WHL January Update

Puneet Sharma

2024-01-24

With the arrival of the new year, we’ve decided to shake things up a bit. Why, you ask? Well, amidst all the excitement, we thought, why bother with the formalities? Let’s dive headfirst into the details. As we hit the midway point of the season, we’re seeing more separation between teams and player stats, but before we dig into all things WHL, let’s sprinkle in a dash of WJC drama.

Now, picture this: Team USA, embracing their inner bad boys like they just discovered leather jackets, finally avenging their 2022 finals loss to the Swedes. The rematch was hotter than a jalapeño in a salsa contest, with plays so good they almost distracted us from the underlying hint of bad blood. USA clinched the championship with a 6-2 victory over Sweden. Will Smith (SJS), sandwiched between Gabe Perreault (NYR) and Ryan Leonard (WSH), were the real dream team in the semis and finals. Sure, they weren’t the superheroes of the entire tournament, but hey, they knew when to swoop in and save the day.

Quick fun fact for you – Sweden has now finished second 12 times, like a runner-up extraordinaire. They even lost to the U.S. in last year’s third-place game. Not the kind of stat you’d frame on the wall, but hey, at least they’re consistently making it further than others.

WJC Standout Performances

Lekkerimaki’s effectiveness on the ice was evident – his consistent playmaking and ability to score points were prominent throughout the tournament. His lethal combination of a precise wrist shot/one-timer and a relentless tenacity in puck battles underscored his commitment to making a significant impact this year. It’s clear he intended to make a mark. Each shift he demonstrated notable focus and a dedicated effort to contribute to the team’s success. It’s no surprise he earned the tournament MVP, given his extensive influence that extends beyond the scoresheet. He actively contributed with a strong forecheck, consistently investing high levels of effort in every game. Lekkerimaki not only drove play but also created challenging situations for opponents, establishing himself as a force to reckon with.

Gavin Brindley may not fit the typical mold of a large-bodied forward, but his on-ice performance this World Juniors suggested he’s no stranger to the gym. There was a noticeable edge to his style of play, and when it comes to puck battles, he’s a formidable force, effectively outmuscling opponents to secure possession and goals. Recognizing his contributions to the tournament, the coaching staff elevated him to the first power play unit, signifying their acknowledgment of his serious commitment to the game. Without reiterating details, Brindley emerged as a standout player, showcasing capabilities that surpassed expectations.

 

Ah, the “Not-So-Stand-Out” brigade – a lineup longer than a grocery receipt, but let’s focus on Team Canada’s core forwards for a quick moment. Brace yourselves, folks, because this is like a reality check wrapped in a hockey jersey.  Celebreni, Geekie, Minton, Savoie, Poitras, and Dumais – quite the squad, right? We all had high expectations for this team, but when the crunch time came, they just were not able to pull the rabbit out the hat. Those crucial games against Czechia, Sweden, and Finland? Let’s just say our core group’s points totaled about as much as spare change in your couch cushions – a grand total of four. Against elite opponents, spoiler alert: it won’t get you far, especially in the high-stakes world of elite hockey.

Trade Deadline – Come and Gone

There is no possible way for us to cover every single trade so I will just go over what stood out the most.

Moosejaw Warriors

The Warriors secured forward Matthew Savoie in a trade with the Wenatchee Wild, exchanging seven draft picks, including first-round selections in 2024 and 2027. Throughout his WHL career, Savoie has showcased his prowess, amassing an impressive 216 points in 160 games with the Winnipeg Ice, a different team than the Wenatchee Wild. He honestly did not waste any time in establishing chemistry with this new team as he was awarded the WHL Player of the week. As of now, the Warriors currently occupy the third spot in the Eastern Conference Standings, with a strong likelihood of contending for the second position currently held by the Medicine Hat Tigers.

Saskatoon Blades

The Blades mean business. They reinforced their lineup by adding depth through acquisitions such as Grayden Siepmann, John Babcock, and Rhett Melnyk, making strategic moves with players like Fraser Minten and Alexander Suzdalev. Suzdalev’s addition was particularly significant, and the inclusion of a shutdown defenseman like Babcock was a smart choice. With over 160 games of experience, Babcock brings a valuable presence to the team. Suzdalev has a strong track record and is already proven his worth with four goals and six assists in 10 games with the Blades. As the postseason approaches, Saskatoon enters with increased strength, setting their sights on securing the franchise’s first-ever Ed Chynoweth Cup. In anticipation of a potential journey to the Memorial Cup, the Blades have substantially fortified their roster.

Wenatchee Wild 

So, this one is looks like more of a long-term play than short term. Many of us are still wondering why this happened in the first place considering at the time of trade the Wild were in second place in the Western Conference. They took a bold move and decided to be sellers at the trade deadline, bidding farewell to Savoie, Geekie, and Armstrong. What did they get in return? Hold onto your hockey sticks – a whopping 13 draft picks, and to sweeten the deal, three extra role players. It’s like they raided the draft pick aisle at the hockey supermarket.  Now, the plot thickens. These moves weren’t just for the thrill of trade deadline drama; they’re still looking at eyeing that elusive playoff push, how far they make it is a different story. It could be the Wild’s first taste of playoff action since they migrated from Winnipeg. After that? Well, you will have to stay tuned, because this long-term play is about as unpredictable as a goalie facing a penalty shot.

Before I say goodbye, Olen Zellweger showcased an impressive NHL debut with the Anaheim Ducks last night, snagging a power play assist. He has a significant role, stepping in on the first power play. With Drysdale no longer in the lineup and Mintyukov sidelined for at least another month, Zellweger might continue to receive valuable playing time in the near future. I would be surprised if they decide to send him down, especially since the back end is looking thin.

That’s all of now, 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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