At the start of the 2018-19 season I offered up “22 Teams, 22 Questions” as my version of a preview for the coming WHL campaign. My twist on it was to take one aspect from each of the league’s 22 teams and spotlight what I was watching for over the course of the season. With skates hung up for the summer, I thought it would make sense to reflect and see how those 22 questions were answered.
22 Teams, 22 Answers
Brandon – “Is Luka Burzan about to break out?”
40 goals and 78 points later…I would suggest the answer to this question is a resounding “YES”. I thought it was an oversight that he wasn’t chosen at the 2018 NHL Draft and I would be floored if the same happened again this time around in Vancouver. The 6’1, 190 lb forward would also be high on my trade target list if I was a WHL GM looking to make a run in 2019-20.
Calgary – “Can Carl Stankowski seriously miss an entire 17-year-old season and return to his 2016 playoff form?”
No, he could not. In fact, the Hitmen’s story between the pipes this year was rookie Jack McNaughton and the way he stepped in and carried the load while Stankowski was on the shelf for an extended period of time.
Edmonton – “Do the Oil Kings have a starting goalie?”
A funny thing happened after I posed that question. Todd Scott got hurt at the end of training camp and Oil Kings GM Kirt Hill brought in perennial depth goalie Dylan Myskiw via trade and the rest is history. Myskiw backstopped Edmonton to the Central Division title and a playoff run to the Eastern Conference championship.
Everett – “Carter Hart is gone…now what?”
Oh you know, just more of the same from the Silvertips. This time it was Dustin Wolf who won 41 games and posted 7 shutouts. Ho hum, just another season in Everett.
Kamloops – “What does Jermaine Loewen do for an encore?”
I really wasn’t expecting the answer to this question to be “get suspended twice for a total of 7 games, produce less than last year and get dropped by the Dallas Stars”. My fingers are crossed for Loewen that he gets another opportunity with a NHL camp invite or something, there is a player in there.
Kelowna – “Can the Rockets hold onto a playoff spot after losing the last pieces of their 2015 championship squad?”
“Nope”. But they were pretty darn close.
Kootenay – “Is the 1-2 punch of Peyton Krebs and rookie Connor McClennon enough in Cranbrook?”
“Nope”. McClennon missed a third of his rookie season and Krebs, as talented as he is, couldn’t carry the team by himself.
Lethbridge – “Will Jordy Bellerive still have his scoring touch?”
It took him a while to find his form after the off season campfire incident but eventually Bellerive got going. Credit to GM Peter Anholt as it was his acquisition of Ian Henry and Jake Leschyshyn that kicked started his whole team for the second half of the season.
Medicine Hat – “What happens if the Tigers get Mason Shaw or David Quenneville (or both) back as 20 year olds?”
Admittedly a bit of a cop out question, this one ended up being a moot point as neither player returned to the WHL.
Moose Jaw – “Can Justin Almeida continue to put up the points now that he’s going to be the focus every night?”
Yes he can and yes he did to the tune of an 111-point campaign that included 33 goals. It’s worth reminding that Almeida wasn’t the only show in town either as Tristin Langan and rookie Brayden Tracey rode shotgun on his wings all season and the trio was one of the league’s deadliest lines.
Portland – “Where is Henri Jokiharju playing this season?”
A few places, none of them were in Oregon though, much to the chagrin of Winterhawks fans. The Finnish defender played 38 games in the NHL for Chicago and another 30 for their AHL affiliate. There was also the gold medal wins at the 2019 WJC and the Men’s World Championship for Finland.
Prince Albert – “Is this the year that Ian Scott finally establishes himself as a top junior goaltender?”
I think I can safely suggest that Scott lived up to, and maybe exceeded, all expectations this year for the Raiders. Hell, not only did he go on to be named playoff MVP but when he wasn’t stopping goals he was scoring them himself.
Prince George – “Will Taylor Gauthier be the first goaltender from the WHL to be drafted next June?”
The draft is in a couple of weeks so obviously we’re still crystal balling this one but most pundits expect that Medicine Hat Tigers netminder Mads Sogaard will be the first goalie from the WHL to be selected in Vancouver.
Red Deer – “Where is the offence going to come from?”
I swear that this was a legit concern at the start of the season! At season’s end, the Rebels sat 13th in league scoring with 223 goals for. Keep in mind that the Rebels really struggled over the final month of the regular season but up to then, they were proving a lot of doubters wrong. Me included.
Regina – “When does the fire sale start?”
The big deal came on November 29th when Henry and Leschyshyn were dealt to Lethbridge but Regina made a pair of deals earlier in the month that may have been the sign of things to come. Aaron Hyman was sent to Tri-City on the 26th while Parker Gavlas was traded to Edmonton right before Remembrance Day.
Saskatoon – “This is the year…right? No seriously. A return to the playoffs.”
It sure was. The Blades not only made the post season but they finished the regular season as the second best team in the Eastern Conference. Unfortunately, they met up with Prince Albert in round 2 and that was all she wrote for this year.
Seattle – “Is Slovakian import Andrej Kukuca the real deal?”
I didn’t get the chance to see Seattle in person this year as the U.S. clubs hosted the Central Division but after a 25-goal, 57-point rookie campaign, I would lean towards…yes.
Spokane – “Are the Chiefs ready to claim their first US division crown?”
I really thought the Chiefs underachieved this year until the last month or so when they caught and passed Portland to earn home ice advantage in the playoffs. They didn’t sit atop the division at the end of the season but they knocked off Everett in impressive style during round 2.
Swift Current – “How long, how far and how hard will they fall?”
Predictably, very far. From 48 wins the previous year to just 11 wins and a last place finish. The 28-point campaign was the lowest total the league had seen since 2009-10 when the Prince George Cougars limped to a 12-win finish.
Tri-City – “Do the Americans have a starting goaltender?”
Beck Warm rose to the challenge by winning 32 games and managing a .916 save percentage and 2.94 goals against average.
Vancouver – “Are the Giants going the be killers once again?”
I thought they would be the best team in their division and they were but it was during the playoffs where the Giants really impressed. Coach Michael Dyck and the Giants fought back from a 3-1 deficit to finish a goal short (in overtime) of claiming the WHL crown.
Victoria – “Is good goaltending enough to make the playoffs?”
Yes and this was made all the more clear after the trade deadline when Cam Hope dealt the team’s top scorer, Dante Hannoun, to the Prince Albert Raiders. Griffen Outhouse saw some of his numbers dip a bit from previous years but all things considered it was another strong performance from the UFA.