Last Season: 34-28-5-1-74 points. They finished in the first wild card spot.
Their first season under their new head coach Kelly Buchberger was one where most of the big names turned professional. This included Morgan Geekie, who signed a late contract with Carolina, and Michael Rasmussen, who played in 62 games with the Detroit Red Wings as a 19-year-old. Forward Isaac Johnson also left midway through the season to return home. All in all, the Americans lost six of the top seven scorers off the team that made it to the Western Conference Final in 2017-18.
Buchberger employed a tight-checking style that helped them grind out close games. They leaned heavily on now overage goalie Beck Warm, as he faced the most shots of any goalie in the league. Warm kept them in many games, and the likes of Parker AuCoin, Nolan Yaremko, and Kyle Olson among others scored big goals to help them pull out wins or force extra-time and snag a point.
Tri-City ran into the Everett Silvertips in the first round of the playoffs, and Warm and company played them tight for the first couple of games, winning on home ice. Ultimately, Connor Dewar, Bryce Kindopp, Dustin Wolf, and a veteran defense were too much as the Americans had their season end in a five-game series.
Losses: AuCoin (84 points — led the team) and Yaremko (66 points — third in team scoring) are the big losses up front. The Americans also moved out solid, two-way center Riley Sawchuk (53 points — fourth in team scoring) because of the overage shuffle. Defenseman Aaron Hyman (26 points in 43 games) also aged out of the league. 1999-born defenseman Riley Bruce (one assist) and 2000-born import blue liner Roman Kalinichenko (nine points) also did not return. Tri-City brought overage d-man Carson Sass into camp before shipping him off to the Kelowna Rockets. 2000-born blue liner Kyle Pow also got a look in the preseason.
Additions: Former second-round pick by the Edmonton Oil Kings Jayden Platz came in and played five preseason games. 2000-born forward Nikita Krivokrasov, formerly of the Prince Albert Raiders, came into camp and stuck around as well.
Tri-City also went to the import draft and took 18-year-old forward Jan Cikhart and 2001-born defenseman David Homola. The Americans signed two additional forwards in Edge Lambert and Landon Roberts. Those two will be fighting for playing time after being listed by Tri-City.
After getting into three playoff games, former first-round pick and incoming 16-year-old Marc Lajoie was very impressive in the preseason and looks ready to play big minutes in the WHL, even at a young age. Other 16-year-olds looking to come in and make the final roster are forwards Tyson Greenway and Parker Bell.
Three storylines for this season:
Lean on me
No team in the U.S. Division relied on their goalie as much as Tri-City did on Warm. He faced a whopping 2,102 shots in 61 games played, stopping 1,925 of them. He won 32 games and put up a 2.94 GAA and 0.916 save percentage. If not for Wolf, Warm may well have claimed Western Conference goalie of the year. He played behind a young defense that lost four key defensemen. Warm was often the one holding them in games in which they were being badly outshot and gave them a chance to win. They found a way to pull out many close games against division rivals. Looking at the team this year, they will again need Warm to do what he did a season ago, though 17-year-old goalie Talyn Boyko showed in the preseason that he can step up and play more than the 10 he got last season. Boyko put up a 2.35 GAA and 0.950 save percentage in three games played this preseason.
Let’s do the overage shuffle
Tri-City has a history of having over the number of three overagers allowed in the preseason and working its way down. That is the case going into the season this year with Warm, Olson, Krystof Hrabik, and Dom Schmiemann. Olson was named team captain and is the returning leading scorer. Warm is the starting goalie and was arguably the team MVP last season. That leaves one spot, in my mind, open for Hrabik and Schmiemann. Hrabik had 21 goals and 30 assists for 51 points in his first season in the WHL and seems primed to increase that by 20 or more as an overager. He would take up both an import and an overage spot, though, and that would mean one of Cikhart and Homola could not stay. However, Schmiemann missed all of training camp and the preseason with an injury, so the decision won’t have to be made until he is back and healthy. Tri-City needs what both of them bring, with Hrabek able to help with their lack of proven scoring up front and the need for Schmiemann to be there on the back end and play a rough and tumble style that makes it hard on the opponents forwards.
Out of the depths
Where is the depth scoring going to come from? Olson, Hrabik, and Sasha Mutala (41 points as a 17-year-old) are going to score. Mutala has shown signs in the preseason and Colorado Avalanche training camp — after being drafted by them — of having a breakout season. 80-plus points does not seem like a stretch after putting up six points in two preseason games and making it look easy. Those three can be counted on to lead the way, I think. Beyond them, players like Connor Bouchard (32 points last season), Samuel Huo (three goals in preseason), Krivokrasov (four points in the preseason), Kaden Kohle (three points in preseason), and others need to step up and give the team some depth scoring.
From the back end, Samuel Stewart (18 assists last season) and Mitchell Brown (16 points) will be getting more opportunities to add some production with the departure of Hyman.
How much they can add to the more proven group could mean a lot in terms of how well the Americans can keep up. Their system and their goaltending have proven themselves, but to make a playoff run, they will need the aforementioned players or others to step up.