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2012-13 WHL EASTERN CONFERENCE PREVIEW

A team-by-team season preview of the Western Hockey League's Eastern Conference.

Wednesday 09.19.12 / 01:09 PM

Calgary, AB – The Western Hockey League’s 47th season begins on Thursday, September 20th, as fans gear up for another exciting winter of WHL hockey.

The Edmonton Oil Kings were crowned 2012 WHL champions last spring after knocking off the Portland Winterhawks in the WHL championship series.  Can the Oil Kings make another run for the Ed Chynoweth Cup?

In Saskatoon, SK, the Blades know they will be playing in the 2013 MasterCard Memorial Cup next May as the tournament’s host team.  Do the Blades have what it takes to get to the tournament through the front door as WHL champions?

Eastern Conference fans will surely enjoy watching many of the young, rising stars hit the ice such as Kootenay’s Sam Reinhart, the 2012 WHL Rookie of the Year, Medicine Hat’s puck wizard Hunter Shinkaruk, Brandon’s dynamic defense duo of Ryan Pulock and Eric Roy, Edmonton’s superstar-in-waiting Curtis Lazar, and exciting youngster Brayden Point of the Moose Jaw Warriors.

Which team will emerge as the Beasts of the East during the 2012-13 WHL regular season?  Which players will stand out and take the Eastern Conference by storm this season?

Here’s a look at the WHL Eastern Conference (also attached):

East Division

Brandon Wheat Kings
General Manager: Kelly McCrimmon
Head Coach: Dwayne Gylywoychuk
2012 pre-season: 1-3-0-0
2011-12 Record: 39-28-1-4, 83pts (3rd in East Div., 6th in Eastern Conf.) GF: 273  GA: 257
2011-12 Power Play / Penalty Killing ranking: PP: 26.3% (3rd); PK: 76.9% (15th)
2012 Playoffs: Lost in four games to Edmonton in second round
2011-12 Top Scorers:
Mark Stone        66gp-41g-82a-123pts
Michael Ferland        68gp-47g-49a-96pts
Brenden Walker        68gp-26g-55a-81pts

Up Front:  The loss of their top three scorers from last season – Mark Stone, Michael Ferland and Brenden Walker – means the Wheat Kings will need to replace a combined 114 goals and 300 points.  19-year-old Swiss winger Alessio Bertaggia is the only returning forward to have cracked the 20-goal mark last season, and will be counted on to better his 24-goal, 50-point rookie season.  20-year-old Nick Buonassisi was acquired from Lethbridge to add a veteran presence and inject some offense as well.  Buonassisi put up 16 goals and 49 points last year.  Czech rookie Richard Nejezchleb also figures to be a factor in the offense, having shown good offensive instincts during the pre-season, while bigger contributions will be needed from the likes of Jens Meilleur, Tyrel Seaman and Jason Swyripa to offset the loss of their three stars from last season.

On The Blue Line:  Third-year rearguards Ryan Pulock and Eric Roy head up the Wheat Kings’ defence corps this season.  Both Pulock and Roy have already established themselves at elite offensive defencemen in the WHL, having combined for an impressive 30 goals and 113 points from the blue line last season.  Expect both to enjoy strong campaigns as they head into their NHL draft-eligible season.  Also returning are Ryley Miller, Ayrton Nikkel and Rene Hunter, who were all regulars in the line-up last season.  20-year-old Tyler Yaworski was acquired from Prince Albert during the offseason to inject some size and toughness to the defence corps.  Rookies Colton Waltz and Riley Van Horne will help provide depth as they embark on their first WHL campaigns.

Goaltending:  Corbin Boes returns as the team’s top netminder for the 2012-13 campaign.  Having shared duties with veteran Brandon Anderson last season, expect Boes to take on more work this season as the go-to guy.  Boes enjoyed a strong season last year, posting a 23-10-0-2 record with a .916 save percentage in 41 games, and was even better in the post-season.  18-year-old Curtis Honey, who got into a handful of games last season, will slot into the back-up role behind Boes.

Player to Watch:  Eric Roy
Roy is coming off a breakout season in 2011-12 where he put up 11 goals and 53 points in 69 games and established himself as a top prospect for the 2013 NHL Draft.  The Beauval, SK, product has size, strength and can be a physical presence on the ice.  His offensive contributions are what stand out.  A calm and poised player with the puck, Roy makes smart passes, reads the play very well, and has great awareness in the offensive zone.  Playing alongside fellow NHL draft-eligible star Ryan Pulock, expect Eric Roy to put up big numbers again for the Wheat Kings this season.  

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Moose Jaw Warriors
General Manager: Alan Millar
Head Coach: Mike Stothers
2012 pre-season: 3-1-1-0
2011-12 Record: 45-19-6-2, 98pts (1st in East Div., 2nd in Eastern Conf.) GF: 258  GA: 213
2011-12 Power Play / Penalty Killing ranking: PP: 23.0% (8th); PK: 79.9% (7th)
2012 Playoffs: Lost in five games to Edmonton in Eastern Conference Championship Series
2011-12 Top Scorers:
Cam Braes        74gp-41g-41a-82pts
James Henry        69gp-16g-55a-71pts
Quinton Howden    52gp-30g-35a-65pts

Up Front:  The Warriors see many changes among their group of forwards this season, and will be a much younger group.  Gone are five of their top six scorers from last season, with Sam Fioretti being the lone returning 20-goal scorer.  Fioretti will have to take on much more responsibility this season, both in producing offense and in providing leadership.  Fellow overager Justin Kirsch will also be counted on for veteran leadership and scoring, while 18-year-old Andrew Johnson will aim to improve on a 13-goal, 37-point campaign last year.  Sophomores Carter Hansen and Torrin White should be ready to contribute more in their second seasons, while rookie Brayden Point will look to make a big impact this season after enjoying an outstanding 2012 playoff run with the Warriors.  
 
On The Blue Line:  The Warriors will return five rearguards from last year’s club, including 18-year-old Morgan Rielly, who was drafted fifth overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs this summer.  Having missed most of last season with an injury, expect Rielly to step in and make a huge impact for the Warriors this season.  Also back are defensive stalwarts Kendall McFaull and Joel Edmundson, who not only bring size and a physical presence, but valuable leadership as well.  Travis Brown, drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in June, adds another strong puck-moving presence in the defense corps.  19-year-old Reid Jackson was acquired from Prince George during the offseason, adding another experienced veteran presence to the Warriors’ blue line.

Goaltending:  The Warriors will be young and relatively inexperienced in net this season with 17-year-olds Justin Paulic and Daniel Wapple expected to platoon in goal.  Paulic appeared in two regular-season games and a pair of playoff games for the Warriors last season, while Wapple has just one pre-season game of WHL experience.  Both Paulic and Wapple were selected by the Warriors in the 2010 WHL Bantam Draft.

Player to Watch:  Brayden Point
One of two first-round picks by Warriors in the 2011 WHL Bantam Draft, Point has already made his mark with the Warriors.  Called up for the 2012 WHL playoffs, Point got into 14 games and scored seven goals and 10 points to help the Warriors reach the Eastern Conference championship series.  A shifty playmaking pivot, Point has terrific offensive skills, great vision and a strong work ethic.  Though he may not be the biggest player on the ice, it hasn’t stopped Point from producing points at every level.  Looking to follow in the footsteps of other undersized scoring stars like Brandon Kozun or Jordan Weal, Point will be a difference-maker for the Warriors this season.

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Prince Albert Raiders
General Manager: Bruno Campese
Head Coach: Steve Young
2012 pre-season: 1-3-0-0
2011-12 Record: 21-45-3-3, 48pts (6th in East Div., 12th in Eastern Conf.) GF: 219  GA: 312
2011-12 Power Play / Penalty Killing ranking: PP: 19.4% (18th); PK: 73.9% (21st)
2012 Playoffs: Did not qualify
2011-12 Top Scorers:
Justin Maylan        72gp-26g-63a-89pts
Anthony Bardaro    63gp-36g-38a-74pts
Mark McNeill        69gp-31g-40a-71pts

Up Front: Led by 20-year-old Anthony Bardaro, the Raiders return several of their top guns from last season.  Bardaro broke out for 36 goals last season, splitting the year between Prince Albert and Spokane, and will be counted on to post similar numbers this season.  19-year-old Mark McNeill should be in line for a dominant season after putting up 63 goals and 152 points over the last two seasons combined, while 18-year-old Mike Winther is hoping to build on his own breakout year last year where he netted 32 goals.  German rookie Leon Draisaitl, the second overall pick in the 2012 CHL Import Draft, should be able to fill a top scoring role after starring for Germany’s Under-18 team.  18-year-old Logan McVeigh is also capable of stepping into a much bigger role this season.  Look for the likes of Shane Danyluk and Jonas Knutsen to add scoring depth for what should be a pretty solid group up front for the Raiders.

On The Blue Line:  The Raiders return four regulars from last year’s club, and have added a few new faces to the fold as well.  17-year-old Josh Morrissey excelled as a rookie last season, scoring 10 goals and 38 points.  A highly-regarded prospect for the 2013 NHL Draft, Morrissey has the skill and smarts to be one of the WHL’s elite offensive blue liners.  Also back is veteran Antoine Corbin, who provides good two-way play and leadership.  19-year-old shutdown defender Harrison Ruopp and 18-year-old Sawyer Lange are also back from last season, while the Raiders acquired 18-year-olds Shayne Gwinner and Riley Guenther over the summer to add depth to the blue line and help the team improve what was the 21st-ranked penalty killing unit last year.  The Raiders added even more depth and size when they acquired veteran Evan Morden from the Everett Silvertips.

Goaltending:  The Raiders acquired a pair of new netminders prior to the season’s start.  20-year-old veteran Luke Siemens came over from Moose Jaw during the offseason, giving them a bona fide No. 1 goaltender.  Siemens got into 55 games last season for the Warriors, posting 35 wins and a solid .907 save percentage, and helped the team reach the 2012 Eastern Conference championship series.  18-year-old Andy Desautels was acquired from Everett for last year’s starter, Cole Holowenko, just after pre-season play finished.  Desautels, who played with Siemens in Everett, will help ease Siemens’ workload this season.  

Player to Watch:  Josh Morrissey
The Raiders’ first-round pick, sixth overall, in the 2010 WHL Bantam Draft, Morrissey burst onto the scene in Raiderland with a terrific 16-year-old campaign last year, scoring 10 goals and 38 points in 68 games.  He also turned heads with his strong performance for Canada at the Under-18 level.  A smooth skater with great passing skills, vision and patience, Morrissey is a dynamic two-way defenceman who can quarterback a power play, play smart defensive hockey and make that crucial first pass out of the zone.  The Calgary, AB, product worked hard on his defensive game last season, and figures to be the go-to guy on the Raiders’ blue line this season.

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Regina Pats
General Manager: Chad Lang
Head Coach: Pat Conacher
2012 pre-season: 2-2-0-0
2011-12 Record: 37-27-6-2, 82pts (4th in East Div., 7th in Eastern Conf.) GF: 230  GA: 214
2011-12 Power Play / Penalty Killing ranking: PP: 20.7% (13th); PK: 77.9% (12th)
2012 Playoffs: Lost in five games to Moose Jaw in first round
2011-12 Top Scorers:
Jordan Weal        71gp-41g-75a-116pts
Lane Scheidl        70gp-27g-28a-55pts
Brandon Davidson    69gp-13g-36a-49pts

Up Front: The graduation of star Jordan Weal leaves a big hole in the Pats’ offense.  However, with some young talent ready to step up and take on bigger roles, the Pats should be able to ease the loss of Weal, who led the team in scoring in each of the past two years.  18-year-old Chandler Stephenson is preparing for a big season after being picked by the Washington Capitals in the 2012 NHL Draft.  Stephenson should easily better the 22 goals he scored last season.  20-year-old veteran Lane Scheidl will have to build on his 27-goal season last year while also helping the younger forwards along.  17-year-old Morgan Klimchuk is a candidate to enjoy a breakout season.  The Calgary, AB, product has the skill to be a scoring star in the WHL.  Veteran Dyson Stevenson can provide secondary offense, a physical presence and leadership while 17-year-old rookie hopeful Patrick D’Amico will also look to contribute this year after a strong pre-season.

On The Blue Line:  The Pats could return four regular rearguards from last year’s team that had shaved off 98 goals allowed from the previous season.  20-year-old Colton Jobke, the team’s best all-around defenceman, could be back but could also play in the AHL with the Houston Aeros.  Should Jobke not return, 20-year-old Brandon Underwood would be the elder statesman of the group, and will be relied upon to stabilize the defence corps.  19-year-old Luke Fenske and 17-year-old Kyle Burroughs are also back.  Burroughs is a candidate to step into a bigger role and contribute some offense from the blue line.  The Pats were busy adding depth to their defence corps during the offseason and pre-season, acquiring Cole Wedman from Spokane, Tye Hand from Everett and Kade Pilton from Victoria.  All three stand over 6’3”, giving the Pats’ blue line some much-needed size.  

Goaltending:  20-year-old Matt Hewitt is back for his final WHL campaign.  The New Westminster, B.C., native posted 32 wins to go with a 2.76 goals-against average and a .905 save percentage last season, and gives the Pats solid goaltending this season.  18-year-old Adam Beukeboom, last year’s back-up, and 17-year-old Teagan Sacher are gunning for the other spot in the tandem, and both are making a strong case for the job.  Beukeboom has 19 games of experience from last season, while Sacher has been good in pre-season play.

Player to Watch:  Morgan Klimchuk
Klimchuk was the Pats’ first-round pick, fifth overall, in the 2011 WHL Bantam Draft, and made his full-time WHL debut as a 16-year-old last year.  He did not disappoint.  The Calgary, AB, product put up 18 goals and 36 points for the Pats last season, and showed why he is a highly-regarded prospect for the 2013 NHL Draft.  An offensive force at every level he’s played, Klimchuk has high-end puck skills, a great shot and displays plenty of creativity.  Yet, it’s his strong work ethic and willingness to dig around in the corners that sets him apart.  With Pats’ star Jordan Weal moving on to the professional level, expect Klimchuk to play a much larger role in the Pats’ offense this season and establish himself as the next great Pats forward.

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Saskatoon Blades
General Manager / Head Coach: Lorne Molleken
2012 pre-season:
2011-12 Record: 40-29-1-2, 83pts (2nd in East Div., 5th in Eastern Conf.) GF: 268  GA: 250
2011-12 Power Play / Penalty Killing ranking: PP: 22.1% (9th); PK: 80.1% (6th)
2012 Playoffs: Lost in four games to Medicine Hat in first round
2011-12 Top Scorers:
Matej Stransky        70gp-39g-42a-81pts
Josh Nicholls        56gp-30g-38a-68pts
Lukas Sutter        70gp-28g-31a-59pts

Up Front:  It’s a big year for the Blades, who host the 2013 MasterCard Memorial Cup tournament.  Though they lost a few veterans from last season, they still return a number of quality forwards who can put the puck in the net, including their top three scorers.  Veterans Matej Stransky, Josh Nicholls and Lukas Sutter all topped at least the 28-goal, 59-point plateau last season and will be expected to match or better those numbers this season.  Sutter, a second-round pick of the Winnipeg Jets in 2012, also brings a feisty, physical element to the table.  The Rockets also acquired playmakers Shane McColgan from Kelowna and Brenden Walker from Brandon to add veteran experience and proven offense to the mix.  Expect both to play big roles in the attack.  Jessey Astles, also acquired from Kelowna, brings even more size and toughness to the equation.  With players like Brent Benson, Brett Stovin and Nick Zajac, the Blades should have adequate secondary scoring.

On The Blue Line:  Dalton Thrower, Darren Dietz and Duncan Siemens head up the Blades’ defence corps as they embark on their Memorial Cup quest.  Thrower is coming off a huge 2011-12 campaign that saw him put up 18 goals and 54 points.  As good as he is offensively, Thrower also plays a physical game and isn’t afraid to throw his weight around.  Siemens is a tower of strength who punishes opposing forwards and can chip in offense as well, while Dietz plays a responsible two-way game.  Also back are Connor Cox and Matt Pufahl, who were regulars last season.  Cox, a 20-year-old veteran, is a quality puck-mover with over 200 games of WHL seasoning, and Pufahl will look for a bigger role in his first full season with the Blades.

Goaltending:  Russian netminder Andrey Makarov returns to build on what was a strong rookie campaign with the Blades last year.  The 19-year-old from Kazan, who signed as a free agent with the Buffalo Sabres recently, also played well for Russia in the 2012 World Junior Championship, helping the team win the Silver medal.  17-year-old Alex Moodie was very impressive in a 13-game stint with the Blades last season, and could help ease Makarov’s workload throughout the season.  

Player to Watch:  Lukas Sutter
The son of former NHLer and Lethbridge Bronco Rich Sutter, Lukas was the Blades’ second of two second-round picks in the 2008 WHL Bantam Draft.  An energetic, hard-working, physical forward in the Sutter mold, Lukas makes life extremely difficult on the opposition with his willingness to hit, grind and stand up for his teammates.  Yet, Sutter is coming off a 2011-12 campaign where he potted 28 goals, showing he can also bring plenty of offense to the table.  Drafted in the second round, 39th overall, by the Winnipeg Jets in the 2012 NHL Draft, expect Sutter to be a key cog in the Blades’ plans as they embark on their Memorial Cup run.

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Swift Current Broncos
General Manager / Head Coach: Mark Lamb
2012 pre-season:
2011-12 Record: 27-37-2-6, 62pts (5st in East Div., 10th in Eastern Conf.) GF: 216  GA: 272
2011-12 Power Play / Penalty Killing ranking: PP: 24.5% (4th); PK: 72.0% (22nd)
2012 Playoffs: Did not qualify
2011-12 Top Scorers:
Taylor Vause    72gp-37g-46a-83pts
Coda Gordon    66gp-30g-23a-53pts
Brad Hoban    69gp-21g-32a-53pts
    
Up Front:  The Broncos will miss the offense from former captain Taylor Vause, who has moved on from the WHL.  Yet, they return 18-year-old Coda Gordon, who scored 30 goals as a rookie last season.  Gordon, who was drafted by the Calgary Flames in June 2012, becomes the go-to guy for goals among Broncos forwards, and will hopefully help maintain what was the fourth-best power play in the League last season.  Also returning is Graham Black, who is coming off a 50-point campaign, and 20-year-old veteran Ryon Moser, who put up 40 points last season.  Both will need to put up similar, if not better totals this season.  Adam Lowry is back and ready to go for the Broncos after missing the last half of last season with an injury.  Having Lowry back not only adds a point-per-game player, but a big, physical presence as well.  The Broncos acquired 6’5” veteran Chance Lund from Seattle during the pre-season, adding a big, physical forward up front.

On The Blue Line:  19-year-olds Reece Scarlett and Richard Nedomlel headline a group of six regular rearguards eligible to return from last season.  Scarlett, a New Jersey Devils prospect, and Nedomlel, a Detroit Red Wings draft pick, both bring plenty of offense, having combined for 19 goals and 95 points last season.  Expect both to log heavy minutes on the blue line this season.  20-year-old Dalton Reum and 19-year-old Graeme Craig are also back, adding depth in the defensive zone.  17-year-old Dillon Heatherington will look for more responsibility this season in his second campaign in Swift Current.  16-year-old Brycen Martin, the second overall pick from the 2011 WHL Bantam Draft, is slated to make his full-time debut, and could contribute in his first season in the League.

Goaltending:  19-year-old Eetu Laurikainen, the Broncos’ first-round pick in the 2012 CHL Import Draft, looks to take on the starting job for the team.  An athletic and quick netminder, Laurikainen has already drawn rave reviews for his pre-season effort.  18-year-old Steven Myland and 17-year-old Landon Bow are battling for a spot behind Laurikainen.  Myland has two games of WHL experience from last season.  Bow was a fourth-round pick in the 2010 WHL Bantam Draft.   

Player to Watch:  Coda Gordon
A relative unknown at the start of the 2011-12 season, Gordon quickly established himself as a quality finisher, putting up 30 goals and 53 points as a 17-year-old rookie last year.  The result was an invite to the Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game and eventually hearing his name called by the Calgary Flames in the sixth round of the 2012 NHL Draft.  A Cochrane, AB, product, Gordon’s best assets are his hockey sense and nose for the net.  He won’t wow fans with blazing speed or fancy stickwork, but he will always find those spots on the ice where he can bang in a rebound or get his stick on a point shot.  His ability to find loose pucks and turn them into goals will make him a valuable cog in the Broncos’ offense this season.


Central Division

Calgary Hitmen
General Manager: Kelly Kisio
Head Coach: Mike Williamson
2012 pre-season: 4-2-0-0
2011-12 Record: 44-25-2-1, 91pts (2nd in Central Div., 3rd in Eastern Conf.) GF: 273  GA: 221
2011-12 Power Play / Penalty Killing ranking: PP: 20.9% (12th); PK: 81.0% (4th)
2012 Playoffs: Lost in five games to Brandon in first round
2011-12 Top Scorers:
Jimmy Bubnick        72gp-36g-41a-77pts
Cody Sylvester        66gp-23g-45a-68pts
Victor Rask        64gp-33g-30a-63pts

Up Front:  The Hitmen lose their top scorer from last year, Jimmy Bubnick, to graduation, but still return four forwards who scored at least 23 goals last season.  19-year-old Swede Victor Rask will be the key cog in the offense.  The Carolina Hurricanes prospect scored 33 goals as a rookie last season, and could dominate this year.  Also back is 20-year-old veteran Cody Sylvester, who is the leading point-getter among returning players.  19-year-old Brady Brassart, who tallied 25 goals and 59 points last season, will factor heavily in the offense while more will be expected from players like Greg Chase, Chase Clayton and Calder Brooks.  Expect young Jake Virtanen, the first overall pick of the 2011 WHL Bantam Draft, to contribute in his rookie campaign.  With three quality 20-year-old forwards – Sylvester, Brooks Macek and Trevor Cheek – and overage veteran defenceman Spencer Humphries still in the mix, the Hitmen will have tough decisions to make on who fills the maximum three overage spots.  

On The Blue Line:  Led by 20-year-old Spencer Humphries, the Hitmen return five regulars from last season.  Humphries, a two-way defender, put up eight goals and 38 points along with a solid +17 rating last season.  He will log plenty of minutes this season, should he survive the overage situation.  Also back are 19-year-olds Peter Kosterman, Alex Roach and Washington Capitals prospect Jaynen Rissling, who all bring plenty of size and experience to the blue line.  18-year-old Kenton Helgesen, an Anaheim Ducks prospect, newcomer Darian Henry and rookies Josh Thrower and Colby Harmsworth give the Hitmen a lot of depth on defence.

Goaltending: 18-year-old Chris Driedger will be the Hitmen’s top man in goal this season after platooning with Brandon Glover last year.  Driedger, selected in the third round of the 2012 NHL Draft by the Ottawa Senators, appeared in 44 games last season, posting 24 wins and a 2.80 goals-against average.  17-year-old rookie Mack Shields will take on back-up duties.  Shields was a fourth-round pick by the Hitmen in the 2010 WHL Bantam Draft.

Player to Watch:  Victor Rask
The Hitmen’s top pick, third overall, in the 2011 CHL Import Draft, Rask came over to Calgary for the 2011-12 campaign and was one of their top offensive players, netting an impressive 33 goals and 63 points in 64 games.  The Carolina Hurricanes’ second-rounder boasts elite level puck skills, shoots the puck well and has good size and skating ability.  Once questioned on his compete level, Rask answered back with a strong rookie season in the WHL, showing he could handle the workload.  Look for the 19-year-old Swede to be a dominant performer for the Hitmen this season.

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Edmonton Oil Kings
General Manager: Bob Green
Head Coach: Derek Laxdal
2012 pre-season: 3-2-0-0
2011-12 Record: 50-15-3-4, 107pts (1st in Central Div., 1st in Eastern Conf.) GF: 310  GA: 193
2011-12 Power Play / Penalty Killing ranking: PP: 27.6% (2nd); PK: 83.7% (2nd)
2012 Playoffs: 2012 WHL Champions
2011-12 Top Scorers:
Michael St. Croix    72gp-45g-60a-105pts
Dylan Wruck        66gp-21g-59a-80pts
T.J. Foster        69gp-30g-45a-75pts        
    
Up Front:  The Oil Kings are set to return most of their forwards from last year’s team that boasted the second-best offensive output in the WHL.  Veterans Michael St. Croix, Dylan Wruck, T.J. Foster, Travis Ewanyk, Stephane Legault and Mitch Moroz are all back, looking to pick up where they left off.  St. Croix, a New York Rangers prospect, is a candidate to lead the WHL in scoring this season.  Wruck and Foster are also expected to put up big numbers.  Sophomore Henrik Samuelsson is primed for a big year after being drafted in the first round of the NHL Draft in June, while 17-year-old Curtis Lazar should also be able to better the 20 goals and 31 points he scored last season.  Latvian rookie Edgars Kulda and veteran Klarc Wilson provide good scoring depth to what will be a very dangerous offense.

On The Blue Line:  Though they lose last year’s captain Mark Pysyk to the AHL, the Oil Kings still return a deep and talented group of defencemen who helped the team to the second-best defensive record last season.  19-year-olds Keegan Lowe and Martin Gernat, along with 18-year-old Griffin Reinhart, provide the Oil Kings with as good a top 3 defencemen as there is in the WHL.  Gernat and Reinhart form a terrific duo for the Oil Kings’ power play as both possess great shots from the point.  19-year-old Cody Corbett, 18-year-old Ashton Sautner and 17-year-old Mason Geertsen are also back, giving the Oil Kings tremendous defensive depth.  16-year-olds Aaron Irving, the ninth overall pick from the 2011 WHL Bantam Draft, and Dysin Mayo are waiting in the wings to join the talented Oil Kings’ defence corps.

Goaltending:  Laurent Brossoit took over the starting job in the Oil Kings’ cage last season and led them to the WHL championship, where he was named the MVP of the championship series.  The Calgary Flames prospect is back and ready to help the Oil Kings in their quest to defend their WHL title.  In Brossoit, the Oil Kings have one of the WHL’s top netminders at their disposal.  17-year-old Tristan Jarry is also returning, and will back up Brossoit for a second season.  Jarry posted an 8-2-1 record with a 2.93 goals-against average in 14 games last season.

Player to Watch:  Curtis Lazar
The Oil Kings’ first-round pick, second overall, in the 2010 WHL Bantam Draft, Lazar established himself as a big-time player as a 16-year-old last year, despite playing on a team with tremendous offensive depth.  The Vernon, B.C., product scored 20 goals and 31 points in 63 games, then took his game up a level in the post-season with eight goals and 19 points in 20 contests to help the team win the WHL championship.  Blessed with size, speed and an outstanding shot, Lazar is a tough player to handle for opposing defencemen.  Whether it’s bulling his way to the net or making finesse plays, Lazar can do damage in a lot of different ways.  Expect the 17-year-old to see his numbers increase this season and cement himself as a top prospect for the 2013 NHL Draft.

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Kootenay Ice
General Manager: Jeff Chynoweth
Head Coach: Ryan McGill
2012 pre-season: 2-3-0-0
2011-12 Record: 36-26-6-4, 82pts (4th in Central Div., 8th in Eastern Conf.) GF: 222  GA: 201
2011-12 Power Play / Penalty Killing ranking: PP: 19.7% (16th); PK: 80.5% (5th)
2012 Playoffs: Lost in four games to Edmonton in first round
2011-12 Top Scorers:
Max Reinhart        61gp-28g-50a-78pts
Sam Reinhart        67gp-28g-34a-62pts
Jesse Ismond        71gp-16g-39a-55pts

Up Front:  The Ice return just two of their top five scorers from last season, including reigning WHL Rookie of the Year Sam Reinhart.  Though he won’t have his older brother, Max, to help him this season, Sam has already proven to be a top-line scorer for the Ice, despite being only 17 years old.  The Vancouver, B.C., product is expected to be a go-to guy for what will be a younger group of forwards.  20-year-olds Brock Montgomery, Elgin Pearce and Drew Czerwonka are battling for the overage spots.  All three would be valuable to the Ice.  Czerwonka, a feisty, crash-and-bang leader, has been named the team’s captain, while both Pearce and Montgomery are coming off 20-goal campaigns.  Younger players like Luke Philp, Levi Cable and Jaedon Descheneau will need to step their games up, while the Ice also hope Czech rookies Jakub Prochazka and Petr Vesely can find the back of the net.

On The Blue Line:  20-year-old Joey Leach and 19-year-olds Jagger Dirk and Tanner Muth are the elder statesmen on the Ice blue line.  Leach is one of four 20-year-olds battling for three overage spots, but would be an invaluable cog in the defence corps with his two-way ability and veteran experience.  Dirk put up seven goals, 29 points and a +22 rating last season, and will be relied on for heavy minutes this season.  18-year-olds Mike Simpson and Jeff Hubic add size to the back end while 17-year-old sophomore Spencer Wand, who stands 6’5”, has shown potential as a solid shut-down defender.  Wand and fellow sophomore Tanner Faith are two of four 17-year-olds looking for regular duty on the Ice blue line.   

Goaltending:  With Nathan Lieuwen moving on to the AHL, the Ice will have a new face as their starting netminder.  The starting job looks to be in the hands of 18-year-old Mackenzie Skapski, who got into 19 games as Lieuwen’s back-up last season.  Skapski was a third-round pick in the 2009 WHL Bantam Draft.  17-year-old Wyatt Hoflin will push Skapski for playing time in his first season in the WHL.  Hoflin, a Spruce Grove, AB, product, was a second-round pick, 37th overall, in the 2010 WHL Bantam Draft.

Player to Watch:  Sam Reinhart
The youngest of three Reinhart brothers, Sam made his debut for the Ice last season and immediately established himself as one of the team’s top offensive players.  The 16-year-old put up 28 goals and 62 points in 67 games for the Ice, and was named the WHL Rookie of the Year for his efforts.  The captain of Canada’s Under-18 team that won Gold at the 2012 Memorial for Ivan Hlinka tournament, Reinhart has tremendous offensive skills, great vision and hockey sense, and a strong work ethic.  As the go-to guy up front for the Ice this season, expect to see Reinhart among the upper echelons in the WHL scoring race this season and continue to establish himself as a contender for the first overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft.

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Lethbridge Hurricanes
General Manager / Head Coach: Rich Preston
2012 pre-season: 3-3-0-0
2011-12 Record: 29-42-0-1, 59pts (6th in Central Div.,11th in Eastern Conf.) GF: 225  GA: 292
2011-12 Power Play / Penalty Killing ranking: PP: 21.8% (11th); PK: 76.0% (19th)
2012 Playoffs: Did not qualify
2011-12 Top Scorers:
Brody Sutter        65gp-30g-30a-60pts
Nick Buonassisi        69gp-16g-33a-49pts
Philip Tot        61gp-14g-31a-45pts

Up Front:  The Hurricanes boast a young and talented group of forwards who should help mold the team into a contender over the next couple of years.  20-year-old Graham Hood, 19-year-old Brady Ramsay and 18-year-old Russ Maxwell are the most experienced returning forwards, with only Hood having more than 200 games of WHL experience.  Expect those three to take on big roles in providing leadership to a forward unit dominated by 17 and 18-year-olds.  Sophomores such as Jay Merkley, Sam McKechnie, Craig Leverton and Jamal Watson will have to take on more responsibility in the offense while rookies like Reid Duke and Remi Laurencelle should see plenty of opportunity to contribute as well.  17-year-old Swedish rookie Axel Blomqvist joins his older brother, Albin, on the ‘Canes’ roster after being drafted in the 2012 CHL Import Draft.

On The Blue Line:  20-year-old Daniel Johnston heads up a group of five rearguards who are back from last year’s team.  Johnston will be relied on to play heavy minutes and be the glue that cements together a young defence corps.  19-year-olds Spencer Galbraith and Albin Blomqvist are also back while 17-year-old Macoy Erkamps looks to be ready for an increased role.  Erkamps should be able to improve on the four goals and 20 points he put up last season.  16-year-old rookie Ryan Pilon is highly regarded by the ‘Canes and could make an impact in his first WHL season.  17-year-olds Joel Topping and Adam Henry are also hoping for regular duty on the ‘Canes’ blue line.    

Goaltending:  The Hurricanes acquired 20-year-old veteran Ty Rimmer from the Tri-City Americans during the offseason, giving them one of the best netminders in the WHL.  Rimmer led all goaltenders with a 2.43 goals-against average and boasted an impressive .922 save percentage last season for the Ams, and was a finalist for the WHL Goaltender of the Year award.  Though he may see more action with a younger defence in front of him, Rimmer should give the ‘Canes a chance to win every night he plays.  Rookies Tanner Kovacs, 18, and Christopher Tai, 16, are in the running for the back-up job.

Player to Watch:  Reid Duke
The second of two top-5 picks for the Hurricanes in the 2011 WHL Bantam Draft, Duke is expected to become a major impact player for the ‘Canes’ over the next few seasons.  A talented offensive player who has put up points at every level, Duke already showed he can contribute at the WHL level with two goals and six points in 12 games for the Hurricanes as a 15-year-old call-up last season.  Duke also played for Canada’s entry at the 2012 Youth Olympic Games, helping the team to a Bronze medal, and played for Team Alberta in the 2011 Western Canada Under-16 Challenge Cup, helping the team to a Gold medal.  With the Hurricanes icing a younger group of forwards this season, expect Duke to establish himself as an important cog in the offense, even as a 16-year-old.

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Medicine Hat Tigers
General Manager/Head Coach: Shaun Clouston
2012 pre-season: 2-3-0-0
2011-12 Record: 42-24-2-4, 90pts (3rd in Central Div., 4th in Eastern Conf.) GF: 255  GA: 209
2011-12 Power Play / Penalty Killing ranking: PP: 24.3% (5th); PK: 77.3% (14th)
2012 Playoffs: Lost in four games to Moose Jaw in second round
2011-12 Top Scorers:
Emerson Etem        65gp-61g-46a-107pts
Hunter Shinkaruk    66gp-49g-42a-91pts
James Bettauer        74gp-21g-37a-58pts

Up Front:  The Tigers will miss the 61 goals off the stick of Emerson Etem, who has moved on to the pro ranks.  However, in Hunter Shinkaruk, the Tigers return one of the most exciting and offensively gifted forwards in the WHL.  The Calgary, AB, product is coming off a 49-goal, 91-point season last year, his second WHL campaign, and is a safe bet to hit the 50-goal plateau this season.  Shinkaruk will be the focus of opposition defences, meaning the Tigers will need to get scoring from other sources.  19-year-old Curtis Valk scored 24 goals and 51 points last season, and will be counted on to up those totals this season.  Players like Boston Leier, Jayden Hart and Miles Koules will also be expected to play a role in generating scoring up front.  20-year-old veteran Kale Kessy should provide plenty of physical play and leadership for what will be a smaller group of Tigers forwards.

On The Blue Line:  20-year-olds Alex Theriau and Derek Ryckman and 19-year-old Dylan Busenius anchor the Tigers’ blue line that loses their top two rearguards from last season.  Ryckman, who was acquired from Tri-City during the pre-season, is a solid defensive presence who posted a +27 rating with the Ams last season.  Theriau is recovering from offseason surgery and won’t be ready until October.  Expect 18-year-old rookie Kyle Becker to step in and take on a big role, especially on the power play, while sophomores Tyler Lewington and Spenser Jensen should see increased responsibilities.  Rookies Ty Stanton and Matt Staples will both get their feet wet in their first WHL campaigns.

Goaltending:  With the graduation of Tyler Bunz, the Tigers will go with a new starting netminder for the first time in three years.  Czech goaltender Marek Langhamer, who was selected by the Tigers in the 2012 CHL Import Draft, hopes to fill the big shoes left with the departure of Bunz, the reigning WHL Goalie of the Year.  Langhamer is a Phoenix Coyotes prospect who has good size and athleticism.  19-year-old Kenny Cameron, last year’s back-up, and 18-year-old Dawson MacAuley are battling for the other netminding job.

Player to Watch:  Hunter Shinkaruk
At 5’10”, 175-lbs, Hunter Shinkaruk may not be the most intimidating physical specimen.  Yet, when the puck is on his stick, the Calgary, AB, product can strike fear in the most seasoned of WHL defencemen.  After an impressive rookie campaign in 2010-11, Shinkaruk exploded for 49 goals and 91 points last year, playing alongside star sniper Emerson Etem.  Now that Etem is gone, Shinkaruk becomes the focal point of the Tigers’ attack.  Supremely skilled with the puck, and with speed to burn, Shinkaruk may be one of the most exciting players to watch in the WHL this season, and is considered a top prospect for the 2013 NHL Draft.  Expect him to be right near the top of the WHL scoring ladder as the 2012-13 season progresses.

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Red Deer Rebels
General Manager: Brent Sutter
Head Coach: Jesse Wallin
2012 pre-season: 0-5-1-0
2011-12 Record: 32-34-1-5, 70pts (5th in Central Div., 9th in Eastern Conf.) GF: 204  GA: 231
2011-12 Power Play / Penalty Killing ranking: PP: 16.9% (19th); PK: 79.9% (8th)
2012 Playoffs: did not qualify
2011-12 Top Scorers:
John Persson        70gp-23g-35a-58pts
Matt Dumba        69gp-20g-37a-57pts
Alex Petrovic        68gp-12g-36a-48pts

Up Front:  The Rebels will look to their veterans in hopes of improving on what was the lowest-scoring offense in the Eastern Conference last season, with 20-year-old forwards Turner Elson, Charles Inglis and Adam Kambeitz expected to carry a heavy load up front.  Elson and 19-year-old Tyson Ness are the only returning forwards to have hit the 20-goal mark last season, while Elson and Inglis are the only two returning forwards to top the 40-point mark.  19-year-old Colten Mayor should be able to improve on his 14 goals from last season while other returnees like Chad Robinson and Cory Millette should add some secondary scoring.  Look for 16-year-old rookie Conner Bleackley to help out the offense this season after getting into 16 games as a 15-year-old last season.

On The Blue Line:  There will be no underestimating the importance of 18-year-old Mathew Dumba for the Rebels this season.  Not only will the Minnesota Wild first rounder be counted on to anchor the blue line, Dumba will also be tasked to contribute significant offense as well.  Coming off a 20-goal, 57-point season last year, Dumba is one of the WHL’s most exciting blue liners, capable of scoring big goals and delivering big hits.  Also back from last season are 19-year-old Cody Thiel, 18-year-olds Stephen Hak and Devan Fafard, and 17-year-old Kayle Doetzel.  Doetzel played a strong shutdown role for Canada’s Under-18 team this past summer, and should see more responsibility in the Rebels’ end this season.  The Rebels are hoping 6’2” Czech rookie Jan Bittner, 19, can provide some solid two-way play this season.

Goaltending:  19-year-old Czech netminder Patrik Bartosak is back to assume the starting job for the Rebels.  Bartosak was very impressive in the Rebels’ cage through the early part of last season until an injury sidelined him for the rest of the season.  With Bartosak healthy, the Rebels should get steady and stingy netminding.  18-year-old Bolton Pouliot returns to fill the back-up role.  Pouliot was strong in 17 appearances last year, posting a .909 save percentage and a 2.60 goals-against average.  With Bartosak and Pouliot in the fold, goaltending should be a strong point for the Rebels.

Player to Watch:  Mathew Dumba
If the Rebels are to make the post-season this year, there is no question that Matt Dumba will need to play a huge role for the team.  The 18-year-old from Calgary, AB, is well known as one of the WHL’s top defencemen and a player who makes an impact in all areas of the ice.  The seventh overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, Dumba is feared for his offensive exploits and his physical presence.  Coming off a 20-goal campaign last year, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if Dumba led the Rebels in scoring this season.  Yet, as the anchor of the Rebels’ blue line, Dumba will have to be equally strong in his own end.  Fans can also expect to see the 6’0”, 182-lb defender suiting up for Canada at the 2013 World Junior Championship after being the youngest invite to last year’s selection camp.

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Stats
Player Stats
Skaters: GP G A PTS +/-
C. Sanford 18 11 13 24 7
T. Cox 17 8 15 23 10
C. Valk 18 12 9 21 5
M. Koules 18 4 6 10 -6
D. Bredo 18 1 8 9 3
T. Stanton 18 0 8 8 -3
T. Vannelli 18 2 6 8 -7
C. Butcher 18 5 1 6 -1
M. Eisenschmid 18 0 5 5 2
S. Owre 15 3 2 5 0
Goalies: W L OTL SOL Sv% GAA
M. Langhamer 9 8 0 0 0.934 2.35
N. Schneider 0 0 0 0 0.625 28.27