could be looking at a steal here.

Round 4-Pick 103

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Personal Favourites at #103:

Trevor Janicke (RW), Arseni Gritsyuk (LW), Josh Nodler (C)

Personal Selection:

Josh Nodler (17 Y/O, 6’0″ 196lbs, 54GP-17G-42P USHL, AVG Rank 108.5)

A playmaking centre with fair size, Nodler possesses fantastic offensive sense and skating ability. Nodler is also a very good possession player to my understanding and is very good at finding high-danger passing opportunities.

Strengths include puck-control, passing, and speed

I couldn’t find any specific drawbacks of Nodler’s game. Although I would be concerned about Josh’s adjustment to the NCAA.

Round 5-Pick 134

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Personal Favourites at #134:

Dustin Wolf (G), Nathan Dunkley (C), Danil Antropov (RW)

Personal Selection:

Danil Antropov (18 Y/O, 6’2″ 190lbs, 66GP-15G-52P OHL, AVG Rank #156)

The son of former NHLer Nikolai Antropov, Danil possesses a wide variety of well-rounded skills that make him a very complete player. An above average passer (0.35 primary assists per/GP) and shooter (0.23 G/GP), Antropov’s offensive game is fairly strong and is completed by a James VanRiemsdyk-like net front presence.

Danil’s well-rounded offensive game makes taking a chance on the 18 year-old even more worth it.

The only real issue that I could draw from looking at Danil’s advanced stats was his lack of (expected) shots per game (1.58), and low TOI per game (12:29). Both aspects are confusing but seem to work for Antropov’s game, but leaves the question of possibly better production if he was deployed differently.

Round 6-Pick 165

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Personal Favourites at #165:

Jackson van de Leest (D), Juuso Parssinen (C), Martin Lang (W)

Personal Selection:

Jackson van de Leest (17 Y/O, 6’6″ 223lbs, 67GP-21P WHL, AVG Rank 158)

A true shutdown defender, Jackson van de Leest posses a strong physical and defensive game for a 17 year-old WHL rookie. The left-handed defender logs big minutes for the Calgary Hitmen and provides a stable presence on their backend, which is littered with offensively minded players, like Flyers prospect Yegor Zamula.

van de Leest is strong at most defensive aspects of the game, and provides a mature presence for his age. Offense is coming along, although it’s not a main focus of his game.

Round 6-Pick 169 (From ARI for Jordan Weal)

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Personal Favourites at #169:

Juuso Parssinen (C), Martin Lang (W), Johnathan Yantsis (F)

Personal Selection:

Martin Lang (17 Y/O, 5’11” 172lbs, 65GP-11G-22P WHL, AVG Rank #177.6)

Mainly a playmaking winger, Lang had an impressive rookie season in the WHL on the poor Kamloops Blazers.

While receiving third-line minutes, Lang averaged a poor 0.17 G/GP but a very good 0.18 A2/GP (secondary assists per game). Essentially, this means that Lang is a very good playmaker but his shot needs some work.

Round 7-Pick 196

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Personal favourites at #196:

Ilya Konovalov (G), Kalle Loponen (D),  Ludvig Hedstrom (D)

Personal selection at #196:

Ludvig Hedstrom (18 Y/O, 5’11” 174 lbs, 43GP-2G-12P SuperElit, AVG Rank #198.4)

An offensive defender with excellent passing ability, Hedstrom was a key part of Djurgardens’ success this season. The small defender excels at moving the puck and overall offensive zone play. Defensive holes are expected and very much apparent.

Hedstrom’s strengths include puck control, passing and skating. His weakest attributes are his defensive play and overconfidence.

Round 7-Pick 201

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Personal favourites at #201:

Kalle Loponen (D), Ilya Konovalov (G), Maxence Guenette

Personal favourite:

Ilya Konovalov (20 Y/O, 6’0″ 194lbs, 45GP-1.89GAA-.930SV% KHL)

This is easily the least accurate pick I will make in this mock-draft. Konovalov, a goaltender whom I mentioned in my very first article on Puck77 (KHL free agent targets), is one of the best goaltenders in (arguably) the second-best league in the world. In my opinion, this would make Konovalov a bit of reach in the seventh round, but most scouting reports I saw didn’t even have the Russian being drafted. A low risk, high reward pick, Konovalov has already been excellent against NHL-comparable competition and, if his potential is realized, could be a steal as a seventh rounder.

 

Conclusion

There a wide variety of very talented players available in the deep 2019 NHL Entry Draft that fill the desperate needs of the Flyers.

 

Statistics, information, and analytics retrieved from nhl.com, hockey-reference.com, eliteprospects.com, draftsite.com, prospect-stats.com, whl.ca, capfriendly.com, sportsforecaster.com, dobberprospects.com, and puck77.com, 

Featured Image Photo Credit: Nikos Michals

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHL Playoffs: Western Conference First Round Preview

WHL Playoffs: Western Conference First Round Preview

After 68 games, it is time to begin the best part of the season, the postseason. In the West, it was the US Division that saw a lot of success, as teams from the States took five out of the eight playoff spots. The divisional matchups will make for some great action, while the lone inter-divisional matchup should be intriguing to fans on both sides.

B.C. Division

(1) Vancouver Giants vs. (WC2) Seattle Thunderbirds

Vancouver has had one of the best seasons the franchise has had in recent memory. Just a few years removed from three-straight last place finishes, the Giants finished the regular season atop the Western Conference standings. Thanks in large part to a very solid defence core and incredible goaltending. Bowen Byram has been solid on the blueline for Vancouver. While his +33 plus-minus is best on the team, his 71 points is second in team scoring behind Davis Koch, and third in WHL defencemen scoring. David Tendeck and Trent Miner have been the best goaltending tandem in the league. They are third and fourth in goals-against-average with Miner’s 1.98 GAA and Tendeck’s 2.48 GAA.

The Thunderbirds come into the playoffs on quite a roll, winning eight of their final 11 games, including a big win over Victoria, and a sweep over Portland in the final weekend of the regular season. Matthew Wedman has been a bruiser for Seattle, while leading the team points with 77, he also led the team in penalty minutes with 110. Noah Philip has been an incredible playmaker for the Thunderbirds, leading the team with 49 helpers. Off his 75 points he scored this season, 33 of them came on the power play. 

Between these two teams, yes the mismatches are eminent. However, the teams are fairly matched on the offencive side of the puck, as the Giants, in total, scored 228 goals, while Seattle potted 231. Home ice has not been a factor in any of the four games between these two, as the road club won all four matchups.

My Pick

This will be a battle between the pipes, as good as rookie Ross Roddy has been lately for Seattle, he does not measure up to the level that Miner and Tendeck are at. Seattle will give everything they have, but the Giants will find a way to take the series in seven.

(2) Victoria Royals vs. (3) Kamloops Blazers

Talk about “blazing” your way into a playoff spot, Kamloops won five of their last six games to catch Kelowna on the final day of the regular season to force a tiebreaker matchup, which the Blazers won on Tuesday night. It was quite a run for a team that does not have a whole lot of offence in their arsenal, as they have scored the fewest goals among any team in the WHL playoffs. That means it will be up to rookie Dylan Garand to step up for the Blazers in this series. After Dylan Ferguson fell into a slump in the second half of the season, Garand took the reigns and was phenomenal, as he only gave up more than two goals once in his final six starts. 

While the Blazers have the least amount of goals scored, the Royals have the second-least amount of goals scored with 199 goals this season. Where they differ from their counterparts is how they ended the regular season. Victoria lost five of their last six games heading into the playoffs, including an 8-0 thumping at the hands of Kamloops. No Royal has more than 50 points this season, but five players have more than 40, including defenceman Scott Walford, who finished second on the team with 47 points.

Don’t expect a lot of high flying offence in this series, as neither team has any game-changing talent up front. It’s going to be a battle of defencive systems between Blazers Head Coach Serge Lajoie and Victoria’s Dan Price. Each game in this series may come out as a one-goal game, making each contest exciting until the final buzzer. Despite the last meeting of the regular season, the Royals have handled themselves well against the Blazers, winning all four games on home ice.

My Pick

If it comes down to the netminders, you have to give Kamloops the advantage with Garand in net, especially the way he’s been playing, Blazers in six.

U.S. Division

(1) Everett Silvertips vs. (WC1) Tri-City Americans

The ‘Tips Finished third in the WHL behind Vancouver and Prince Albert with 99 points this season. In a season where the team was expected to take a dip following the graduation of, now-Philadelphia goaltender Carter Hart, Everett has flourished. Connor Dewar and Bryce Kindopp have been outstanding on the top line, and the addition of Zack Andrusiak from Seattle has added a huge offencive boost. However, it has been the goaltender who has once again garnered the spotlight, as Dustin Wolf has made his case for the Del Wilson Memorial Trophy for WHL Goaltender of the Year. Wolf finished first in the league in wins (41), goals-against-average (1.69), and save-percentage (.936).

Tri-City is not looking in the best of shape heading into this first round. Along with losing their final five games of the regular season, the Americans also lost 10 out of their last 11. It will be huge for Tri-City’s leading scorer, Parker AuCoin, to step up if they want any chance in this series. The Americans possess one of the best youngsters in the WHL, as Krystof Hrabik finished third in rookie scoring with 51 points. Defenceman Aaron Hyman has helped the offencive effort as well, as his 50 points his tied for 10th in blueline scoring.

Given that Everett has been so consistent this season, it will be difficult for the struggling Americans to trip them up in this series. With the tight-knit defence from the Silvertips, along with the timely scoring from their top-two lines, expect Tri-City to have their handsful on both ends of the rink. Even when Tri-Cityis able to break through for a scoring chance, they run into Dustin Wolf.

My Pick

A defencive juggernaut against a team that has struggled at times to find goals, ‘Tips in four.

(2) Spokane Chiefs vs. (3) Portland Winterhawks

Portland sure has had a very interesting season. The team started out looking to contend for a division title, and continued to impress well past the Holiday Break. Then, on February 23rd, Cody Glass suffered a gruesome-looking knee injury that ended his season. The Winterhawks have not been the same in his absence. Joachim Blichfeld continued to produce in his absence, and ended up leading the WHL in points with 114, and tied for the most goals with 53. Players such as Jake Gricius and Reece Newkirk have had to pick up the slack, but have only done so mildly with Gricius posting 61 points, while Newkirk amassed 59 points.

The Chiefs on the other hand, were able to make a late run in the final month of the season to snag home-ice advantage right from underneath the Winterhawks. Spokane went 7-2 in the month of March, and riding high heading into the playoffs. Riley Woods had a solid end to his season, as the Chiefs’ leading-scorer registered 10 points in the month of March. Ty Smith was a big player at both ends of the rink for Spokane this year, including putting up 69 points, good for fourth among WHL defencemen in scoring.

Two teams heading different directions heading into this series, the Winterhawks need to find some form of consistency if they want to knock off the Chiefs. While Blichfeld has been good, Portland will need more from their second and third line to step up. Each team took three of the six games during the regular season. However since Glass’ injury, the Chiefs have taken the last two meetings, both in Portland.

My Pick

Without the x-factor that Glass is, Blichfeld cannot carry the team himself against a hot Chiefs club. The ‘Hawks keep it close, but the Chiefs pull it out in six.

All stats and records found from the WHL and Elite Prospects.

WHL Report: Four Teams Fighting For the Remaining Playoff Spots

WHL Report: Four Teams Fighting For the Remaining Playoff Spots

Heading into the final weekend of the regular season, there’s still a lot to play for, as a couple of teams sitting outside of a playoff spot still have a chance to earn their way into the postseason.  With only spot available in each of the conferences, it is do-or-die for four teams who want to get into the playoffs.

Eastern Conference: Red Deer Trying to Hold Off Brandon

Out in the Eastern Conference, a duo of clubs have an opportunity to clinch the last Wild Card spot. Coming out of the Central Division, the Red Deer Rebels currently sit four points ahead of the Brandon Wheat Kings. While these two teams will not meet in the final weekend of the regular season, Both teams will be keeping a close eye on one another.

Red Deer Just Needs One

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The Rebels have not struggled as bad as Medicine Hat has as of late, however Red Deer at one point was one of the hottest teams in the WHL. However, lackluster play over the past few months have seen Red Deer drop out of the top-three. It did not help when they lost six in a row at the end of January into February, losing 11 of 12 in that time span. It also did not help that the team right above them in the standings, the Medicine Hat Tigers, beat the Rebels on Wednesday night to clinch one of the two Wild Card spots.

The Rebels will have to play Lethbridge and Kootenay this weekend, as the Hurricanes visit Red Deer on Friday, while the ICE host the Rebels on the final day of the regular season on Sunday. The Hurricanes have won three of the five meetings against Red Deer this season, including shelling the Rebels with a 6-2 win on February the 1st. The Hurricanes have been on a storm surge of sorts, as they have won 11 of their last 13 games.

Red Deer has a little more favourable odds against Kootenay, as they have won all five games this season against the ICE, with two of them coming in extra time.

Brandon Clinging To Hope

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The Wheat Kings have really battled throughout the season with the best in the East Division. However, a slow second half to the season has pushed them out of the top-three, and outside the playoff picture all together. After a six-game win streak in the middle of February, including an overtime win over the dominant Prince Albert Raiders, Brandon has only won one out of their last eight games. This includes losses to Medicine Hat and Red Deer, teams they were trying to stay in front of not too long ago.

If there is a glimmer of hope for the Wheat Kings, it is their opponent this weekend. The Regina Pats will meet with Brandon for a home-and-home this weekend. It has been a tight set of games between the two, as each team has won three of the six meetings this season. Yet, the Pats are heading into the weekend riding a seven-game losing streak, with their last win coming on February 22nd.

My Pick

Even though Brandon has an opportunity to sweep the weekend against Regina, it is hard to see Red Deer losing to Kootenay on Sunday, giving the Rebels the final playoff spot in the East.

Western Conference: Kamloops Surging Towards Kelowna

The U.S. Division has dominated the West this season (with the exception of Vancouver). So much to the point that five teams from the States have already punched their tickets to the postseason, including Tri-City and Seattle owning the two Wild Card spots. The one spot remaining sits in the B.C. Division, as the Kamloops Blazers and Kelowna Rockets are neck-and-neck heading towards the end of the regular season.

Kelowna Holding On by Their Fingertips

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A month ago, if you had said the Rockets would be one point away from falling out the playoffs, you may have heard a chuckle or two. At one point, it looked like Kelowna would be able to steer clear of Kamloops. However, it has been a tough go as of late for the Rockets. They are 1-2-3 in the month of March, and have been mediocre at best since the trade deadline. It has been a roller coaster of a second-half for them. They have been on an odd pattern of wining a game, losing two in a row, win a game, lose three in a row. Sitting only point ahead the Blazers, Kelowna will need a big weekend to lock up the last playoff spot in the B.C. Division

However, they will have to do so in a home-and-home against the Vancouver Giants, the best team in the Western Conference. It is almost funny how good the Giants have been compared the rest of their division, as they sit 28 points ahead of second-place Victoria. Home ice certainly has not helped the Rockets this season against Vancouver, as the Giants have won all four meetings at the Prospera Place, outscoring the home team by a combined score of 11-2. The lone victory Kelowna has picked up against Vancouver was back on January 27th at the Langley Events Centre.

Coming in Blazing

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If you want to talk about a team playing playoff hockey during the regular season, look no further than the Kamloops Blazers. After losing six of seven games as February turned into March, the Blazers kicked it into high gear, and have reeled off four in a row to put them back in the hunt for the postseason. This includes a sweep last weekend over third-place Kelowna, and 5-1 and 8-0 thrashings of Spokane and Victoria, respectively. By far the hottest team in the West, Kamloops are right on the coattails of the Rockets.

They will have a home-and-home to end the regular season, and it will be against the Prince George Cougars. The Cougars will finish last in the Western Conference for the second season in a row, however they are coming off a win over Portland. Kamloops is 6-1 this season against Prince George, despite the Cougars winning the last meeting back on February 22nd.

My Pick

It is hard to see Vancouver fall off the run they are on against Kelowna, and Kamloops has handled the Cougars easily throughout the season. Kelowna may earn a split against the Giants, but I see the Blazers jumping into the final playoff spot with a sweep over the Cougars.

stats from WHL.ca