Friday, April 24, 2015

Winterhawks-Rockets Preview: Position by Position

The Portland Winterhawks and Kelowna Rockets start their best of 7 Western Conference Final series on Friday night in Kelowna. The two teams faced each other 4 times this season with Portland winning 4. However, all of these games took place before Kelowna acquired two NHL first round picks in Josh Morrissey (Winnipeg) and Leon Draisaitl (Edmonton).

Let's take a look at how these teams matchup by position:

The Rockets are led by their German Center: Draisaitl, who always seems to be able to make a play. Last round, Portland was able to handle another first round drafted NHL talent in Everett's Nikita Scherbak (Montreal), by bodying up on him and forcing him into bad spots on the ice. Draisaitl will not be so easily handled, as evidenced by his 15 points in his 9 playoff games. He not only has the power forward skills that Scherbak possesses, but also is an extremely gifted passer. If two Portland D-man commit to stopping Draisaitl, he will find an open man for a scoring opportunity. Playing with Leon have been Tyson Baillie and Gage Quinney or Justin Kirkland. Baillie is so good at the left faceoff dot that they might just rename that area: "Baillie's Corner" at Prospera Place. He scored the OT winner in Game 2 from the exact spot and eliminated Seattle, two years ago from there as well. Gage Quinney was essentially a throw in as part of the Morrissey trade back in December. He has been anything but since arriving. He scored 31 points in his 38 games as a Rocket and could return as an over-age next season as well. Kirkland was drafted in the 3rd round by Nashville last year and was expected to be one of the team's main point producers as an 18 year old. He notched over a point per game with 51 in 50 but was hampered by injury issues all the way into the playoffs. In fact he did not play in a playoff game until Game 5 of the Victoria series.

Carrying a lot of the offensive load this season for Kelowna, especially before Leon's arrival were Rourke Chartier and Nick Merkley. They were the WHL's top two scorers for the first part of the season and with good reason. They both ended well over a point a game with 82 and 90 respectively and have played together most of the year. The two of them would be a part of  most any team in the WHL's top line, but they are the Rockets 1A line. Playing with them most of the year, has been pesty winger: Tyrell Goulbourne. He is under-sized, but finds a way to contribute offensively, while getting under your skin. He's underperformed somewhat in the playoffs, with only 1 assist in 7 post-season games.

Import forward Tomas Soustal has formed a potent combination on a line with Rodney Southam and 16 year old, speedy Center Dillon Dube. Soustal and Southam have 5 points apiece in the playoffs, while Dube has three in supporting roles. The Rockets have not always needed offense from them, but it still gives them a scary amount of depth. Also providing them depth are over-age winger Chance Braid, 19 year old Cole Linaker and 16 year old Kole Lind. Braid and Linaker give the Rockets options to throw up on their top two lines, if their first options struggle to score.

Kelowna has 4 forwards with at least 10 points in the playoffs, but none of them have as much as Portland's Nic Petan and Oliver Bjorkstrand. Petan has 19 points including at least one on all 11 playoff games, while Bjorkstrand, who has "struggled" at times has 18. The two elite forwards have been faced with the shutdown Scott Eansor line in the first round vs. Seattle and the defensive system of Kevin Constantine's Everett team. Now they will face a team that can score as much as them and a defense that has first round and 2nd round NHL talent. We will see of these two can continue working their magic, because one thing is for sure: Portland will need it. Playing with them most recently is New York Ranger's draft pick Keegan Iverson, whose role it seems is to try and create more room for them to operate and shoot when they give him the chance.

Moving down to the 2nd line is big, 6'4" left wing Paul Bittner, who has 7 points in the playoffs, but still seems like he's left a little on the table. We will see if him and 2nd line Center: Chase De Leo can find a way onto the scoring sheet more consistently. De Leo always seems to find a way to create scoring chances, even when the rest of the team is struggling, so I would not be surprised if they did score more often. Playing with them has been San Jose Sharks prospect Alex Schoenborn. He basically plays the Iverson role on this line as he throws his weight around and gets under the skin of the other team. There is more offensive skill there then has been shown as he has only 3 points in the post-season.

While Schoenborn has somewhat underperformed, 3rd line Center: Dominic Turgeon has played much better then even his fondest fans expected. He does seem to be built for playoff hockey with a large frame and a 200 foot game, but he's shown more touch in tight places, as well as, a basketball style post move with his back to the net. Playing with Turgeon has been 16 year old feisty winger Skyler McKenzie and over-age sniper Miles Koules. McKenzie takes every opportunity to throw a hit, while he's on the ice and never backs down, even when the opponent is much larger than him. Koules has rounded into form as the post-season has gone on and is always dangerous, especially when taking the puck from the corner in the offensive zone into the slot.

Rounding out Portland's forward group is Center Alex Overhardt and wingers: Evan Weinger and Mitchell Walter. Portland will probably continue to put Weinger and Overhardt out more with one of their top three centers, rather than all three of them out there together. Weinger has the offensive ability to play in the top nine, if injuries or poor play force Portland to out him there.

Edge: Kelowna
-Tough to go against Portland, but the sheer amount of depth the Rockets can throw out there, beats Portland's elite top two in my book.

Josh Morrissey is one of the best skaters from the blue line in all of Junior hockey. He also has great playmaking ability and vision. He is a major source of concern for the Hawks, as the other elite D-man they've faced  in the playoffs: Shea Theodore had 9 points in the 6 game series. Morrissey has the talent to do this to the Hawks as well. Playing with Morrissey has been over-age shutdown D-man: Cole Martin. Martin will likely play the stay at home role, while Morrissey activates, but he's shown offensive ability when jumping into the play as well with 5 points this post-season.

Madison Bowey has a cannon of a point shot and notched 60 points in the regular season this year. He combines that shot with great speed and offensive awareness, which he's always on the lookout to employ. Playing with Bowey has been former Winterhawk Ryan Johansen's younger brother: Lucas. Johansen has 5 points and is +7 in the playoffs, but more importantly for the Rockets, has improved greatly in his own end, while gradually starting to look more comfortable offensively.

Rounding up the Rockets blue line are Riley Stadel, Joe Gatenby, Mitch Wheaton and Devante Stephens. Wheaton is working his way back from an injury, while Stadel has found a role as a forward if needed. Gatenby recently was awarded the Ryobi Hardest Worker in the WHL award and for good reason, as he does whatever it takes for his team to win.

Anton Cederholm has been the workhorse for Portland this post-season, skating the most minutes, while throwing a lot of checks and making moving the puck in his own zone extremely difficult. Layne Viveiros has been inconsistent this post-season and has yet to score a goal for the Hawks, something they could definitely use more of. He is one of the Hawk's most skilled D-man at taking away passing and shooting lanes, something that will be extremely paramount for the Hawks to keep the Rocket's potent scorers from lighting the lamp.

The pairing of Keoni Texira and Blake Heinrich has played the physical role for Portland, while being the team's best at getting the puck cleanly out of their zone. Both of these skills be leaned on heavily in this series.

Adam Henry is Portland's best D-man at activating into the play and creating odd man situations, while using his unique skills at finding shooting lanes for himself. He has gradually taken over as the Hawks power play quarterback, something that we all knew would eventually happen. Josh Hanson has played relatively solid in a small role and will be counted on to be a leader in the locker room.

Edge: Kelowna
I'm not sure if I ever remember a better group top to bottom, outside of maybe the 2012/13 Portland grouping that has now seen three of it's members play NHL games. Portland's D-men have gone from a relative weakness to a strength by excelling within Coach Jamie Kompon's system. But if we look at this by talent alone, it's just not that close.


What more does Jackson Whistle have to do in order for the Rocket's coaching staff to trust him? He's posted a 2.35 GAA and a 0.914 Save % this post-season but still barely held onto his job over  18 year old Michael Herringer. The backup has gone 2-0 in relief of Whistle and has been at the helm when they've clinched both of their series victories.  Goaltending is such a mental game that if Kelowna continues to show lack of trust in Whistle, it could backfire on them.

Adin Hill is the one Goalie of the two who has the full confidence of his Coach. As the game's importance increases it seems that Hill's goaltending does as well. His best saves of the entire post-season have taken place in the clinching games of both series. He will need to be every bit as good s he was in those games, for Portland to get deeper this post-season. Fear of the unknown has been a concern for a lot of Portland fans with Hill, but he's starting to show us all that there was nothing to be afraid of.

Edge: Portland
The talent is there for Kelowna, but if the Rocket's coaches do not have faith in Whistle, why should we pick him over Hill?

I will have more later in regards to keys to victory and my final prediction.

No comments:

Post a Comment