The Western Hockey League’s East Division clubs report to Regina tomorrow and before you know it they’ll be competing at the Brandt Centre in a season like no other.
While there’s no pre-season to scout and plenty of roster turnover to consider, it still seems like a good time to have a little fun.
So, I thought I’d lean on some contacts in the game to help me come up with a few answers.
You know, the really good stuff.
Which team is the one to beat?
Which teams are in the running to put up the best record?
Is there a team on the rise to watch out for?
And while we’re at it, why not take a shot at forecasting the order of finish in the East Division? (*projected standings in final segment below)
A rep from each East Division market contributed to the discussion/polling and all contributors are close observers of the WHL.
Their names have been withheld to protect the innocent, or to ensure their buddies don’t tease them on social media or in virtual chats over coffee!
NEW SEASON, SAME TOP END
Based on their remarks, and the data collected, the experts see things playing out much like they finished last season.
The defending Ed Chynoweth Cup champion Prince Albert Raiders are viewed as the leaders of a pack of four very good clubs at the top of the East Division with Brandon, Winnipeg, and Saskatoon making up the rest of that cluster and in a dogfight for the next spots.
“I think the Prince Albert Raiders are still the team to beat in the East Division,” said one contributor. “They lose a pair of 20-year-olds on defence and a high-scoring one up front, but I think they have enough depth to weather the loss of those players. Ozzy Wiesblatt is a game-changer on his own, and Kaiden Guhle will step into an even bigger role this year. They still have Max Paddock for one more season, solving the goaltending problem they had last season.”
As for the three other quality teams in that pack, the ones aiming to hunt down the Raiders?
“Any time you have a player the quality of Peyton Krebs to lead your group you’ve got something special. But you need more to compete at the top end and the ICE have more with the likes of McClennon and Pederson in a deep corps of forwards,” opined one analyst. “A top prospect in Lambos to anchor the defence is huge. The signing of Carl Stankowski could prove to be just the thing to replace Laim Hughes in goal, and I’m curious to see what Conor Geekie does as he settles in. The ICE will be a handful.”
What about an impressive looking Brandon outfit?
“There’s so many unknowns this year, (but) this was a team that Brandon has been looking to for about three years,” said one journalist about the Wheat Kings. “You know how in junior hockey there’s ‘the build’? This was the team they were building toward.”
And let’s not forget about Saskatoon and what they bring to the hub. Scoring, experience in goal, and lingering questions about moving on from key losses on the blueline.
“With the Blades, their issue on (is on) defence being not as experienced as it has been the last couple of years is something they would have to overcome. There’s some warts on every one of those teams. It’s the team that can do something about cleaning up those warts, let’s put it that way, that’s the one that’ll end up coming through. For me to pick one? Darn tough.”
ON THE RISE
Okay, with what our analysts see as the big boys in the East Division out of the way, what about that team most likely to make strides and show signs of breaking through?
Well, the host Regina Pats are almost unanimously viewed as that team with Moose Jaw and Swift Current making strides but not threatening for a top four spot just yet.
“Regina would be an easy pick, I think, just because of because of Bedard and then the acquisition of Roddy Ross to play goal. I would say Regina’s probably the team that could maybe make the biggest move up if they can indeed move up into a playoff spot.”
Last, but not least here are the projected standings after 24 game hub centre showdown:
- Prince Albert 43 points (4)
- *TIE: Brandon 39 points (2)
- *TIE: Winnipeg 39 points (1)
- Saskatoon 31 points
- Regina 20 points
- Moose Jaw 17 points
- Swift Current 7 points
*Brandon listed in second by virtue of more first place votes than Winnipeg, first place votes in ().
The following point value was attached to each place in the standings after order of finish was submitted by each member of our panel:
- 7 points
- 6 points
- 5 points
- 4 points
- 3 points
- 2 points
- 1 point
So there you have it!
The limited roster info, no pre-season play, hyped for the hub projections offered by a collection of WHL-savvy folks from the seven East Division markets.
Can’t wait to see how it all plays out!