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.

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.

New Jersey Devils

31 in 31: Top Ten Prospects Vol. 18 – New Jersey Devils

Welcome back to my 31 in 31 prospect series.

Last time, we took a look at the Nashville Predators’ farm system, seeking out a group that was highlighted by Eeli Tolvanen, Dante Fabbro, and Frederic Allard. Today, we’re going to be kicking off a minor tour of the New York-area teams, beginning with the New Jersey Devils. Without further ado, let’s dive into their farm system and check out who they have going for them.

1. Ty Smith (D, 1st Round, 17th Overall in 2018)

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If you enter a team’s farm system and instantly become their best prospect, then you’ve got something good going for you. This logic usually applies to top draft prospects, but seeing that Smith was 17th overall and jumped to the top of the list shows that he’s expected to be a gem. He’s currently playing for the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL. He’s currently in his first year as team captain and has 39 points in 28 games.

2. Michael McLeod (C, 1st Round, 16th Overall in 2016)

After a very successful-post draft season, McLeod cooled down in his final OHL seasons, raising questions about his potential in the organization. However, the smooth-skating Toronto native has cleaned up his game and found himself getting off to a good start in his first full season in the pros. He currently has 15 points in 28 games with the Binghamton Devils of the AHL.

3. Jesper Boqvist (C, 2nd Round, 36th Overall in 2017)

After putting up impressive stats in all of Sweden’s major hockey leagues, Boqvist earned himself a second round selection in 2017. He’s off to a very good start with Brynas IF of the SHL, having put up 19 points in 25 games so far. If he continues to score at this pace, he could very well end up in North America for next season.

4. John Quenneville (LW, 1st Round, 30th Overall in 2014)

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Quenneville is off to a great start in his third full pro season. He currently has 19 points in 19 games so far, and has actually been able to produce pretty consistently every year since joining the pros, but hasn’t remained in the NHL for more than 12 games a season. He’s played eight NHL games this year and hasn’t recorded any points, but he’s looking to make his NHL role a permanent one this year.

5. Mackenzie Blackwood (G, 2nd Round, 42nd Overall in 2015)

In a draft class where there were multiple goaltending options to choose from, the Devils grabbed one of the best ones in the second round. Blackwood didn’t get off to an overly hot start in his first two pro seasons, but has found his game this season with the Binghamton Devils and has put together a record of 6-7-0 with a goals against average of 2.69 and a save percentage of .911. With the uncertainty between the pipes in the NHL, Blackwood will look to ideally become their starting goalie in the future.

6. Joey Anderson (RW, 3rd Round, 73rd Overall in 2016)

After turning heads over two seasons at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, Anderson made the switch to the pros for this season and has split time between the AHL and NHL. He has five points in eight AHL games and two points in 11 NHL games. The Minnesota native will look to find himself a concrete roster spot in the big leagues this season.

7. Reilly Walsh (D, 3rd Round, 81st Overall in 2017)

Walsh is in his second season with Harvard University and has done nothing but impress so far, putting up a total of 12 points through 11 games so far. The Massachusetts native has had his heart set on pursuing an education and making a living through hockey since day one, and the possibility will grow as he keeps improving his game.

8. Jeremy Davies (D, 7th Round, 192nd Overall in 2016)

Davies has consistently been lighting up the NCAA ever since he joined Northeastern University. He is currently in his third season with the school and has mustered 15 points in 13 games, on pace for his best offensive season so far. If he keeps it up, it’s hard to believe the Quebec native won’t find himself in the pros for next season.

9. Aarne Talvitie (C, 6th Round, 160th Overall in 2017)

While most Finnish prospects pursue the majority of their development in their homeland, Talvitie is playing college hockey in the states this season. He’s currently playing for Penn State University where he’s put up 16 points in 17 games thus far. He will also be looking to represent Team Finland at the World Juniors this season.

10. Xavier Bernard (D, 4th Round, 110th Overall in 2018)

As much as the game is developing each year as skill has become more of a priority than size, Bernard will always have his size and his position on his size. The 6’3 left handed d-man is currently playing for the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the QMJHL and has put up 16 points in 32 games so far.

Thanks for reading! Tune in next time where we’ll continue the NY tour and check out the New York Islanders farm system.

stats from eliteprospects.com

featured image photo credit – Nikos Michals