Portland Winterhawks notebook: lets take a look at the lineup

So with July in full swing and NHL development camps either winding down or complete for most teams, I figured it would be a good opportunity to look at the Winterhawks’ signed players and talk about what the opening night lineup could look like in September.

So lets take a look at the forward group, which has three of the five overage players in it. Teams can only carry three after a deadline early in the season. These are just the players that have already signed WHL education contracts.

Forwards: 20

Left Wing Center Right Wing
Kieffer Bellows (1998) Cody Glass (1999) Skyler McKenzie (1998)
Ryan Hughes (1999) Alex Overhardt (1997)* Evan Weinger (1997)*
Brad Ginnell (2000) Jake Gricius (1999) Joachim Blichfeld (1998)
Brett Clayton (1998) Ilijah Colina (2000) Colton Veloso (1998)*
Lane Gilliss (1999) Ty Kolle (2000) Bronson Sharp (1999)
Mason Mannek (2000)# Connor Bowie (2001)# Easton Easteron (2000)#
Jaydon Dureau (2001)# Reece Newkirk (2001)#

-I would guess that Portland wants Bellows and McKenzie both to play with Glass on the top line, despite both wingers being left-handed. This should not be a problem as Bellows gives a lot of the same things to this line as Iverson did last year with his size and ability to tip slap shots from the point past goalies. McKenzie, with his creativity and ability to get shots on from anywhere would seem to make more sense on the right side, but either player might find a home there.

Hughes and Weinger had great chemistry and Weinger provides explosive speed on the wing, something that is perfectly compatible with Hughes’ vision. As much as Overhardt provides depth up the middle (something Portland sorely needs), the Winterhawks might value Weinger’s speed a little more and ultimately choose the winger over the center. Coach and general manager Mike Johnston also like to pair two players together and alternate the other spot on that line around and Weinger and Hughes were one of his most reliable pairs.

Blichfeld’s spot in Portland suddenly did not seem so certain when Portland drafted Swedish forward Samuel Fagemo in the CHL Import Draft. He did not get a lot of top-six minutes last year until the playoffs and McKenzie’s injuries allowed him to prove himself more. He tied Caleb Jones for the scoring lead and would seem to be a lock for the top-six somewhere. Could he slot in with Overhardt and Hughes and deem Weinger the odd-man out? Or does Ilijah Colina go back to the second-line and Overhardt is moved elsewhere. The overage situation has a heavy effect on what the lines look like here. I think it is likely they go with Weinger aas the lone overage forward and Veloso and Overhardt are dealt elsewhere at some point. Texeira and Kehler have far less depth behind them right now to warrant cutting them loose. Also, it would be extremely valuable for Colina, Ginnell. Sharp, Kolle and more to get the increased ice time that would come with Veloso and Overhardt/Weinger missing from the roster.

Connor Bowie seems to have the best shot as we stand now, at breaking in as a 16-year-old.

Defense: 11

Left Defense Right Defense
Keoni Texeira (1997)* Henri Jokiharju (1999)
Conor MacEachern (1998) Brendan De Jong (1998)
Matt Quigley (1999) Carter Czaikowski (1998)+
Darren Gisti (1999)# Ryan Miley (2000)#
Nick Cicek (2000)# Clay Hanus (2001)#
Kade Nolan (2001)#

-Caleb Jones moves on and leaves a large amount of minutes out there to be had. Overall though this group should be pretty solid. Texeira will make a run up the charts for most games played in team history, though he would need to play 71 to tie Troy Rutkowski’s mark of 351 and 72 to beat him. Carter Czaikowski left the team early last year, but don’t be surprised if he is back at camp in August. Gisti is the rare North American, 18-year-old rookie. His shot was a site to behold at last year’s Neely Cup, but will need another strong performance and preseason to slot ahead of Quigley or MacEachern on the depth chart. Not long ago, Portland had a group of ’99-born d-men that included Jake Hobson, Jackson Caller and Quigley. The Lethbridge-born blue liner is now the last one standing of that group after Caller and Hobson were moved out. The team had to be high on Gisti in order to deplete this age group as much as they did. Quigley has shown a ton of potential and is a player I will watching closely at the Neely Cup. He could very well end up playing in the top-four.

That group of four 2000 or ’01 born d-men will be another battle to watch. If Czaikowski does return, there’s probably only one or two spots there for those four.

Goalies: 3

Cole Kehler (1997)*
Shane Farkas (1999)
Ethan Middendorf (1999)#

-Kehler made large strides last year working with goalie coach Tyler Love. He should be the main man between the pipes at least to start the year. With all of the overage goalies out there, this is probably the worst trade market of the three positions anyways. Farkas came in after Portland traded away Michael Bullion. A healthy Middendorf could very well give him a run for his money for the backup spot though. A major factor has to be that Middendorf lived in the Pacific Northwest last year while playing Junior B with Vancouver and that is a big commitment to make unless he was guaranteed a strong shot at making the team this year. One would think that they will add a 2000 or 2001-born goalie or too at the Neely Cup as well.

*=overage player

#=has yet to play a WHL regular or postseason game

+=left the team after 17 games last year but could return

Kieffer Bellows is pumped to play in the WHL

In a notebook for Newsday, New York Islanders’ first round pick Kieffer bellows gushed about coming to Portland August. He also admitted that Caleb Jones hounded him at the U20 World Junior Championships and that played a role in him leaving college to play major junior. Probably most exciting about the piece, is Arthur Staples saying that “no Islanders forward prospect has a better or harder shot.” With Keegan Iverson taking his hard and accurate shot off to the Ontario Reign of the AHL, there is need for someone who can score from the high slot and beyond.

Still no replacement for Oliver David

-Portland’s assistant coach Oliver David left for a head coaching position in Dubuque of the USHL earlier this summer. As of yet, Portland has not announced a replacement.

USA Select 16 camp in full swing

-Cal Sandqust, who was a seventh round bantam pick for Portland back in 2016, rebounded from a eight-save on 11-shot performance Saturday, to stop all 14 shots he faced Sunday. His Team Black lost 7-5 to Team Orange on Saturday, before dropping Team Gold 4-1 Sunday. Sandquist played 25 minutes in each of those two games. List defenseman Ryan Johnson meanwhile has been tearing it up for Team White. He scored a goal Saturday and added an assist in his team’s 7-3 loss to Team Forest. Then he added another assist Sunday in their 3-1 win over Team Royal. Both players are 2001-born and have yet to commit to any NCAA school. Both are in action again later today.

Brandon Rivers

Longtime Portland Winterhawks' blogger on hodgesheroes.blogspot.com. I also write for SB Nation on the for the Seattle Sin Bin at http://www.sonicsrising.com/seattle-sin-bin. Further, I have a Seattle-sports podcast over at 206sportsjocks.com Originally from the Portland area, now living in Seattle. Proud husband and Father.