2017-18: 41-25-3-3, 88 points. Third in the U.S. Division.
The Spokane Chiefs went through a season of will-they won’t-they with Edmonton Oilers prospect Kailer Yamamoto and ultimately got their Spokane native back. They would go on to return to the playoffs.
Once there, they found some magic with then 16-year-old Luke Toporowski providing some overtime heroics and pushed the favored Portland Winterhawks to seven games.
They ran out of magic in the seventh game, but still gave the Winterhawks, with their four, first round NHL Draft picks everything they could handle.
-Tyson Helgesen – Defense – 1997 – aged out.
-Hudson Elynuik – Center – 1997 – aged out.
-Zach Fischer – RW – 1997 – aged out.
-Kailer Yamamoto – RW – 1998 – signed by the Edmonton Oilers.
-Riley McKay – LW – 1999 – traded to the Saskatoon Blades.
-Dalton Hamaliuk – Defense – 1998 – released and is in camp with the Moose Jaw Warriors.
-Milos Fafrak – LW – 1999 – released before the import draft.
-Cedric Chenier – RW – 2000 – released but on suspended player area of the protected list.
-Spokane still has seven rookie forwards and three rookie defensemen on their roster. 2001-born forward Adam Beckman led the team in preseason scoring with six goals and should not only make the final roster but carve out some minutes in a strong forward group. 6-foot-3 forward Sean Gulka will be trying to add some toughness to the roster and 2018 sixth overall pick Jack Finley is the future and will be getting plenty of experience.
Erik Atchison (02), Cordel Larson (01) and Connor Garbuch (01) are the other rookie forwards on the current roster.
Tyson Feist (01) and import defenseman Egor Arbuzov (01) give the Chiefs blue line some good depth behind the bigger names.
Center Michael King and defenseman Bobby Russell were both brought in from Kootenay through trades.
-Hamaliuk was the odd man out already among the 1998-born players and that leaves the trio of forwards Jeff Faith and Riley Woods and defenseman Nolan Reid.
-Filip Kral had a sensational first season with Chiefs, compiling 35 points and then getting drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs. He has been battling an injury through the early going and is listed as out week-to-week with an upper body injury.
Egor Arbuzov replaced Fafrak as the other import and had three assists in the preseason for the Chiefs. He will find it hard to find ice time on the Chiefs blue line though in his first year.
-Jaret Anderson-Dolan had 91 points last season and is primed to eclipse that by quite a bit. He found some chemistry with 1998-born winger Riley Woods and those two should be one of the more dangerous duos in the WHL. Anderson-Dolan posses an incredible combination of shot, vision and play-making and, especially if he is edged out of Hockey Canada’s World Juniors roster, should be a front-runner to take home the scoring title.
Woods came over from Regina in 2016-17 and with the increased ice time, had a breakout year. This year should be one where he builds off of that.
The line of Jake McGrew, Toporowski and Eli Zummack was a key reason the Chiefs were so dangerous in the 2018 playoffs. All three have had strong summers with Toporowski lighting the lamp for USA Hockey at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, McGrew gaining an invite form USA Hockey to the World Junior Summer Showcase and the putting together a strong camp for the San Jose Sharks and Zummack returning to camp with the Toronto Maple Leafs. If those three can rediscover the chemistry they had, this top-six would be hard-pressed to find its match elsewhere in the WHL.
Ethan McIndoe could find a spot on the line with Anderson-Dolan and Woods and his game should it well with them. McIndoe is good around the net, finding loose pucks and generally creating havoc.
The acquisition of King gives them some added depth up the middle. Beckman, Carter Chorney and overage now forward Jeff Faith also give the Chiefs some depth with Finley also getting opportunities to shine.
-Ty Smith had 73 points in his draft year and found himself playing in every role on the Chiefs blue line for the second year in-a-row. Smith had an eventful summer, getting drafted 22nd overall by the New Jersey Devils and then getting all kinds of attention while playing well for Hockey Canada at the WJSS.
Smith was signed by the Devils and is also impressing at Devils main camp and in the preseason. The Devils will eventually send the talented d-man back and all that experience should do well for his development into one of the best blue liners in the WHL.
Kral also was productive on both sides of the ice for the Chiefs and that should only improve once he returns from injury.
Nolan Reid and his hard slap shot will also be dangerous for opponents of the Chiefs. Reid put up 14 goals himself last year. Together the top-three d-men had 37 goals last year.
Luke Gallagher is another play-making blue liner the Chiefs have on the roster. He struggled to find ice time last year, but is yet another native of Spokane who can skate and produce offensively.
Matt Leduc, Bobby Russell and Arbuzov should also be in the mix on the blue line.
-With all of those accolades, this team would seem to be a runaway favorite in the WHL. However, in goal is where all of the questions lie. Dawson Weatherill returns for his third year in Spokane and has had moments of greatness, intermingled with inconsistency. While he was returning from injury last season, Bailey Brkin – a late season addition from Junior A was given the crease to start the playoffs.
Brkin returns again this year and the two 19-year-olds are the only netminders left in camp. Brkin struggled in the playoffs with Weatherill showing his old form at times when he returned.
Weatherill should get more starts, but this strikes us as a situation where the Chiefs will ride the hot hand. Weatherill was 2-0 in the preseason with a 1.00 GAA and 0.964 save percentage. If he can sustain his solid play, the Chiefs will be tough for any team in the division or conference to keep up with.
-On paper this is a loaded roster packed with signed NHL draft picks and those who will be soon. The Chiefs and Head Coach Dan Lambert have a lot of talent on the roster and also have had that talent show some chemistry with one another. While the U.S. Division again looks like it will be tough, the Chiefs have to be the favorites with proven offense coming from both the forwards group and defense.
If Weatherill or Brkin finds some consistency and give Spokane solid netminding on a nightly basis and their depth comes through for them up front, the Chiefs will be a hard out in the regular season and assuredly, the playoffs.