WHL: April Update

Puneet Sharma

2023-04-12

The first round of the WHL playoffs has now finished: the top-four teams in both conferences have moved on to the next round. To many, the most disappointing outcome of Round One was the Regina Pats, who put up the best fight against the Saskatoon Blades, because that means that Connor Bedard’s run at the Memorial Cup is now over. Now we wait and see where he lands in the NHL.

Bedard was named Player of the Week for the final week of the regular season with 17 points over four games. Yes, those numbers are unbelievable, much like his season. He also went on to post five goals and three assists over two games during the first week of the playoffs. Unfortunately, that was not enough for the Pats to move on to the next round—even with three Pats players (Connor Bedard, Stanislav Svozil, and Alexander Suzdalev) ranking in the top-five players for playoff point leaders.

https://cdn.whl.ca/whl/uploads/2023/04/03133622/POW_Bedard-1920-1024x576.jpg

As it currently stands the second round looks like this.

Eastern Conference

Winnipeg (1) Ice vs. Moose Jaw Warriors (4)

Look for the Ice to continue their strong play against the Warriors and show the WHL why they are the best team in the league. This team has way too much star power to lose: upcoming top draft prospect Zach Benson, Sabres first-rounder Matthew Savoie, and Coyotes’ picks Connor Geekie and Connor McClennon all have dominated the regular season. While Benson is still trying to find his playoff groove, both Savoie and McClennon are more than making up for it. This matchup is almost unfair for the Warriors. 

That said, Moose Jaw has its own firepower in Jagger Firkus (Seattle Kraken prospect) and potential top-10 draft prospect Brayden Yager. These two combined for 45% of the teams goals in the first round. Add in Denton Mateychuk on the back end, and you have an exciting Round Two match-up.

Saskatoon Blades (3) vs. Red Deer Rebels (2)

With reseeding prior to the beginning of each round, the Saskatoon Blades have the upper hand with home ice as they accumulated more points over Red Deer during the course of the WHL Season. Jayden Grubb posted 10 points over the first round while Kai Uchacz also put up solid numbers with four goals versus the Calgary Hitmen. The team is expected to lean heavily on Uchacz, their leading goal scorer (50 goals, with 30 at even strength) and WHL Player of the Year nominee, for this upcoming clash with the Rebels. Trevor Wong has been entertaining to watch, as always, and is the leading scorer for the team with 10 points over seven playoff games. 

Tanner Molendyk has also been quite good for the Blades. His ability to create quick transition plays while being a strong presence on the backend has been the key to this team’s overall success.  He is a solid stay-at-home defenseman who plays the game straight up and does not cheat or put himself in positions that would compromise the team.    

Western Conference 

Seattle Thunderbirds (1) vs. Prince George Cougars (4)

This is another matchup where I think the Thunderbirds are just too strong of team for the Cougars. The Thunderbirds have won three out of the last four regular season meetings. There is not a single player on this roster that has stood out during the playoffs; it has been a scoring-by-committee type of scenario that is making this team such a powerhouse. 

The Cougars do, however, have a special player on their roster that can turn the game on a dime: Chase Wheatcroft. He was the second-leading scorer in the WHL this year behind Connor Bedard with 107 points over 68 games. Wheatcroft was undrafted over the past two years that he was NHL eligible before being scooped up by the Dallas Stars who recently signed him to a three-year entry-level deal which is set to kick in this upcoming year. This is a great signing by the Dallas Stars, who have built a solid prospect base. 

Got to love the confidence on the Kucherov-esque breakaway goal too!

Kamloops Blazers (2) vs. Portland Winterhawks (3)

It has been a decade since these two teams have faced off against each other in the playoffs. Last time, the Winterhawks got the better end of the deal and ousted the Blazers. This time around, it may be a little different as the Blazers are a much stronger offensive power. In their first round matchup, the Blazers outscored the Vancouver Giants 24-5. Top notable prospects Logan Stankoven (another high-end Stars prospect and WHL Player of the Year nominee) and the Anaheim Ducks Olen Zellweger are both making tremendous strides in the WHL. Both have the pedigree and confidence to play in big games and perform when their team needs them.  

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