In preparation for the start of the WHL season on Sept. 23, we are starting to get an idea of what rosters are going to look like. Leading up to that date, we will be previewing each team in reverse order of finish from last season. The last-place Kootenay Ice are up first.
12-53-6-1, 31 points, 22nd of 22 WHL teams. This was 36 points worse than their expansion season in 1998–99, which was also their previous franchise-worst record. They struggled with injuries to key players like forward Jaedon Descheneau and Luke Philp and had a tough time icing a full roster at times during the season. It’s safe to say first-year coach Luke Pierce did not have all of the weapons he thought he would have when he took the gig.
|Player||Position||Birth Year||Reason they Left||GP||G/GAA||A/Sv%||Pts/Wins|
|Wyatt Hofflin||Goalie||1995||Aged out||54||4.12||.893||9|
|Tanner Lishchynsky||Defense||1995||Aged out||60||8||15||23|
Hofflin is a huge loss as the Ice leaned heavily on him due to being consistently outshot and not providing him with much goal support. Those nine wins were all but three of the team’s total and it’s fair to say that he was their best player in most of those games. Lishchynsky was the team captain and a guy who logged a ton of minutes on the back end, so he leaves a huge hole as the top d-man. The Ice decided to not bring back either of their import players (Dymacek and Grman), choosing to draft two new imports instead. Overdyk and Gray leaving seems to be a pretty mutual agreement as neither made a big impact with Kootenay and likely were unhappy with the situation in Cranbrook. Williams was not likely to be brought back as an overage backup goalie, so he sought greener pastures elsewhere.
|Player||Position||Birth Year||Draft Position||15/16 Team||GP||G||A||Pts|
|Klim Kostin||RW||1999||#1 Overall||HK MVD||30||8||13||21|
|Nikita Radzivilyuk||Defense||1999||61st overall||Tyumenski U-17||28||3||8||11|
Choosing not to bring back imports Dymacek and Grman, Kootenay put all of their eggs in the CHL import draft basket. This draft is notoriously a crapshoot, where teams’ relationships with agents play a big role. The Ice had to feel confident of landing Kostin, who is considered a top prospect for the 2017 NHL draft, due to him having the same agent as former Ice defenceman Rinat Valiev. The organization played a key role in preparing Valiev for the NHL, where he played 10 games last season with Toronto. Unfortunately, it is appearing that Kostin is choosing to go the KHL route this year, as according to the Hockey News’s Ryan Kennedy, he signed with Dynamo Moscow and is being given a chance to make the team as a 17-year-old. Adding to the Ice’s predicament is the fact that Radzivilyuk, their other pick, was also drafted in the KHL. Reports are that he will come over and play for the Ice, but the fact that he has not signed with the team yet is not a good look. Without Kostin, Kootenay will be in the market for an import player who has already signed with a WHL team and would play for them.
|Player||Birth Year||Position||How Acquired||2015/16 GP||Goals/GAA||Assists/Sv%||Points/Wins|
|Zak Zborosky||1996||RW||2011 Bantam Draft||58||32||36||68|
|Payton Lee||1996||Goalie||Trade with EDM||39||3.36||.889||12|
The off-season trade with Edmonton to acquire Cranbrook native Lee seems to have settled both the starting goalie and overage situations. Lee had his moments with Vancouver and Edmonton and it seems clear that the Ice are expecting him to do something similar to what Hofflin was able to do for them last year: keep them in games they don’t belong in and steal a few of those. Zborosky was invited to New York Rangers development camp and this is his last chance to get an NHL contract out of the WHL. He is superb finisher, who piled up 32 goals on a team that only scored 155 total (20.6%). If Kootenay seems out of the playoff race at the trade deadline, Zborosky is the asset that would attract the most attention from a contender. Alfaro is the team’s top center and has some chemistry with Zborosky and top-line left wing Jesse Zaharichuk. It would appear that Kootenay will be bringing all three members of that line back, something not a lot of WHL teams can boast.
|Players||Birth Year||Position||How Acquired||GP||Goals||Assists||Points|
|Zak Zborosky||1996||RW||2011 Bantam Draft||58||32||32||68|
|Jesse Zaharichuk||1997||LW||Trade with Kamloops||43||8||20||28|
|Austin Wellsby||1997||LW||2012 Bantam Draft||64||8||8||16|
|River Beattie||1997||RW||2012 Bantam Draft||64||8||8||16|
|Max Patterson||1999||RW||2014 Bantam Draft||64||7||3||10|
|1998||Center||2013 Bantam Draft||61||4||6||10|
|Jared Legien||1998||LW||2013 Bantam Draft||69||4||4||8|
|1997||LW||Trade with Prince Albert||44||2||5||7|
|Shane Allan||1997||C/RW||2012 Bantam Draft||66||3||3||6|
|1998||Center||Trade with Portland||4||1||0||1|
|Eli Lieffers||2000||Forward||2015 Bantam Draft||5||0||1||1|
|Tanner Sidaway||1999||Center||Trade with Red Deer||2||0||0||0|
|Kaeden Taphorn||2000||LW||Trade with Vancouver||2||0||0||0|
|Keenan Taphorn||2000||RW||2015 Bantam Draft||2||0||0||0|
|Connor Barley||1998||LW||2013 Bantam Draft||3||0||0||0|
There’s a whole lot of bodies returning up front from last year’s team. However, when your team won only 12 games, that’s not necessarily a great thing. A lot of the players brought in last year in trades were to ensure the hurting team could ice a full roster. This team is clearly building for the distant future, probably no earlier than 2018–19. How much playing time the guys in the 1997 and 1998 age group will get is up to coach Luke Pierce’s philosophy. If he wants his younger players to learn and not be thrust into key roles on a team that won’t win many games, that’s his prerogative. Or, he may want to deal some of that group and give the Taphorn twins, Eli Lieffers and Max Patterson a bunch of playing time, hoping it will pay off in a couple of seasons. I would go with the latter strategy, as the group of ’97 and ’98 players does not include a lot of proven WHL scorers. The aforementioned younger forwards will be joined by two more highly touted players in Peyton Krebs and Blake Allan next year. Unfortunately for Pierce, he and his franchise may not be around the city of Cranbrook to see these prospects blossom. Another possible issue is that Kootenay seems to have struggled developing forwards in recent years anyway and these prospects may not be coached to their fullest potential.
|Players||Birth Year||How Acquired||GP||Goals||Assists||Points|
|Cale Fleury||1998||2013 Bantam Draft||61||8||17||25|
|Troy Murray||1997||2012 Bantam Draft||63||0||11||11|
|Dallas Hines||1998||2013 Bantam Draft||59||4||6||10|
|Ryan Pouliot||1998||Trade With Red Deer||25||0||2||2|
The Ice struggled so much to score last season that their defensive deficiencies were overlooked. They allowed a WHL-high 320 goals despite getting consistent goaltending from Hofflin. This season, they won’t be getting back captain and blue line mainstay Lishchynsky as well as a couple of depth defencemen in Grman and Overdyk. The Ice will now lean heavily on Cale Fleury, who was recently listed on NHL Central Scouting’s “ones to watch” list for the 2017 NHL draft. Scouts will have every chance to see Fleury at work this year as he will likely be logging 20-plus minutes every night as the Ice’s top D-man. Columbus Blue Jackets defenceman Ryan Murray’s younger brother, Troy, seems the favorite to get the spot next to Fleury on the top pairing. If the Ice can get Russian import Radzivilyuk to sign and come to North America, he could see a lot of playing time, as the group of Hines, Wenzel and Pouliot has not shown enough consistency to have their spots on the depth chart nailed down. The Ice should also still have 2000-born Loeden Schaufler and 1999-born Sam Huston in the fold and they could be in the mix for some ice time.
|Player||Birth Year||How Acquired||GP||GAA||Sv%||Wins|
|Payton Lee||1996||Trade with Edmonton||39||3.36||.889||12|
|Declan Hobbs||1998||2013 Bantam Draft||24||4.46||.873||2|
The Ice look to be starting the 2016–17 campaign with two goalies who played a combined 63 games last season and pieced together a total of 14 wins. You can’t blame either one of them fully, though, as they played for two of the weaker teams in the Eastern Conference for much of the season. However, their supporting cast looks to be of a similar variety. Lee was once highly touted with Vancouver and fell out of favour as things got away from them last season. He is getting a chance in his overage season to achieve his true potential while playing in front of his hometown crowd. Hobbs, meanwhile, seemed to be the one next in line for the starting job, but the lack of positional depth made a trade necessary. Besides, his two wins in 24 outings and 4.46 GAA likely did not give the Ice a whole of confidence that he could handle the No. 1 job.
In two words: “not great.” The Ice return a lot of their scorers from last season, but many of them do not seem capable of improving greatly upon their goal totals. They probably won’t sink back to the depths of last season’s 11-win total, as a lot of that was due to injuries to their most productive players. Overall, another rebuilding season in Cranbrook seems likely, with the main positives being Lee returning to his hometown to stand on his head every night and Fleury’s draft outlook. Ice owner Jeff Chynoweth has made it public that he wants to sell the team and the attendance figures probably won’t make him change his mind. Will another season of fewer than 20 wins doom their future in Cranbrook? We might just find out very soon.
For more about the Kootenay Ice check out The Pipeline Show’s season preview below