Oh how time flies. The Neely Cup starts tomorrow and player testing is going on today. I thought this would be a good time to look over all the players the Winterhawks have signed to WHL education contracts. At the conclusion of training camp (before their first preseason game against Spokane at the Everett tournament), the Hawks will have the opportunity to sign some of the players that have impressed them.
Another thing of interest if you are going to the Neely cup or any of the preseason games, will be the fact that it will be our first look at Head Coach Jamie Kompon behind the Hawks bench. From everything I have read and seen, Kompon’s team should look similar to Coach Mike Johnston’s with puck control and speed playing large roles.
1994 Born Players (Over-agers)- Portland, like all WHL teams will only be able to carry three 20 year olds at the October 16th deadline.
-(D) Derrick Pouliot- The CHL’s reigning Defenseman of the year had offseason surgery, but even this will not be enough to send him back to Juniors, because he has signed an entry level deal and there is little doubt the Penguins will want him to start his rehab in the AHL.
-(C) Brendan Leipsic- One of the most entertaining players in all of the WHL, will not be back for his 20 year old season as he has a contract with Nashville. I project that Leipsic will probably spend most of this year in Milwaukie of the AHL.
-(LW) Taylor Leier- One of the Winterhawks over the years who improved so much each year, even playing himself into an NHL entry level deal with Philadelphia. This, of course, means that the Winterhawks will need a new Captain this year. He is another player who will, most likely play the year in the AHL.
-(D) Mathew Dumba- Just the fact alone that Dumba already has used the first year of his entry level deal, means that Minnesota will at least give him the opportunity to start the year in the NHL. Whatever they decide, there is no chance he is coming back to Portland.
-(D) Josh Hanson- I have written time and again about Hanson. Portland took him in the 8th round of the 2009 Bantam Draft and he has shown signs over the years of developing into a talented top 4 pairing D-man for the Hawks (He looked great at the Tri City tournament last year). However, it just seems that his playing style just never fit in with Portland’s fleet of puck rushing D-men. He also wasn’t big enough to fit in as a stay at home, bruising, defensive D-man (a la Brett Ponich or Tyler Wotherspoon). If there were some other options here, I could not see him being kept as on over-ager, but he actually will be the leading returning scorer in this age group (18 pts). That being said, he really has a lot to prove and if his confidence wasn’t shaken by his gradual move down to 6th/7th spot in the rotation last year, he could be primed for a large role on the back end for Portland.
-(C) Adam De Champlain- This is an intriguing one for Portland. De Champlain seems to be the only agitator on the roster, but has played on the 4th line for most of his career in Portland. Unlike, Hanson, though, he really fits into the system, as he is one of the speediest Hawks on the roster. He is not bad on the draw and if Chase De Leo or Dominic Turgeon is moved to the Center position (De Leo did play some wing at Winnipeg Jets prospect camp), I think he could be a solid 3rd line Center. He has always shown flashes of having some great offensive skills, but has always been asked to do other things for the team. I really do not see that changing in his last year of eligibility and to me at least. He is the biggest lock of the three 20s that will be in camp.
-(RW) Trace Elson- Portland took Elson in the 10th round of the 2014 Bantam Draft, which was a fairly unique move, as he had just been released by Vancouver. The Hawks really do not have an enforcer and may have been looking for one in Elson. He is only 5’10” 181 lbs though and does not fit the stereotype that is for sure. However, Portland must have felt that he was going to be listed by someone, shortly after the draft; otherwise they probably would not have wasted a Bantam pick on him. I really could not see him being anything more than a placeholder for when the Hawks make a trade for a 20 year old D-man (that’s where their need is). If Elson is a strong locker room presence though and does fit a role as an enforcer type, maybe he will stay around and be started for the games, Kompon belies he is needed in. The Hawks, in the past, have not been averse to placing a 4th line over-ager on the roster (like Rossignol last year).
Another, outside chance is Defenseman Shaun MacPherson returning to the Hawks, but I really could not see this happening, as he was sent down to the SJHL last year, after parts of a couple up and down seasons with the Hawks.
The most likely outcome is Hanson and De Champlain returning for two of the spots and Elson getting a look through the preseason, like Taylor Thompson did last year.