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NHL Mock Draft Part Six: Picks 26-31

Part six has arrived, and it is the final part of my mock National Hockey League entry draft series.

 

26th Overall Pick: Calgary Flames select Albin Grewe, Right/Left Winger, Djurgardens IF J20, SuperElit

Grewe, a Marsta, Sweden native, stands at 6’0, 187 pounds. He is thought highly by some, and not so much by others. I am one who really likes his game, whereas he has been ranked as low as 88th and as high as 25th, with the average ranking of 50.8.

Playing on a junior league in Sweden (U20), while other first round Swedish talent played in the SHL (top league), is a hit on his value. But, he played well against the U20 competition, with 13 goals and 21 assists (34 points) in 25 games. This play earned him a call up to the SHL for the main Djurgardens IF squad for 15 games, but he failed to produce a single point there, another hit on his value.

However, he has some really intriguing values, which is why someone like myself might have him in as first round talent. He makes himself be seen. His skating isn’t pretty, but it is effective, as he is quick and can keep up with the pace of the game. Once his stride can be developed more smoothly, he can be a real good skater in the future.

Grewe is a monster in the offensive zone, in a sense that he is constantly moving and getting to the dirty areas. He welcomes board battles as well. He has a really good shooting ability, as well as fine passing ability. Here’s the downside to his offensive skills; he doesn’t read the play well, and often turns the puck over for passing into traffic or shooting into a lane that was closing in, and got blocked.

He is a fantastic forechecker and backchecker, all over his opponents. However, he does get into penalty trouble, which is reflected in his penalty minutes last season (102 in total in SuperElit, 16 in SHL).

Defensively, he plays physical along the boards, and steps up to block shots as well. Next season, he will likely play against men in the SHL, and his physical game will likely be stunted due to his fairly light weight. But this is good news for Grewe, as he will learn quickly that, at just 187 pounds, you can’t play that style of play, and you must bulk up.

 

Future Role: A lot depends on next season, and how he adjusts his game, as well as working to bulk up. All-in-all he is a generally safe pick, as his style safely projects as a bottom-six winger at the very worst. But he has the potential to be a special player, with his good shot and physical style. He needs to work on his mental game for that to happen, and study hard for a better hockey IQ, and that is very possible.

 

27th Overall Pick: Tampa Bay Lightning select Samuel Poulin, Right/Left Wing, Sherbrooke Phoenix, QMJHL

Before I break down Poulin, what don’t the Lightning need? A small forward, as their forward core is small already. A defenseman, as they have a lot of young guys already in their system or at the NHL level. A goaltender, as they have Andrei Vasilevskiy. So, what do they need?

A big forward, with high upside, because a lack of size for the forward core led to Josh Anderson of the Columbus Blue Jackets to just bully Tampa in the playoffs. So, who’s available?

6’2, 208 pound Samuel Poulin is. He has the best frame for a player at this stage of the draft that would not be considered an egregious reach. Wearing the “A” on his sweater for Sherbrooke last season, Poulin registered 29 goals and 47 assists (76 points) in 67 games. He has been ranked as early as 23rd and as late as 33rd, with his average ranking at 26.3. Poulin is a fast skater, but doesn’t have great edgework. There are times he over skates the puck or puck carrier, and doesn’t stop or turn in time to get a second whack at it. Those are things that could be fixed, as the Lightning have a great skating coach in Barb Underhill.

In the offensive zone, Poulin is always supporting the puck, and has great vision, finding open areas to get a pass from a teammate. He is also creative, with solid stickhandling skills, though he tends to play a simpler game. He loves parking himself in front of the opposing goalie, looking for tips and rebounds. He has a great pass, with lots of power behind it, as well as real good accuracy, making them difficult to break up.

He has a hard shot, but tends to shoot into the goalie at times, and must work on his accuracy. He struggles at times reading the play and trying to make the right decision, finding himself forcing passes or shots. He is dangerous on the forecheck, as he causes a lot of havoc and forces plenty of turnovers. He backchecks like a mad man, as he is a fast skater, despite his big frame.

In the defensive zone, he supports the defense down low, and is constantly pressuring the forwards. However, he very easily gets caught up in hounding the puck, and can go from his area of the ice (the right side) all the way across to the far side and back, and if there’s a lack of communication, can really mess with the opposite winger on his team. That’s something that can be coached however, but it is still a glaring problem in his game. He doesn’t back away from board battles, and does have a gritty side to his game, though he is much more disciplined than Grewe.

The problem is, he isn’t as safe of a pick as Grewe. He would get eaten alive at the NHL level if he doesn’t work on his stops and starts, as well as his tight turns. That alone could set him back far enough where he doesn’t make the NHL roster.

 

Future Role: A boom or bust prospect, with less bust and more boom, has a very raw skillset, but does a lot of things right for a prospect. If he works out the minor details and puts a ton of skating work in, he could thrive in the Lightning system, who are in desperate need of a big forward, and be a future elite winger. He is more likely going to be a middle-six winger, but the ceiling is still high for him at the moment.

 

28th Overall Pick: Carolina Hurricanes select Jakob Pelletier, Left Wing, Moncton Wildcats, QMJHL

Pelletier is an undersized skater, standing at just 5’9, and 160 pounds. The Quebec City native has been ranked as early as 20 and as late as 43, with his average ranking at 32.6. Due to his smaller stature, he has blazing speed. He’s able to change speeds on the go, making it difficult for defenseman to match him and defend him on the rush. He has the edgework to make quick cuts, which is even more difficult for defenseman to defend against, which makes him such a special skater. He is also very strong on his skates and can hold his own in board battles, and fight for position in front of the net.

Going back to his dynamic skating ability, defenders tend to give him more space, so they don’t get burned wide, but he is a great passer, and takes advantage of that space. He has good stickhandling to pair with his skating, and he has the ability to make a quick move to fool a defender at full speed to open up a passing lane, which he then sends the puck through to an open teammate for a scoring chance. He has great vision and a high hockey IQ to read the play quickly and find ways to beat a defense with his deceptive foot work and high end passing abilities.

He has a decent shot, and has a knack for beating defenders to an open spot and letting the puck fly, though it is far from being NHL ready. One thing that stands out is the fact that he is always in the play. He is usually involved in board battles, and he forechecks hard, really wanting the puck on his stick. He can frustrate defenders and cause them to make mistakes with that style, but again, he is too small at the moment for that style to work, as a guy like Dustin Byfuglien will send a message to him with a huge hit if he tries that style in the NHL. So he must bulk up for his aggressive style to translate.

His defensive game is weak. He plays a style similar to Poulin, where he races around the defensive zone for the puck, which leads him out of position. But he is smaller than Poulin, which means he has a smaller reach and can’t break up as many passes. He also struggles helping his defense down low, as he is smaller than most and cannot contain his opponents. The effort is there, but he needs size and more awareness for it to truly work. He was compared to Brad Marchand in his style of play, by Ben Kerr of LastWordOnHockey, which I truly agree with. He is a great offensive winger (had 39 goals and 50 assists for 89 points in 65 games with Moncton) but lacks the necessary size, currently.

 

Future Role: Has the offensive tools, just needs to smooth out his game a bit there. His defensive game is lacking, but if he bulks up, most things will work out naturally, as well as with good coaching. He will likely slot in as a second line winger at the next level, but is a few years away.

 

29th Overall Pick: Anaheim Ducks select Pavel Dorofeyev, Left/Right Wing, Metallurg Magnitogorsk, KHL

Dorofeyev is a tall winger, standing at 6’0, but is very light, and must bulk up, at 163 pounds. The Nizhny Tagil, Russia native has been ranked as early as 16th and as late as 82nd (thanks Bob McKenzie) with his average ranking at 37.

Dorofeyev doesn’t have the speed to beat defenders wide, but he can keep up with the pace of the game. He has great edgework however, which allows him to be shifty with the puck, and hard to contain in an area by a single defenseman. Despite his lankiness, he has good balance, but it isn’t nearly good enough to translate at the NHL level and he must bulk up.

He pairs his edgework with his outstanding hands, very difficult for defenders to hold off in one-on-one situations. His stickhandling also allows him to make a move to create space for himself and for teammates. He is not afraid to battle along the boards, in the corners, or in front of the net. His quick hands help him to score in tight to the goaltender. He has a very accurate shot, but he doesn’t have enough power behind those shots just yet to translate to the NHL. Without the puck, he looks for an opening in the defense to go, in order to get a pass from a teammate.

He is very good at breaking up passes, and does not shy away from board battles defensively either. He has decent positioning, but must be fine tuned down the road. Has trouble against bigger opponents. So, again, he must bulk up.

Dorofeyev did outstanding in the second tier Russian league, the MHL, with Stalnye Lisy Magnitogorsk, as he put up 17 goals and 14 assists (31 points) in 19 games played. He was granted a shot at the KHL, where he played 14 games with a goal and an assist in 23 games. His offensive production in the KHL was underwhelming, but that was his first taste of playing against men, so it was not out of the blue that he struggled to score. His MHL production was stellar, and is more of a “what’s to come” look into his future once he develops and is able to produce against men.

 

Future Role: Doesn’t necessarily stand out offensively, but finds success nonetheless, which is a good sign moving forward. Once his shooting becomes more powerful, he could certainly project as a second line sniper. His balanced play will allow him to currently project as a middle-six winger with two-way capabilities. Must bulk up for those projections to be realized.

 

30th Overall Pick: Boston Bruins select Matthew Robertson, Left-Handed Defenseman, Edmonton Oil Kings, WHL

Robertson is a defenseman that is on the bigger side of things among his peers in the draft. He stands at 6’4 and 201 pounds, and with an aging core in Boston outside of Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo and Matt Grzelcyk, that have proved themselves, a defenseman could be just what they need. Not to mention, “Big Z” Zdeno Chara will likely be retired when Robertson is NHL ready, thus making size at the blueline a much bigger need in the future, something their D prospect Urho Vaakanainen can’t give them. Plus, at this stage in the draft, he’s arguably the best player available.

Despite his size, he is a very smooth skater. He is fast going both forwards and backwards, which is a great base for development of a defenseman. His edges are not the best however, and if he needs to change direction, he is a bit slow pivoting, which can lead to him struggling against forwards who have tight turns and blazing speed. He has great balance, which is understandably expected at his size, winning battles along the boards and in front of his own net.

Robertson has a fantastic pass, and when paired with his skating, makes him a very effective puck moving defenseman. When in the offensive zone, he finds ways to take advantage of his passing skills, and that helps him be a quarterback on the powerplay. Robertson is very mobile along the blueline, and that helps him “walk” the line to open up passing and shooting lanes. He isn’t the best shooter, but he does find ways to at least get the puck on net.

He has a great feel for the game, knowing when to go in deep and help the forwards and when to stay back, as well as knowing if a passing lane is there or not. He uses that feel to pick apart defenses offensively.

When the opposing team is carrying the puck up ice, he does a nice job matching their speed and keeping them on the outside. He also does step up and deliver big hits at times, though he usually just stays back in his gap, not wanting to get caught out of position. He is almost always in position, and loves getting to the dirty areas in the corners and in front of the net, battling with a man for the puck, or for positioning. He also isn’t afraid to block shots, showing a willingness to do what it takes to keep the opposing team from scoring. While he isn’t the most offensively minded defender in this draft, he did manage to produce seven goals and 26 assists (33 points) in 52 games for Edmonton.

 

Future Role: He is another safe pick in this draft, as he will likely, at the worst, crack a bottom-two pairing role. If he can improve upon his shooting and creativity in the offensive zone, as well as continue developing his already advanced defensive zone play, he could easily be a number two or number three defenseman for the Bruins, with penalty kill time.

 

31st Overall Pick: Buffalo Sabres select Brett Leason, Center, Prince Albert Raiders, WHL

Now this is a story. Brett Leason is a 20-year-old player in the CHL, and went undrafted and unsigned through the last two NHL drafts. Two drafts people. Now, he has been ranked inside the first round, and if those rankings ring true, could be just the second CHL player ever to be passed up in two drafts before being selected in the first round in the third draft (Tanner Pearson is the other). At his age, however, you are two years older than guys who are arguably ahead of you in their development. That alone is a big hit on his value, and might knock him outside the first.

He has been ranked as early as 28th and as late as 44th, with his average ranking at 34.9. So why have people suddenly fallen in love with a player who was told twice he wasn’t good enough to even be drafted? Because his glaring weaknesses are no more, and it begins with his skating. He has improved his skating to the point where he is no longer falling behind the play. He isn’t very fast, and still needs to improve on the fluidity of his strides, but he has taken a leap forward in improvements.

He has good balance, partly due to his 6’4, 201-pound frame, but also because he has solid edgework. That edgework was once missing in his game, but now that he has found it, he’s able to do so much more in all three zones, with tighter turns and cleaner stops and starts. He welcomes board battles, and fights mightily for net-front position. He is good at getting deflections and goals off rebounds. He has good hands to finish in tight and beat the goaltender.

While he has always had good stickhandling, he is now able to pair it with much better skating, which gives him a whole new set of plays to create space to pass or shoot. He has a decent shot, but he needs to work on it much more before it is NHL ready. He has a knack for finding open teammates, and the passing abilities to get the puck to them. He has good patience, taking as long as necessary for his teammates to get open, all the while looking over all options and keeping the play alive.

He is excellent at protecting the puck, so that helps. He works hard on both the forecheck and backcheck, which is always a welcome sign for NHL teams. Defensively, he is good positionally, as well as using his long reach to effectively break up passes and force turnovers. He helps support the defense down low, as well as being unafraid of blocking shots.

To put in perspective just how much Leason improved, here were his stats combined through his first two seasons in the CHL: 24 goals and 27 assists for 51 points in 135 games. Last season, Leason recorded 36 goals and 53 assists for 89 points in 55 games. In 80 less games, Leason had 12 more goals and 26 more assists for 38 more points. That is absolutely insane. That’s why he has been able to, almost suddenly, become a first round prospect, three years in the making. That goes to show how much work and dedication he puts into this game, as well as his ability to shut out the noise of all the detractors and doubters from years prior. His dream will soon be realised, and the way he gets here is nothing short of inspirational.

 

Future Role: If he continues to improve on his skating as well as his offensive skills, while building upon an already reliable defensive prowess, he could find himself in a second-line role. However, he doesn’t “wow” you with his performance, and simply does what he is told, and has a no-nonsense attitude on the ice, which leans me more towards a very reliable third-line winger, with penalty kill minutes.

 

Stats via eliteprospects

Featured Image Photo Credit: Nikos Michals

Memorial Cup Preview and Predictions

This is it…

After nine months of grueling work, four teams remain in the 2018-19 CHL season. In Halifax, the Mooseheads will host the three champions from the QMJHL, OHL, and WHL as the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, Guelph Storm, and Prince Albert Raiders look to capture junior hockey glory. The tournament will see teams with vastly different styles clash, and teams who never have met will become instant rivals. Big names are given the opportunity to cement their legacy before they move up to the professional ranks, while unknowns have the chance to become legendary. With a lot of stories coming into this tournament, the 101st Memorial Cup is setting up to be quite entertaining.

Halifax at Home

This will be only the second time the Mooseheads will host the Memorial Cup. The first tournament they hosted was back in 2000, where the Mooseheads lost in the semifinals to the controversial “Brampton Boys”-led Barrie Colts. This year’s team looks to do one better, and repeat the success the team Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin led to the 2013 Memorial Cup title. Playing at Scotiabank Centre, the Mooseheads have clear home-ice advantage, and there is substance to back that up. Halifax went 25-5-4 at home during the regular season, and finished 8-3-1 on home ice during the QMJHL Playoffs. Despite not winning the President’s Cup, the Mooseheads have a great opportunity to redeem themselves in the Memorial Cup.

Raiders in Unfamiliar Territory

It was one of the most incredible seasons in the CHL. While the Prince Albert Raiders have been a competitive team for the majority of their history in the WHL, it has been a long time since they have been a contender for a championship. The last time the Raiders won the WHL Championship was back in 1985, the same year they went on to win the Memorial Cup. The Raiders had not even made it to the Ed Chynoweth Cup Finals since then, until this year. 

The Raiders started the season with an amazing 26-1 start through the beginning of December. While the Raiders cooled off by the end of the regular season, Prince Albert still finished as the best team in the WHL. With the play of Noah Gregor, Brett Leason, and goaltender Ian Scott, the Raiders were able to win their second WHL Championship. With none of the players on this roster having played at this stage of the season, you could expect some jitters early on from this team.

Huskies’ Second Chance

May 29th, 2016. Rouyn-Noranda met the London Knights in the Memorial Cup Final. The Huskies were less than five minutes away from their first ever Memorial Cup, but a goal from Christian Dvorak sent the game into overtime, where Matthew Tkachuk scored to give the London Knights their second Memorial Cup. Gilles Bouchard was behind the bench for that game, and Jacob Neveu, Peter Abbandonato, and Samuel Harvey were on that roster.

While the core of this year’s team has changed since that day three years ago, the few that remember the disappointment of losing in the championship game, look to change their fate this time around. The Huskies finished with the most points in the entire CHL, and have shown why throughout the playoffs. With arguably one of the best goaltenders coming into the tournament with Samuel Harvey, and a solid offence led by Joel Teasdale, Noah Dobson, and Abbandonato, Rouyn-Noranda has a good chance to get back to the Memorial Cup Final.

Cinderella Storm

The Guelph Storm were not picked by many to win the J. Ross Robertson Cup, even when they made it to the OHL Finals. Despite having the talents of Nick Suzuki, Isaac Ratcliffe, and Sean Durzi, the Storm were in tough throughout the postseason. In round two, Guelph trailed the top-seed in the West, the London Knights, 3-0. Yet, the Storm were resilient, and somehow reeled off four straight to move on to the Western Conference Finals. Going up against the third-best team in the OHL, the Saginaw Spirit, the Storm found themselves down 3-1 in the series. Once against Guelph rallied and came from behind to win the series in seven. They then trailed the best team in entire league 2-0, but came back and won the OHL Championship by winning four straight against the Ottawa 67’s, a team that had not lost all postseason.

The biggest question is can they take the “comeback kids” mentality in this tournament? They cannot allow themselves to trail, because of the round-robin format. They have three games to prove themselves. If they fall behind at all in the Memorial Cup, the clock might strike midnight on the Storm. 

Round-Robin

With the round-robin portion of the tournament only lasting five days, the schedule is important in deciding how this tournament how could pan out. The opening night on Friday sees Halifax kick things off against Prince Albert, a game that the Mooseheads have the advantage given that it is their home barn and the Raiders will not take well to the loud Halifax crowd. 

The next game will have Rouyn-Noranda play Guelph, which there could easily be 10 goals scored between the two teams. However, for the Storm, they will have to come back the next night against the rested Moosheads. That could spell trouble for Guelph following what could be a long game against the Huskies.

The Raiders will take on the Huskies on the following game. That one will be a treat as the world will get to see two of the best goaltenders in the CHL, as Scott and Harvey go head-to-head. Huskies may have a deeper offencive attack than the Raiders, but don’t think that Scott could easily steal the show that night. 

Guelph will meet a tired Prince Albert team the next night, with Halifax closing out the round-robin with a President’s Cup rematch against Rouyn-Noranda.

My Picks

The teams that may have the easiest time in their three games are the Huskies and Mooseheads, as neither have to play on back-to-back nights. That said, both will lose at least one game, as Rouyn-Noranda will beat Halifax in the final game of the round-robin, sending the Huskies directly to the final.

This would force a tiebreaker between Guelph and Prince Albert. The Storm may have played outstanding over the last month or so, but the Raiders will come away to move onto a semifinal meeting with the Mooseheads.

Halifax will come out strong, looking to take advantage of the tired Raiders. Prince Albert will give a valiant effort, but the Mooseheads will come away with the victory, and force a rematch, once again, against the Huskies.

With a day off in between the semifinal and championship game, there will be no excuse of fatigue for Halifax. It will be another tight battle as it was in the President’s Cup Finals, and just like that series, the Huskies will come away with the win, and earn the franchise’s first Memorial Cup.

All statistics and records are from the CHL, QMJHL, OHL, WHL, and Elite Prospects

Memorial Cup Team Preview: Prince Albert Raiders

As good as they were…

in the regular season, the Prince Albert Raiders were tested in the WHL Playoffs. After an easy series with Moose Jaw, the Raiders ran into some very tough competition down the stretch. After Kirby Dach and Saskatoon gave Prince Albert their first taste of adversity, Prince Albert followed that up with a tough six game series against Edmonton in the conference finals. Then, in the Ed Chynoweth Cup Finals, they met with the second-best team in the WHL, the Vancouver Giants. The Giants gave the Raiders everything they had, forcing the series to go the distance after being down 3-1. In overtime in game seven, Noah Gregor found Dante Hannoun to score the game-winning goal, giving Prince Albert their first Ed Chynoweth Cup since 1985. That was the last and only time the Raiders ever won the championship and made it to the Memorial Cup, where they beat the Shawinigan Cataractes to win the tournament. This year’s team has shown that they deserve to be here at this point of the season, let’s see why.

Four-Headed Beast Leads the Offence

Scoring has not been an issue all season for the Raiders, even more so in the playoffs. Four of the top five playoff scorers came from the Prince Albert lineup, led by Brett Leason. The Calgary native had a hot start to the regular season, but cooled off following the World Juniors Tournament. Leason found his touch again in the playoffs, and ended up leading the Raiders in playoff scoring with 25 points. He had nine points in both the second round and the finals, and had three games where he tallied three points or more. Leason looks to enter this summer’s draft, and his performance this season has certainly given him the right to get a call from a GM in the NHL.

At points where Leason faded during the season, Noah Gregor stepped up for the Raiders. After finishing right behind Leason for second in team scoring, Gregor had an incredible postseason. The San Jose prospect scored well above a point-per-game average, scoring 24 points in the playoffs, and had a big series in the finals, especially when it mattered most. In game seven, Gregor potted two goals in regulation, before assisting on the game-winner in overtime. The Beaumont, AB native has shown veteran leadership all season long, and looks to make his last shot at junior hockey glory count.

The player Gregor set up for that championship-clinching goal, Dante Hannoun, was another over-aged centre that played a big role for the Raiders. Ever since being picked up from Victoria at the trade deadline, Hannoun has meshed well with the Prince Albert roster, and was looked upon to score big goals in their postseason run. The Delta, BC native scored 14 goals in the playoffs, which was most in the playoffs, and his 24 points tied him with Gregor for third among WHLers. 

While the over-agers were playing some of their best playoff hockey of their careers, one rookie made quite the first impression in his first postseason in the WHL. Aliaksei Protas showed that he was ready for the big stage throughout Prince Albert’s run. The Belorussian only scored 40 points during the season, but in the playoffs Protas shined scoring 22 points for the Raiders. 15 of those points came in the final two series, including seven points in the seven-game final. Protas has shown throughout the playoffs that, despite this being his first time around the block, he is fully capable of playing a big role on such a veteran-laden roster. 

Ian Scott is Looking Good as Usual

A team can score as many goals as they want, but if they do not have someone watching their back, making sure the other team does not, then it would be all for naught. Thankfully for Prince Albert, they do not have that issue in the slightest with Ian Scott between the pipes. The Toronto prospect has been the best goaltender from day one in the WHL, and earned the Del Wilson Memorial Trophy for WHL Goaltender of the Year. In the playoffs, Scott really shined. He led all WHL goaltenders with a 1.96 GAA and .925 SV%, including five shutouts. The Calgary native had to be big when the Raiders were tested the latter stages of the playoffs, especially when it mattered most. Scott held off a stellar Vancouver attack in the finals, garnering two shutouts. Even though Scott’s overall numbers slowed down after the Raiders incredible start to the season, his calm demeanor and consistent play has back-boned this Prince Albert team. Going up against some of the best teams they have faced all season, the Raiders are going to need Scott to be at his best in the Memorial Cup.

All statistics and records are from the WHL and Elite Prospects.

WHL Playoffs: Ed Chynoweth Cup Finals Preview

The Finals are here…

Two teams who have battled to this point are four wins away from the Memorial Cup. One team has had a relatively easy ride to this point, while the other was expected to coast through the playoffs, but have had some bumps in the road along the way. Let’s analyze these two clubs and how they will matchup up.

Prince Albert Raiders

The Raiders, at one point, were on pace to produce the greatest season in CHL history. However, they slipped up down the stretch, but still finished with the best record in the WHL. After an easy series against Moose Jaw in round one, Prince Albert met a tough Saskatoon team in round two. Despite losing back-to-back games to the Blades, the Raiders were able to settle down and win the final two to meet with a rested Edmonton team in the Eastern Conference Finals. After Dylan Myskiw and Ian Scott went save for save in game one, the Raiders squeaked out with a 1-0 victory. In game two, the Oil Kings stunned the Raiders with an OT win, then won game three, and Prince Albert faced adversity for the first time this postseason. Yet, the talented Raider lineup was able to outlast the Central Division champs, and won three straight to win the series in six to make it to their second ever Finals, and first since they won the WHL Championship and Memorial Cup in 1985.

Depth scoring was important in the latter half of the series for the Raiders. With Noah Gregor and Brett Leason only scoring four points each in the series, others in the lineup needed to step up. A big piece to the wins in games five and six was rookie Aliaksei Protas. The Belorussian centre only had eight points coming in the series, and was held off the score-sheet for the first four games of the series. However, in the final two games of the series, Protas scored a hat trick in both games. Not too shabby for a player who only scored 11 goals during the regular season. Ian Scott’s play in this series cannot be overstated. The Raiders were outshot in four of the six games of the series, with Scott only giving up seven goals, including shutouts in game one and game five.

Vancouver Giants

The best team in the Western Conference during the regular season are the best team coming out of the West in the playoffs. After having issues getting passed Seattle in round one, the Giants made quick work of Victoria in round two before meeting with a hot Spokane Chiefs team in the conference finals. After winning the first two games at the Langley Events Centre, the two teams traded overtime wins in Spokane, before the Giants finished off the Chiefs at home in game five. This will mark the third appearance to the Finals in franchise history, and first since 2007. 

Bowen Byram was at it again for the Giants. One of the top prospects at this summer’s draft scored three goals and two assists in the series against Spokane, and now leads in playoff scoring with 18 points. Dawson Holt stepped up in the conference finals. After only scoring 19 points in the regular season, and seven in the first two rounds, the Saskatoon native scored five points against the Chiefs. This includes Holt scoring a goal and an assist in both game one and game two.

Finally, the Giants went with one goalie in this series. After Trent Miner and David Tendeck split time in the first two rounds, Tendeck was given the number one tag against Spokane, and did not disappoint. The Arizona prospect allowed no more than three goals in any of the five games, and made at least 24 saves in four of the five games in the series, including a 35 save performance in the game three overtime loss, finishing the series with a .935 SV%. 

Preview

Not to sound cliché, but this where we truly see who is the best in the WHL. Both teams have earned their right to be here, and both have experienced some struggles in their postseason, the Raiders arguably more than the Giants. Looking at the goaltending, while Tendeck is the clear no. 1 for Vancouver, it is hard to compare him to Scott, as the Prince Albert netminder was the difference maker for the Raiders against the Oil Kings. You can argue Tendeck was exceptional in net,  but the team in front of him looked far more superior than the Raiders looked in front of Scott. With that said, the Raiders top guns are going to have to step up. Leason and Gregor are going to play big minutes, while players such as Dante Hannoun and Sean Montgomery are going to have find the success they had in the first two rounds. The lone meeting in the regular season saw the Giants win at home over the Raiders, but that was back on January 24th. 

My Pick

This may be the tightest series of all the playoffs. However, Scott is on a roll, and that will halt Vancouver’s offencive onslaught, Raiders in seven.

All statistics and records are from the WHL and Elite Prospects.

WHL Playoffs: Conference Finals Preview

It certainly was an interesting second round of the WHL Playoffs. While most of the favourites saw their way into the semifinals, there was one series shocked many, including folks from both fan-bases. Four teams remain, all of which are playing at the top of their game. It is now time to see who can continue their postseason run, and make it to the Ed Chynoweth Cup Finals.

Eastern Conference

(E1) Prince Albert Raiders vs. (C1) Edmonton Oil Kings

After defeating provincial-rival Calgary in four games, the Oil Kings arrive to their first conference final since the team’s incredible 2014 season where they won their first Memorial Cup since the original incarnation of the Oil Kings in 1966. With the exception of game four against Calgary, Edmonton had to earn the first three wins of the series, including overtime wins in games one and three. Jake Neighbours scored the game winner in game one, which was the second goal of the game for the Airdrie, Alberta native. He added another goal and two assists in the other three games, leading the Oil Kings in the second round with five points. Dylan Myskiw had a bounce back series in net, only giving up four goals in the first three games of the series, before picking up a shootout in the game four clinching victory.

The Raiders had a little more work to do in round two compared to their first round series against Red Deer. With Kirby Dach leading the way, Saskatoon exposed some weaknesses in Prince Albert that had been rarely seen this year. After the Raiders won games one and two, the Blades turned around and won both games at home. Prince Albert was able to stop Saskatoon’s momentum with two dominating wins to end the series in six. Dante Hannoun had an incredible series for the Raiders. He scored 10 points in the series, including a hat trick in game six, and is now tied with Vancouver’s Davis Koch for the lead in playoff scoring. Brett Leason seemed to have returned to the form that was seen early in the regular season, with nine points in the series, eight of which being assists.

If the Oil Kings want to make it to the finals, Trey Fix-Wolansky is going to have step up, especially since he only mustered up a single assist against the Hitmen. It will be extremely tough going up against a defence in Prince Albert that only allowed 13 goals in the six games, with the help of WHL Goaltender of the Year Ian Scott. Edmonton’s Wyatt McLeod, Conner McDonald and co. need to be on top of their game to slow down a Raider offence that came alive in the beginning and end of their second round series. Prince Albert handled Edmonton during the regular season, winning three of the four meetings. 

My Pick

The Oil Kings have not been tested by a team like Prince Albert yet in these playoffs, and while the Raiders showed they are mortal against Saskatoon, Edmonton does not have the firepower to keep up with the best team in the regular season. Raiders in five.

Western Conference

(BC1) Vancouver Giants vs. (US2) Spokane Chiefs

The Chiefs pulled off one of the biggest upsets in these playoffs. Despite finishing 12 points behind the division-leading Everett Silvertips in the regular season, Spokane took care of the ‘Tips in five games in very convincing fashion. Only one of the Chiefs’ wins in the series was a one-goal game. This is the first time Spokane has made it to the conference finals since 2011, and are looking for their first trip to the finals since 2008, the year the Chiefs won the Chynoweth Cup and the franchise’s second Memorial Cup. Ty Smith had a much more offencive second round. After only three points against Portland in round one, the New Jersey draft pick picked up five assists against Everett, including a pair in game five. Going up against Dustin Wolf, Bailey Brkin was the lesser of the two, on paper. However, the Sherwood Park, Alberta outplayed Wolf in the series, stopping 135 of 144 shots in the series, with a 1.81 GAA in the series.

The Giants come in to their first conference final since 2010 after waltzing passed Victoria in a four-game sweep. After Trent Miner stepped up with a shutout in game one, the Giants pulled off back-to-back overtime wins, before finishing the job in game five with a 6-1 victory. Miner and David Tendeck split the series once again. Miner’s shutout was overshadowed by a rough game four where he allowed four goals on 20 shots. Tendeck only allowed two goals on 28 shots in his two wins. Jared Dmytriw stepped up for the Giants’ offence in round two, with a team-leading six points in the series, including a goal and two assists in game four. 

This series is going to come down to the goaltenders. If Brkin can play like he did against Everett, that will take a load off of the Chiefs’ offence, which was fairly spread out in the series. There is no reason Michael Dyck should fray away from splitting Tendeck and Miner in this series, as both looked good in net in an albeit short sample size against Victoria. The Giants won both games in Vancouver during the regular season, while the teams split the two meetings at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena. Offencively, the Giants have the advantage coming into the series, meaning the Chiefs’ Riley Woods and Jaret Anderson-Dolan are going to have to up their game from round two if Spokane wants to hold their own against the Giants.

My Pick

The Chiefs are hot, and with both teams rested, it will be a long series. That said, Vancouver in seven.

All statistics and records from the WHL and Elite Prospects.