2019-2020 WHL Season Previews: Portland Winterhawks

Portland Winterhawks

Last Season:

40-22-3-3-86 points. The Portland Winterhawks finished third in the U.S. Division and made the playoffs for the 10th straight season.

Joachim Blichfeld led the WHL in scoring with 114 points in his overage season to take home the Bob Clarke Trophy. Blichfeld, along with Winterhawks captain Cody Glass, were named to the WHL Western Conference All-Star Team. 

The duo of Blichfeld and Glass paced the Winterhawks throughout the regular season. 

Cody Glass (photo-Portland Winterhawks/Keith Dwiggins)

Glass even missed a total of 30 games to a lower-body injury and representing Team Canada at the World Juniors. The Vegas-signed prospect missed the last eight games of the regular season as well as the first four games of Portland’s first round playoff series against the Spokane Chiefs.

Portland split the first two games up in Spokane. Thanks to two overtime wins, the Chiefs left the Rose City with a 3-1 series lead. The Winterhawks season came to an end in Game 5 back in Spokane. 

Earlier in the year, the Winterhawks were once again active at the trade deadline. First, Portland acquired St. Louis Blues goaltending prospect Joel Hofer in exchange for six WHL Bantam Draft picks. A day later, the Winterhawks and Saskatoon Blades completed an exchange of 19-year-old forwards. Portland brought in Josh Paterson, along with two future bantam draft selections, in exchange for Ryan Hughes. Paterson led the Winterhawks in scoring during the playoffs, netting four goals and two assists in five games. 

Losses:

With graduations, trades, and players turning pro, Portland will not return 123 goals and 213 assists from their lineup. 

The two biggest losses for the Winterhawks are no doubt Blichfeld (114 points) and Glass (69 points). The Danish forward graduates from the WHL and will look to fit in with the San Jose Sharks organization as a signed prospect. While Glass is eligible to return as a 20-year-old, there is zero doubt that his time in Portland has come to an end. After the Winterhawks 2018-2019 season concluded, he joined the Chicago Wolves (Vegas’ AHL affiliate) on their playoff run. In 22 games, Glass registered seven goals and eight assists to finish tied for sixth in AHL playoff scoring.

Jared Freadrich (photo-Keith Dwiggins/Portland Winterhawks)

Paterson (54 points), also eligible to return to Portland, decided to start his school early and enrolled with the University of Alberta. He will join graduated Winterhawks defenseman Jared Freadrich (48 points) when the Golden Bears begin their season in U Sports Canada West Division. 

Without Blichfeld, Glass, Paterson, and Freadrich, the Winterhawks lose four of their top six scorers from 2018-2019. 

Assistant captain Brendan De Jong (27 points) also graduates from Portland’s blue line after appearing in 317 regulation games over five seasons with the Winterhawks. The Victoria, British Columbia, native finishes tied for fifth (Todd Robinson & Josh Hanson) in Portland history for games played. With the reduction of the WHL schedule to 68 games, passing De Jong will be a challenging accomplishment for future Winterhawks. 

Michal Kvasnica and Haydn Delorme are also not returning to Portland after Kvasnica was released prior to the 2019 CHL Import Draft and Delorme was traded to the Regina Pats. 

Netminder Shane Farkas was dealt to the Victoria Royals at the WHL Bantam Draft. In a related move, 2002-born goalie Dante Giannuzzi returns to the Winterhawks after spending the first half of the season with the team. The Winnipeg native should see significantly more playing time in 2019-2020. 

Additions:

The Portland Winterhawks welcome two new import players into their lineup. Simon Knak and Jonas Brøndberg look to become the latest Europeans to further their hockey careers while wearing a Winterhawks uniform. Knak led the Swiss at the last two U18 Hlinka Gretzky Cups, while Brøndberg captained the Danish U18 team a year ago. 

Two 16-year-old teammates from a season ago in Jack O’Brien and James Stefan join the fold in 2019. The dynamic duo helped their Little Caesars team win the USA Hockey Youth Tier 1 15-Only National Championship. 

Tyson Kozak (Portland Winterhawks/Ben Ludeman)

Tyson Kozak will look to use his limited experience (five regular season games) from a year ago as the Souris, Manitoba, native begins his first full season in a Portland sweater. As a 17-year-old, he fits in with the Winterhawks corps of 2002-born forwards. 

18-year-old rookie Kishaun Gervais impressed in the preseason as he provided energy, spark, physicality, and pure speed on all of his shifts. 

Portland’s blue line only turns over two players from a year ago. 2002-born Kurtis Smythe joins Brøndberg as the only newcomers on the back end. Over the past several years, Smythe has forged out a reputation as a strong, physical defenseman with Delta Hockey Academy. 

As of Monday, 16-year-old — and Portland’s 2018 first round bantam pick — Gabe Klassen is still with the team. Recent history shows that head coach and general manager Mike Johnston’s preference is to keep his highly drafted 16-year-olds with the team.

The league requirement for rosters is 23, and Portland’s sits at 24. The Winterhawks will need to make at least one more roster decision. 

Three storylines for this season:

1. Scoring by committee.

A year ago, Portland received 26% of its total points from Blichfeld and Glass. The pair also combined for 40% of the power-play points as well. However, when other teams were able to shut down the lethal combination, the Winterhawks often found themselves on the wrong side of the scoreboard. 

2019-2020 figures to be a year where the drop off from the first line will not be quite as steep. 

Portland’s projected top-six features 2019 New York Islanders draft pick Reece Newkirk, fellow 18-year-old Jaydon Dureau, overager Jake Gricius, who recently returned from San Jose’s training camp, and three 2020 NHL Entry Draft eligibles in Seth Jarvis, Cross Hanas, and Knak (all three represented their country at the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup). 

Mason Mannek (Photo: Brian Liesse)

The depth up front for Portland is strong as well. Mason Mannek, the team’s lone 19-year-old forward, is poised to have a breakout year after scoring 25 points a year ago. Lane Gilliss, the Winterhawks’ other 20-year-old forward, finished last season well and showcases his leadership off the ice on a daily basis. 

Robbie Fromm-Delorme is sometimes overshadowed by  fellow 17-year-olds Jarvis and Hanas. However, the Richmond, British Columbia, native may be on the brink of a breakout year after scoring three goals in the preseason.

In a league often dominated by 19- and 20-year-olds, Portland will be relying on youth to produce on the score sheet. With the exception of three (Gricius, Gilliss, Mannek), Portland’s forwards are all 18 years old or younger.

2. Scoring from the back end.

Portland has a long history of offensive defensemen. Going back to 2011, four Winterhawks defensemen heard their name called in the first round of the NHL draft: Joe Morrow (2011), Derrick Pouliot (2012), Seth Jones (2013), and Henri Jokiharju (2017). While not drafted from Portland, a fifth first round pick played with the Winterhawks when Portland acquired Dennis Cholowski (2016) two years ago. 

Not to be lost in the shuffle with the first rounders, Caleb Jones, Jack Dougherty, Keoni Texeira, and Jared Freadrich are others in recent history who have provided an offensive punch from the blue line. 

Clay Hanus (Portland Winterhawks/Keith Dwiggins)

With Freadrich and De Jong graduated, Clay Hanus is Portland’s highest scoring defenseman returning for 2019-2020. The Excelsior, Minnesota, native increased his production from six points in his rookie season to 27 in his 17-year-old year. While undrafted, Hanus spent time with the Ottawa Senators organization this summer. He attended their development camp as well as their rookie camp and tournament. 

After Hanus, the returning points for the Winterhawks start to drop off. Stalwart defenseman Johnny Ludvig scored 18 points in 2018-2019. Ludvig’s strong defensive season is a key reason the Florida Panthers drafted him in the third round. What can the 19-year-old from Kamloops contribute on the offensive side? Ludvig is the leading candidate to be the minutes leader for Portland this year. A healthy improvement in goals or assists would be a welcome addition for the Winterhawks. 

Portland’s four other returning defensemen — Nick Cicek, Matthew Quigley, Nick Perna, and Kade Nolan — scored a combined 35 points during the 2018-2019 campaign. Can one or two of those four develop more of an offensive game? If so, the Winterhawks will not need to rely as heavily on their younger group of forwards. 

Kurtis Smythe and Jonas Brøndberg’s offensive abilities at the WHL are unproven. Perhaps they could provide a spark from the blue line. 

3. Power Play?

Just two years ago, Portland’s power play featured four first round NHL draft picks. Skyler McKenzie, who later signed with the Winnipeg Jets, was the fifth man on the unit. The joys of junior hockey. 

Now, two years later, several spots are available on the Winterhawks man-advantage units for players to leave their mark on the league. 

Josh Paterson and Dustin Wolf (Photo:Portland Winterhawks/Keith Dwiggins)

The loss of Josh Paterson may be felt most in the special teams department. He scored 11 power-play goals last season. With his size, Josh would have been a force in front of the net again in 2019-2020.

Of Portland’s 195 power-play points last year, only 89 (46%) return. One could argue the three biggest pieces have moved on in Blichfeld, Glass, and Freadrich, who was the power-play quarterback. 

The Winterhawks finished sixth last season in power play percentage. While they converted on 23.2% of their opportunities, Portland’s 69 power-play goals were good enough for third in the league.

Can Portland’s new look units convert with the same success? 

The likeliest of candidates to fuel the power play for Portland is Jake Gricius. The Colorado Springs, Colorado, native returns as the leading point-producer on the power play. He also scored 16 of his 27 goals while on the man advantage. Like Paterson, Gricius is a bigger-body player who should give smaller defensemen fits in front of the net. 

One figures Seth Jarvis and Cross Hanas will be key members of the Portland power play. Knak is a known shooter from the half wall. Similar to how the Winterhawks used Blichfeld, Knak could be utilized for one timers from the top of the circle. 

Someone will step up to quarterback the power plays, and Mike Johnston used the preseason to try out different options. Clay Hanus figures to be an option if Johnston and Kyle Gustafson, who coaches the power play, want to have a defenseman at the point. Jarvis, Hanas, and Brøndberg also had extended opportunities earlier this preseason. 

Without a doubt, Jaydon Dureau will play a key role in replacing some of the power-play production. All 29 of Dureau’s points came via even strength last year. 

Prediction:

Based upon the current status of the U.S. Division, I believe the Winterhawks will be in the hunt for the division title. However, given how tight the division appears to be, there is also just as likely of a chance they finish third. 

Everett lost a significant amount of scoring but is once again strong on the blue line and in net with Dustin Wolf. Spokane is a slight unknown as they have three potential key players available to turn pro or return to the Chiefs. Jake McGrew, Filip Kral, and Ty Smith’s 2019-2020 teams are still to be determined. Tri-City will continue to be a tough team to play against. Their goaltending tandem of Beck Warm and Talyn Boyko are used to facing 40-50 shots per game while giving their team a chance to win. Seattle, like Portland, is relying upon youth to help fuel them forward. Roddy Ross is an NHL-drafted goalie (Philadelphia Flyers) and like Hofer, should only improve on his numbers from last season. 

Joel Hofer (Photo: Portland Winterhawks/Sarah Northrop)

I see the U.S. Division coming down to which teams can make the most of the “extra” point(s) — which team emerges with an overtime or shootout win, can force overtime when a loss looked imminent, or can preserve a victory in the final seconds to prevent another team from gaining the valuable point. 

In the end, I predict Portland to finish third behind Everett in second, and Spokane claiming the division title. I also feel Seattle and Tri-City will be stronger than the bottom two in the B.C. Division, so once again, in my eyes, all five U.S. Division teams make the playoffs. 

2019-2020 is shaping up to be an exciting year, see you around the rink!

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