WHL Wrap Up Report Part 1 – May 2021
Welcome back to the second instalment of the 2021 WHL report! If you missed our April edition you can find it Here. With the season now wrapped up we will be taking a look at how each team faired in the new divisions and pinpoint some positives and negatives for each individual squad. In part 1 we will breakdown the U.S. and B.C. divisions. In case you were wondering, no there are no playoffs this year.
A special congratulations goes out out to WHL players, Thomas Milic (G, Seattle Thunderbirds), and Tyler Brennan (G, Prince George Cougars), Nolan Allan (D, Prince Albert Raiders), Denton Mateychuk (D, Moose Jaw Warriors), Olen Zellweger (D, Everett Silvertips), Logan Stankoven (F, Kamloops Blazers), Conner Roulette (F, Seattle Thunderbirds), Connor Bedard (F, Regina Pats), Dylan Guenther (F, Edmonton Oil Kings) and the rest of Team Canada on winning gold at the IIHF U18 World Championship.
Connor Bedard finished tied for second in the tournament with fellow Canadian, Shane Wright with 14 points. Yes Bedard is still 15 and yes we are still impressed.
Now back to the WHL, let’s take a look at how each team did within their divisions:
The U.S. division went as expected with Everett and Portland being the clear top two teams in this division. The Everett Silvertips won an impressive 19 out of 23 games with Cole Fonstad (formerly drafted by Montreal and not signed) and Gage Goncalves (TBL) leading the way with 34 points which was good for third in the league. Fonstad was also fifth in the league in goals with 16. On the backend, Olen Zellweger had an excellent campaign with 13 points in 11 games. He then proceeded to record eight points in seven games for Canada at the U18s. It should have happened sooner, but he is now a riser on everyone’s lists. Last but certainly not least, and tell me if you have heard this one before, Dustin Wolf (G, CGY, 2019) dominated with a 0.940 save percentage. The 20-year-old net minder is ready for the pro level after four seasons in the WHL, all of which had at least a 0.928 save percentage.
he aren’t what they once were but the Portland Winterhawks had a respectable season with 13 wins in 24 games. Leading the way for Portland was Jaydon Dureau (TBL, 31 points), Simon Knack (Undrafted 2020, 16 goals, 29 points) and Carolina’s 2020 first round pick, Seth Jarvis (15 goals, 27 points). Jarvis did see a steep decline from the 1.69 pts/gm that he recorded last season but with that being said he did also record an impressive seven goals and 11 points in nine AHL games this season. Simon Knak will likely get some looks as a late round option as he enters his second NHL draft but at the same time I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if he’s passed over again. Nick Cicek, who turns 21 later this month, was the leader on the backend with 21 points in 24 games. Jack O’Brien came into the season as a potential second round option but after recording just seven points in 23 games for the Lincoln Stars of the USHL, he then came back to Portland and had four assists in six games. Expect to see him fall from preseason rankings.
For the Seattle Thunderbirds, Henry Rybinksi (FLA) led the team with 28 points while Keltie Jeri-Leon tied for second in the league with 17 goals. Draft eligible forward Conner Roulette finished with six goals and 12 points in 11 games and had five points in seven games at the U18s. Goaltender Thomas Milic had a respectable 0.913 save percentage in nine games and was impressive in his two games at the U18s and he recorded a 0.975 save percentage. (D) Jeremy Hanzel had 8 points in 23 games and is likely to get some attention at the draft as a mid-late round option and Lucas Ciona could get some looks as well. 2004 born defender, Kevin Korchinski had 10 points in 23 games and might already be the best defenseman on the team. 2004 born forward Jordan Gustafson is also a player to watch for next season.
The team in the division with the biggest change in win percentage was without a doubt the Spokane Chiefs as they plummeted from a 0.680 in 2019-2020 to a 0.405 (6 wins in 21 games) this season. Adam Beckman once again led his team in points with 27 and a 1.29 PTS/G despite a steep drop off from the 1.70 he recorded last year. Beckman did finish the season second in the league in goals however with 17. Eli Zummack retained his role as the second best producer on the team but he too saw a drastic decrease in production from 1.34 PTS/G last season to 1.05 this year. The blame however cannot be put on these two players but rather on the lack of support and amount of players they were without for one reason or another this season. The team was without seven of their top 10 point producers from last season which includes their three top scoring defencemen. So in other words, a regression was inevitable.
Finishing last in the US Division without much surprise was the Tri-City Americans. Leading the way for the Americans once again was Sasha Mutala with 20 points in 19 games and then Samuel Huo with 19 in 18. The team lacks true offensive leaders and after these two forwards the supporting production is rather shallow. Jake Sloan (‘04) was a bright spot for the team as he recorded nine points in 18 games and looks like a player that can potentially fill a top six role next season. 2003 born and draft eligible defender Marc Lajoie will likely be tasked with being the team’s top defender next season based on how the roster is shaking out whether he is ready or not. 2020 top five pick Lukas Dragicevic played six games this season and better be ready for next season as it is looking like only Marc Lajoie is clearly ahead of him on the depth chart at this point. Unfortunately for Lajoie and Dragicevic next season will likely be a trial by fire type of situation.
The Kamloops Blazers dominated the division as they won 18 out of 22 games. Josh Pillar (undrafted in 2020) led his team with 29 points in 22 games while Flames’ 2020 first round pick, Connor Zary had 24 points in just 15 games. Draft eligible forward, Logan Stankoven came as expected as he recorded seven goals and 10 points in just six games. He is undersized and not the most dynamic skater but the talent cannot be denied and is expected to be selected somewhere in the back half of the first to the second round. Speaking of draft eligibles, 6-2 forward Caedan Bankier appears to still be flying under the radar on public rankings. This season he recorded an impressive 11 goals and 23 points in 22 games. Kamloops’ 2004 crop is strong to say the least with Fraser Minten (18 points in 20 games), Connor Levi’s (14 points in 22 games) and (D) Mats Lindgren (10 points in 22 games) leading the way. Dylan Garand was once again strong, matching his 0.921 save percentage from the year prior. It is safe to say that the Blazers will be strong again next season.
The Kelowna Rockets saw major improvement in their win percentage as they jumped from 0.508 up to 0.656. Draft Eligible forward, Trevor Wong led his team with 16 points in 16 games while Mark Liwiski had a team high nine goals. Wong had the talent to be a top 50 player for the 2021 draft but his consistency is a concern and looks like a boom/bust prospect. With that being said though, he didn’t have a ton of support on the Rockets and is tasked with being an offensive leader already. 2001 born defender, Jake Lee led the backend in scoring with 10 points. Nolan Flamand (‘22) and Andrew Cristall (‘23) look poised to make an impact for the team in the future.
The Vancouver Giants finished above .500 with 12 wins in 22 games which is respectable considering that they lost team leader Bowen Byram (COL) as well as Milos Roman (FA formerly CGY) and were without Cole Shepard (Undrafted). They were led by Justin Sourdif (FLA) who was third in the league with 34 points and Tristen Nielsen (FA, formerly CGY) whose 32 points was good for third in the league. If it feels like Nielsen has been in the WHL forever, it’s because he has. Six seasons is definitely impressive! Their top draft eligible player is Zack Ostapchuk who is a great skater for his 6-3 size and recorded 16 points in 22 games. Expect him to be drafted somewhere in rounds three to five. Leading the way on defence was Alex Kannok Leipert and his breakout season of 18 points in 22 games. His 18 points is very close to the numbers he has typically produced in a 60+ game season. 2005 born defender Mazden Leslie has turned some heads while recording five goals in 17 games.
The Prince George Cougars are clawing their way up, pun intended. From 20 wins in 62 games last year to nine in 22 this season, Prince George was a little bit under 0.500 and were more competitive from game to game. The result is surprising as their Leading scorer, 2021 draft eligible forward Craig Armstrong, had just 13 points in 21 games. I guess the team can thank netminder Taylor Gaithersburg for his 0.915 save percentage. The important thing for the Cougars though is the future and wow does it look bright. Late 2004 born forward and 2023 draft eligible, Koehn ziemmer led the team with nine goals in 22 games and had 12 points which was good for second on the team. Draft eligible defender, Ethan Samson also had 12 points while providing a steady defensive presence. He isn’t an offensive defender by any means but he definitely benefits from his team’s lack of defensive depth as he gets time in all situations. Aside from Ziemmer, a number of other rookies showed well this season and look poised to lead the team into the future. Defender Keaton Dowhaniuk (‘04) had eight points in 22 games and may already be the best defenceman on the team at least when it comes to generating offense. He has flown under the radar this year but watch out for him next season. Late 2003 born defenceman, Hudson Thornton only played six games for the team but he recorded three points and looks poised to make an impact next season. Forward Kyren Gronick (‘04) wa fourth on the team with 11 points in 17 games. Last but certainly not least, highly regarded 2005 born forward Riley Heidt. He may not have adjusted as quickly as Connor Bedard or Brayden Yager did to the WHL this season but the upside is undeniable and you should expect him to start turning heads next season. In net, highly regarded late 2003 born Tyler Brennen did not disappoint in his limited action as he recorded a 2.16 goals-against-average and 0.933 save-percentage in four games. The sample size is small but he was impressive nonetheless. Gauthier could theoretically return as an overage player next season but otherwise, Brennen will get a chance to prove himself as the team’s starter.
Finishing last in the division and in the league for that matter was the Victoria Royals. After winning 32 of 64 games last year, you could call winning three out of 22 this season a bit of a regression. To be blunt, the Royals season was bad and they don’t have a ton of promise for the near future either. The team’s top producer was Brayden Tracey (ANA) but he has been underwhelming since being acquired last season. The blame cannot solely be put on Tracey though as the team does lack any kind of depth or support but with that being said, I think they were hoping that he would produce more than 16 goals and 44 points in 46 games since being acquired. Tarun Fizer was once again steady with 20 points in 20 games and with Tracey as well as Brandon Cutler’s (the team’s 3rd leading producer with 16 points) WHL careers finished, he will be asked to be the leader next season. 2004 born rookie Brayden Schuurman had a respectable rookie season given the team that he is on and the lack of support with 11 points in 22 games. As of right now Fizer, Schuurman and Keanu Derungs (‘02) will be tasked with leading the forward group which is definitely a concern at this point. On the backend, no player really established them self as the leader. The team has upside from the back end with Gannon Laroque (‘03), Kalem Parker (‘04), Ryan Spizawka (‘04) as well as 2020 top 10 selected Austin Zemlak (‘05) but who is going to lead, shelter and mentor these young defenders? 2001 born Graeme Bryks who had four points this season and was a forward up until this season? Right. In other words, there is talent there but these players will be forced to play a lot of minutes and I’m not sure that they are in a great position to succeed. Their goaltending in general this season was rough and as of right now they don’t have a goalie on the team with more than 10 games of WHL experience. I wouldn’t expect big things from this group next season.
Well that’s enough rambling for now. Stay tuned next week for Part 2 of our WHL wrap up report!
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