WHL: May Update

Puneet Sharma

2023-05-12

Cover image: https://winnipegice.ca/article/mcclennon-returns-to-ice-from-philadelphia-flyers

The 3rd round of the WHL playoffs are now finalized, and both the Winnipeg Ice and Seattle Thunderbirds have punched their tickets to the finals. So let’s do a quick overview of what we saw this past round. 

Winnipeg Ice vs. Saskatoon Blades 

(Winnipeg wins series 4 – 0)

The Winnipeg Ice took the 3-2 win over the Saskatoon Blades to clinch the sweep. The Blades, who had already played two seven-game series heading into this round, seemed fatigued in their match up against Winnipeg. The Ice, on the other hand, cruised to the finals, sweeping two out of their three opponents. This marks the fourth time in franchise history that the Ice has clinched the Conference Championship, having previously done so three times: in 2000, 2011 in the Eastern Conference, and 2002 in the Western Conference. They now await their opponent in the Seattle Thunderbirds. Winnipeg will have a fair amount of rest until the next series (Friday May 12th) which will help any players that are hiding any injuries. The big guns on the Ice loaded the stat sheet and applied a lot of pressure on the Blades. The Ice officially accounted for 30% of all hat-tricks for the 2023 WHL playoffs. One of which was a four-point outburst by Connor McClennon in which he posted three goals and one assist. 

Going into the series, Coyotes prospect Connor Geekie was on a four-game points streak with five goals and two assists. He, along with Zach Benson, had a quiet series against the Blades, but there was enough room for everyone on the team to get in on the scoring. Leading that charge was none other than Matthew Savoie, Ben Zolty and the aforementioned Connor McClennon, a trio that collectively posted 23 points over a four-game stretch. At the moment, Savoie is tied with Logan Stankoven of the Kamloops Blazers for the playoff points lead, while McClennon is currently the leading goal scorer and was named the Player of the Week by the WHL. Let’s also bring up Trevor Wong for a moment. Although the Blades were swept in this series, Wong was outstanding on the power play. He was the leading power play point producer on the Blades and the entire WHL with 12 assist over the course of the postseason. All in all, he posted six goals and 15 assists over 21 playoff games. 

A little fun fact that some may not know: Zach Otsapchuk’s penalty shot goal against the Saskatoon Blades was the first ever post-season penalty shot in Winnipeg Ice franchise history.

Seattle Thunderbirds vs. Kamloops Blazers

(Seattle wins series 4 -2)  

Meanwhile, the Western Conference was just finalized the other night with a Seattle Thunderbirds 4-2 win over the Kamloops Blazers. The Thunderbirds have outscored their opponents 32-8 in third periods and overtime during the 2023 WHL Playoffs. They have played dominant hockey and have swept two of their previous opponents in the Prince George Cougars and the Kelowna Rockets. Enter Jared Davidson, Dylan Guenther, and Brad Lambert. Lambert and Guenther lead the pack with 20 and 21 points respectively throughout the playoffs. Davidson has been on fire with at least two points in his last five games and 16 points over a total of eight games.

Lambert’s game since arriving in Seattle has taking a positive turn from his draft year slump with the Moose. The move to the Thunderbirds seems like it has brought back his identity. His ability to find the open space and move up the ice quickly has been exceptional. Defensively, he still needs to grow as he can at times be found out of position, but overall his strength, energy, and time on the power play have been well above average. It is plain to see that he has started to feel more confident with his game on the ice, and the stat sheet is clearly showing it. He has been fairly quiet against the Blazers with only one point over three games; however, he posted 14 points in their sweep of the Cougars.  

Anaheim Ducks defensive prospect Olen Zellweger has been on an absolute tear. Zellweger has now amassed a whopping 40 goals this year, 32 of which have been during the regular season and eight during the 2023 playoffs. Of those 40 goals, Zellweger scored 30 of them since joining the Blazers. Did I mention he is a defenseman? Zellweger was rightfully named WHL Player of the Month with 21 points in the month of April. Paired with Zellweger is Logan Stankoven, who now sits atop of the playoff points race, surpassing Savoie at 27 points. As this series ends, both Zellweger and Stankoven are sitting nicely at 1 and 2 in the overall points race. The last time two Blazers players were ranked 1 and 2 in playoff scoring was back in 2004.  Unfortunately things may change quickly if Savoie and Guenther have anything to say about it in their upcoming series. 

In other news

Looks like we have a winner in the NHL Draft Lottery! The Chicago Blackhawks have been chosen as the number one overall pick for the 2023 NHL Draft.  This means their full rebuild now looks like a semi-rebuild as Connor Bedard is bound for the Windy City. Ticket sales have skyrocketed in Chicago since the announcement with over $5 million in season ticket sales over 12 hours. Kyle Davidson must be a very happy GM today. Adam Fantilli will in all likelihood go to Anaheim and Leo Carlson to the Blue Jackets which is still a great deal for both teams. Any team picking in the top 10 this year is getting a great player.  

Jagger Firkus from the Moosejaw Warriors has agreed to a three-year ELC with the Seattle Kraken. Firkus has 40 goals and 48 assist with the Warriors.  He has now been assigned to the Seattle Krakens AHL team the Coachella Valley Thunderbirds. 

Thanks again for reading and see you next month!

Cheers,
Puneet

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