Sunday, September 8, 2013

Breakdown of Hawks Positional Battles: Forwards

Though they lost Ty Rattie and Taylor Peters, the Portland Winterhawk’s Championship repeating hopes lie firmly on their forwards up front. Once all 5 forwards return from NHL camps (and they will), it will be quite interesting to see which 14-15 Hawk’s forwards stay with the team this season.
Just because some of these players may not stay with the team after camps finish, it does not mean that they will not be back, as every one of them is on Portland’s 50 man protected list.

The Returning Forward Locks:
-Brendan Leipsic (Listed as a Center but plays RW) - Leipsic has improved steadily the past few seasons with the Hawks, growing (no pun intended) into the dominant offensive force that he has become. His 120 points tied him for the WHL (and CHL) scoring title last season with team mate Nic Petan. Suffice it to say that point total is within reach this season even with him and Petan likely to miss time at NHL camps and possibly playing for Canada at the World Juniors. Leipsic is incredibly strong on the puck for a guy of his stature and has shown a deft scoring touch. The only knock against Brendan is that if he is not emotionally invested in the game (which happens from time to time) he takes plays off. He needs to take a similar stride forward as a leader that Ty Rattie did last season.
-Nic Petan- Center- Petan is exactly what you want from your number one center man at the WHL level. He makes play after play for his wingers, has become exceptional on the penalty kill and defensive zone and has improved steadily on the faceoff draw. Leipsic and Petan will likely go down as one of the best tandems in Winterhawk history, if they can find someone to jump into Ty Rattie’s role on the top line (anyone would be lucky).
-Taylor Leier- RW- Leier’s season ended awfully last season with an injury on a vicious hit in the Memorial Cup semi-final against London of the OHL. It had to be incredibly difficult to watch your team lose in such a heart-breaking fashion in the Final, from the stands. Leier has become a fan favorite for the passionate way he plays in the corners and in his own zone. We should see Leier feeding off that heartbreak and playing even more passionately this season. He is someone who could be relied upon to become an emotional leader for the Hawks this season.
De Leo
-Chase De Leo- C- The Hawks second line center is entering his draft year at hockey age 18 (late birth date) and hopes to become an even bigger part of the Winterhawks offense this season and earn himself a selection in next June’s NHL draft. Chase has a lot of the same detractions that Nic Petan has and could learn from the way Petan overcame those to become a second round selection last June. Chase has the weapons to put up eye popping statistics and he has gotten much stronger in the offseason as well.
-Oliver Bjorkstrand-LW- Oliver brought him lethal wrist shot overseas from Denmark last season and struggled making the adjustments to the differing style of the North American game. Once he started to adjust to the hitting he started piling up the points on a line with Leier and De Leo. They are all going to be back this season and Bjorkstrand’s play really seems to be the catalyst for that line. They were always a unit that busted their asses out there but was not very consistent in putting goals in the way the top line was. If they can shore up the inconsistency, there is literally no better second unit in the league.
-Paul Bittner-LW- Bittner came in as a late birthday 16 year old last season and struggled with getting used to the travel and being away from home. It showed in his game as he did not seem comfortable playing with his line mates. The Hawk’s coaching staff tried to aid this problem, by consistently putting him with Keegan Iverson and later in the year; Taylor Peters on the 3rd line. Bittner’s season took off however when he filled in on the top line when Ty Rattie left for World Juniors. Bittner scored consecutive game winning goals and really broke through after that. He went back to the unit with Iverson and Peters and really excelled in a checking line type of role. He is looking to become a more consistent part of the offense and the Hawks coaching staff has been putting him on the top power play unit all preseason, parking his large frame (6’4” `95 lbs) in front of the net.
-Keegan Iverson-RW- Iverson has not shown the same offensive upside and dominant ability that Bittner has shown and I think this is unfair to him as they are inevitably compared to each other. Keegan is not as tall (6’0”) but he does have 216 lbs to throw around and he often does. He was a key role player for the Winterhawks last playoff run and he will look to continue to improve as a key defensive power forward. He has all the makings of a dominant power forward, but they sometimes take a while to find their offensive game.
-Dominic Turgeon- C- Dominic did not play much for the Hawks last playoff, but he has certainly shown signs of improving his overall play this coming season. Portland is really looking for him to fill the big hole left by Taylor Peters leaving and he certainly has the size for it (6’2” 196 lbs) and the pedigree as well. His improvement will be really key for the Hawks this season as depth at Center is something every great team has (see the NHL’s Penguins from a few years back).
-Preston Kopeck-C- Kopeck played a large portion of last year at wing, but should challenge Turgeon for the 3rd line center checking role. The fact that the Hawks have someone as talented as Kopeck possibly playing on their fourth line, goes a long way to show how deep they are especially at Center.  Kopeck was not drafted this past season, most likely due to his lack of size and his recent wrist injury. Kopeck was coming on like gangbusters, until he hurt his wrist on a fairly innocuous play in the WHL Championship Series against Edmonton. Preston has looked good this preseason and should be completely healed from that injury.
-Adam De Champlain- Listed at Center but plays RW- Adam plays a physical game, throwing large body checks and playing with an irritable edge that opponents hate and fans love. Adam has really made a commitment to team defense this preseason and before he received an invitation to the Vancouver Canucks camp, Adam was scoring a goal and an assist in only 2 preseason games. He seems like he got a lot stronger in the offseason and could push for top 6 forward time at some point this season.
-Joe Mahon-RW- The 6’5” 223 lb 19 year old was the Hawks enforcer last season, getting into 41 games and piling up 133 PIMs. Look for about the same this season from Mahon, who needs a lot of improvement with his skating and stick work in order to get into any more game then about 40. Joe did show rapid improvement with these abilities toward the end of the season, even potting 2 goals, but still has a long way to go.
-Alex Schoenborn- RW- Alex has gotten a lot of playing time with Petan and Leipsic early in the preseason and even chipped in a couple points so far. The 18 year old has a lot to improve on however. He skates with his head down too much and does not have a light enough touch when receiving passes on the rush. Putting him on the top line, was most likely an attempt to get him some good scoring chances and letting the coaches get a good look at him as well. This was more of a disservice though because most players in the league will stand out in a negative way if they can’t quite keep up with the top 2 scorers in the WHL. The coaches do seem to love his work ethic though, as he was getting second line positioning and power play time during the 2 preseason games this last weekend.

Key Addition:
-Shane McColgan-Center- Shane wore out his welcome in Kelowna in 2011-12 and was traded as a 19 year old to Saskatoon for their Memorial Cup hosting squad last season. McColgan did his part with 19 goals and 47 assists, playing on the Blade’s top unit. He is definitely a very skilled playmaker, who can also pitch in a bunch of goals. He will be at home anywhere on the Hawk’s top 6 forward group, where he will be sure to pile up even more points, adding to his career WHL total of 268. The only issue, besides being a possible locker room headache, is that McColgan is a 20 year old and the Hawks have a very deep forward unit. If De Champlain or Bittner makes him replaceable to the top 6, he could be traded to help shore up the back end for the Hawks. This, however, is very unlikely, as the Hawks seem to really like the Californian. McColgan also had offseason surgery on his hand, due to a weight lifting accident, so he was unable to attend the New York Rangers training camp. McColgan appears to be ready for the regular season, but will unlikely play any preseason hockey.

New Guys Hoping to Make the Team:
-Ethan Price- RW-The undrafted 16 year old signed with the Hawks last week and has looked impressive so far. He has skated with more experienced Hawks in the games that he has played in so far. Price is a bruising, power forward type that the coaches will love to groom into an elite talent. He will very likely be one of the depth forwards on the Hawks this season, as he has not looked out of place and has outplayed some of the older guys, in the games I’ve seen.

-Steven Alldridge- LW- 6’3” 200 lb 17 year old player has shown limited offensive ability, but he does bring a large body that the Hawks could use as an enforcer, should they find Mahon expendable. At 17, Aldridge could make the Hawks, just because they see a lot of potential in him.
 -Adam Rossignol- Center- The 20 year old has played with Kootenay and Regina in his career, which sadly looks like it’s nearing its end in the WHL. To make a team that is very deep at forward, he would need to impress way more than he has so far. He has potted a few goals and made some nice plays in the preseason, but has not done enough in my book. Rossignol, at his best scored 9 goals for the Pats last season. There are many 20 year olds who have potted far more than that in the past, who have been cut. He also has been played mostly at wing with the Hawks this preseason, which is not a good sign. This means that they are not confident in his faceoff abilities. He also has not played much on the power play or the penalty kill, which is another sign that he is on his way out, as soon as the Hawks get at full strength.

Overall, the returning Winterhawks take up 12 forward roster spots and Shane McColgan, as soon as he is healthy gets another. This leaves only one-two spots for a very stacked team. I think that the last full time spot goes to Ethan Price, who had a beautiful goal in the win over Seattle yesterday. The other spot should go to Alldridge, who will spend most of his time playing back in the AJHL, until Portland loses players due to injuries or World Juniors. Age is just simply not on Rossignol’s side unfortunately, as the Hawks will look to make a move to add another top 6 forward, or more likely, another Defenseman.

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