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NHL Draft Profile: Kirby Dach

An elite-level playmaker who has a great sense for the game. Dach is a large center who protects the puck well and handles the puck really well in tight spaces. He skates well for his size but still it is a weakness in the centers game. He sees the ice with outstanding efficiency and does a fantastic job being a facilitator, but has a good scoring touch when needed.

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Name: Kirby Dach

Date of Birth: January 21, 2001

Nationality (Place of Birth): Canadian (St. Albert, AB, Canada)

Hieght: 6’4″

Weight: 198lbs

Shoots: R

Position: C

Rankings

Ranked #4 by TSN/McKenzie

Scouting Report

The above spider graph, courtesy of Kyle Pereira of Puck77, displays the available data from Will Scouch. As shown in the graph, Kirby Dach is one of the most well-rounded player among his peers. While not near the top of any of the categories, his NHL eScore does rate highly because their Dach affects the game in a variety of ways. He relied on the power play a bit more than his peers, but the efficiency in Dach’s game allows for him to produce using a varying skill-set. 

The big center is a decent skater, good enough to not be a large red flag. He has pretty good top-end speed and he is able to change directions fairly well. Dach is able to stay strong on the puck and generally doesn’t get knocked off too easily, but has a tendency to make the few times he’s knocked off memorable by being completely blown up at times because his head is down. Although it doesn’t happen often, it is a minor concern. The real problem with Dach’s skating is his acceleration, which at times seems to take three or four strides to really start to build speed. In the video below, Dach builds speed though the neutral zone. As he enters the offensive zone, he makes a move on the defender to create space before driving to the net. Once he gains ground on the opposing net, get makes a strong okay to keep the puck before scoring the goal. 

Tweet courtesy of @Rontzeeez

Using his strength and balance, Dach has a knack to being able to wait an extra second or two to make the play, allowing for himself and his line mates to get into premier positions. This helps draw in defenders, opening up high-danger chances for his wingers. Dach’s vision of the entire ice allows him to drive deep in the zone and then play the puck back to the point, allowing for the blue-liner to work with some space, either getting the puck back to Dach or another forward in a better scoring position. The St. Albert, Alberta native showed that he can shoot the puck scoring 25 goals as a pass-first center in his age 17 season in the WHL. Throughout the season, Dach’s passing ability opened up scoring chances as the defenders and even goaltenders often cheated to the secondary player, expecting Dach to pass and he did a good job taking advantage of that.

Defensively, the center is good in the faceoff dot and effectively uses his size, although he is likely to never develop into a big hitter. He does a good job at supporting the defence low in the zone and he uses his length to clog up passing lanes. Dach uses his high-IQ 59 make the smart pass and does an adequate job transitioning to offence, although his acceleration has shown to be a bit of a problem if he’s the first pass out of the zone. This often leads to him being the third man into the offensive end, not allowing him to be the primary puck handler and playmaker. He is likely to continue to be a good two-way center at the next level who can be an effective penalty killer and be relied upon in the defensive end of the ice.

Preseason Outlook

Coming into the season as a top-five prospect on many boards, Dach has fallen a bit (top-10) but it was more due to the play of those around him than his own. Dach was coming off a season in which he had 46 points in 52 games in his D-1 year which was fantastic production. Labelled as a pass-only center at the time, he was steadfast in wanting to improve his goal-scoring which he did. Expected to have a monster season, Dach was looked upon as a player who could be chosen early in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft and that hasn’t changed.

Tweet coutesy of @TSN_Sports

He impressed in his time with team Canada at the Hlinka-Gretzky tournament in preseason 2018. In the video above, Dach recognizes that the puck has been held in at the far side of the offensive zone and then moving to the front of the net. There he was able to screen the goaltender and read the shot-pass from Lafreniére and get his stick on the puck in order to redirect it on net for a goal. Canadian head coach André Tourigny had this to say about Dach,

Kirby’s a pass-first guy, but he’s playing really well on the wing … he’s really impressed me with his hockey sense … He’s always played centre, but he’s on the wing and he’s been solid.

Dach showed versatility and drew rave reviews as he was able to display his playmaking as well as a goal-scoring touch with his Canadian teammates.

Hot Start Shows Goal-Scoring Ability

Dach won CHL Player of the Week honours with a strong start to his regular season. With three goals and four assists in the opening two games of the season. After finishing fourth in rookie scoring the year prior, Dach was determined to build off of that. The 6’4″ center came out of the gate strong to start his draft eligible season. He lead the Blades to an 8-4 record over their first 12 games of the season. With 11 goals in his first 19 games, Dach was trusting in his own goal-scoring ability to start the season. In those same 19 games, Dach ranked third in the WHL with 32 points.

Video courtesy of Puck Pordigy Youtube channel

Dach proving that he can put the puck in the net provided the Saskatoon Blades with a player who the offence could truly run through. The play-maker extraordinaire was excellent to start the season. His strong play and leadership on the ice lead to him receiving an “A” on his chest midway through the season. The added responsibility and trust was a product of Dach maturing throughout the season.

Second Half and Brief Playoffs

Although his point production had slowed by mid-December, the high-skill Saskatoon forward had been a force. His 200-foot play was beginning to round into form and he became more responsible as the season wore on. His work ethic improved and his points began to come again in the new year. Dach put together a solid second half of the season.

The Saskatoon Blades center celebrated his birthday with the release of the NHL Central Scouting Rankings, with Dach was rewarded with the position directly behind Hughes. Beginning the new year as the 2nd ranked prospect in North America, Dach felt positive as his draft season was going as planned for the top ranked CHL player at the end of January. With 50 points in 43 games at that point of the season, Dach was impressing teams ahead of his draft year.

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Heading into the playoffs, with 12 points in his final 10 regular season games, Dach was scoring in bunches. He had a 4 assist performance against the Lethbridge Hurricanes and fellow top-10 draft eligible prospect Dylan Cozens. The playoffs were good for Dach, as he finished with 7 points in 10 games, as the Saskatoon Blades were eliminated after a modest playoff run. The interesting part of Dach’s playoffs was that he had five goals, stepping up and adapting his game based on the teams need.

What the Detractors Say

The biggest knocks on Dach are his skating that leaves some to be desired in terms of acceleration and his tendency to float at times and seem disengaged. While the skating issue is often overblown because he makes up for it with being where he needs to be with his high end hockey-IQ, the footing is a concern. It has, at times, led to inconsistency in his game. He can disappear at times on the ice. There have been stretches of play where although he has put up points, he almost seems board or lackadaisical in his play. Assuming this is something that will be fixed with maturity, as many young players go through this, Dach may fall a bit in the draft but shouldn’t take too much of a hit because the skillset is tantalizing.

Kirby Dach will be taken

4th or 5th, maybe 10th or 11th? Dach is a huge question mark as to where he does get picked. It’s probably safe to say that he is going to be picked in the top 10-12 picks. He has a full arsenal of skills and the blend of that skill with his size will have some scouts drooling as they run to the stage to draft the center. His skating and effort at times are still a question as discussed above but the full package is too much to pass up for some team looking for a high end playmaker who will almost assuredly stick at center at the next level. Expect Dach to be chosen early by a team like Los Angeles, Buffalo or Edmonton. If he drops out of the top ten, a team like Minnesota would kill to add him to their system.

For more on the NHL, prospects and the NHL Draft, follow me here at @TheTonyFerrari on twitter!

All stats and information provided by Elite Prospects, Dobber Prospects and NHL.com

Buffalo Sabres

Buffalo Sabres: 2019 Entry Draft Options

The Buffalo Sabres had quite the start to the 2018-19 National Hockey League season. At one point, the Sabres were tied with the Tampa Bay Lightning for first in the Atlantic division. But as quickly as they rose, they fell right apart.

 

What exactly was the problem? Goaltenders Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark were not exactly good in net for the Sabres. Their defense is solid and deep (while also young) with plenty of growth ahead of them. However, the glaring issue is depth forwards, and just forward prospects in general. Drafting at number seven overall in the upcoming NHL entry draft, who are some of the players who could shore up the forward core as soon as next season, and become a star in the future?

 

Kirby Dach, C, Saskatoon Blades (Western Hockey League)

The 6’4”, 195 pound centerman in Saskatoon may not be available at the seven spot in the entry draft, but there’s about 10 players you can argue are top-five talent in this draft, and he’s one of them. If he slips to seven, Buffalo should be yelling out his name at the draft.

He posted 25 goals and 48 assists (73 points) in 62 games played, with an additional five goals and three assists (eight points), in 10 playoff games. Using DobberProspects PNHLe, (which measures a players NHL potential using their point production, the league they play in, their age, and their position), he checks in between first and second line talent.

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The one downside, he’s a center. The Sabres have Jack Eichel, Casey Mittelstadt and Zemgus Girgensons down the middle. They could always move him or Mittelstadt over to the wing, but with him at center behind Eichel, the Sabres have a serious shot at matching the Pittsburgh Penguins one-two punch of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin down the middle.

 

Alex Turcotte, C, Committed to Wisconsin (NCAA)

Playing with the United States National Team Development Program juniors (USNTDP Juniors), the 5’11”, 194 pound Turcotte posted 12 goals and 22 assists (34 points) in just 16 games. With the USNTDP U18 team, the centerman posted 26 goals and 35 assists (61 points) in only 34 games. Those are remarkable numbers, and not just that, he is incredible at both ends of the ice. From DobberProspects’ Cam Robinson on Turcotte: “The Wisconsin commit blends exceptional defensive play with high-end speed and skill. Has played second fiddle to Jack Hughes for years, but is beginning to step out of his shadow. A [coach’s] dream.” That is incredibly high praise, and deservedly so.

Again, he is a center as Dach is, but with some shuffling, the Sabres will certainly make it work. Using the PNHLe scale again, they place Turcotte above first line potential, and trending towards superstar status, meaning the sky’s the limit for the young Wisconsin-commit.

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Peyton Krebs, LW, Kootenay Ice (WHL)

Finally, a winger! Now, Krebs isn’t as good as Dach and Turcotte are expected to be, but he was also on a very bad Kootenay team, and was one of the lone bright spots on the roster. If the Ice have a better team, he could prove to be a huge steal for anyone outside of the top five.  He also fits the Sabres needs better, and like Dach, isn’t committed next season, and can make the jump if the Sabres believe he’s capable, which most likely isn’t as likely as Dach making an immediate jump, but the option is still certainly there.

Posting 19 goals and 49 assists (78 points) in 64 games is extremely impressive for a 17-year-old on a very bad team. In the World Junior Championships with Canada, he potted four goals and three assists (seven points) in four games. In the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, he put up two goals and three assists (five points) in five games. DobberProspects’ Cam Robinson had this to say about the winger: “Krebs takes creative lines to dangerous areas of the ice. He’s the type of player that sees plays develop before those around him and uses that to exploit the opposition.  Krebs is a playmaker who can impact the game on any shift. He’s also capable of playing all three forward positions but likely ends up on the wing in the NHL.” He’s not only versatile, but has very high hockey IQ and great vision.

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On the PNHLe chart, he’s almost exactly on par with Dach, between first and second line potential, but Dach is closer to a big impact at the NHL than Krebs at the moment. With the Sabres however, Krebs would probably have more success, as there is a need for wingers over centers at the moment. Krebs better fills that need.

 

Who Would I Pick?

For me, this is a truly difficult choice. All three are versatile, and can fill needs at both wings, and if necessary, center. Dach is the closest to being NHL ready, and could certainly play next season, which is a huge plus. However, Turcotte currently has a higher ceiling, but is committed to play college hockey next season, and who knows if he’ll be ready after next season either. He’s certainly worth the wait, but the Sabres are so close to having a contending team that they need a player who is as close to being NHL ready as they can be at seventh overall, and Dach is that player.

If he is gone, the Sabres should go with Krebs, but Turcotte’s potential is tantalizing, and it will be a very difficult decision. But really, the Sabres cannot go wrong here.  

 

Prospect Evaluations and stats via DobberProspects

Featured Image Photo Credit: Nikos Michals

WHL Playoffs: Second Round Preview

WHL Playoffs: Second Round Preview

While there were not any upsets worth mentioning coming out of the first round of the WHL playoffs, that does not mean there was not any action in the eight series. This can only mean the second round will be even tighter and more exciting to watch. With most of the upper seeds advancing to the next round, only the best of the best is left to see who makes it to the conference finals.

Eastern Conference

East Division Final: (1) Prince Albert Raiders vs. (2) Saskatoon Blades

The Raiders continue their incredible season into the second round after an easy sweep of the Red Deer Rebels. The most interesting part of the series victory was the wide-spread, and depth scoring the Raiders possessed. While leading-scorer Noah Gregor had five points, rookies Aliaksei Protas and Ozzy Wiesblatt were exceptional as well. Protas put up two goals and two assists in the first two games of the series, and Wiesblatt, who only scored 15 goals in the regular season, scored three times against Red Deer.

While Saskatoon was able to slide passed Moose Jaw in four games, it certainly felt like more. Three of the four games were decided by one goal, with two of the them being decided in overtime. Max Gerlach and Kirby Dach led the Blades with five points in the series, with each scoring in the clinching win in game four. Nolan Maier was superb in net, only allowing eight goals against in the entire series.

These two teams are the only ones who made it out of the first round in the minimum number of games. Just goes to show how dominant they were compared to their opponents. Prince Albert handled the Blades during the regular season, winning six of the eight meetings. However, Saskatoon is hot, winning eight of their last night games dating back to the regular season. Their lone defeat was at the hands of the Raiders…the night after the Blades had defeated the them in Saskatoon.

My Pick

This series will be determined by the goaltenders, and Ian Scott is playing extremely well, Raiders in six.

Central Division Final: (1) Edmonton Oil Kings vs. (3) Calgary Hitmen

The Oil Kings had their hands full against Mads Sogaard and the Medicine Hat Tigers, but Edmonton was able to clinch after a come-from-behind overtime win in game six. Trey Fix-Wolansky was his usual self, tied for the team lead in points with seven. He was tied with Vince Loshciavo, who finished second on the team with 62 points during the regular season. Loschciavo scored four goals during the series, including the game-winner in game six to help the Oil Kings advance.

Calgary was not expected to slow down the talented offence that Lethbridge possessed, but with the offencive outbursts from the Hitmen’s own lineup, the Hurricanes were taken down by Calgary in a classic seven game series. Calgary managed to score five or more goals four times in the first round, much thanks to depth scoring, as nine Hitmen had five or more points. Carson Focht, Mark Kastelic, and Dakota Krebs all led the team with seven points in the series. Kastelic scored five goals, despite missing games three and four with a concussion. Focht was the first star in game seven, with two goals, including the game-winner.

It’s the Battle of Alberta in the playoffs, what more could you ask for? The Hitmen know they have it in tough, as they won only one of the eight meetings against their provincial rivals, with the Oil Kings outscoring Calgary by a 19 goal margin. The Hitmen are certainly riding high coming off an upset win, so it will be interesting to see how long they ride the wave of momentum into this series.

My Pick

Despite showing some weakness in round one, the Oil Kings’ confidence is as high as it has been this season, but the Hitmen will keep it close. Edmonton wins in seven.

Western Conference

B.C. Division Final: (1) Vancouver Giants vs. (2) Victoria Royals

Victoria did not have the easiest series against Kamloops in round one. However, despite the Blazers picking up a win on the road and at home, the Royals were able to bunker down and take games five and six convincingly to move on. Rookie Phillip Schultz really stepped up in the series, scoring nine points in the six game series, which was tied for second among playoff scorers. 

Vancouver did not have an easy time either against Seattle in the first round. However, the Giants were able to squeak passed the upstart Thunderbirds in six. Davis Koch led all players with 10 points in the six games, nine of which being assists. Bowen Byram continues to increase his draft stock, with three goals and five assists in the series, including a three-point performance in game three. Jadon Joseph piled on the goals for Vancouver, with six goals in the series, tied for the most among goal scorers. Trent Miner and David Tendeck split time in net during the first round, with Miner playing better than his teammate. Expect Head Coach Michael Dyck to go with Miner for the rest of the Giants’ run.

This series could be quite close, despite the two teams finishing so far apart in the regular season. Vancouver won four of the five meetings at the Langley Events Centre, while Victoria managed three wins on their home ice. With that, home ice advantage favours the Giants. Goaltending will be important, as always, and Miner and Griffen Outhouse are two very equal netminders. Vancouver is looking to avenge the game seven loss at the hands of the Royals in the first round of the playoffs last year.

My Pick

Victoria will give a spirited effort, but Vancouver’s offence will bury the Royals. Giants in six.

U.S. Division Final: (1) Everett Silvertips vs. (2) Spokane Chiefs

Spokane walked over a decimated and depleted Portland lineup. Despite a couple close overtime wins, the Chiefs eliminated the Winterhawks in five games. Riley Woods, who led the Chiefs in scoring during the regular season, led the team in the first round with eight points. Adam Beckman and Jack Finley were solid in their first playoff experiences in the WHL. Beckman scored three goals with a pair of assists, while Finley helped set up the offence with four assists.

Everett had a fairly easy first round against Tri-City, beating the Americans in a five game series. Bryce Kindopp was excellent with five goals and four assists in the series, including a hat trick in game five. Martin Fasko-Rudas only put up 31 points during the regular season, but caught fire in round one, scoring eight points in the five games. Dustin Wolf was consistent in net as he was all season, and was the best goaltender in the first round, with a 1.60 GAA and .937 SV% in the series.

The Chiefs did not have the best luck against the ‘Tips this season, as Everett won six of the eight games, including winning two in Spokane. With how good Wolf has been for the Silvertips this season, Spokane’s Bailey Brkin will have to be outstanding, but it is hard to measure him up against one of the best goaltenders in the CHL. 

My Pick

Persistent offencive pressure and Wolf in net is going to be too much for Spokane, ‘Tips in five.

All statistics and records from the WHL and Elite Prospects.

WHL Playoffs: Eastern Conference First Round Preview

WHL Playoffs: Eastern Conference First Round Preview

It’s that time again! Everything that happened in the regular season is now in the past, and teams in the WHL’s Eastern Conference can turn the page to  to a new chapter. While some teams may look like they are severely outmatched, there could be some teams that will catch some of the league’s best off guard in the first round.

East Division

(1) Prince Albert Raiders vs. (WC2) Red Deer Rebels

What started out as one what looked like one of the greatest seasons in CHL history, the Raiders sure took a dip in the second half following the New Year. This can be accredited to Team Canada’s Ian Scott and Brett Leason coming back from a World Junior hangover. While Leason still led the team in points with 89, he only scored 25 points in his last 24 games, a far cry from his two-point per game pace he started the first half of the season with. Noah Gregor was able to help pick up the slack offencively while Leason was wearing the Maple Leaf, and finished right behind Leason with 88 points, good for ninth in league scoring. Scott has still been one of the top netminders this season, as he finished second in the league in wins (38), goals-against average (1.83), and save-percentage (.932).

The Rebels really survived the late stages of the regular season to squeak into the final playoff spot in the East. The Rebels enter the postseason on a four-game losing streak, and only won two of their final eight games. The offence lives and dies with Brandon Hagel. The Chicago prospect finished fourth in league scoring with 102 points. The next leading scorer is Cameron Hausinger, who only put up 54 points this season.

The Raiders finished the season winners in five of their final seven games. They will use this series to refocus and retool for a deep run into the postseason. The Raiders just have more scoring throughout the lineup than the Rebels, and Red Deer just does not have the same depth as Prince Albert.

My Pick

While Prince Albert may not be at their peak like they were earlier this season, they are still having better fortunes than the Rebels, Raiders in five.

(2) Saskatoon Blades vs. (3) Moose Jaw Warriors

Moose Jaw, regardless of their record, have loads of scoring on both ends of the rink. Justin Almeida has been incredible down the middle, with his 111 points third in the WHL in scoring. Tristin Langan has become one of the better two-way forwards in the league. While his 113 points is second in the league, Langan is also sixth in plus/minus with a +43. Rookie Brayden Tracey has been pretty good to say the least, with his 81 points leading all freshman. Jett Woo and Josh Brook have been solid on the back end for the Warriors, both responsible in their own end and exceptional in the offencive zone. Brook’s 75 points was tied for the most among all d-men, while Woo’s 66 points is fifth.

The Blades ended the season on an excellent run. Since February 1st, Saskatoon went 16-2-1, including a nine-game winning streak from February 1st to 16th. Much in large part to their big three. Top prospect Kirby Dach was exceptional in his second season in the league, with 73 points in 62 games. He will have to step up in this series if he wants to increase his draft stock. Max Gerlach was impressive, scoring 42 goals and 32 assists, and ending his season on a five-game point streak. Over-ager Dawson Davidson was one of the best blueliners in the WHL this season, and one of the most offencive as well. Davidson scored 75 points, which was tied with the Warrior’s Brook for the most among defencemen.

Saskatoon was one the hottest team’s in the league, while the Warriors were on cruise control, opening the door for the Blades to snatch second place in the East Division. While statistically Moose Jaw may have the better goaltender in Adam Evanoff, the Blades’ Nolan Maier has been consistent throughout the season, winning 36 games, third most in the league. Home ice may not favour the Warriors in this series, as the Blades won all three games at the Mosaic Place.

My Pick

Certainly a close series. Even with the offencive stars with the Warriors, the Blades depth will be what helps them in the long run, as they will win the series in seven.

Central Division

(1) Edmonton Oil Kings vs. (WC1) Medicine Hat Tigers

While Saskatoon was one of the hottest teams in the league, Edmonton was THE hottest team in the WHL. The Oil Kings ended the regular season on an 11 game winning streak, and have only lost once since Valentine’s Day. Much of the credit can go to the incredible season Trey Fix-Wolansky has had. The Columbus draft pick finished the season tied for fourth in league scoring with 102 points, and his 65 assists was second in that category. Another reason the Oil Kings were so good this season was the play of netminder Dyland Myskiw, whose 2.53 GAA was fifth in the league, with a .914 SV% that was ninth.

While Myskiw was the backbone for Edmonton, Medicine Hat’s Mads Sogaard was outstanding this season. No question, he was the best rookie goaltender in the WHL, certainly staking his claim for rookie of the year. Without big-time scoring, the Tigers would not be in the position they are without the play of Danish netminder. That said, goals are needed to win hockey games, and the Tigers will be looking at James Hamblin and Ryan Jevne to produce. Hamblin led the team in goals and assists, with his 77 points a career high. Jevne followed with 68 points in his fourth season with the Tigers.

There were very few signs of the Oil Kings slowing down in the waning days of the regular season. The Tigers had to earn their way into the playoffs, and winning three in a row in the past month helped them achieve that. While Edmonton won five of the six meetings between the two, four of them were decided by one goal, two being decided in overtime and another via shootout.

My Pick

Good hard battles, and Sogaard will make it tough on Fix-Wolansky and the rest of his teammates, but it’s hard to see the Tigers winning at Rogers Place, Oil Kings in six. 

(2) Lethbridge Hurricanes vs. (3) Calgary Hitmen

The Hitmen bounced up and down between a top-three position and Wild Card spot throughout this season. Yet, winning seven out of their last 10 games helped distance themselves from Medicine Hat and Red Deer enough to earn the third seed in the Central Division. Mark Kastelic and James Malm have shared the spotlight in Calgary, both leading the Hitmen with 77 points. Malm lead the team in assists with 43, and Kastelic’s 47 goals third among all WHL goal scorers.

The Hurricanes, despite having a young talent in Dylan Cozens, decided this is a great opportunity to make a run to the Ed Chynoweth Cup Finals, and went out a bought talent. GM Peter Anholt completed a trade with Regina to obtain Nick Henry and Jake Leschyshyn. The move paid dividends, as Henry went on to lead the team in points, and his 97 points ranked him seventh in league scoring. Leschyshyn has been a very balanced player with 81 points, and Jordy Bellerive has been a consistent presence on the power play with 24 points with the man advantage, second on the team. Probable first-rounder Cozens has also been exceptional heading into this summer’s draft, as he is second on the team in scoring with 84 points. 

While Hitmen ended the season on a high note, the Hurricanes ended the season on a higher note, winning 11 of their last 12 games. Lethbridge is clicking on all cylinders heading into this series, whereas the Hitmen lost three games to the streaking Oil Kings in the final two weeks of the season. The Hurricanes have Calgary’s number this year, winning five of the six meetings this season, including a 7-4 win just two weeks ago.

My Pick

Lethbridge is just too good right now for the Hitmen to handle, ‘Canes in five. 

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

 

WHL Report: Vancouver Giants and Saskatoon Blades Sprint to Playoff Spots

The regular season is beginning to wind down in the Western Hockey League. With only three weeks left in the regular season, the playoff picture is beginning to take shape.

While not all 16 seeds have been set, five clubs have already printed their tickets for the postseason. At the moment, the Everett Silvertips and Portland Winterhawks have clinched playoff births in the U.S. Division, and, to no ones surprise, the Prince Albert Raiders have clinched the East Division. The Raiders will most likely be awarded the Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy for being regular season champs.

The other two teams that are guaranteed to be playing into the spring are the Vancouver Giants and the Saskatoon Blades.

Saskatoon Finally Comes Back to the Dance

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The Blades, despite the talent of top prospect Kirby Dach, were battling for second in the East Division with the Moose Jaw Warriors early on in the season. With neither team anywhere near Prince Albert, both teams were well aware that there was only going to be one more spot with home-ice advantage available. The Blades, though, have really taken charge in the last couple of months. Through the first two-and-a-half months of the season, the Blades were only 16-9-3. Since December 1, they have been on an incredible run of 22-5-5, and have been 9-1-2 in the month of February.  After a shootout win over the Kootenay ICE on Saturday, Saskatoon clinched their first playoff spot since 2013. Had it not been for the Rebels, the Blades could have been in the running for a division crown.

The Best Offence is a Good Defence…That Can Create Offence

The Blades have one of the deepest lineups in terms of overall production. Saskatoon has five players with 50+ points. Only Moose Jaw and Prince Albert have the same amount of depth scoring.

Speaking of Dach, the predicted first-round pick in this year’s NHL Draft is not even the top-scorer in Saskatoon, and that is a good thing. Dach certainly started the season hot, as he was a top-five scorer for the first few months of this season. However, after a seven-game pointless drought in December (10 of 11 games without a point in that stretch), Dach has taking a back seat to some of his teammates. He is still third on the team in points, with 22 goals and 39 assists, his 61 points is far better than his total from a year ago.

The two players who have really picked up the offencive slack have actually been defencemen. Dawson Davidson and Nolan Kneen have been big weapons on the back-end in the offencive zone. Kneen came over in a trade from Kamloops back in late November, and the former 3rd overall pick in the 2014 WHL Bantam Draft has really settled in as a veteran playmaker. Well known for his toughness in his time with Kamloops, Kneen has become a one of the quarterbacks of the Blades’ power play. With 36 assists, the undrafted defenceman is 10th among WHL defencemen in helpers.

Another player that has seemingly been in charge of creating any Saskatoon scoring chance, Davidson has been huge for the Blades this season. Also a defenceman that went undrafted, Davidson came over to the club from Regina last season. A big piece of Saskatoon’s top power play unit, Davidson leads Saskatoon with 68 points this season, which is best among all WHL d-men. His 58 assists is tied for third in the ENTIRE league. With the impact of offencive defencemen, and finishers up front such as Max Gerlach, Gary Haden, and Ryan Hughes, the offence is going to be key for Saskatoon heading into the playoffs.

Vancouver Giants Win First Division Crown Since 2010

It has been quite the season for the Giants. This is a club that has missed the playoffs three out of the past five years, and have not won a playoff series since Vancouver made it to the Western Final in 2010. However, the Giants have flipped their fortunes, as they have a record of 41-14-4, and sit 20 points clear of the second-place Victoria Royals. With their shootout loss over the Royals this past Saturday, the Giants clinched the British Columbia Division title for the first time in almost a decade. Despite the loss, the Giants are another hot team in the WHL, as they are 10-1-1 in February.

Koch(ed) and Loaded

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The Giants have not had an overload of scoring up front, but with their defence being one of the best in the league, they have not needed to rely on scoring as some other teams do. However, they do have quite the offencive weapon in Davis Koch. The White Rock, BC native was traded to Vancouver from Edmonton last season. After taking a backseat to Ty Ronning last year, Koch has become the go-to guy for the Giants this season. The Vancouver leading-scorer took a dip with 58 points last season, but has turned his game around and put up 64 points in 59 games thus far, and could be able to beat his career best of 70 points that he set with the Oil Kings during the 2016-2017 season.

Splitting the Net

Most teams that use two goaltenders are usually struggling to find success in the CHL. Yet, the Giants have thrived this year with their use of Trent Miner and David Tendeck. The veteran Tendeck has taken the majority of the games this season. He is 20-10-2 this year, with a 2.41 GAA and .911 SV%. Certainly not mind-blowing numbers, but his consistent improvement over his three seasons with the club has earned him the trust of Head Coach Michael Dyck. Tendeck has had four separate three-game win streaks this season, with four shutouts added onto, what is shaping up to be, his best season of his career.

Miner has blossomed in his first full season in the WHL. The draft-eligible goaltender is 21-4-2 this season, and has only lost one start in regulation since January 2nd. This included a six-game win streak through the month of January. His 1.94 GAA is third-best in the league behind Dustin Wolf and Ian Scott, along with a .927 SV% that is fifth in the league. Miner has certainly shown why Vancouver selected him in the first round of the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft. It will be a tough call for who Coach Dyck picks for the postseason, but no matter who he goes with, he will have the confidence in whoever steps in between the pipes.

All statistics and records found on WHL.ca