Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Mid-Season Review For WHL Eastern Conference

he 2012-13 Western Hockey League season is at the midway point with teams having played roughly half of their regular season schedules, and it's time to take a look at how the season has shaped up so far.
In the WHL Eastern Conference, the competition is tough at the top of the standings while 11 of the 12 teams in the conference are in the mix for a playoff berth.
Can the Prince Albert Raiders complete their quest for their first East Division title since the 1998-99 season? Do the Edmonton Oil Kings have what it takes to claim their second consecutive Central Division crown? Can the Saskatoon Blades continue their ascent up the Eastern Conference ladder? These questions will be answered throughout the second half of the 2012-13 WHL regular season.
Here’s a look at the WHL’s Eastern Conference teams through the 2012-13 season’s first half:

East Division
Brandon Wheat Kings
2012-13 record: 36gp 13-19-2-2, 30pts (5th in Div., 10th in Conf.) GF: 102 GA: 145
Top Scorers:
Alessio Bertaggia 29gp-16g-18a-34pts
Ryan Pulock 30gp-10g-19a-29pts
Jayce Hawryluk 32gp-9g-14a-23pts
With a much younger, less experienced line-up this season, the Wheat Kings have fallen back in the Eastern Conference pack. Yet, they still sit right in the mix for a playoff spot. Swiss sophomore Alessio Bertaggia has led the way, offensively, while defencemen Ryan Pulock and Eric Roy have also contributed heavily to the attack. Though they may be young up front, there is much promise among the Wheat Kings’ forwards. 16-year-old Jayce Hawryluk has stepped in and become a key cog in the attack, showing he has the ability to be the next great offensive star in Brandon. Defensively, the Wheat Kings have struggled, having allowed the most goals of any team in the WHL. Improving on their 21st-ranked penalty killing unit will be key in helping the Wheat Kings battle their way into the post-season for a 13th straight year. Goaltender Corbin Boes will look for more support from his defence corps over the second half of the season.

Moose Jaw Warriors
2012-13 record: 36gp 12-17-3-4, 31pts (4th in Div., 9th in Conf.) GF: 89 GA: 114
Top Scorers:
Sam Fioretti 36gp-19g-15a-34pts
Morgan Rielly 33gp-7g-21a-28pts
Brayden Point 36gp-8g-18a-26pts
The Warriors find themselves well off their pace from this time last season. Yet, it was expected after the team lost many of its veteran leaders from last season. Up front, the Warriors have relied heavily on 19-year-old Sam Fioretti to generate scoring. The Calgary, AB, product is one of only two Warriors to have cracked the 10-goal mark, and has factored in on nearly 40% of the team’s offensive output. 16-year-old rookie Brayden Point has been terrific this season after enjoying a strong showing in last year’s playoffs and currently leads all 16-year-old rookies in scoring. Morgan Rielly has led the Warriors’ defence corps, both offensively and defensively, and has shown exactly why the Toronto Maple Leafs picked him fifth overall in the 2012 NHL Draft. Rookie Justin Paulic has performed admirably in the Warriors’ cage, posting a solid 2.71 GAA and a .902 save percentage in 24 games.

Prince Albert Raiders
2012-13 record: 36gp 22-11-0-3, 47pts (1st in Div., 2nd in Conf.) GF: 126 GA: 103
Top Scorers:
Mark McNeill 35gp-13g-26a-39pts
Mike Winther 32gp-14g-18a-32pts
Dakota Conroy 33gp-14g-16a-30pts
The Raiders find themselves at the top of the East Division standings at the halfway mark of the 2012-13 season after finishing in last place in the WHL standings last year. The Raiders have benefitted from a deep offense and great goaltending en route to their strong first-half record. Veterans Mark McNeill, Mike Winther, Anthony Bardaro and Dakota Conroy have helped the Raiders to the best offensive production of any Eastern Conference team. Rookie Leon Draisaitl has enjoyed a strong debut in the WHL, chipping in close to a point per game. On the back end, NHL Draft eligible rearguard Josh Morrissey has been strong in his own end while continuing to establish himself among the top offensive defencemen in the WHL. Veterans Harrison Ruopp, Davis Vandane and Evan Morden have all contributed to a team defence that boasts a combined +71 this season. Veteran netminder Luke Siemens, brought in from Moose Jaw in the offseason, has been outstanding, posting a WHL-leading 21 wins and a 2.53 GAA in 33 starts.

Regina Pats
2012-13 record: 37gp 13-20-2-2, 30pts (6th in Div., 11th in Conf.) GF: 91 GA: 139
Top Scorers:
Lane Scheidl 37gp-18g-22a-40pts
Morgan Klimchuk 37gp-17g-22a-39pts
Dyson Stevenson 27gp-10g-10a-20pts
The Pats came into the 2012-13 season looking to build on what was a solid campaign last season. However, things haven’t gone as smoothly as hoped through the first half, and they currently find themselves in last place in the East Division and in a rut that has seen them win just six of their last 20 games. Injuries have played a significant role in the Pats’ struggles, having lost top-end players like Chandler Stephenson, Colton Jobke, Trent Ouellette and Dyson Stevenson for extended stretches. The play of veteran Lane Scheidl and sophomore Morgan Klimchuk has been inspired as the two share the team scoring lead. However, generating secondary scoring has been difficult. Defensively, the Pats have struggled, particularly over their last 11 games where they’ve surrendered an average of 5.3 goals per game. Veteran netminder Matt Hewitt has done what he can for the team, but will need more defensive help if the Pats are to fight their way back into a playoff position over the second half.

Saskatoon Blades
2012-13 record: 35gp 19-15-0-1, 39pts (2nd in Div., 5th in Conf.) GF: 119 GA: 116
Top Scorers:
Josh Nicholls 34gp-26g-18a-44pts
Matej Stransky 35gp-21g-22a-43pts
Shane McColgan 32gp-9g-26a-35pts
The 2013 MasterCard Memorial Cup hosts got off to a dreadful start to the 2012-13 season, winning just two of their first nine games. Yet, after some significant roster changes and the development of some team chemistry, the Blades appear to have turned their fortunes around. In fact, the Blades have been one of the better teams over the last two months, posting a 14-6-0-1 record over their last 21 games. Up front, Josh Nicholls, Matej Stransky, Shane McColgan and Brenden Walker have been very productive of late while the acquisitions of veterans Nathan Burns and Adam Kambeitz have added more scoring depth and competitive fire to the mix. Rookie Matt Revel has also chipped in offensively, but veteran Lukas Sutter continues to search for the form he showed last year when he netted 27 goals. Defensively, the Blades have steadily improved throughout the season. With a defence corps featuring the likes of Dalton Thrower, Duncan Siemens, Graeme Craig and Matt Pufahl, the Blades should be able to continue that trend over the season’s second half. Goaltender Andrey Makarov has been a bit inconsistent, but has also shown the ability to steal a victory for his team.

Swift Current Broncos
2012-13 record: 38gp 16-17-3-2, 37pts (4th in Div., 7th in Conf.) GF: 110 GA: 101
Top Scorers:
Adam Lowry 38gp-23g-23a-46pts
Coda Gordon 38gp-9g-22a-31pts
Graham Black 36gp-16g-13a-29pts
The Broncos currently find themselves right in the post-season mix in the Eastern Conference. Though they may find themselves under the .500 mark, they could easily be above that mark had they managed to win more than five of the 19 one-goal games they’ve been involved in this season. Up front, Adam Lowry has been a dominating force, leading the team in goals, assists and points while playing a feisty, physical game, while Graham Black, Ryon Moser and Levi Bews have also provided consistent offense. Getting Brent Benson back in the line-up should add another offensive option. A dominant power play, currently ranked second in the WHL, has been the key to the Broncos’ offense this season. Defensively, veterans Reece Scarlett, Richard Nedomiel and Dillon Heatherington have helped the Broncos maintain the WHL’s fifth-ranked penalty killing unit. Finnish rookie Eetu Laurikainen has enjoyed an impressive first half, and currently sits among the League leaders in goals-against average and save percentage.

Central Division
Calgary Hitmen
2012-13 record: 35gp 23-8-1-3, 50pts (2nd in Div., 3rd in Conf.) GF: 112 GA: 93
Top Scorers:
Brooks Macek 34gp-15g-25a-40pts
Cody Sylvester 32gp-20g-14a-34pts
Brady Brassart 28gp-9g-23a-32pts
Expected to be among the Eastern Conference’s top teams this season, the Hitmen so far have lived up to those expectations with a strong first-half performance. Perhaps nothing has been more impressive than the team’s play on the road, where they boast a 12-1-0-1 record through 14 away games. 20-year-olds Brooks Macek and Cody Sylvester have led the attack, having combined for 35 goals and 74 points, while secondary scoring has come from a variety of sources including Brady Brassart, Greg Chase, Zane Jones and rookie Pavlo Padakin. Defensively, only three teams have allowed fewer goals than the Hitmen. Veteran rearguards Alex Roach, Spencer Humphries and Jaynen Rissling have been incredibly tough on the opposition, and have chipped in offensively as well. Improvements could be made to their penalty killing unit, especially on home ice where they rank 18th in the WHL. Goaltender Chris Driedger has been among the WHL’s best and most consistent netminders this season, boasting an impressive .922 save percentage.

Edmonton Oil Kings
2012-13 record: 35gp 23-7-2-3, 51pts (1st in Div., 1st in Conf.) GF: 124 GA: 86
Top Scorers:
Michael St. Croix 35gp-19g-25a-44pts
Dylan Wruck 31gp-11g-33a-44pts
T.J. Foster 35gp-16g-22a-38pts
The Oil Kings got off to a bit of a slow start in their quest to defend their 2012 WHL championship but have been one of the WHL’s top teams of late, boasting an 12-2-1-1 mark over their last 16 games, and they find themselves battling for the division and conference lead. Offensively, the Oil Kings have scored the second-most goals in the Eastern Conference and own the WHL’s top-ranked power play. Michael St. Croix and Dylan Wruck continue to consistently put up numbers for the team while T.J. Foster, Henrik Samuelsson and Curtis Lazar are all on pace to hit the 30-goal mark. Defensively, the Oil Kings have given up the fewest goals in the Eastern Conference and also boast the League’s top-ranked penalty killing unit, having surrendered just 13 power play goals all season. Led by Keegan Lowe and Griffin Reinhart, Edmonton’s defence corps has held the opposition to two or fewer goals in 21 of their 35 games this season. Goaltender Laurent Brossoit has provided the Oil Kings with an opportunity to win on most nights when he’s between the pipes. Sophomore Tristan Jarry has been outstanding this season, and has shown the team’s goaltending future is bright.

Kootenay Ice
2012-13 record: 34gp 10-23-1-0, 21pts (6th in Div., 12th in Conf.) GF: 80 GA: 125
Top Scorers:
Sam Reinhart 34gp-11g-18a-28pts
Jaedon Descheneau 31gp-6g-18a-24pts
Brock Montgomery 23gp-12g-6a-18pts
The Ice have finished above the .500 mark for 13 straight seasons, and made the playoffs in each of the last 14 seasons. Yet, currently 13 games under the .500 mark and 11 points out of a playoff spot, the Ice are in danger of seeing both of their streaks come to an end. Featuring one of the youngest lineups in the WHL, the Ice have endured some growing pains, especially up front where they’ve netted the lowest offensive totals of any WHL team. 17-year-old Sam Reinhart, who isn’t even eligible for the NHL draft until next year, has taken on the role of offensive leader, while fellow 17-year-old Jaedon Descheneau has also been a big factor in the Ice’s attack. However, secondary scoring has been an issue with only Reinhart, Brock Montgomery and Luke Philp having scored more than six goals this season. Defensively, the Ice have given up the fourth-most goals in the Eastern Conference, and own the WHL’s 22nd-ranked penalty killing unit. 18-year-old goaltender Mackenzie Skapski has endured his ups and downs in his first season as the team’s No. 1 netminder.

Lethbridge Hurricanes
2012-13 record: 37gp 17-15-1-4, 39pts (4th in Div., 6th in Conf.) GF: 121 GA: 112
Top Scorers:
Russell Maxwell 37gp-18g-19a-37pts
Jaimen Yakubowski 37gp-20g-13a-33pts
Daniel Johnston 34gp-6g-22a-28pts
After a solid first half to the 2012-13 regular-season, the Hurricanes are poised to end their three-year playoff absence. Though they may have a relatively young group up front, the ‘Canes boast plenty of offensive talent who are starting to show confidence at the WHL level. Veteran Russ Maxwell leads the way while 18-year-olds Jaimen Yakubowski and Sam Mckechnie have taken their offensive games to a higher level. Sophomores Jay Merkley, Craig Leverton and Jamal Watson and 17-year-old rookie Axel Blomqvist have all made great strides this season, helping the ‘Canes score the third most goals in the Eastern Conference. Defensively, veteran Daniel Johnston has been outstanding, both offensively and in holding down the fort in his own end. 16-year-old Ryan Pilon has enjoyed a great first half, and shown potential to become the future backbone of the ‘Canes’ blue line. Perhaps no one has been more important to the ‘Canes’ first-half success than goaltender Ty Rimmer. The 20-year-old has been a workhorse, appearing in 35 of the team’s 38 games while owning an impressive .917 save percentage while facing the most shots of any goaltender in the WHL.

Medicine Hat Tigers
2012-13 record: 35gp 15-18-2-0, 32pts (5th in Div., 8th in Conf.) GF: 117 GA: 127
Top Scorers:
Curtis Valk 34gp-21g-24a-45pts
Hunter Shinkaruk 31gp-19g-25a-44pts
Elgin Pearce 34gp-13g-25a-38pts
The Tigers’ first half has been streaky. The team has gone through stretches where they would string together wins, but have also gone through stretches where they dropped five or more consecutive games. Led by the veteran trio of Curtis Valk, Hunter Shinkaruk and Elgin Pearce, the Tigers’ offense has netted the fifth most goals in the Eastern Conference while also owning the WHL’s fourth-ranked power play. Defensively, the Tigers have given up the third most goals of any Eastern Conference club. Dylan Busenius and rookie Kyle Becker have been able to put up offensive numbers and contribute to the power play, but also head up a defence corps that is a combined -47. The acquisition of 20-year-old veteran Cam Lanigan has solidified the Tigers’ goaltending situation, with Lanigan posting an 8-7-1 mark and a .903 save percentage since his arrival from Portland. Always a tough team at home, the Tigers will look to improve on their 4-11-2 road record over the second half as they battle for their 11th consecutive playoff berth.

Red Deer Rebels
2012-13 record: 37gp 21-13-2-1, 45pts (3rd in Div., 4th in Conf.) GF: 103 GA: 103
Top Scorers:
Turner Elson 30gp-10g-15a-25pts
Tyson Ness 37gp-10g-13a-23pts
Matt Bellerive 34gp-8g-13a-21pts
The Rebels entered the Christmas break having undergone a major overhaul throughout the season’s first half. Eight players who started the season with the team are no longer there, and a coaching change was also made with owner and general manager Brent Sutter taking over as bench boss from Jesse Wallin. Yet, despite the massive changes, the Rebels steadily climbed the standings and find themselves among the top four teams in the Eastern Conference. Veterans Turner Elson and Tyson Ness have paced the attack while newcomers such as Matt Bellerive and Rhyse Dieno, and rookie Conner Bleackley have contributed in a score-by-committee approach. Defensively, the Rebels have improved throughout the first half, with veterans like Brandon Underwood and Brady Gaudet coming in to stabilize the back end and help the Rebels to the WHL’s third-ranked penalty killing unit. Perhaps no player has meant more to the Rebels’ success than Czech netminder Patrik Bartosak. The 19-year-old has been nothing short of spectacular this season, boasting a WHL-leading .931 save percentage and a 2.35 GAA.


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