We’re a solid month into the 2018-19 WHL season which provides a large enough sample size for fans and pundits alike to start picking things apart. Here are my Hot Takes from what I’ve seen so far this season.
-Everyone who picked Prince Albert Raiders forward Brett Leason to lead the WHL in scoring this season raise your hand. Everyone with their hand up…you’re a LIAR! What a great start to the season for the big forward but after his 33 point season a year ago, NO ONE could (or should) have expected this from Leason. He’s going to eclipse his career best season in just over a month. Fantastic! But its also fair to wonder if it is sustainable for the rest of the year.
– Speaking of the Raiders, remember my pre-season write up where I singled out Ian Scott as someone who has to start living up to expectations? So far so good. He’s delivering the performances that someone of his pedigree should at this stage of his career and it’s terrific to see.
– The news of the week came from Kelowna where, seemingly out of nowhere, Jason Smith was sacked one day and replaced by Adam Foote the next. I don’t have a feel for the day-to-day around the Rockets but I was surprised and the social media reaction from those who DO cover the team seemed to indicate the same.
– I also wrote before this season about the difficulty that coaches unfamiliar with the league have making their mark in the WHL. I guess we can add Adam Foote to the experiment this year as he has zero personal experience with the league aside from watching sons Cal and Nolan. Foote has also never coached junior players. Should we expect the same type of learning curve we’ve heard talked about from coaches like James Patrick?
– Lastly on the coaching change in Kelowna, the optics of hiring the father of the club’s prize player don’t look great. Is he qualified? It would be pretty silly to suggest that Adam Foote isn’t qualified to share his knowledge of playing hockey but it just looks bad. Was Smith doing a bad job? His 88-44-10-2 record says No. Foote told Regan Bartel and the Kelowna media that “[Smith] taught my kids a lot, they loved him”.
– Kyle Topping continues to be an intrgiuing story. An 11th round pick that posted 65 points in his draft year – and didn’t get taken. “A product of his linemates” was what naysayers said last year. Well he’s now top 10 in league scoring and riding a 9-game heater where he’s compiled 14 points along the way to his totals.
– I find myself reminding listeners of The Pipeline Show that I am not a scout. The NHL folks must see something that I don’t when it comes to guys like Brandon Hagel. Taken by the Buffalo Sabres in 2016, he went unsigned and was passed over in the 2018 draft. The Habs invited him to camp so there is at least interest in the Morinville product. All I know is that Hagel lacks traditional size but he can play the game. I saw him torch the Oil Kings for four goals last week and he didn’t do it with smoke and mirrors.
– That brings me to the Oil Kings who went 0-5-1 on their recent trip through the US Division (with a overtime loss in Cranbrook to start off the tour). The losing steak brought them back to the pack after their best start in franchise history had them leading the league for a couple of weeks.
– Trey Fix-Wolansky does something every game, sometimes every period, that makes me say “Did he seriously just do that?”. He’s Edmonton’s best shooter and best set up guy – if there was a way he could pass to himself, their power play would be unreal. Yes he’s short but he’s built like a fire hydrant and boy can he handle the puck.
– Mike Sawatazky’s story last week Winnipeg Free Press (link: https://www.winnipegfreepress.com/sports/hockey/junior/winnipeg-could-ice-another-team-498077991.html) reminded everyone that the Kootenay Ice aren’t drawing fans and that the team could be Manitoba bound for next year. Ever since new ownership took over, it’s really seemed like only a matter of time until that day comes. I said it when the Ice unveiled their Winnipeg Jets coloured uniforms and everyone that I talk to around the rinks believes the franchise will relocate eventually.
– If the Ice DO move, at least no one will be able to say that Greg Fettes and Matt Cockell didn’t give it a real, honest go of it in Cranbrook.
– Whatever happened to the WHL-sized arena that was supposed to be built in Frog Lake, just west of Lloydminster, AB?
– I’m not the first to say it but, wouldn’t disgruntled Calgary Hitmen forward Tristen Nielsen be exactly the type of player the Kelowna Rockets would like to add for the rest of this season and next, when they host the Memorial Cup?
– A text I received from Oil Kings broadcaster Andrew Peard from Portland during that Edmonton road trip a couple weeks ago: “[Cody] Glass has no business being in this league”. Glass, who has more than two points per game thus far, torched the Oil Kings for 4 points that night.
– How about Trent Miner of the Vancouver Giants? He’s only played 4 games but he’s been named the WHL Goalie of the Week twice. The NHL draft eligible native of Brandon, MB has a shiny 1.24 goals against average and .958 save percentage.
– Michael Rasmussen has played 8 games with the Detroit Red Wings this season. With one point so far, I have to think he’ll be back in Kennewick shortly to finish the year with the Americans.
– If so, he’d become the 14th forward named to the roster for Team WHL in the Canada-Russia Series.
– Speaking of the Canada-Russia Series, does Jason Smith still get to be assistant coach if he still wants to be?
As always, if you want to comment directly to me on anything you read above, fire me off a note on Twitter (@TPS_Guy).