Darwin Knelsen

2018-19 WHL season previews: Brandon Wheat Kings

Brandon Wheat Kings

2017-18:

The Wheat Kings surprised many by surging toward the forefront of a competitive East Division at the Christmas break. Then General Manager Grant Armstrong saw Moose Jaw, Regina and Swift Current buying and driving up prices. Instead of going all in, Armstrong decided to sell. Armstrong got a great return for defenseman Kale Clague and Tanner Kaspick and still found their way into a wild card spot.

Once there, Brandon upset the Medicine Hat Tigers, despite being without their starting netminder, before falling in the second round to the Lethbridge Hurricanes.

Offseason departures:

  • Evan Weinger – RW – 1997 – aged out of the league.
  • James Shearer – D – 1997 – aged out of the league.
  • Logan Thompson – G – 1997 – aged out of the league.
  • Dylan Myskiw – G – 1999 – traded to the Edmonton Oil Kings.
  • Daniel Bukac – D – 1999 – released and was then taken in the import draft by Niagara of the OHL.
  • Gunnar Wegleitner – RW – 1998 – traded to the Victoria Royals and has since been released by them.

Newcomers: 

Brandon used the import draft to take Vegas Golden Knights drafted goalie Jiri Patera. The 1999-born Czech native is now in the driver’s seat for the Wheaties with Myskiw being traded away.

There will actually be no goalies who have played a regular season game in the WHL yet as Ethan Kruger, a 2001-born netminder is the other goalie on the roster.

A couple rookies to keep an eye on this year – especially if you are a Victoria Royals fan – are 2001-born defenseman Jonny Lambos and 2002-bornb forward Ty Thorpe. Both players were brought in from the Royals as part of the Kaspick trade.

Ridly Greig (Scouting News)

2000-born right wing Lynden McCallum will be trying to stick with the team this year but will have to contend for a spot with Thorpe and 2017 eighth overall Bantam pick Ridly Greig.

Lambos is one of three 17-year-old blue liners in camp with Neithan Salame and Chad Nychuk. 2017 second round pick Vincent Iorio is also still on the roster and could vie for a spot on the blue line.

Overage situation: 

Currently only two overage players on the roster with forward Linden McCorrister and defenseman Schael Higson. Ty Lewis, who is a signed prospect of the Colorado Avalanche was at training camp and it seems the team is holding a spot for him.

Import situation: 

This is where it gets really interesting. Patera is the only import with the team right now. Brandon also drafted Vegas Golden Knights signed 2017 first round draft pick Erik Brannstrom in the CHL Import Draft. Brannstrom is AHL eligible as a 19-year-old but don’t rule out Brandon as an option for him as Wheat Kings Owner and Governor Kelly McCrimmon is Vegas’ Assistant General Manager. They also drafted right wing Martin Kaut – a 2017 Colorado Avalanche first round pick – in 2017 and still retain his CHL rights. Kaut is also signed by the Avalanche and is also eligible to play in the AHL. If Brandon can get either one of the 1999-born imports in camp, they would add another game-breaker.

Returning scorers:

Pts rank Player GP G A Pts
16 Stelio Mattheos 68 43 47 90
90 Connor Gutenberg 72 18 35 53
120 Linden McCorrister 59 20 23 43
139 Luke Burzan 72 15 25 40
165 Cole Reinhardt 68 19 15 34
202 Schael Higson 71 5 23 28

Forwards: 

Mattheos is where it all starts for Brandon. The 1999-born prospect of the Carolina Hurricanes put up 90 points a season ago and has improved about 30 points a season each year going into this one. He will playing for an NHL contract and should be the driving force of the forward group.

Cole Reinhardt  (Brian Liesse)

Luka Burzan was a key part of the Kale Clague trade and he found his scoring touch when he came over to Brandon. In 12 less games, Burzan had two more points and three more goals. The Wheat Kings will be counting on Burzan to anchor their second line and help provide a scoring touch outside of the Mattheos line.

Linden McCorrister, Baron Thompson and Connor Gutenberg are a few older players in the forward group who have improved each year and they were both key reasons why Brandon was hanging around the top of the East Division.

Caiden Daley and Cole Reinhardt both were rated at different times in NHL Central Scouting’s rankings but neither were taken in the NHL Draft. Reinhardt earned an invite to both Development and Rookie Camp from the Avalanche and impressed. Both will be trying for more consistency this year as they try to get their names called at the next NHL Draft.

Rylan Bettens, Marcus Sekundiak, Jonny Hooker and Ben McCartney help round out this group. They will need to play better to hold off the 16-year-olds in Thorpe and Greig who will be pushing for more ice time.

Should Lewis come back, Brandon could score at a rate not many teams in the East can match.

Schael Higson (Tyler Lowey)

Defense: 

There is a lot fewer proven commodities in the defensive group than the forwards. Schael Higson leads the way. The overage blue liner has gradually improved as each year has gone by and was their most consistent two-way d-men last season. He should be far and away Brandon’s ice time leader.

Chase Hartje also got some love from NHL scouts at different times last year, but was not drafted. He played well for Brandon after being brought in from Moose Jaw as part of the Clague deal and he should have every opportunity to carve out a top-four d-pairing role.

Zach Wytnick, Ty Ettinger and 2001-born Braden Schneider are the other returning blue liners. Schneider played extremely well at the U18 Hlinka Gretzky Tournament and is already generating buzz as a high 2020 NHL Draft pick.

The last spot on the blue line will be tighly contested by Iorio, Lambos, Selame and Nychuk.

Goalies: 

A couple rookies in net for Brandon with the older Patera seeming to be getting the nod to start. Patera stopped 22 of 24 in his lone start with Brandon in the preseason and Kruger turned away 25 of 28 in his lone game.

Brandon must have seen enough from the two though, to deal away Myskiw who was their backup last year and had some good moments in the playoffs.

There is a lot of unknowns here but Kruger had a 3.05 GAA and .910 save percentage in 18 games with the Sherwood Park Midget AAA Kings. Patera had a 3.24 GAA and .901 save percentage with the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders of the USHL.

While that does not tell us much about what they can do in the WHL, they do have a track record of some pretty decent netminding.

This is clearly the biggest question mark on the team.

Outlook: 

While they were expected to be an also-ran last year and surprised, they do not have the benefit of not having expectations this year. Besides Prince Albert, they have the most returning proven WHL assets, especially up front. Brandon has compiled a nice roster, with quite a bit of the younger talent coming from trades they made last year.

Brandon appears to have made a really smart move in trading out of the arms-race from last year and gearing more towards this year and next. Regina, Moose Jaw and Swift Current have lost a lot and the East Division seems like a two-horse race between them and the Raiders.

If Brandon can get some great netminding from Patera and Kruger, they could end up on the top in the East. If they do not, they might have an open spot – depending on what happens with Lewis – to bring in an overage goalie.

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