WHL Update: December

Puneet Sharma

2023-12-06

Image credit: Global News

Before delving into the latest team and player updates, let’s catch up on some noteworthy WHL news that has surfaced in the past month. The Swift Current Broncos and their Head Coach, Devan Praught, have decided to part ways amicably due to an alleged violation of the WHL Standards of Conduct. Stepping up to the coaching plate in the interim is Assistant Coach Taras McEwan.

While specific details remain under wraps for now, rest assured that once the confidential intel is unveiled, I’ll be the bearer of updates in next month’s installment. Unfortunately, this marks the second instance of a Head Coach in the WHL bidding farewell to their duties. Let’s hope it’s the last for this year.  

We have a Trade!

Leaf prospect Fraser Minten has been dealt from the Kamloops Blazers to the Saskatoon Blades. Minten was previously named the Blazers captain upon his return from his stint in the NHL earlier this month.

We have a new sheriff in town, and Ron Robison’s 24-year reign as commissioner has officially reached its grand finale. In September, the league graciously posted Robison’s farewell letter on its website, setting the stage for a changing of the hockey guard.

Enter stage left: Dan Near, the former Adidas executive who was the head of the company’s global hockey wing. Near has bravely donned the WHL Commissioner hat. Now, he was not necessarily looking to make the shift and might not have a league-keeping manual under his arm, but he’s all about ushering in a new era of puck appreciation. His focus? Not just pandering to the old-school hockey fans, but tossing the puck to the younger generation. It’s like trading in your vintage hockey card collection for the latest holographic edition – a bold move.

Neal has been well known for the NHL Reverse Retro Jersey program that paid homage to the past and a potential glimpse of the future by way of hockey jerseys. I am definitely excited to see what he can bring to the WHL.

Now let’s, get back to business. 

Price George Cougars

In last year’s opening playoff round, the Prince George Cougars took the Tri-City Americans for a spin, marking the franchise’s first escape from the first-round clutches since ’06-’07. It wasn’t just a playoff victory; it was the Cougars declaring, “We’re here to stay, folks!” Picture it like the first time you successfully assemble IKEA furniture – unexpected, but you’re feeling pretty accomplished.

Now perched atop the Eastern Conference, the Cougars are looking more like favorites than the popular kid at a pizza party.  Heidt was the topic of last month’s conversation, so let’s not dig deeper, but seriously, how did every team overlook this guy?

Let’s talk about Right-winger Koehn Ziemmer for a second.  This guy was Los Angeles third-round sleeper pick, and now he’s making the league regret hitting the snooze button. Ziemmer is turning 19 in December – a prime age for causing on-ice mayhem.  He finished ninth in league scoring last season, racking up 89 points, including 41 goals. The Los Angeles Kings caught on and snagged him in the third round during the off-season. Currently, he’s juggling 11 goals and 20 assists over 20 games.  Add in defenseman Hudson Thornton, and you’ve got a dynamic trio that strikes fear into the hearts of WHL opponents. Even with the loss of Chase Wheatcroft, the Cougars are charging toward championship contention.  It’s safe to say they’re not just clawing their way to the top; they’re skating there with style.

Player of the Week

Connor Geekie lands the title of Player of The Week with a whopping 13-point performance, featuring three four-point games and a new team record set on Saturday night.

Despite starting the week with just one assist in an overtime loss to the Kelowna Rockets, Geekie then went on to contribute a goal and three assists in a convincing 8-3 victory over the Portland Winterhawks on Friday. It didn’t stop there, on Saturday he led the Wild to a 6-5 overtime comeback against Portland with a natural four-goal hat trick, becoming the first player in the team’s history to achieve this.  Sunday was no different, with Geekie casually adding another goal and three assists to his impressive tally in a 7-4 victory over the Tri-City Americans. It seems the only thing faster than his skating is his knack for scoring points.  Geekie’s is the first player in 28 years to score four consecutive goals in a single game and now leads the team in scoring with a total of 20 goals and 29 assists as of the opening weekend of December. Geekie’s 49 points this season places him tied for third place in the scoring race. Eight of his 20 goals this season were scored on the power play, placing him in the top five in the league. 

Jagger Firkus – 49 points in 26 games

Firkus stands out in his draft class for possessing one of the most impressive shots. His strength lies in consistently outmaneuvering goaltenders throughout the offensive zone.  While most forwards face challenges scoring from above the faceoff dot, he excels in this region, tallying over 40 percent of his goals in that area. He demonstrates versatility by scoring from the side boards, whether in front of the net, on the flanks, or near the blue line.

Firkus’s shooting prowess, a skill set that is expected to improve over time, is evident in his current 9.5% shooting percentage, a slight uptick from last year’s 8.9%. His exceptional vision on the ice poses a formidable challenge for defenders. Firkus can outsmart opponents with quick, no-look passes or execute dekes that allow him to navigate the middle and attack the net. Confident and skilled, he maximizes his abilities, having gained nearly 10 pounds since his draft year, enhancing his physical presence at 5-10.

He is currently lighting up the stat sheet with 24 goals and 25 assists in 26 games. Firkus is on fire, averaging 1.88 points per game compared to last year’s 1.33. Barring unforeseen setbacks, he is set to leave last year’s point total in the dust. The Kraken struck gold with Firkus, whose unique style of play adds a dynamic element especially when it comes to the transition game.

Graham Sward – 41 points in 23 games

In his grand finale with Wenatchee, Graham Sward is not just turning heads – he’s practically giving them whiplash. Drafted 146th overall by the Nashville Predators in the 2022 NHL draft he is already surpassing his previous career-high of 43 points with ease. With 6 goals and 35 assists in just 23 games, he’s on a roll.

Sward, boasting a high hockey IQ, excels in making the right play when he is on the ice. His defensive skills with a calm sense of composure in his own zone, displaying strong positioning and a knack for stealing the puck without resorting to mindless clears. As a robust puck-moving defenseman with impressive skating skills, it’s only natural that Nashville is the team that found this diamond in the rough. 

What sets Sward apart is his exceptional ability to read and anticipate plays, coupled with excellent vision. His pass-first mentality translates into delivering stretch passes that set up odd-man rushes. Teams always appreciate a smart and responsible defender, and the prospect of seeing Sward in action at the highest level adds an extra layer of excitement to his promising career.

Tij Iginla – 31 points in 27 games

If you’re reading this and thinking what I think you’re thinking, then you’re right: Tij Iginla is the son of the Calgary Flames and Hall of Famer Jarome Iginla. The next generation of hockey dominance is on its way to the NHL. I mean not yet, but it’s coming.  Tij was originally drafted by the Seattle Thunderbirds in 2021 and was dealt to the Kelowna Rockets last year. The move to Kelowna certainly helped his game and production.  His numbers coming into the season were sub-par with 18 points in 48 games. However since landing in Kelowna, he’s had the opportunity to play along the likes of Caden Price and Andrew Cristall which will only help his game. Tij has already put up 10 multi-point performances with a hat-trick thrown in there for fun.  The 17-year-old, 6-0, 186-pound center is making waves, and if he keeps it up, don’t be shocked to see him climb the draft rankings. Currently pegged as a projected third-rounder, there’s a chance the Flames might take a chance at him in the second round. Keep an eye on this Iginla – the hockey legacy continues!

Thanks for reading and see you next month! Follow me on Twitter @Punters_hockey for more prospect content and fantasy hockey analysis. 

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