WHL March Update

Puneet Sharma

2023-03-08

Playoff push
Last month’s trade news feels like a long time ago as since then there have been a good chunk of teams that have clinched a playoff position and others still vying for a spot in the playoffs. As I write this seven teams in the Western Conference – Seattle Thunderbirds, Kamloops Blazers, Portland Winterhawks, Prince George Cougars, Everett Silvertips, Tri-City Americans and the Vancouver Giants have already sealed a playoff spot while only three teams have done so in the Easter Conference – Winnipeg Ice, Red Deer Rebels, and the Saskatoon Blades. The playoffs are scheduled to begin Friday, March 31st so those teams that are on the outside looking in need to finish strong. For those that are new to following the WHL the first-place teams in the two Divisions in each Conference will receive the top two playoff seeds based on regular season points. The subsequent six teams in each Conference will receive the remaining
three to eight playoff spots again based off of regular season points. With five teams having already secured their spots things are starting to heat up for those remaining. The Regina Pats have a chance at making that playoff push and are right in the mix, but things could really go either way here. It would be nice to see Connor Bedard have his last chance for a title in the WHL before moving on to the big leagues.

The Seattle Thunderbirds are on a 13 game winning streak and the Kamloops Blazers just had their 10 game winning streak snapped by the Medicine Hat Tigers. One player making a huge difference is Olen Zellweger who was acquired for a pot of gold before the trade deadline. Only being 19-years-old, Zelleweger’s play is already showing that he is poised to join the Anaheim Ducks much sooner than later. Since joining the Blazers, Zellweger has put up 12 goals and 23 assists over 19 games and has amassed a total of 63 points over 42 games in the WHL this year. With Drysdale out for the season, the expectation is that he will be back in October taking over top line and power play duties. It is not impossible to believe that Zellweger is brought into the Ducks organization to learn from veteran defensemen like Kevin Shattenkirk and Cam Fowler with sheltered minutes. His skating and edgework is magical, which is
why he has been so successful against his opponents as he is able to make sound impactful decisions at a very high speed. Oh and he is not slouch when it comes to late game heroics.

Around the WHL
Samuel Honzek (LW, Vancouver Giants, 2023 Draft eligible)
Sustaining a calf injury during the World Juniors may have pushed Honzek further down the draft boards. However, since returning back he is making sure his name should not be forgotten. He is a big 6-foot-4 forward with the speed and skill that is very deceptive. He returned back into the lineup mid-February and has already posted eight points in eight games. One major pro to his game is his effort and drive to stick with the play and battle for the puck which works to his advantage especially with his size.

Stanislav Svozil – (D, Columbus Blue Jackets)
Svozil was the WHL player of the week posting one goal and seven assists over three games. The Regina Pats star defenseman has had a solid year especially since returning back from the World Juniors. Svozil has been posting nearly two points per game on average. The Columbus Blue Jackets are happy with what they see in his play as one of the top defensive point producers in the WHL this year. He has a slight physical element to his game where he is willing to throw his body around and go for the big hit, sometimes it works and other times it doesn’t. He comes as advertised as a strong two way defender who can play a physical game, being a sound position player and can also skate up into the play with speed to create chances for his teammates.

 

Reily Heidt (C, Prince George Cougars, 2023 Draft eligible)
When taking a quick look at his overall data he shows that he is an elite playmaker racking up a lot of assists. The more you watch Heidt play, the more you can notice that he sees the game with a strong hockey sense from an offensive standpoint. His drive at times during the game can be questioned especially when he is away from the puck in the offensive or defensive zone. When he has the puck on this stick he is nearly unstoppable. Heidt is averaging 1.34 points per game played which will appeal to many teams. Let’s make no mistake his offensive prowess is elite and his points production proves that. With that being said he isn’t that physical of a player and his defensive deficiencies may be difficult to correct but these can be addressed and at some point will need to be if he wants to take the next step.

Kevin Korchinski (D, Chicago Blackhawks)
The Blackhawks have high hopes for Korchinski especially since there really isn’t much to look up to with the fire sale that happened this past draft deadline. The goal all along for the Blackhawks was to aim for tank city and they’re well on their way now. The silver lining that I am getting to here is Korchinski. At some point he will be called up to play some NHL games, maybe this year or next. Korshinksi looked great in development camp and although we knew his chances of making it were slim he sure did make it known that he was ready for an NHL spot. Spending time with the Seattle Thunderbirds has only made him a confident offensive powerhouse that the Blackhawks were projecting he would be. His current WHL production is impressive with 62 points over 46 games. His future looks promising in Chicago.

 

Caden Price (D, Kelowna Rockets, 2023 Draft eligible)
Price has had a solid year with the Kelowna Rockets and has been relied upon consistently in driving the play out of their own zone. His speed and accurate puck passing to this line mates are attributes that clearly stand out when you watch him play. Price was the only player to represent the Rockets in the NHL/CHL Prospects game earlier this year. There he had the chance to further display his athleticism where he finished top five in forward and backwards 30M staking.

He definitely is fun to watch with how he is able to setup plays a very high pace and also rush back and be defensively responsible. Over the course of 56 games he has posted 34 points, of which 29 are assists. He is not as highly spoken of in comparison to many of the other top defensive prospects but he is certainly being talked about as defensemen many teams would like to have.

 

Thanks again for reading and see you next month!
Cheers
Puneet Sharma

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