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.

Los Angeles Kings

31 in 31: Top Ten Prospect Series Vol. 14 – Los Angeles Kings

Welcome back to my 31 in 31 top ten prospects series.

Last time, we took a look at the Florida Panthers’ farm system and the youth looking to eventually represent them, with their pool highlighted by Henrik Borgstrom, Owen Tippett, and Aleksi Heponiemi. Today, we’re going to take a look at the prospect system of the once-dominant Los Angeles Kings and the slowly rising prospect system they’ve got going. With that said, let’s dive into it.

1. Rasmus Kupari (C, 1st Round, 20th Overall in 2018)

Kupari was initially a projected top 10 pick in 2018 but slid down to 20th come draft time. Needless to say, the Los Angeles Kings were more than happy to pick up their now-top prospect in that slot. The 6’1 Finnish native is currently playing with Karpat of the SM-Liiga and currently has 23 points in 20 games. As an 18 year old playing against men, these are spectacular totals. Seeing how much the Kings are struggling with offense this year, it wouldn’t be a surprise at all to see Kupari in the NHL next season.

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2. Gabriel Vilardi (C, 1st Round, 11th Overall in 2017)

The Los Angeles Kings made a pair of pretty solid first round picks in back to back seasons with Vilardi and then Kupari. The 6’3 Kingston native was held out of the beginning of this season with an injury and has now played four games with the Ontario Reign of the AHL, putting up one point. He is going to represent Team Canada at the World Juniors this season and will look to continue his development in the AHL.

3. Kale Clague (D, 2nd Round, 51st Overall in 2016)

After terrorizing the WHL last season with a combined 71 points in 54 games between the Brandon Wheat Kings and the Moose Jaw Warriors, Clague earned third place on my top ten list for the Los Angeles Kings. He’s currently in his first AHL season and so far has nine points in 21 games for the Ontario Reign.

4. Jaret Anderson-Dolan (C, 2nd Round, 41st Overall in 2017)

Anderson-Dolan tore up the WHL with the Spokane Chiefs last year, putting up 91 points in 70 games. His play was good enough to give him a spot with the Los Angeles Kings to start the season, but he was sent back to the WHL after five games. He’s unfortunately been injured for a lot of the season, having only played two WHL games, but he’s looking to represent Team Canada at the World Juniors.

5. Akil Thomas (C, 2nd Round, 51st Overall in 2018)

After being forever known as a team made up of players with good size and physicality, the Kings seem to be trying something new based on their recent draft picks such as Kupari, Anderson-Dolan, and now Thomas. The Toronto native is a part of the incredibly stacked Niagara IceDogs this season and has been one of their top producers with 39 points in 26 games so far.

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6. Daniel Brickley (D, Undrafted, Signed in 2018)

After an amazing senior season with Minnesota State University of the NCAA where he recorded 35 points in 40 games, the Salt Lake City native was inked to an entry level deal with the Kings and has spent his first season with the organization developing with the Ontario Reign, where he has five points in 21 games. He’s the younger brother of AHL journeyman Connor Brickley.

7. Mikey Eyssimont (C, 5th Round, 142nd Overall in 2016)

Mikey Eyssimont spent the last three seasons playing for St. Cloud University of the NCAA and after a successful final season that saw him put up 39 points in 39 games, he made the transition to the AHL where he’s currently playing in his first season with the Kings. He has nine points in 21 games thus far.

8. Mikey Anderson (D, 4th Round, 103rd Overall in 2017)

Even if this entire list turns out to be busts, the Kings will be able to say that they’re the only organization with two top prospects who go by Mikey. So that’s pretty cool. In all seriousness though, the Kings drafted Anderson in the fourth round in 2017 and he’s currently playing for the University of Minnesota-Duluth where he has seven points in 16 games. He’s likely going to be representing the United States at the World Juniors this year too.

9. Alexander Dergachyov (C, 3rd Round, 74th Overall in 2015)

Dergachyov is an absolute monster on skates and he’s the type of prospect who will be playing out the majority of his development in his native Russia. He’s currently playing for SKA St. Petersburg and has six points in 19 games thus far.

10. Brad Morrison (C, 4th Round, 113th Overall in 2015)

Morrison wasn’t looking like too sharp of a prospect seeing his totals in his final WHL season, but he’s been producing at a solid rate for the Ontario Reign this season with 11 points in his first 19 games. If he keeps producing he could end up being a solid depth centre for the Kings.

Thanks for reading! Tune in next time where we’ll go over the Minnesota Wild’s top ten prospects.

stats from eliteprospects.com

featured image photo credit – Nikos Michals