2010-11 WHL EASTERN CONFERENCE PREVIEW

Sep 22, 2010 - 11:01 MDT

Calgary, AB. -- The WHL opens its 45th regular season on Friday, September 24th as the WHL Champion Calgary Hitmen begin defense of their title against Central Division rivals the Lethbridge Hurricanes at the Saddledome, along with seven other regular season games scheduled.

As the 2010-11 season draws closer, fans can look forward to many exciting storylines:  Will there be a 50 goal scorer this season?  Who will shine among the rookies this year?  Who will take this year’s scoring title?  And which team will prevail as Ed Chynoweth Cup – WHL Champions?

Please find below a team-by-team WHL Eastern Conference preview for the 2010-11 WHL season.

East Division

Brandon Wheat Kings
General Manager / Head Coach: Kelly McCrimmon
2010 pre-season: 4gp, 3-1-0-0
2009-10 Record:  50-18-1-3, 104 pts (1st in East Div., 2nd in Conf.)  GF: 321  GA: 204
2009-10 Power Play / Penalty Killing ranking: PP 9th (21.9%)  PK 17th (76.8%)
2010 Playoffs: Lost in five games to Calgary in WHL Eastern Conference Final.
2009-10 Top Scorers:
Matt Calvert                  68gp-47g-52a-99pts
Brayden Schenn            59gp-34g-65a-99pts
Scott Glennie                66gp-32g-57a-89pts

Up Front:  The Wheat Kings lose a large number of forwards from last season’s offensive juggernaut, but still return a few key pieces to their attack, including Dallas Stars prospect Scott Glennie, who has put up an impressive 217 points over his three WHL seasons in Brandon.  Brayden Schenn could be back in the fold, should he not stick with the Los Angeles Kings.  If Schenn returns, bet on him being among the WHL scoring leaders yet again.  Also returning are veterans Shayne Wiebe and Mark Stone, who will both be expected to take on a bulk of the offensive load.  Sophomores Brenden Walker and Jesse Sinatynski will step up into bigger roles for the Wheat Kings this season, as will Calgary Flames’ 2010 draft pick Michael Ferland.  20-year-old David Toews, the brother of Chicago Blackhawks star Jonathan Toews, should have in impact after joining the Wheat Kings from the NCAA’s University of North Dakota.

On The Blue Line:  Similar to their forward situation, the Wheaties lose a number of big names on the blue line from last year’s team, including veterans Colby Robak and Travis Hamonic, and Swedish standout Alex Urbom.   Returning veterans Brodie Melnychuk, Mark Schneider and Darren Bestland all have 100+ games of WHL experience, meaning they will lead what will be a younger Wheat Kings’ blue line this season.  Sophomore Ryley Miller will need to take on a bigger role this season while continuing to provide toughness and a physical presence.  

Goaltending:  Jacob DeSerres and Andrew Hayes, both 20, return to the fold, ensuring the Wheat Kings have a veteran presence in the net.  However, it’s not likely that the team will keep two 20-year-old goaltenders, meaning a spot will open up for one of the talented youngsters waiting in the wings.  18-year-old Ty Rimmer got into one game last season for the Wheat Kings, but 17-year-olds Liam Liston and Corbin Boes are also candidates for a spot on the roster.

Player to Watch:  Mark Stone
The graduation of several of the Wheat Kings’ top offensive players opens the door for the likes of Mark Stone to step into a much bigger role.  The 6’3”, 200-lb Winnipeg, MB, product enters his third WHL season after being selected by the Ottawa Senators in the 2010 NHL Entry draft.  A big-bodied, gritty player in the power forward mold, Stone boasts a good shot, solid puck skills and a willingness to go to the net.  Having already put up good numbers in a more limited role over the last two seasons, expect Stone to become a regular contributor on the score sheet for the Wheat Kings this season. 

Moose Jaw Warriors
Director, Hockey Operations: Alan Millar
Head Coach: Dave Hunchak
2010 pre-season: 7gp, 5-2-0-0
2009-10 Record:  33-27-5-7, 78 pts (4th in East Div., 8th in Conf.)  GF: 243  GA: 247
2009-10 Power Play / Penalty Killing ranking: PP 6th (23.4%)  PK 16th (77.2%)
2010 Playoffs:  Lost in seven games to Calgary in first round.
2009-10 Top Scorers:
Quinton Howden            65gp-28g-37a-65pts
Jason Bast                   60gp-33g-31a-64pts
Brendan Rowinski          68gp-30g-31a-61pts

Up Front:  Even though the Warriors lose heart & soul veteran Jason Bast to graduation, the team returns an impressive group of forwards that will ensure a dangerous offense in Moose Jaw.  Leading scorer Quinton Howden is back to lead the attack.  The Florida Panthers’ first-rounder is poised for a dominant campaign after averaging a point per game last season.  Also back are Brendan Rowinski, Dylan Hood and Thomas Frazee, who all topped the 20-goal mark last year.  All three, along with Spencer Edwards, are 20 years old, meaning the Warriors have good options to fill out their overage contingent.  Sophomore Antonin Honejsek should step into a larger role this season while Czech rookie Michal Hlinka has impressed in pre-season play, and adds more scoring depth to a strong forward unit.
 
On The Blue Line:  The Warriors shaved off 105 goals-against last season from the previous season thanks to an improved, more experienced defense.  With up to five defensemen returning from last year’s team, plus the addition of veteran Collin Bowman from Kelowna, the Warriors should continue to improve defensively this season.  NHL-drafted rearguards Dylan McIlrath and Kendall McFaull, and returning blue liners Connor Cox and Dallas Ehrhardt are all back and looking to build on last season’s improvements.  Promising rookie Morgan Reilly also looks capable of contributing.  Already a physical force and intimidating presence, McIlrath will be expected to increase his contributions offensively this season while continuing to play his punishing style.  Adding Bowman from the Rockets gives the Warriors plenty of playoff experience on the blue line.

Goaltending:  The Warriors parted ways with last season’s starter, Jeff Bosch, while bringing in 20-year-old veteran Thomas Heemskerk from Everett to take on the top job.  Heemskerk provides the Warriors with top-caliber goaltending, considering he led all WHL netminders in save percentage last season.  With last season’s back-up Brandon Glover not returning, 17-year-old rookie Brandon Stone will slot into the back-up role this season. 

Player to Watch:  Dylan McIlrath
A solid defensive defenseman, McIlrath has built a reputation as one of the toughest and most intimidating blue liners in the WHL.  Selected 10th overall by the New York Rangers at the 2010 NHL draft, McIlrath has a big frame, huge wing span, and can hit like a freight train.  Yet, he also boasts fluid skating skills and footwork for such a big presence.  As strong a presence as he is in his own zone, McIlrath has untapped offensive potential which began to emerge towards the end of last season. 

Prince Albert Raiders
General Manager / Head Coach: Bruno Campese
2010 pre-season: 4gp, 2-1-0-1
2009-10 Record:  32-35-3-2, 69 pts (5th in East Div., 9th in Conf.)  GF: 230  GA: 249
2009-10 Power Play / Penalty Killing ranking: PP 14th (18.3%)  PK 8th (80.9%)
2010 Playoffs:  Did not qualify
2009-10 Top Scorers:
Craig McCallum             72gp-27g-45a-72pts
Brandon Herrod             70gp-37g-28a-65pts
Dustin Cameron            71gp-30g-27a-57pts

Up Front: The Raiders lost two of their top three scorers from last year to graduation and dealt their fifth-leading scorer, Ryan Harrison, to Medicine Hat.  However, the team returns offensive power in the form of 37-goal man Brandon Herrod and 27-goal man Igor Revenko.  Both veterans will be counted on to equal or better their offensive numbers from last season.  Also back is talented pivot Justin Maylan and sophomore Mark McNeill.  McNeill could step into a much larger offensive role for the Raiders this season after a good showing as a 16-year-old last year.  17-year-old Todd Fiddler, acquired in the Ryan Harrison trade, could add offensive punch to the Raiders after posting 44 goals and 93 points to lead the Saskatchewan Midget AAA League last season, while promising 16-year-old Mike Winther heads up a solid group of young guns in Prince Albert.

On The Blue Line:  The Raiders return up to six rearguards from last season, including veterans Jordan Rowley, Nathan Deck and Ryan Button.  Those three vets combined for 23 goals and 120 points last season from the point, and should be able to produce offense again this season from the blue line.  Also back are sophomores Emerson Hrynyk, Tyler Yaworski and Harrison Ruopp, who should see more responsibility with a season under their belts.  The Raiders owned the WHL’s eighth-ranked penalty killing unit last season, but will look to improve their 5-on-5 defensive play in an effort to snap a three-year playoff absence.

Goaltending:  Veteran Jamie Tucker, 19, looks to be the main man in the Raiders’ net following the graduation of Garrett Zemlak.  Tucker was acquired from Vancouver prior to last season’s trade deadline and got into 11 games for the Raiders, posting a 4-5 record with a .891 save percentage.  He should be able to handle a heavy workload in the Raiders’ cage.  17-year-old rookie Eric Williams, the Raiders’ fourth-round Bantam pick in 2008, will take over the back-up role.

Player to Watch:  Mark McNeill
The Raiders’ first-round pick (5th overall) in 2008, McNeill appeared in 68 games as a 16-year-old, potting nine goals and 24 points.  The 6’2”, 210-lb NHL Draft-eligible center is a highly intelligent player with outstanding hockey sense, and the ability to create time and space for himself and his line mates.  Using his big frame and his strong skating and puck skills, McNeill is very good at protecting the puck.  A very well-rounded player, McNeill will surely play an important role in the Raiders’ offense this season.

Regina Pats
General Manager: Chad Lang
Head Coach: Curtis Hunt
2010 pre-season: 6gp, 1-4-1-0
2009-10 Record:  30-35-3-4, 67 pts (6th in East Div., 10th in Conf.)  GF: 246  GA: 278
2009-10 Power Play / Penalty Killing ranking: PP 4th (25.5%)  PK 13th (78.6%)
2010 Playoffs:  Did not qualify
2009-10 Top Scorers:
Jordan Eberle               57gp-50g-56a-106pts
Jordan Weal                  72gp-35g-67a-102pts
Matt Strueby                 69gp-37g-22a-59pts

Up Front: With the departure of 2010 WHL Player of the Year Jordan Eberle and veterans Matt Strueby and Brett Leffler, the Pats will need to find a way to replace the 105 combined goals those three provided.  Fortunately, the team returns 18-year-old Jordan Weal, fresh off a 35-goal, 102-point campaign, and Tampa Bay Lightning first-rounder Carter Ashton.  Weal and Ashton will need to generate a large chunk of offense.  Sophomore Hampus Gustafsson should be able to build on a solid rookie campaign where he tallied 14 times, while veteran sparkplug Garrett Mitchell will also need to take on a bigger role offensively in addition to providing leadership and energy.  Dane Muench, who got into a handful of games for Swift Current last season, has impressed in pre-season with his goal-scoring prowess.  If he can carry that offense into the regular season, he could add valuable scoring depth.

On The Blue Line:  The Pats return a number of rearguards from last year’s squad.  Sophomore Brandon Davidson heads up what will be a young but talented defense corps in Regina.  Davidson, a sixth-round pick of the Edmonton Oilers in 2010, impressed as a rookie last season, posting 34 points and a team-leading +15 rating in 59 games.  Joining him is veteran Cody Carlson, who put up 28 points in 59 games for the Pats, and sophomores Myles Bell, Tyler Borstmayer, and Mitch Spooner, who should all take on more responsibility this season.  Swedish rookie Ricard Blidstrand, a Philadelphia Flyers prospect, has shown he could slide into a top-four spot on the Pats’ blue line.

Goaltending:  Dawson Guhle and Damien Ketlo, the Pats’ goaltending tandem from last season, are both eligible to return.  Both Ketlo and Guhle will look to rebound from difficult campaigns last year.  The Pats allowed the fourth-highest number of goals last season with 278 goals against, and will definitely need to cut that number down if they are to push their way back into the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference.

Player to Watch:  Jordan Weal
Weal enjoyed another outstanding season with the Pats last year, posting 35 goals and 102 points to become the first 17-year-old player to crack the 100-point mark since Pavel Brendl accomplished the feat for Calgary in 1998-99.  Picked in the third round (70th overall) by the Los Angeles Kings this summer, Weal has established himself as one of the WHL’s premiere playmakers.  With the graduation of Jordan Eberle, Weal becomes the centerpiece of the Pats offense for the upcoming season.

Saskatoon Blades
General Manager / Head Coach: Lorne Molleken
2010 pre-season: 6gp, 4-1-0-1
2009-10 Record:  46-19-3-4, 99 pts (2nd in East Div., 3rd in Conf.)  GF: 258  GA: 227
2009-10 Power Play / Penalty Killing ranking: PP 19th (16.5%)  PK 7th (80.9%)
2010 Playoffs:  Lost in six games to Brandon in second round
2009-10 Top Scorers:
Derek Hulak                  72gp-31g-53a-84pts
Walker Wintoneak          70gp-25g-49a-74pts
Stefan Elliott                 72gp-26g-39a-65pts

Up Front:  The Blades may have lost their top two scorers from last season with Derek Hulak and Walker Wintoneak both graduating, but they still have scoring depth among their returning forwards.  20-year-olds Gaelan Patterson, Sena Acolatse, Jeremy Boyer and Marek Viedensky are all eligible to return.  However, they are among a group of eight overagers that will need to be whittled down to three by October.  Veterans Curtis Hamilton, Josh Nicholls and Darian Dziurzynski return to provide some offense and leadership, while sophomore Brent Benson will look for a bigger role in the offense.  Rookies Lukas Sutter, a member of Team USA’s Under-18 squad, and skilled 16-year-old Ryan Olsen could step in and have an impact as well.

On The Blue Line:  Though the Blades will be younger on the blue line this season, they possess some very talented rearguards that should help keep them among the League’s best defensive teams.  Led by 20-year-old vet Teigan Zahn, the Blades return five rearguards who played at least 40 games last season.  Colorado Avalanche prospect Stefan Elliott should again be among the WHL’s top offensive defensemen, while youngsters Duncan Siemens, Dalton Thrower and Tyler Kizuik will take on more responsibility after solid rookie seasons last year. 

Goaltending:  The Blades return their top tandem from last season, with 20-year-old Steven Stanford and 19-year-old Adam Morrison both back.  Stanford has proven his worth as a No.1 goaltender, while Philadelphia Flyers prospect Morrison also has the talent to take on the starting job.  Should Stanford or Morrison be moved, 17-year-old Adam Iwan could step in and take on the back-up role.

Player to Watch:  Duncan Siemens
The Blades’ first-round pick (3rd overall) in the 2008 WHL Bantam Draft, Siemens is considered a top prospect for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.  The 6’3”, 192-lb rearguard is a huge physical presence on the blue line, and a player who is very difficult to play against.  A fearsome hitter, Siemens punishes opposing forwards and plays a solid game in his own zone.  The Sherwood Park, AB, product also possesses strong skating ability and can move the puck effectively.  Having enjoyed a strong rookie season as a 16-year-old last year, look for Siemens to establish himself as a key cog on the Blades’ blue line this season..

Swift Current Broncos
General Manager / Head Coach: Mark Lamb
2010 pre-season: 7gp, 2-5-0-0
2009-10 Record:  37-30-1-4, 79 pts (3rd in East Div., 7th in Conf.)  GF: 231  GA: 232
2009-10 Power Play / Penalty Killing ranking:  PP 18th (17.5%)  PK 4th (84.0%)
2010 Playoffs:  Lost in four games to Brandon in first round
2009-10 Top Scorers:
Cody Eakin                   70gp-47g-44a-91pts
Justin Dowling              72gp-32g-46a-78pts
Michael Stickland          69gp-25g-32a-59pts
           
Up Front:  The Broncos return a solid group of forwards who should be able to put pucks in the net this season.  Seven of the team’s top eight scorers from last year are eligible to return, including 47-goal man Cody Eakin and shifty 20-year-old pivot Justin Dowling, who could both be among the WHL’s top scorers this season.  Veterans Brad Hoban, Dillon Wagner and Taylor Vause provide nice offensive depth while sophomore Adam Lowry is poised for a bigger role this season after an impressive year as a 16-year-old rookie.  20-year-old Czech Stepan Novotny is also eligible to return, and would add another potent offensive weapon to the Broncos’ arsenal should he be in their plans. 

On The Blue Line:  The Broncos return up to six experienced rearguards from last year’s team.  The trade of 20-year-old Travis Bobbee leaves 19-year-olds Kyle Verdino and Joel Rogers as the elder statesmen in Swift Current.  Verdino and Rogers have 314 combined games of WHL experience between them.  17-year-old sophomore Reece Scarlett, who is eligible for the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, also possesses good offensive skills and could help generate scoring from the back end.  Returnees Graeme Craig and Jordan Evans add defensive depth, with Evans having some offensive upside that may help negate the loss of Bobbee.  Tanner Muth, acquired in exchange for Bobbee, is another young and promising rearguard.  At 6’1”, 191-lbs, Muth adds another big body to what will be a physically imposing defense corps in Swift Current.

Goaltending:  The Broncos moved 20-year-old veteran Morgan Clark, meaning that fellow overager Mark Friesen will take on the top job in the Broncos’ net this season.  Friesen has shown he is a very capable goaltender, having posted consistent numbers throughout his WHL career.  17-year-old rookie Austin Smith, the Broncos’ second-round pick in 2008, will take over the back-up role.

Player to Watch:  Cody Eakin
Eakin established himself as one of the WHL’s top players after breaking out for 47 goals and 91 points last season.  The 19-year-old Washington Capitals prospect comes into the 2010-11 season having earned a Calder Cup ring after helping the Caps’ AHL squad, the Hershey Bears, win the League championship in the spring, following Swift Current’s elimination from the playoffs.  An exciting player with an intense passion for the game, Eakin regularly wows Broncos fans with his outstanding skating ability and his no-quit work ethic.  Expect Eakin to be one of the marquee players in the WHL this season.

Central Division

Calgary Hitmen
General Manager: Kelly Kisio
Head Coach: Mike Williamson
2010 pre-season: 5gp, 0-4-0-1
2009-10 Record:  52-17-1-2, 107 pts (1st in Central Div., 1st in Conf.)  GF: 269  GA: 177
2009-10 Power Play / Penalty Killing ranking:  PP 1st (29.0%)  PK 1st (87.5%)
2010 Playoffs:  WHL CHAMPIONS
2009-10 Top Scorers:
Brandon Kozun             65gp-32g-75a-107pts
Tyler Shattock               72gp-30g-48a-78pts
Joel Broda                    66gp-39g-34a-73pts

Up Front:  The Hitmen return just seven regulars up front from last year’s WHL championship team, and only three of their top 10 scorers.  20-year-old veterans Kris Foucault and Tyler Fiddler, and 19-year-old Jimmy Bubnick are the lone returning players who topped the 20-goal mark last season.  All three will be heavily relied on for offense and leadership.  18-year-olds Cody Beach and Cody Sylvester enjoyed solid campaigns in support roles last season.  Beach and Sylvester, particularly, will be needed to step into much bigger roles, as will fellow 18-year-old MacKenzie Royer.  Contributions from rookies like John Lawrence and Brendan Santini will also be needed to fill the offensive void left by the departure of WHL scoring leader Brandon Kozun.  Forward Riley Reinbolt was acquired from Moose Jaw to add some veteran experience and energy to what will be a much less experienced forward contingent.

On The Blue Line:  The Hitmen’s defense corps has also taken a hit with a few of their top rearguards having moved on.  However, they still return a solid group of defensemen with up to six defensemen coming back from last season’s second-ranked defense.  20-year-old Zak Stebner and 19-year-old Matt MacKenzie will lead the Hitmen defense corps.  Both have demonstrated strong two-way abilities.  MacKenzie notched 40 points last year, and should be able to top that as he moves up the depth chart this season, while Stebner is also effective at producing offense from the point.  Also returning are 20-year-old Kyle Aschim (though, currently injured), and second-year rearguards Jaynen Rissling, Peter Kosterman and Ben Wilson, who will all be asked to take on a bigger workload this season. 

Goaltending: The loss of WHL Goaltender of the Year Martin Jones to the professional ranks leaves a vacancy in the Club’s starting netminder slot.  19-year-old Michael Snider spent the last two seasons backing up Jones, while also posting solid numbers in limited playing time.  Snider had the benefit of watching Jones, one of the WHL’s elite netminders, every day, much like Jones did with Justin Pogge.  He’ll be pushed by 19-year-old Slovakian Juraj Holly, whom the Hitmen acquired in the 2010 CHL Import draft.

Player to Watch:  Cody Sylvester
Calgary’s eighth-round pick in the 2007 WHL Bantam Draft, Sylvester spent most of his first two seasons in the WHL as a depth role-player for a very deep Calgary team.  Then, during the 2010 WHL playoffs, Sylvester made a huge statement when he exploded for 11 goals to help the Hitmen win the WHL Championship.  A fleet-footed two-way player who always works hard and plays with energy, Sylvester showed his offensive upside during the 2010 playoffs.  If he can continue to build on his outstanding playoff performance, he could enjoy a breakout season for the Hitmen.

Edmonton Oil Kings
General Manager: Bob Green
Head Coach: Derek Laxdal
2010 pre-season: 5gp, 2-3-0-0
2009-10 Record:  16-43-4-9, 45 pts (6th in Central Div., 12th in Conf.)  GF: 169  GA: 285
2009-10 Power Play / Penalty Killing ranking:  PP 22nd (11.7%)  PK 21st (74.3%)
2010 Playoffs:  Did not qualify
2009-10 Top Scorers:
Michael St. Croix           66gp-18g-28a-46pts
Garry Nunn                    46gp-17g-21a-38pts
T.J. Foster                    68gp-10g-27a-37pts                  
           
Up Front:  The Oil Kings’ collection of young, talented forwards return, looking to improve what was the WHL’s 22nd-ranked offense last season.  Sophomore Michael St. Croix led the Oil Kings in scoring last year as a 16-year-old.  He’ll be a focal point in any offensive success the team has this year.  Fellow 17-year-old Klarc Wilson could also step into a bigger offensive role, along with 18-year-old T.J. Foster.  20-year-olds Mike Piluso and Jordan Hickmott will play big roles up front, in terms of providing leadership and offense.  Hickmott has proven he can generate goals, scoring 21 times last season in Prince Albert.  Latvian forward Kristians Pelss, an Edmonton Oilers prospect, looks to have some good offensive skill.  Pelss could be an impact player once he acclimatizes to the WHL level of play.

On The Blue Line:  The Oil Kings return just four regular rearguards from last year’s squad.  18-year-old Mark Pysyk is back to lead the Oil Kings’ defense corps.  The smooth-skating, heady defenseman, selected 23rd overall by the Buffalo Sabres in June’s NHL draft, is expected to be a dominant force on the Oil Kings’ blue line this season.  20-year-old Adrian Van de Mosselaer has 152 games of WHL seasoning with the Oil Kings, and provides a veteran presence in the defensive zone.  17-year-old Keegan Lowe is also back, looking to play a much larger role after a good showing as a rookie last season.  Blue-chip prospect Griffin Reinhart should step into the line-up as a 16-year-old.  The Oil Kings’ first-round pick, 3rd overall, in the 2009 WHL Bantam Draft, Reinhart has all the tools and the size to become an elite defenseman in the WHL one day.

Goaltending:  The graduation of veteran Torrie Jung opens the door for 18-year-old Cam Lanigan to assume the starting job.  Lanigan has shown he is very capable of providing steady and consistent goaltending through his first two seasons in Edmonton.  The Calgary, AB, product earned an invite to the rookie camp of his hometown Calgary Flames, and made an impression.  17-year-old Laurent Brossoit has appeared in three games over the last two seasons in Edmonton, and will take over the back-up role this year.

Player to Watch:  Michael St. Croix
The Oil Kings’ first-round pick, 4th overall, in the 2008 WHL Bantam Draft, St. Croix enjoyed an excellent season for the team as a 16-year-old last year, pacing the team in scoring with 46 points.  Though he started slowly – just two points in his first 16 games – the Winnipeg, MB, product found his game and managed 17 goals and 44 points over his final 50 games.  An incredibly skilled player with mesmerizing puckhandling skills, St. Croix plays a finesse game while also bringing intensity and energy.  He’s the type of player that makes his line mates better.  Entering his NHL draft-eligible season, expect St. Croix to cement his reputation as one of the top prospects for the 2011 NHL entry draft.

Kootenay Ice
General Manager: Jeff Chynoweth
Head Coach: Kris Knoblauch
2010 pre-season: 5gp, 1-4-0-0
2009-10 Record:  43-24-3-2, 91 pts (2nd in Central Div., 4th in Conf.)  GF: 252  GA: 215
2009-10 Power Play / Penalty Killing ranking:  PP 17th (17.6%)  PK 5th (82.7%)
2010 Playoffs:  Lost in six games to Medicine Hat in first round.
2009-10 Top Scorers:
Dustin Sylvester            68gp-35g-58a-93pts
Steele Boomer              71gp-26g-41a-67pts
Kevin King                    69gp-28g-35a-63pts

Up Front:  The Ice may have lost offensive star Dustin Sylvester to graduation, but they still return several of their top scoring forwards from last year.  Coming back are Steele Boomer, Max Reinhart, Kevin King, Matt Fraser and Jesse Ismond, who all topped the 20-goal plateau last season.  Reinhart, who was drafted by the Calgary Flames in June, tallied 21 goals last season, and has the offensive tools to become a go-to guy for the Ice this year.  18-year-olds Drew Czerwonka and Brock Montgomery and 19-year-old Joe Antilla also return, bringing the Ice energy, size and the ability to generate secondary scoring.  17-year-old Brendan Hurley, the Ice’s first-round pick in 2008, will look to contribute more after posting modest numbers as a rookie last year.

On The Blue Line:  The Ice should be strong defensively, with six rearguards returning from last year’s squad that managed the seventh-best defensive record in the WHL.  Brayden McNabb, 19, enjoyed an outstanding campaign last year, posting 17 goals and 57 points to rank sixth among all WHL defensemen.  He will be a major force for the Ice this season.  Also back are 19-year-olds Hayden Rintoul and James Martin, who both play a strong two-way game.  18-year-old Joey Leach put up three goals and 26 points last season while playing a rough and physical style.  Drafted by the Calgary Flames in June, Leach will be counted on to take care of his own end while helping out on the power play as well. 

Goaltending:  The Ice have plenty of options in the crease this season, with both Todd Mathews, 20, and Nathan Lieuwen, 19, eligible to return.  Mathews posted 33 wins and a .907 save percentage in 55 appearances last year while Lieuwen got into 26 contests and recorded 10 victories.  Mathews has proven to be a quality starting netminder and Lieuwen has plenty of potential to become a consistent No.1 if given the opportunity.  17-year-old Brett Teskey and 16-year-old Mackenzie Skapski are also looking to fill a spot in the line-up.

Player to Watch:  Brayden McNabb
Now in his fourth season with the Ice, McNabb’s game has developed by leaps and bounds in four year to the point where he was among the top-scoring defensemen and made the Eastern Conference First All-Star team last season.  The Buffalo Sabres prospect boasts a huge 6’4”, 200-lb frame which he uses effectively, and has good mobility and puck-moving skills.  Projected as a defensive defenseman early in his WHL career, McNabb has developed great offensive instincts and harnessed his booming shot to become a major threat on the attack.  Expect McNabb to be a tower of strength at both ends of the ice in Cranbrook this season.

Lethbridge Hurricanes
General Manager / Head Coach: Rich Preston
2010 pre-season: 6gp, 4-1-0-1
2009-10 Record:  20-44-5-3, 48 pts (5th in Central Div., 11th in Conf.)  GF: 178  GA: 275
2009-10 Power Play / Penalty Killing ranking:  PP 20th (15.4%)  PK 18th (76.6%)
2010 Playoffs:  Did not qualify
2009-10 Top Scorers:
Carter Bancks               70gp-19g-36a-55pts
Cam Braes                    69gp-25g-28a-53pts
Mitch Maxwell               70gp-27g-17a-44pts

Up Front:  The Hurricanes return up to 11 regulars from last season’s group of forwards, including 20-year-old Mitch Maxwell and 19-year-old Cam Braes who are the only returning forwards who topped the 20-goal plateau last year.  Maxwell scored a team-high 27 times as a 19-year-old rookie last year.  Expect him to be a key cog in the ‘Canes’ attack again this season.  18-year-old Graham Hood put up eight goals and 17 points in 38 games for the ‘Canes’ last year after coming over from Regina midway through the season.  He’ll be expected to take on a larger role up front and continue playing his physical, hard-checking style.  19-year-olds Brody Sutter, Austin Fyten and Jacob Berglund should be able to step up their contributions this season, as will sophomores Mark Reners and Phil Tot.  17-year-old Russian Alex Kuvaev showed good offensive abilities during the pre-season.  The ‘Canes will hope he can make an impact on the score sheet this season as a rookie.

On The Blue Line:  The ‘Canes welcome back seven regulars from last season’s defense corps who will all be looking to help the team shave down its goals-against from the 275 they allowed last season.  Veterans Brennan Yadlowski and Mike Reddington will anchor the group.  The two combined for 60 points from the back end last season, and should be able to chip in some offense again this season while providing stability and leadership.  Talented two-way rearguard Daniel Johnston will look to play a bigger role this season and should help out on the power play.  Cason Machacek provides toughness and an intimidating presence in the defensive zone, while Landon Oslanski looks capable of providing some offense from the blue line.

Goaltending:  Fresh off signing an entry-level contract with the Washington Capitals after impressing as a free-agent invitee, Brandon Anderson is back for his sophomore season and ready to assume the full-time starting job this season.  The Langley, B.C., native got into 37 games last season for the Hurricanes as a rookie, performing well.  19-year-old Dylan Tait is set to take over the back-up role and push Anderson for playing time.

Player to Watch:  Cam Braes
The Hurricanes’ third-round pick in the 2006 WHL Bantam Draft, Braes has become an integral part of the Lethbridge’s roster over the last three seasons.  An energetic, feisty player who does a lot of little things that make teams better, Braes took a big step forward last season in terms of offensive production, finishing the campaign with a career-high 25 goals and 53 points.  As one of the ‘Canes’ older veterans, Braes will provide valuable leadership, both on and off the ice, and be counted on to contribute on the score sheet as the team looks to climb the ladder in the Central Division this season.

Medicine Hat Tigers
General Manager: Brad McEwen
Head Coach: Shaun Clouston
2010 pre-season: 6gp, 4-1-0-1
2009-10 Record:  41-23-3-5, 90 pts (3rd in Central Div., 5th in Conf.)  GF: 276  GA: 232
2009-10 Power Play / Penalty Killing ranking:  PP 10th (19.8%)  PK 10th (79.4%)
2010 Playoffs:  Lost in six games to Calgary in second round
2009-10 Top Scorers:
Linden Vey                    72gp-24g-51a-75pts
Wacey Hamilton            67gp-24g-47a-71pts
Bretton Cameron           68gp-40g-27a-67pts

Up Front:  The Tigers owned the WHL’s second-best offense last season, scoring 276 goals.  With three of their top four scorers returning, plus the addition of a couple impact forwards, the Tigers should be able to field a strong attack again this season.  Back are Linden Vey, Wacey Hamilton and Emerson Etem, who combined for 85 goals and 211 points.  All three are candidates to rank among the WHL’s top scorers this season.  Edmonton Oilers prospect Tyler Pitlick joined the Tigers in the offseason.  The former Minnesota State forward is a strong two-way player who plays physical and can drive hard to the net.  The Tigers also acquired forward Ryan Harrison from the Prince Albert Raiders in the offseason.  Harrison is a physical presence who also put up 14 goals and 54 points last season.  Also returning are veterans Kale Kessy and Joey Frazer, who are both capable of chipping in secondary scoring.

On The Blue Line:  The Tigers could return up to five rearguards from last season’s team.  Jace Coyle put up an impressive 10 goals and 36 assists from the point last season.  Look for the 20-year-old to be a key figure on the Tigers’ blue line this season, and help their power play.  Matt Konan, 19, is also returning.  Konan put up 20 points last season, including five goals, and plays a sound defensive game with a physical edge.  17-year-old Dylan Busenius and 18-year-old Scott McKay are back and will look for more icetime in their second seasons in the WHL.  Swedish rearguard Sebastian Owuya, an Atlanta Thrashers prospect, and 17-year-old Finn Patrik Parkkonen should be able to step in and contribute this season.  Owuya already has experience playing in the Swedish Elite League.

Goaltending:  With 18-year-old Tyler Bunz back for his third campaign, the Tigers know they have one of the WHL’s best netminders as their last line of defense.  Bunz appeared in 57 games last season – his first as a starter – and posted 31 wins.  His terrific performance in the playoffs cemented his status as a top prospect.  Drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in June, Bunz gives his team a chance to win every night.  19-year-old Deven Dubyk , who backed up Bunz last season, and 16-year-old Dawson Macauley are in the mix for the back-up role this season.

Player to Watch:  Emerson Etem
A sixth-round pick in the 2007 WHL Bantam Draft, Etem took the WHL by storm as a 17-year-old rookie last season, leading all rookies with 37 goals while posting 65 points in 72 games.  The Long Beach, CA, product showed enough potential for the Anaheim Ducks to draft him 29th overall in the 2010 NHL draft.  A good skater with a natural nose for the net, Etem’s ability to score puts him among the WHL’s elite.  With his NHL-caliber shot, Etem hits his targets with deadly precision.  Yet, he’s also a hard worker who can be relied upon in defensive situations.  With a strong contingent of offensive talent surrounding him in Medicine Hat, expect Etem to find the net with regularity again this season.

Red Deer Rebels
V.P. of Hockey Operations / Head Coach: Jesse Wallin
2010 pre-season: 7gp, 5-2-0-0
2009-10 Record:  39-28-0-5, 83 pts (4th in Central Div., 6th in Conf.)  GF: 202  GA: 222
2009-10 Power Play / Penalty Killing ranking:  PP 16th (17.7%)  PK 9th (80.6%)
2010 Playoffs:  Lost in four games to Saskatoon in first round
2009-10 Top Scorers:
Willie Coetzee               72gp-29g-52a-81pts
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins    67gp-24g-41a-65pts
Andrej Kudrna               69gp-30g-24a-54pts

Up Front:  The Rebels will see up to 11 of their forwards from last year return this season, including three of their top five scorers.  Leading the way is 17-year-old phenom Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.  The 6’0, 164-lb center is poised for a big year in Red Deer, and could find himself among the WHL’s top scorers.  Also returning are veterans Andrej Kudrna and Brett Ferguson, who will look to be regular offensive contributors.  Kudrna scored a team-best 30 goals last season, and should be able to duplicate or better the feat this year.  19-year-old Byron Froese was acquired from Everett in the Landon Ferraro trade.  The Chicago Blackhawks prospect has put up 48 goals and 114 points over the last two season, establishing himself as a proven offensive producer.  Other returning vets like Adam Kambeitz, Josh Cowen and Turner Elson should be able to step up and contribute more this season.

On The Blue Line:  The Rebels could return up to five rearguards who were on last season’s squad that managed the eighth-best defensive record in the WHL.  20-year-old Colin Archer, the Rebels’ captain, is back for his final WHL season.  He provides plenty of leadership and plays a solid, physical game in the defensive zone.  18-year-old Alex Petrovic is also back, bringing a mix of offense, puck-moving and punishing physical play.  Experienced veterans Aaron Borejko and Justin Weller round out a very strong top four for the Rebels.  16-year-old rookie Matt Dumba is already a physical specimen, and could be a very good two-way defenseman for the Rebels once he gets used to the WHL.

Goaltending:  The Rebels could return their goaltending tandem from last season, with 20-year-olds Darcy Kuemper and Kraymer Barnstable both looking for a roster spot.  Kuemper, a Minnesota Wild prospect, was one of the better goaltender last season, posting a .908 save percentage and a 2.72 GAA.  Kuemper could very well play in Minnesota’s system this year.  Barnstable enjoyed a strong season last year, and was terrific in the three post-season games he played.  It’s not likely the Rebels will keep two overage goaltenders, so 16-year-old Bolton Pouliot is a good pick to take on the back-up role. 

Player to Watch:  Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
The first overall pick of the 2008 WHL Bantam Draft, Nugent-Hopkins is a rare talent who is sure to have a long and productive career in the NHL.  The Burnaby, B.C., native already displayed his incredible offensive ability by notching 24 goals and 65 points as a 16-year-old last year, earning the WHL Rookie of the Year award.  Having followed up with a dominating performance for Canada’s Under-18 team at the Memorial for Ivan Hlinka tournament this summer, Nugent-Hopkins is poised for a monster season for an ever-improving Rebels team.  A potential No. 1 overall NHL draft pick next summer, Red Deer fans will enjoy seeing just what the gifted Nugent-Hopkins can accomplish this season.