I wanted to begin this month’s WHL update by following up on the news about Wenatchee Wild head coach Kevin Constatine being terminated, which happened literally a day after my last post. The Wild have named Chris Clark their Associate Head Coach. He will support Assistant Coach Andrew Sarauer, who will continue to direct the club until they find a permanent replacement. According to the findings of the investigation, Constatine was found to have violated the WHL’s Code of Conduct and will not be eligible to seek reinstatement until 2025.
Now, let’s move on to discussing a couple of teams before delving into some player profiles.
Prince Albert Raiders
In a delightful twist of fate, the team that missed the playoff boat last season is now parked in the fourth position in the Eastern Division, strategically sandwiched in the conference standings like the cream filling in an Oreo. Despite big playoff dreams, it’s essential to remember that this squad is still in its youth. Last year, they displayed an uncanny ability to rock it on the road, leaving their home turf performance wondering if it had been ghosted. Out of ten away games, they snagged four wins, endured five losses, and threw in an overtime loss for good measure. Talk about keeping it interesting!
If these Raiders want to make waves, they’ll need to tighten things up. Leading the charge is Ryder Ritchie, the WHL Rookie of the Year, boasting a stat line that screams, “Move over, veterans!” With 11 goals and 12 assists in just 21 games, Ritchie is proving that rookies aren’t just here to fetch coffee. His linemate, Sloan Stanick, is red hot with 6 goals and 20 assists. The chemistry between them started brewing at the end of last season when Aiden Oiring joined the party in a trade that probably had the Winnipeg ICE wondering if they’d accidentally given away a magic potion. Brace yourself for a very up-and-down season with this team, but rest assured it will be exciting.
Medicine Hat Tigers
For a team that had a very limited playoff experience last year, the Tigers are now sitting pretty at the top of the table in the Eastern Conference.
Expectations weren’t exactly sky-high initially, but some were quietly hoping for more than a participation ribbon. Cayden Lindstrom is back, and he’s not playing – well, he is, but you get what I mean. Fourteen goals, 11 assists. Gavin McKenna, the rookie sensation fresh off the 2022 draft, is making the ice his playground with 20 points in just 14 games. It’s like he brought a cheat code to a game of checkers. And don’t sleep on Andrew Basha – he’s back, and keeping up with the pack with 24 points in 20 games. If this were a stock market, I’d invest my savings in Basha Bonds. Lindstrom and Basha are diligently working at garnering consideration for the upcoming 2024 NHL Draft – these guys are basically auditioning for the NHL with the confidence of people who know they’re the main event, not just the opening act.
Some other news in the WHL:
The Regina Pats have traded Matteo Michels to the Brandon Wheat Kings in exchange for Anthony Wilson. Wilson, in his 16 games this season, has notched two goals and six assists, totaling 11 points. On the flip side, Michels, with 115 regular season games under his belt for the Pats over three seasons, has managed to accumulate 23 points, including 11 points in 20 games.
Player of the Week
Gabe Klassen, captain of the Portland Winterhawks, clinched the Player of the Week title with a spectacular performance, racking up nine points (4G-5A) and boasting a plus-7 rating in two games. Standing at 5-10 and weighing 178 pounds, the center entered the week with 10 points for the season. After his standout performance, he catapulted into the top 5 in league scoring, amassing an impressive 31 points in just 17 games.
Last year, Klassen showcased his scoring prowess with 35 goals and 34 assists in 64 games for the Winterhawks. This season, his impact extends beyond even-strength play, as he’s been a key contributor to the team’s success on the power play. During their seven-game streak, Klassen has been a linchpin in this offensive strategy, particularly on the man advantage. The team’s power play is as diverse as a potluck dinner, with seven different goal scorers on the man-advantage. It’s no surprise the Winterhawks find themselves near the summit of the Eastern Conference.
Here are some WHL scoring leaders drafted in the 2023 NHL draft:
Andrew Cristall – 32 pts in 17 games
Most of you know Andrew Cristall, Kelowna’s offensive maestro. He’s the proud owner of the third spot in league scoring, boasting 11 goals and 21 assists. In his recent three-game point spree, he was practically playing hopscotch on the score sheet, bagging four goals and four assists with the finesse of a seasoned magician. Cristall, the hidden gem of the draft, slipped down to the 40th pick, leaving everyone wondering if something was wrong. The Washington Capitals snagged him, probably celebrating with a dance that would make even the most rhythmically challenged jealous. Look, his skating might not break any speed records, but watch out when he pulls out those deceptive hands in tight spaces – he leaves defenders wondering if they’re playing hockey or participating in a magic show. He isn’t just a one-trick pony either. He has top-6 forward potential. But still, occasionally, defensive lapses and a bit of puck-pushing uncertainty raise an eyebrow or two.
Sitting with a top 3 standing among scoring leaders this season, it’s pretty clear his offensive brilliance is no accident.
Oh and by the way, did you hear – Queen Bey in the house!
Riley Heidt – 27 pts in 18 games
Another underappreciated gem of the draft, Heidt may have slipped on a few draft boards, but don’t be fooled – he packs a punch. Weighing in at 5-10, he’s got the skill and speed to rival the best of the WHL. With an impressive 9 goals and 18 assists in just 18 games this season, Heidt is proving he should have been drafted earlier. Initially touted as a late first-round pick, he landed with the Minnesota Wild at No. 64, giving draft analysts a gentle reminder that their crystal balls might need a polish. A top-end playmaker, Heidt demonstrated his ability to create scoring opportunities last year with 97 points in 68 games, notably amassing 72 assists, 39 of which came on the powerplay.
Heidt’s specialty is slipping pucks around and through defenders like he’s playing a high-stakes game of hide-and-seek. His skating is solid, but he’s not afraid to kick it into high gear. Heidt is more than a diamond in the rough. He’s a solid top-six forward in the making. The Wild must be ecstatic witnessing his stellar performance in the minors. It’s safe to say he’s making those draft-day doubters reconsider their choices.
Egor Sidorov – 21 pts in 14 games
Yegor Sidorov, a 19-year-old with the Saskatoon Blades, is also raising eyebrows recently. The previous season showcased his scoring prowess with an impressive 40 goals and 76 points in 53 Western Hockey League (WHL) games. The Anaheim Ducks selected him 85th overall (3rd round), drawn to his lightning-quick release and precise shot accuracy.
Sidorov’s lethal shot and good skating make him a scoring threat, especially with his soft hands delivering flashy goals in tight situations. Often dubbed a sniper, he fired 246 shots on goal last year alone. In the current season, he boasts 15 goals and 9 assists in 16 games. He and Trevor Wong are packing a one-two punch and leading the Blades to the top of the table with just 18 games under their belt this year. Now, while Sidorov possesses NHL potential, his competitiveness has at times has raised concerns, potentially impacting his ability to move to the next level. Nevertheless, his scoring prowess suggests he could make a transition to full-time NHL action.
Thanks for reading and see you next month! Follow me on Twitter @Punters_hockey for more prospect content and fantasy hockey analysis.