Friday, May 2, 2014

Winterhawks Go to Familiar Areas in the Bantam Draft; Then Take a 20 year old?

The Portland Winterhawks finally drafted in the first round of the WHL's Bantam Draft yesterday. They had not selected a player in the top round since 2010 when they selected Nic Petan out of Delta, B.C.  They are allowed to do so, due to trading the rights to Adam Tambelini to Calgary back in December.

They traded their first round selection in 2011 to the Vancouver Giants for the rights to Center Craig Cunnigham. Cunningham played a role on the team that advanced to the WHL Final. In 2012 they traded their first round selection to Seattle for Marcel Noebels. Noebels also helped the Hawks to the WHL Final. Then in 2013, they were not allowed to select a player as part of the sanctions brought down against them by the WHL.

So, I bet the Winterhawks scouts were excited to finally get the chance to take a highly touted player, as opposed to having to rely upon adding a guy to the protected list and trying to convince him to come to Portland.

The Winterhawks were also selecting 19th overall for the first time since they took RW Brett Novak from Grayson, Saskatchewan in the 2000 draft. Novak never played with the Hawks, instead playing parts of 6 seasons with the Prince Albert Raiders. Obviously the Hawks are expecting more return for this #19 pick.

Portland's 2014 WHL Bantam Draft:

First Round (19th overall): Cody Glass (Center) out of Winnipeg, Manitoba. He is listed as 5'9" and 138 lbs, which is probably bigger than the Winnipeg native on the Hawks roster: Brendan Leipsic was back in 2009, when he was selected. Glass scored 77 points in 32 games with the Winnipeg Hawks of the WMHA-major bantam AAA. He also scored 17 points in 11 playoff games. Glass definitely takes after Leipsic in hairstyle and one can hope that will somehow translate into providing for the team, what Leipsic has done for the past 5 seasons. Glass describes himself as a "pass first" kind of guy who looks up to Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks.

Third Round (65th): Jake Hobson (Defenseman) out of Christopher Lake, Saskatchewan. Hobson is listed as 5'10" and 179 lbs, so he should be a pretty stout guy by the time he is ready for the WHL. Hobson notched 32 points in 26 games this past season with the Prince Albert Raiders of the SBAAHL-AA bantam. He also had 123 PIMs for the Raiders, no doubt playing an agitator or enforcer role on top of his other responsibilities. He also had 5 points in 5 playoff games to go with 18 PIMs. Jake even had the opportunity to get in 5 games in the SMHL with the P.A. Mintos (AAA). Hobson is a coaches kid, which is generally a good sign. He has always played under his Dad, which has apparently caused him to become a hard working player and a smooth skater.

Fourth Round (85th): Brannon McManus (Center) out of Newport Beach, CA. He is one to keep an eye on for sure, as he has already verbally committed to the University of Minnesota. Johnston is no doubt counting on his three California kids (Garrett Haar, Keoni Texeira and Chase De Leo) on the current roster to help persuade McManus to come to the WHL instead. Haar would especially be a great guy to get in a room with McManus as he played in both College and the WHL. Should he not have committed yet, there is no doubt McManus would have gone much higher in the draft as he scored 120 points in 65 games with the storied program that is Shattuck St. Mary's of AAA Bantam. Brannon is listed as 5'9" and 154 lbs and from what I have read is a gifted goal scorer. In this video, (McManus is #7) his line completely controls play, before a Goalie is forced to make an incredible save to stop him. McManus appears to have fantastic instincts in the opponents zone and would be an aboslue "get" for Mike Johnston and the Winterhawks staff, should they convince him to play in the Dub instead.

Fourth Round (87th): Scott Reedy (Center) out of Prior Lake, MN. He is a teammate of McManus' and together they helped defeat Glass' team in the playoffs. Reedy is listed as 5'11" and 160 lbs and outscored McManus with 125 points in 65 games for Shattuck St. Mary's.  According to this article,: Reedy looks like an elite prospect who is a "cerebral playmaker." This is exactly the kind of player that, should he end up in Portland, appears to be an elite level player in the making. Should Reedy come to the Rose City, it would probably mean that McManus might follow as the two were linemates. Here is Reedy(#10) scoring, while taking a high stick to the mouth.

Sixth Round (131st): Ethan Middendorf (Goalie) out of Scottsdale, AZ. Gee, a Goalie out of Scottsdale, how is that familiar sounding? Middendorf has to know fellow Arizonan Goalie Brendan Burke. Ethan is listed as 6'4" and 160 lbs. Johnston appears to like a lot of size in his Goalies, which sticks with the norm across the WHL. Middendorf's numbers with the Arizona were decent as he notched a .911 Save % in a District tournament in which he got his team to the championship game before they lost 3-0 to the 14U Colorado Thunderbirds. His Goaltending style is described as "taking a lot of room in net and playing his angles well." Goaltending at this young of an age really is a crap shoot. Usually most teams do no take them in the draft until the mid-rounds, though Regina and Prince Albert bucked that trend a little this year.

Seventh Round (133rd): Jackson Caller (Defense) out of Kamloops, B.C. Caller is listed as 5'10" and 145 lbs, so he has to put some meat on his bones. He has played with the Kamloops Blazers of Bantam A1-T1 and the BCMML Penguins for the U16 cup. Caller was scouted out of Western Canada where there is always a high amount of prospects and this article thought he might even go in the first round. One hopes, Johnston and co. were able to steal a talented player in a later round due to the fact that so many other great prospects were outshining him at the time.

Eighth Round (175th): Cole Guttman (Center) out of Northridge, CA. Another California kid for the protected list. Guttman is listed as 5'8" and 148 lbs and put up 14 points over 10 games in the season and tournament with the L.A. Junior Kings. Chase De Leo is formerly a member of this organization, though this Jr. King appears to be a little grittier with 21 PIMS in those 10 games. In this video he shows pretty good speed on the outside and even better vision in setting up a goal.

Ninth Round (197th): Dylan Burton (Center) out of Winnipeg, Manitoba. The Hawks went back to the Winnipeg well for their last 1999 born player taken in this year's draft. Burton is listed as 5'6" and 131 lbs (hey he's still bigger than Skyler McKenzie) and he notched 43 points in 30 games as a teammate of Glass' with the Winnipeg Hawks.

Tenth Round (217th): Trace Elson (RW) out of St. Albert, Alberta. Elson is a 1994 born player and so will be a 20 year old this coming season. He has played in a total of 20 WHL games over 3 seasons and has 2 goals and 4 points. My only explanation for a move like this is that Johnston did not think Elson would be available when it came time to list players and so he used a Bantam Pick just in case. This is not a bad move, but one would think you would not want to waster an over-age spot on a guy who has 2 total goals in his WHL career. Who am I though, to doubt Coach Johnston? He has made situations like this work before. It may seem worth it to him, just to bring the guy into training camp and get a closer look at him. If he does make the team, one would think he wouldn't start a fight with Seattle's Jared Hauf again.

Pouliot Wins Defenseman of the Year; First Winterhawk to Win it Outright Since Gary Nylund

On Wednesday morning, Derrick Pouliot was rewarded for his amazing 2013-14 season by being awarded the Bill Hunter trophy for top WHL Defenseman at the WHL Award luncheon in Calgary. Pouliot was up against fellow Team Canada World Junior teammate Josh Morrissey of the Prince Albert Raiders.

Pouliot joins a long line of prestigious winners, most of whom went on to have great, and in some cases hall of fame NHL careers. These include: Wendel Clark in 1985 (yeah he played Defense in Juniors), Darryl Sydor in 1991 (how Scott Niedermeyer didn't win the following year I'll never know. He was one of the most gifted WHL players I've ever seen), Dan Hamhuis in 2002 and Dion Phaneuf in 2004 and 05 to name just a few.

When researching this, I was surprised that Gary Nylund was the last to Winterhawk to win it outright back in 1982. There should really be an asterisk next to that though as Glen Wesley won Western Conference Defenseman of the year in 1986 and 87, when  it was awarded to each Conference's best blue-liner, instead of the WHL's best.

This is still surprising though, considering the great Defensemen that have come through the Rose City since 1987: Andrew Ference, Braydon Coburn, Cale Hulse, Nolan Pratt and Brandon Smith were all dominant enough during some of those seasons to warrant mention. The fact that none of these great Winterhawks won this award and Pouliot now has, speaks to how great he truly has been and especially, what he has meant to this year's team.

The list of winners is still an impressive one for the Winterhawks:

  1. Keith Brown 1979- Brown would go on to a long 16 year career in the NHL, most of them with the Chicago Blackhawks as a steady, shut down D-man.
  2. Dave Babych 1980- The only one on this list who can beat Brown's longevity, as he had a 19 year NHL career, that may've been even longer, if the Flyers medical staff hadn't reportedly mis-diagnosed his fractured foot as a bone bruise and okay-ed him to play in the playoffs in 1999. This is something he sued them for and won back in 2002. Babych also had a minor role in the movie: Slap Shot 2.
  3. Jim Benning 1981- 3rd straight Hawk to win the award; Benning notched 111 assists in one season, all but shooing him in for the award. Many feel that his NHL career could have been greater had the Toronto Maple Leafs not rushed him up the system and played him as an 18 year old, Benning's career ended after 9 seasons as a pro, though he worked his way up the scouting ranks and was an Assistant General Manager on the Boston Bruins team that won a Stanley Cup in 2011. He is apparently being looked at as the front runner for the Vancouver Canucks G.M. job as well. It would be kind of ironic that he would be in control of young players who if not properly managed, could end up with a disappointing playing career like his.
  4. Benning
  5. Gary Nylund 1982- 4th Straight Hawk to win in a run that has yet to be topped in the 48 year history of the award. Nylund is most known now for being the first player to leave his team via free agency, back in 1986. He followed up an 11 year NHL career with becoming a firefighter in B.C. He was awarded the Medal of Bravery in 2001 after helping save two other firefighters during a chemical fire.
Pouliot definitely has the potential to eclipse all of these fantastic players. He spent a lot of time at the Pittsburgh Penguins training camp prior to the start of this season and was sent back down as a 19 year old after losing out in a battle with Olli Maatta. That's not looking like a bad thing anymore with Maatta having a great rookie season and Pouliot improving as for the first time in his career he is the go to D-man. He still has an opportunity to get something none of the others actually accomplished at the WHL level and that's win a Memorial Cup. If the Hawks do go all the way this year, his role on this team will make him well known on the same level that Nathan MacKinnon was last season. Pittsburgh will most certainly find a spot for him in their lineup next year that's for sure.