Brian Liesse

Off-season outlook: Prince George Cougars

We continue on with our ongoing series as we start the long road to the 2019-20 WHL season. We will be going in the order that teams were eliminated from contention. Keep in mind that the roster guesses vary because of information made available to us. We did our very best to capture all of the signings, but could be missing some.

2018-19 WHL Season: The Cougars took a step back in 2018-19 and had a 19-41-5-3 record for 46 points. That was last in the WHL’s Western Conference. The franchise has not made it out of the first round since 2007.

New general manager Mark Lamb let head coach Richard Matvichuk go midway through the season and finished the year behind the bench. First and foremost for them, they need to find a new head coach this summer.

Vladislav Mikhalchuk (Photo-Brian Liesse)

Despite the struggles, Taylor Gauthier was a shining star in net for the Cougars. He put up a 3.25 GAA and 0.899 save percentage, though his play was much better than those numbers and his NHL Draft stock was improved as the season went.

Unlike the Regina Pats and Swift Current Broncos, the Cougars were not able to trade players away last season and pick up draft picks and young players. They were left in a position where a lot of their top scorers were 19 or older. Vladislav Mikhalchuk was a threat to score every game with the puck on his stick and Josh Maser played a strong two-way game. They will need to make some tough decisions regarding whether to just go really young and try to build that way, or keep their older players and hope the new coach turns them into a playoff team.

2019 WHL Bantam Draft: They will be up on stage on March 2nd, a couple of times early. They have the Swift Current Broncos’ first round pick (second overall) and their own (fourth overall). They also have the Portland Winterhawks’ second round pick and moved their own third round pick.

With Matthew Savoie expected to go first overall to Winnipeg, the Cougars could be looking at a guy like forward Conor Geekie out of Strathclair, Manitoba.

Signed Players (26):

Forwards (15):

Ryan Schoettler (Photo-Ben Ludeman)

1999 – Josh Maser, Vladislav Mikhalchuk

2000 – Liam Ryan*, Ilijah Colina#, Jackson Leppard, Max Kryski*, Reid Perepeluk

2001 – Tyson Upper, Brendan Boyle, Matej Toman, Connor Bowie, Ethan Browne

2002 – Mitch Kohner

2003 – Craig Armstrong*, Blake Eastman*

Defensemen (8):

1999 – Ryan Schoettler, Austin Crossley, Cameron MacPhee*^

2000 – Cole Moberg, Jack Sander

2001 – Rhett Rhinehart, Cole Beamin

2002 –

2003 – Mason Dunsford*

Goalies (3):

1999 –

2000 – Isaiah DiLaura

2001 – Taylor Gauthier

2002 –

2003 – Tyler Brennan*

*=Did not play at least 10 games in the WHL last season.

^=Likely not returning as he played just two games last season and would be an overage for this coming season.

Matej Toman (Photo-Brian Liesse)

#=Stepped away from the team midway through the season.

Overage Shuffle: This is the first team in our series with more than the allotted number of overage players for the 2019-20 WHL season right now. This also directly affects the next category here too as their leading scorer from last season, Mikhalchuk is an import and an overage. With this roster not looking like a contender again, I cannot see them keeping Mikhalchuk as a two-spotter. That doesn’t mean they couldn’t find him a home somewhere as that as he is a talented play-maker.

That leaves, their second-leading scorer in Maser and defensemen Ryan Schoettler and Austin Crossley as the likely 20 year olds they will keep.

Import Issues?: If they do decide to move on from Mikhalchuk, they will be able to take an import with a high pick. Matej Toman put up 20 points in his first season and looked more and more comfortable as the season went on. He should be back.

NHL Draft: Defenseman Cole Moberg was ranked 136th among North American skaters in the last NHL Central Scouting list and Gauthier was the seventh NA goalie.

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