The Western Conference is starting to take shape as teams begin to pull away with consistent performances and wins. Going into the season, one could have expected strong teams from Edmonton, Everett, and most likely Prince Albert once again and that is exactly what is happening. The Memorial Cup hosts Kelowna bolstered their lineup at this year’s draft and they are beginning to figure it out.
The two teams I was personally watching were those based upon high drafted prospects and wondering if they would get their star back. As of now, Kirby Dach is a Chicago Blackhawk and Saskatoon, while being solid, hasn’t been the dominant powerhouse they could have been. They currently sit at 9-7-1-1. Lethbridge got back both Dylan Cozens and Calen Addison and they have been stomping all over the league. They currently sit at 11-4-0-3 but are 8-0-0-2 in their last ten.
I’d say the biggest let down so far has been Vancouver so far. They got back Milos Roman (CGY) and have a bunch of top notch draft eligibles. Bowen Byram (COL) and Alex Kannok Leipert (WSH) are also controlling the back end. They currently sit at 9-8-0-1. They just made a one-for-one import trade which should help their second line so maybe it will kick start something. Bowen Byram has not been as assertive in the offensive end so far so maybe that changes too.
Can we talk about some of the drafted prospects so far? Here’s a list of a few I’ve chosen to highlight from past drafts. Here are the NOVEMBER stats specifically.
Protas has gotten off to a very hot start despite not putting up gaudy shot totals as other forwards. He is lucky enough to play with some beautiful transition dmen and some playmaking wingers which allow his power game to thrive in scoring areas. He currently sits atop the scoring lead in the WHL with 28 points in 17 games. For a power forward winger who looked real decent in training camp for the Capitols, he will be one to keep an eye on. His skating still isn’t great and he doesn’t cause a lot of turnovers on the forecheck, but at this level, his size and puck skills translate. He has a good shot. You could consider picking him up in deep fantasy leagues if it seems right.
Adam Beckman has been the driving force for Spokane since returning. Personally, he was the most curious prospect for me since his skills were so adaptable to many different styles of play. He has top notch skating, a fantastic quick release shot, and fast hands to be a high caliber playmaking in a good system. Think Matthew Tkachuk type of team play. He might be the steal from the WHL, especially playing for a Minn Wild team.
Nolan Foote and Dillon Hamaliuk are a tale of two roads this season for Kelowna. Last I checked, the team was still trying to find which line combinations worked for the team. Nolan is finding the net fairly consistently while Dillon has struggled to put points on the board; going pointless in his last seven games (in a stretch from Oct12 – Nov1)
One of the more puzzling draft selections from 2019 was Johnny Ludvig of Portland. The Florida Panthers grabbed him in the third round and he’s sprung to absolute life. His skating was always a plus and while he is a big, strong defender it didn’t necessarily translate to high offensive production. Well… welcome to the party, Johnny. He is fun to watch and while he still has a lot of work to do, he is putting himself in scoring positions quite regularly.
One to watch
In the early evaluations for the 2020 NHL draft, there are tons of names who have jumped out to an incredible offensive production to begin the year. While the WHL does not have as many potential superstars as they did in 2019 (Krebs, Cozens, Dach, Byram, etc), the depth of intriguing prospects exists.
This month I want to highlight Lukas Svejkovsky (number 20) of the Vancouver Giants.
I watched him play against the Moose Jaw Warriors and the Regina Pats back to back on a Saskatchewan swing. His shot totals were extreme and I got a glimpse at what kind of player he can become.
He’s a late November birthday so he will be one of the older players drafted in 2020. His best assets are his hockey sense and his skating ability. When he is playing centre, it allows him to roam around and be a secondary force on the forecheck by applying all sorts of pressure and pouncing on loose pucks. I couldn’t believe how many plays he kept alive or how many opportunities he created for others in such a small period of time. He is the second line centre for Vancouver and they will need more production out of him moving forward if Vancouver wants to become a powerhouse and he absolutely has it in him. He has high level patience and puck skills. Here’s a taste of the lesser known prospect. See what you think.
Anyways, enjoy and see you down the road.
Joel Henderson – covering the WHL and the Calgary Flames. @dathockeydoe