Chris Mast

2019-20 WHL Season Previews: Spokane Chiefs

Spokane Chiefs

Last Season: 40-21-2-5-87 Points

The Chiefs used an 8-2 run at the end of the 2018-2019 season to finish second in the U.S. Division, one point ahead of the Portland Winterhawks for home-ice advantage in the first round of the WHL Playoffs. 

After splitting the first two games at home, Spokane received overtime game-winning goals from Adam Beckman and Riley Woods to take a 3-1 series lead back to Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena for Game 5. After allowing the first goal, the Chiefs scored four straight to move on to the second round against the division-winning Everett Silvertips. 

The Chiefs went into Everett and swept Games 1 and 2. Due to building availability, the series followed a 2-3-2 format, and Spokane used the schedule to their advantage. The Silvertips and Chiefs split Games 3 and 4. Spokane capitalized on two power plays in Game 5 for a 2-1 victory and 4-1 series win. 

In the Western Conference Final, the Vancouver Giants awaited Spokane for the right to play for the Ed Chynoweth Cup. The Giants turned the table on the Chiefs and dispatched Spokane in five games, ending their season. 

A big portion of their success during the regular season was the effectiveness of the power play. In 15 games, the Chiefs converted on 36.1% of their opportunities. 

Spokane will look to utilize a lethal power play yet again in 2019-2020, despite losing several key components from its top unit. 

Losses: 

Spokane is a bit of a question mark with a few players still attending NHL training camps. Ty Smith, WHL Defenseman of the Year, has high hopes of sticking with the New Jersey Devils’ blue line. As a 19-year-old, Smith must be returned to Spokane if the Devils reassign him; Ty is not AHL eligible until the 2020-2021 season. Needless to say, the Chiefs would receive a massive lift on their back end if Smith returns. 

Jake McGrew (photo-Megan Connelly)

Jake McGrew, AHL eligible as a member of the San Jose Sharks organization, is also a potential candidate to return. Much like their division rivals in Portland a year ago, the Sharks do not have an ECHL affiliate, so should McGrew not make the Barracuda, Jake may be playing his hockey back in the state of Washington. 

Combined, McGrew and Smith netted 38 goals, 85 assists, and 123 points. They are the two biggest question marks for the future of the Chiefs. 

Last year’s leading scorer Riley Woods graduated. Luc Smith, after being acquired from Kamloops, departs the Chiefs organization with his 28 goals from 2018-2019. A veteran of 332 WHL games, defenseman Nolan Reid also played his last eligible season in the WHL. Nolan provided a steady presence on the blue line while also contributing 51 points in all 68 games for Spokane. 

Despite only playing in 32 regular season games, Los Angeles Kings second-round pick Jaret Anderson-Dolan still registered a 20-goal season. With a 1.34 points-per-game average, the Calgary, Alberta, native finished with 43 points. Anderson-Dolan will make the jump to pro hockey this coming season with the Kings organization. 

Goalie Bailey Brkin will play his 2019-2020 season with the Moose Jaw Warriors after being released by the Chiefs over the summer. 

Additions:

Spokane returns a significant portion of their 2018-2019 team, but one key addition came via the 2019 CHL Import Draft. 

With the 43rd overall selection, the Spokane Chiefs selected netminder Lukáš Pařík from the Czech Republic. Pařík is a six-foot-four, 185-pound Los Angeles Kings third-round selection and looks to help solidify the crease for the Chiefs. 

Jordan Chudley (Photo: spokanechiefs.com)

Jordan Chudley was acquired from the Winnipeg ICE in July in exchange for Michael Ladyman. The Souris, Manitoba, native looks to add depth to the blue line. 

However, perhaps the biggest addition to the Chiefs is their new head coach, Manny Viveiros. Spokane brings in a coach with recent success, including winning the WHL Championship in 2018 with the Swift Current Broncos. Viveiros spent the 2018-2019 season on the Edmonton Oilers bench as an assistant coach. Manny’s strong track record is yet another reason for optimism in Spokane. 

Three Storylines:

1) Status of McGrew and Smith.

The status of these two dynamic players could elevate the Chiefs to a whole different level. With one or both returned, Spokane should be among the heavy favorites to represent the Western Conference in the WHL Final. With high expectations last season as well, the Chiefs fell slightly short during the regular season but proved their top-end talent by making it to the conference finals. Will Spokane put together a dominant regular season to capture the U.S. Division crown? Jake McGrew and/or Ty Smith certainly help their cause. 

2) Duplicate power-play success.

As previously mentioned, the conversion rate of the Chiefs power play was a key factor in their deep playoff run. However, Spokane also led the WHL regular season in both power-play metrics — on the man advantage, they scored 81 goals and converted on 29.1% of their opportunities. The Chiefs had three players net double-digit goals while up a man — Luc Smith (15), Riley Woods (11), and Jake McGrew (10).

Adam Beckman (Photo: Spokane Chiefs/Larry Brunt)

With two, possibly all three, not returning to the Chiefs, the expectation would be for a drop-off. Yet, in the preseason, Spokane’s power play was 30% successful. 

Luke Toporowski and Adam Beckman will fill the void after each scored eight times on the power play in 2018-2019. 

Perhaps one of the best set-up men in the WHL, 19-year-old Eli Zummack, figures to help lead the Chiefs. The Kelowna, British Columbia, native contributed 23 power-play assists along with a total of 53 assists last year. 

2020 NHL Entry Draft prospect Jack Finley should also benefit from some of the vacated spots on the power play units. Standing six-foot-five, 205-pounds, the 17-year-old is a prime candidate to be their net-front presence. 

3) Blue line contributions.

With or without Ty Smith, the Spokane blue line will be called upon to help support the tremendous firepower they boast up front. The Chiefs received great news when the Toronto Maple Leafs sent Filip Král back. In only 47 games played a year ago, the Blansko, Czech Republic, native scored 10 goals and 26 assists for the Chiefs. His offensive contribution will be a welcome sight for Chiefs fans. 

Noah King will have an increased role depending on what the Chiefs do with their overage situation. Král, King, McGrew, Ethan McIndoe (currently injured), and netminder Reece Klassen are still with the team. Should King stick, he will be relied upon to be a shut-down defenseman. 

Matt Leduc, Bobby Russell, and Luke Gallagher are 19-year-old defensemen looking to take the next step. The trio combined for 22 points in 2018-2019, but additional opportunities may be available when their season kicks off on Friday in Kamloops. 

Predictions:

The Chiefs schedule is changed slightly with Kootenay being relocated to Winnipeg. In 2018-2019, Spokane played the ICE five times, winning all five by a combined score of 30-16. The ICE are a stronger team in 2019-2020, and Spokane only faces them once. The other U.S. Division teams last year only faced Kootenay one time each. Can the Chiefs clear those eight points with potentially tougher opponents on the schedule? 

With or without McGrew and Smith back in Spokane, I see the Chiefs as the clear favorites in a tightly contested U.S. Division. Entering the year, I feel the division is Spokane’s to lose. The firepower they have upfront, along with their ability to punish teams for taking penalties and having NHL drafted goaltending, Spokane checks all the boxes one looks for when picking a favorite. 

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