Candice Ward

Guessing the WHL’s overage situations: Eastern Conference

It’s that slow time in the WHL calendar year. Everyone is off on vacation. We are just about a month from training camps kicking off, though, so let’s take a look at the overage situations for each of the 22 WHL teams. Keep in mind, the guess is purely my opinion on what I think will happen.

We would love to hear your thoughts as well in the comments below.

Brandon Wheat Kings:

  • Connor Gutenberg (Forward)
  • Zach Wytinck (Defense)
  • Jiri Patera (Goalie) (Import)

-Stelio Mattheos is also an option but is an NHL-signed 1999-born player and thus likely bound for the pro ranks.

Connor Gutenberg (Photo by Andy Devlin)

-Baron Thompson committed to the Dauphin Kings of the MJHL and so will be playing Junior A as a 20-year-old.

My Guess: Gutenberg, Wytinck, and Patera.

Gutenberg is the second highest returning scorer as he potted 47 points in 2018-19. Wytinck led the Wheat Kings in scoring from the blue line with 43 points. Both of those two appear to be complete locks to return to a team that just missed the playoffs last season.

Patera’s future with Brandon looks a little less certain. There have been no reports, as of yet, saying he is not coming back to the WHL, but he was a sixth-round pick by the Vegas Golden Knights and could either play somewhere in their system or return overseas. If he goes back to the Wheat Kings, he would take up both an import and an overage spot. Brandon made two picks in the 2019 CHL Import Draft but have yet to sign either so far.

Calgary Hitmen:

Mark Kastelic (Photo by Candice Ward)
  • Mark Kastelic (Forward)
  • James Malm (Forward)
  • Dakota Krebs (Defense)

My Guess: Kastelic, Malm, and Krebs.

Malm came over in a mid-season trade with the Vancouver Giants and piled up 62 points in 51 games. The play-making forward is key to the Hitmen’s hopes for a long playoff run. Krebs may not put up the points, but the six-foot-four and 204-pound, right-handed blueliner is a key shutdown d-man.

Kastelic had an incredible 2018-19 season, leading the team with 77 points. He had an amazing 47 goals, with 24 coming on the power play. The only reason his return is in question is that he was drafted by the Ottawa Senators in the 2019 NHL Draft and, at six-foot-three and 220 pounds, has the size and toughness to go straight to the professional ranks. Ottawa might be better served, though, to send him back for another WHL season, where he will be the odds-on favorite to lead the league in goals.

Edmonton Oil Kings:

Riley Sawchuk
Riley Sawchuk (Photo by Doug Love)
  • Riley Sawchuk (Forward)
  • Conner McDonald (Defense)
  • Parker Gavlas (Defense)
  • Dylan Myskiw (Goalie)

-Trey Fix-Wolansky (signed by Columbus is also a ’99 but will be playing professionally in 2019-20.

My Guess: Sawchuk, McDonald, and Myskiw.

Sawchuk is a solid two-way center who had 53 points last season with the Tri-City Americans. Sawchuk was acquired for a third-round pick last month and will give the Oil Kings some center depth. Those 53 points would have been fourth on the Oil Kings in 2018-19.

McDonald is the returning leading scorer with Quinn Benjafield, Vince Loschiavo, and Fix-Wolansky moving on. The blueliner had 50 points and was a stellar power play quarterback.

The last spot is a really tough call. Gavlas is a shutdown d-man who was brought in for an eighth-round pick last season. With Will Warm being moved out, an older d-man holding down the PK could be something Edmonton really values.

The key in the 20-year-old debate, to me, is whether Edmonton wants to go with 2000-born Todd Scott and 2002-born Sebastian Cossa as their duo in the crease. Cossa was a second-round pick in 2017 and, after battling through an early injury, put up some good numbers with the Fort Saskatchewan Rangers Midget AAA team. He had a 2.03 GAA and 0.938 save percentage in eight AMHL playoff games.

Scott also was hurt to start the season. He played in 17 games, putting up a 2.78 GAA and 0.906 save percentage. Myskiw held the net down in his absence and put up a 2.53 GAA and 0.914 save percentage in 45 games.

Myskiw got the net to start the playoffs, but after stumbling in Game 3, Scott took over. Edmonton then went back to Myskiw for the next round, and he may have been the Oil Kings’ best player in their four-game sweep of the Calgary Hitmen. He gave up just four goals over those four games. Myskiw then went toe-to-toe with Ian Scott of the Prince Albert Raiders. If the Oil Kings went with the overage goalie, based on his track record, who can argue with them.

Lethbridge Hurricanes:

D-Jay Jerome (Photo by Jay Wallace)
  • Scott Mahovlich (Forward)
  • D-Jay Jerome (Forward)
  • Ty Prefontaine (Defense)
  • Koletrane Wilson (Defense)

-Jake Leschyshyn, Nick Henry and Jordy Bellerive are all 1999-born players who have signed with NHL teams and thus are likely not coming back. Zachary Cox is no longer on the Hurricanes protected list.

My Guess: Jerome, Prefontaine and Wilson.

For a team that is losing five of their top-six scorers from last season, there are not a lot of proven WHL scorers returning among the five players listed above.

Blueliner Wilson is actually the returning leading scorer of the group with 19 assists last season and Mahovlich had six points in 21 regular season and six playoff games with the ‘Canes.

Lethbridge went and got Jerome from Victoria, and he put up 42 points in his 19-year-old season with the Royals. He should get every opportunity to earn a spot on the opening night roster for the ‘Canes, and if he can repeat his 10 points in five preseason games from last September, he should be in to grab one of the three spots.

Medicine Hat Tigers:

James Hamblin (Photo by Portland Winterhawks/Pat Kempany)
  • Logan Christensen (Forward)
  • James Hamblin (Forward)
  • Hayden Ostir (Forward)
  • Tyler Preziuso (Forward)
  • Jordan Hollett (Goalie)

-Hollet was drafted by the Ottawa Senators in 2017, was not signed, and is now a free agent.

My Guess: Hamblin, Preziuso, and Christensen.

Injuries will play a crucial role in the decision for new head coach and general manager Willie Desjardins. Hamblin, who piled up 77 points in 67 games last season after hurting his arm at the end of the 2017-18 campaign, caught a rut in the ice at Toronto Maples Leafs’ camp and was carted off, suffering from an apparent leg injury. Hamblin, who led the team in scoring in the regular season and playoffs, is the biggest lock among the group of four.

If Hamblin is injured enough to miss any time at the start of the regular season, the group of three left is still a strong one.

Preziuso had 50 points and will be factored into the top-six. He should be back as well.

That last spot is a tough one though. Ostir, when healthy, is the more proven offensive player with 22 points in 49 games last season and 21 points in 31 games with the Tigers in 2017-18.

Christensen, meanwhile, was acquired for Gary Haden last season and definitely filled a role for Medicine Hat. He is a stellar two-way forward who can play up the middle for them. If Hamblin is ready by training camp and Ostir is healthy, my money is on the Tigers moving out Ostir as he should find a role on another WHL team.

Even with Sogaard playing so well and getting drafted by Ottawa in the 2019 draft, the Tigers still have an overage goalie available to them in Hollett. I would not expect they’d bring him back as Sogaard’s back up, but they could find a market for the netminder out there.

Moose Jaw Warriors:

Vladislav Yeryomenko (Photo by Andy Devlin)
  • Luke Orsmby (Forward)
  • Alec Zawatsky (Forward)
  • Vladislav Yeryomenko (Defense) (Import)

-Justin Almeida and Josh Brook are NHL-signed 20-year-olds and are likely not to return.

Moose Jaw moved Jett Woo to the Calgary Hitmen earlier this summer, and Yeryomenko was one of the players coming back the other way. He was taken by Nashville in the fifth round of the 2018 NHL Draft but has yet to sign. If he does sign with them or elsewhere professionally, that will open up an overage spot.

Both Ormsby and Zawatsky were acquired last season. With all the losses up front, Zawatsky is actually the second leading returning scorer for the Warriors behind Brayden Tracey, with 28 points in 2018-19. The concern for Moose Jaw has to be that he put up just two points in 25 games once he was brought in, with Tyler Smithies and two draft picks going the other way.

Ormsby plays a tenacious game and tries to get under the skin of his opponents. With so much proven offense leaving, he may be asked to provide some more goals.

Prince Albert Raiders:

Brayden Pachal (Photo by Lucas Chudleigh/Apollo Multimedia)
  • Jeremy Masella (Defense)
  • Max Martin (Defense)
  • Zach Hayes (Defense)
  • Brayden Pachal (Defense)

-Brett Leason (Washington) and Ian Scott (Toronto) are both signed by NHL teams and likely will not be back. Sergei Sapego was signed to an AHL deal by the Toronto Marlies, and he will start 2019-20 with them.

-Brian Harris was on their playoff roster, but as he did not play a regular season or playoff game for them, I would be surprised if he went to the Raiders’ camp.

My Guess: Martin, Hayes, and Pachal.

There is a good argument that moving Hayes or Martin may be a smart move as either could play in a top-four role pretty much anywhere in the WHL and would help the Raiders bring in a forward or two to help with all the losses up front.

Martin is a smooth skating d-man who put up 41 points from the blue line in the regular season and had eight assists in the playoffs. Pachal is the team captain and should be back. He had 51 points in the regular season and eight from the back end in the post-season.

Hayes is a hulking shutdown d-man who is a real pain to play against. He had 27 regular season points but is known more for his ability to make it hard to get anywhere near his net.

Masella came a long way in 2018-19 and is another big d-man who is tough to play against. Unless one of Hayes or Martin is moved, though, I have trouble seeing him beat them out for an overage spot.

Red Deer Rebels:

Cameron Hausinger (Photo by Paul Figler)
  • Cameron Hausinger (Forward)
  • Brett Davis (Forward)
  • Ethan Sakowich (Defense)
  • Carson Sass (Defense)

-Alexander Alexeyev is a signed prospect of the Washington Capitals and will play the 2019-20 season in their system.

The Rebels moved a significant amount of assets to the then Kootenay ICE for Davis and Hausinger, so it seems really likely both will be back. Davis was a draft pick of the Dallas Stars but was not signed and is now a free agent. He seems primed for a big season like Brandon Hagel had last year.

The last spot should come down to one of Sakowich or Sass. Of the two, Sakowich seems the more offensively potent from the blue line, with 18 points to Sass’ 10 and 110 shots on goal to Sass’ 80. With Alexeyev moving on, it seems the Rebels would value a d-man who can provide some offense like Sakowich.

Regina Pats:

Austin Pratt (Photo by Keith Hershmiller Photography)
  • Austin Pratt (Forward)
  • Sebastian Streu (Forward)
  • Robbie Holmes (Forward)
  • Dawson Holt (Forward)

-Both Holmes and Holt were acquired this summer, setting the table for what should be a tough battle for the three overage spots.

My Guess: Pratt, Holmes, and Holt.

Pratt carried a lot of the load for the Pats last season as they kept moving out older forwards. He ended up putting up 51 points, and the Pats held on to him despite likely receiving trade offers for the experienced forward.

Holmes put up 16 points in 24 games with the Pats before going to Everett. He now comes back as an overage forward who knows the locker room.

Holt was an enigma for much of his time in Vancouver. He is a fast-skating forward with a pro-ready shot who just never consistently put up points. In the playoffs, he finally got healthy and scored often, with many of his markers coming in big spots. After just six goals and 19 points in 53 regular season games as a 19-year-old, he was fourth on the team in playoff scoring with seven goals and 16 points in 22 games.

Holt is a player who I could see having a breakout overage campaign in a top-line role. He certainly has the tools. Streu came over from the Kootenay ICE as a waiver-wire pick up. In 36 games, he had 22 points. He will very likely get a chance to earn one of the spots, but if Holt continues his strong playoff play, I don’t see how Streu can get one of the three spots over that trio.

Saskatoon Blades:

Ryan Hughes (Photo by David Zammit)
  • Riley McKay (Forward)
  • Gary Haden (Forward)
  • Ryan Hughes (Forward)
  • Nolan Kneen (Defense)
  • Dorrin Luding (Goalie)

-Kristian Roykas-Marthinsen was a draft pick of the Washington Capitals in 2017, but despite the Caps handing out entry-level contracts to WHL players like Leason and Aliaksei Protas, Roykas-Marthinsen remains unsigned. He does not have to be signed until June 1st, 2021, but the Blades drafting two imports means they do not expect him back.

My Guess: Hughes, Haden, and Kneen.

Saskatoon traded a valuable player in Josh Paterson and a second-round pick for Hughes. The play-making forward put up 29 points in 25 regular season games and added six points in the post-season. His style seems to fit well with a big center like Kirby Dach, and that tandem could light up the league, should Dach be back.

Haden had just 53 points in 115 games over three seasons with Medicine Hat before Saskatoon GM Colin Priestner acquired him. “Uncle Gary”  then piled up 62 points in just 55 games with the Blades. If Dach does not come back and instead stays in the NHL with Chicago, Hughes and Haden would be the returning leading scorers. Both seem to be locks to snag two of the overage spots.

Even with all of those points, quite possibly the most important overager of those listed above is Nolan Kneen. The defenseman came over from Kamloops in a trade and put up 25 points in 33 games. Eight of his 23 assists came on the power play. With Dawson Davidson and Brandon Schuldhaus aging out, Reece Harsch getting traded, and import Emil Malysjev not coming back, the blue line looks extremely young outside of Kneen.

That means a solid backup goalie in Luding and a big forward who was starting to find some scoring touch in McKay are on the outside looking in.

Swift Current Broncos:

Jake Kustra (photo-Jay Wallace)
  • Ian Briscoe (Forward)
  • Ethan O’Rourke (Forward)
  • Jake Kustra (Defense)

My Guess: Briscoe, O’Rourke, and Kustra.

Kustra was scooped up off of waivers from the Victoria Royals. The overage d-man should be inserted in a top-four role and should be a good leader for a very young blue line in Swift Current.

O’Rourke (20 points) and Briscoe (11 points) did not help put the puck in the net much in 2018-19, but they still are two of the top-nine returning scorers, with only Tannger Nagel moving on from the top-10 in scoring for 2018-19.

In what should be another rebuilding season in Swift Current, the overage spots are almost more about what they provide off the ice in helping the younger players grow than just stats.

Isaac Johnson
Isaac Johnson (photo-Doug Love)

Winnipeg ICE:

  • Isaac Johnson (Forward)
  • Davis Murray (Forward)
  • Chase Hartje (Defense)
  • Reece Harsch (Defense)

-Defenseman Jonathan Smart left the team and went to the BCHL during last season. He will likely stay there.

My Guess: Johnson, Hartje, and Harsch.

Johnson left the Tri-City Americans for personal reasons in 2018-19. If he is ready to return to hockey, he could be one of the more dynamic overage forwards in the league. He had 32 points in 31 games before leaving and could improve on that, playing with Peyton Krebs.

Hartje and Harsch should help make up for the loss of Martin Bodak off the blue line. Harsch put up 20 points and Hartje had 26. Those two should be a lock for the top-four for the ICE.

That leaves Murray on the outside looking in, in my opinion. He has shown potential, but just has not provided enough offense to take one of the three spots on what should be an improved team.

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