The WHL playoffs are upon us!
The time of the year where the best of the best go head to head and out pops the diamonds from the coal. Teams have the ability to focus on star players and see if they can contain them. The trade deadline proves whether a team who bolstered for a long run has the ability to follow through.
Let’s take a look at Round One and I’ll touch on a few key aspects to know.
Vancouver vs Seattle
This series could have been way more interesting than first meets the eye. Both teams came into the playoffs after putting forth really consistent efforts in their last 10 games but one could say the series was a tale of two D-men.
Bowen Byram (2019) led the way with consistent efforts for Vancouver and Jake Lee (2019) got frustrated early and ended up serving a two-game suspension in a blowout Game One victory where he cross-checked a player into the post in the dying seconds of a 7-1 loss.
The depth of Seattle simply couldn’t compete. Draft-eligible Henry Rybinski (2019) had two points in six contests which simply was not good enough for the Thunderbirds.
4-2 Vancouver Win
Victoria vs Kamloops
Kamloops was not able to muster a lot of offense but we got a glimpse at what is to come from Connor Zary (2020 draft). He’s a late Sept birthday so we won’t see him drafted until later on but he led the way with four points. Victoria’s Scott Walford (MTL 2017) is performing well with seven assists in nine games and has been extremely useful on the PP.
4-2 Victoria Win
Everett vs Tri-City
Connor Dewar (MIN 2018) (7 points in 6 games) is currently leading the way for Everett and helped to make an easy pass against a struggling Tri-City team; who was 1-6-3 in their last 10 games heading into the playoffs. Undrafted player Nolan Yaremko ended up joining the Stockton Heat on an ATO as soon as the series completed.
4-1 Everett Win
Spokane vs Portland
With Cody Glass (Vegas 2017) only suiting up for one game it made for some tough sailing for a team which shelled out draft picks for goaltender Joel Hofer (STL 2018). Hofer ended up posting a 4.03 and a 0.871 save percentage over that span which was significantly down from his season numbers since joining Portland (3.18, 0.911) Spokane has gotten consistent efforts up and down the lineup and continue to. They will be very tough to beat moving forward.
4-1 Spokane Win
Prince Albert vs Red Deer
While none of the games were absolute blowouts, the Raiders didn’t have a lot of trouble with Red Deer. A lot of that had to do with Alexander Alexeyev (WSH 2018) being sidelined with a knee injury and not suiting up for any games. It’s tough to go against a powerhouse like PA especially being without arguably your best player. Brett Leason (2019) has looked just fine.
4-0 PA win
Saskatoon vs Moose Jaw
I personally got to attend a couple of these games and let me tell ya… Saskatoon looked good. They sustained pressure and controlled the game 5on5. Moose Jaw still has such a powerhouse PP but could not capitalize on the moments they created. Brayden Tracey (2019) only suited up for two games due to illness and did seem a bit sluggish on the ice when he returned. All in all, Saskatoon was dominant in the regular season matchups and the result wasn’t surprising. Kirby Dach (2019) has cranked up the dial for Saskatoon and probably has slid up a couple spots on people’s draft lists with his playoff performance thus far.
4-0 Saskatoon Win
Edmonton vs Medicine Hat
Considering that Edmonton won their last 10 games straight coming into the playoffs, Medicine Hat had a large mountain to climb. Luckily they had a mountain in net with draft eligible tender Mads Sogaard who posted a 0.919 save percentage. Sadly, Med Hat needed some extra push from their depth to overcome and could not upset. Trey Fix-Wolansky is playing well but watch out if he takes another step forward off the PP.
4-2 Edmonton Win
Lethbridge vs Calgary
This was entertaining hockey. Despite the best efforts from their early season trades, Jake Leschyshyn (Vegas 2017) could not power their way past what should have been a Lethbridge first round victory. Jake gathered 10 points in seven games and had one of the most impressive performances from any player in the first round. Calgary, led by the big and strong Mark Kastelic (6-3 220), found a way to get it done. Kastelic is a potential late-round overager in the 2019 draft but even if he isn’t selected, he will find his way to pro hockey one way or another. Leschyshyn and fellow ex-Regina teammate Nick Henry have since joined their AHL affiliates for a couple games.
4-3 Calgary Win
Vancouver is up 3-0 on Victoria.
Spokane is up 2-0 on Everett.
(For what it’s worth, if Vancouver and Spokane meet in the next round…. Vancouver won the season series 3-1 but most games were quite close and competitive. Would be a fantastic series.)
PA is up 2-1 over Saskatoon
Edmonton has dominated Calgary 3-0
(For what it’s worth, PA won the season series 3-1 with most of the games being decently close as well).
This is purely instinct.
I think Spokane knocks off PA in the finals. Who knows.
What do you think? PA has been a top team all year. Can they hold on?
Joel Henderson – covering the WHL and Calgary Flames
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