Bold predictions for the 2012-2013 season
Alex Delnov is one of the important new faces in Seattle (photo courtesy whl.ca)
By Tim Pigulski and Andrew Eide
Summer is finally coming to an end and the hockey season is upon us. The Seattle Thunderbirds head down I5 to take on the Portland Winterhawks for the first game of a home and home tonight to get the season started.
Right now every team in the WHL is in the hunt. Everybody is in first place, well except for Kootenay who lost to Edmonton last night, but you get the idea. Every season brings many questions and we are here to give you answers to those questions.
Here are Tim and Andrew’s bold (foolish?) predictions for both the Thunderbirds season as well as the WHL in general. What did we get wrong? Let us know in the comments.
Thunderbirds Season Predictions
Where do the Thunderbirds finish in the standings?
Andrew: I think Seattle will be much improved this year and can push Spokane or Tri-City for third place in the U.S. Division. They will have their hands full getting there but I believe that they will be the race for third right up to the end and either way will end up in the playoffs.
Tim: I firmly believe that this is the year the T-Birds are able to break their drought and will make the playoffs. Head Coach Steve Konowalchuk should now have had time to establish his system, and with weak teams in Everett, Prince George, and Victoria, the T-Birds should be able to squeeze in to the 7th or 8th spot in the Conference, 6th if things go really well.
Who will be the team’s top scorer?
Andrew: There are many candidates for this as I think their offense will be vastly improved but I’m going to say Branden Troock ends up leading them in scoring. He’s fully healthy and has played with a ton of confidence this preseason.
Tim: If he can stay healthy, Branden Troock should lead the team in scoring. He’s a very talented power forward who has had to overcome some adversity in the past. Hopefully he can stay in the lineup this season and show why he is a legitimate NHL prospect. If he does stay healthy, I could see him putting up 60+ points.
Who was this offseason’s most important acquisition?
Andrew: Again, there are plenty of candidates here as I feel GM Russ Farwell had a good summer upgrading the roster. One of the last moves he made will end up being the biggest and that’s bringing in Jesse Forsberg from Prince George. Seattle’s defense is young and Forsberg’s leadership and experience will help stabilize their group.
Tim: As the goalie, Brandon Glover is an obvious choice. However, if I had to choose someone different, I’d pick Alexander Delnov, the T-Birds’ first round choice in last June’s CHL Import Draft. He’ll need some time to adjust, but Seattle will need to hope that happens as quickly as possible. He’s got good size, a good shot, and is a solid skater. The team will have to hope he has at least a Marcel Noebels-like impact, if not even better.
Who will be the team’s biggest surprise?
Andrew: I’m not going to pick any one player for this but am going to say that people will be surprised with how much better and consistent the T-Birds are on offense. With Connor Honey and Seth Swenson here for a full year, with the additions of Roberts Lipsbergs and Alex Delnov the Thunderbirds have more offensive talent up and down the lineup.
Tim: I questioned the move to acquire him at first, but Riley Sheen has had an impressive training camp. He’s extremely skilled when handling the puck, and with more playing time in Seattle this season, he should be able to flourish. He’ll also be a specialist in the shootout, where Seattle could pick up a few extra much-needed points.
Which one player needs to step up for the team do well?
Andrew: With how young the defense is Seattle will need their best defenseman, Shea Theodore, to step up and have a big year. He has received a lot of well deserved attention this off season and there will be a lot of eyes on him, he will need to play consistently in both ends for Seattle.
Tim: Everyone is going to need to play to their potential, but if I had to select one player, I’d say Branden Troock. He’s got loads of potential and had a strong preseason. For this team to do well, he needs to show why the Dallas Stars drafted him.
WHL Season Predictions
Which individual will lead the WHL in scoring?
Andrew: If it is not Ty Rattie I will buy a Portland Winterhawks hat and eat it. There are other candidates (shameless plug) but Rattie had a huge year last year and plays on a team loaded with offensive talent. He could run away with it.
Tim: Ty Rattie in Portland is set to have another strong season. Despite who the Winterhawks lost this offseason, they continue to reload and will be strong up front again. Last season he put up 121 points in 69 games and was the league’s 3rd leading scorer. The two players in front of him have both moved on.
Which WHL player will be the first drafted in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft?
Andrew: Without a doubt it will be Portland’s Seth Jones. He’s already being talked about as a possibility to be the top selection next June and the reviews from the preseason have not done anything to make anyone think different.
Tim: There are a few great options here. Seth Jones (Portland), Hunter Shinkaruk (Medicine Hat), and Curtis Lazar (Edmonton) all come to mind as very high picks in next year’s draft. If I had to pick one, it would probably be Seth Jones, whose exceptional talent will only be magnified playing on a deep Winterhawks team. If Lazar has a big season in Edmonton, I could also see him going very high in the draft.
Who will be the top teams in the Eastern and Western Conferences?
Andrew: In the West I think it’s Portland and then everybody else, although the Kamloops Blazers are back and will have a really good team. Do they have enough to get past Portland? No. In the East Edmonton is stacked again and seems to be heads above everyone else.
Tim: In the West, Portland is going to be great again. Tri-City lost their top two scorers in Brendan Shinnimin and Adam Hughesman, and Portland added a top-of-the-line defender in Seth Jones. They’ll have some significant offense to replace after losing Sven Bärtschi, Brad Ross, and Marcel Noebels, but newcomer Oliver Bjorkstrand looks to be the real deal.
In the East, Edmonton was dominant last season and is poised for another great year. They lost a few impact players, but still maintain a solid core led by Michael St. Croix, Curtis Lazar, Dylan Wruck, Griffin Reinhart, and Keegan Lowe, as well as arguably the top goalie in the WHL in Laurent Brossoit.
What kind of impact will Seth Jones have in Portland?
Andrew: Jones will be good for Portland no doubt, but will he have a huge impact on them? They already have guys like Derrick Pouliout and Troy Rutkowski on the blue line so Jones will just make them that much deeper and tougher to beat. He won’t be the best player on their roster though.
Tim: Jones will more than likely find himself a top 3 pick in next year’s NHL draft, and his play this year in Portland will show why. He contributes in every facet of the game and has already been compared to the Philadelphia Flyers’ Chris Pronger. He’d be a top line D-man on just about any NHL team (except maybe Portland, who has an incredibly deep defensive corps) and could help lead Portland to a WHL title.
Who takes home the Ed Chynoweth Cup as the winner of the WHL?
Andrew: I would love to go on a limb and make a bold prediction but I just don’t see any way the WHL Finals are not a repeat of last year’s thrilling Portland-Edmonton seven game masterpiece. With two rosters loaded with skaters it may come down to goal tending and Portland is a little green there. Nobody has repeated in the WHL since Kamloops did it in the ’90’s so I’m going to bank on that and say Portland gets it done this year and beats Edmonton.
Tim: Based on my answers above, I think it comes down to either Edmonton or Portland. The Winterhawks will lose some notable talent up front but their defense will remain elite. However, I believe this question may come down to whether or not Mac Carruth returns as goalie. If he doesn’t, Portland will have some questions to answer in net.
Edmonton maintains a great offense, defense, and goaltending. Because of their depth and strength across the board, I believe the Oil Kings will repeat as the WHL’s top team.
follow Tim on twitter @tpigulski and Andrew @andyeide