-The Portland Winterhawks begin their 2015/16 season tonight at 7:05 pm up in Victoria for the first game of two in two nights. Unlike last season, Portland should have a mostly full roster tonight vs. the Royals as all of their players that were at NHL camps have been returned.
-For Victoria, while this is a very different team then last year's squad that finished 2nd in the B.C. Division and was knocked out in the 2nd round by Kelowna, there is still a few names Portland fans will recognize:
- #8-RW-Ethan Price-1997: Price was a beloved player in Portland for his hard play and determination. He left the team last year due to some family issues and was dropped by Portland from their protected list in the Spring. The Royals picked up the Lincoln, Nebraska native and he could factor in their top 6 forward group. He had 3 points in 6 preseason games with the Royals this year.
- #9-LW/D-JackWalker-1995: One of the Royals three over-age players and someone who will be relied to carry the team offensively. He is one of only 3 of the Royals top 8 scorers from last season returning to the squad as Austin Carroll, Brandon Magee and Tyler Brown aged out, Greg Chase turned pro and Brandon Fushimi decided to leave the team . Walker had 55 points last year after only putting up 15 in 2013/14 and Victoria will need to have him make another marked improvement to contend with Kelowna and Prince George in the B.C. Walker was just sent back from Minnesota Wild camp, where he was there on an ATO.
- #17-C-Tyler Soy-1997: Another player with a breakout season for the Royals last year, Soy was somewhat surprisingly passed over in last June's NHL draft, after notching 63 points in 69 games. He is the Royals de facto #1 Center this year.
- #16-C-Alex Forsberg-1995: This guy has gone from being a #1 overall Bantam Pick with P.G., to demanding a trade and then playing for Saskatoon last season, before ending up with the Royals. He put up nearly a point a game after joining the Royals, but has certainly not lived up to the potential he exhibited his 16 year old season when he scored 39 pts in only 51 games and was a candidate for rookie of the year. Maybe this is the season Alex finally puts it all together and he will need it to be if he wants to play professionally after this year.
- #2-D-Joe Hicketts-1996: Second leading scorer on the team last season with 64 pts in 69 games from the back end. He ended up earning an Entry Level Contract with Detroit, despite not being drafted and figures to be a top 4 D-man for Canada at the World Junior Championships. The guy that mistook Derrick Pouliot for somebody he wanted to fight has gotten a lot stronger and is about the smoothest skating D-man you will see at this level. He should be the Royals unanimous MVP this season.
Nick Heid a Possible Trade Chip?:
-Portland fans have not gotten to see much if any 100% healthy Nick Heid as he suffered through a shoulder injury last season before finally deciding to have season ending shoulder surgery. He was looking at a chance to break into the Hawks top 4 pairing this year, with the likes of Anton Cederholm, Layne Viveiros, Josh Hanson and Adam Henry departing. Then Portland went and added Caleb Jones and Jack Dougherty in the off season and the 1997 born Nick Heid, who was passed over in last year's NHL draft, is left again relegated to the bottom pairing with 17 year old Brendan De Jong. Heid was listed as a "C" skater in Central Scouting's preliminary NHL draft report and would have certainly gotten some scouts attention, while they were here to see Paul Bittner or Adin Hill.
While having Heid in a #5 D-man role seems ideal for Portland, especially since he's a right handed shot, which a commodity at any level of hockey, I'm not sure it's best for his professional hopes.
That's why when I heard some rumblings that he could be headed out east, I was not too surprised. If Portland is looking to add a big name over-age or 19 year old, NHL drafted forward, Heid could be a huge trade chip for them.
Who Portland would be willing to include him in a package for is unknown at this time but guys like Swift Current, 19 year old forward and Boston Bruins first round pick Jake DeBrusk and the trio of over-age Kootenay Ice forwards: Luke Philp, Jon Martin and Jaedon Descheneau (currently at St. Louis Blues camp) are intriguing options.
Portland would not necessarily be leaving them selves in the lurch for next season, either as Keoni Texeira, De Jong, Carter Caikowski and Conor MacEachern could be a very viable top 4, especially if Heid's departure gets some needed WHL playing time.
We will have to wait and see what Portland decides to do with the Minnesota native.
Sin Bin Predictions:
-My colleagues and I have put together a nice little WHL prediction piece over at Seattle Sin Bin and there seems to be a lot of love for Tri City's Evan Sarthou and Everett's Carter Hart for WHL Goalie of the year. I went with the hometown pick myself as I think Adin Hill will just have a better defensive team in front of him then the other two. It certainly looks like the U.S. Division is going to have solid goaltending this year.
Yahoo's Buzzing the Net Preview:
-Another solid preview piece about the Western Conference. They have Seattle winning the U.S. Division, which if it happens, would be only their 3rd regular season Division title in franchise history.
Turgeon Named Captain:.@turg19 has been named Winterhawks captain. Congrats, Dom! Get all the details here: http://t.co/ipuxJYl8Kj pic.twitter.com/oMnshqOZbu— Portland Winterhawks (@pdxwinterhawks) September 25, 2015
-The Hawks decide to go with their top line Center for the 2nd year in a row. This helps prove how important Portland believes he is to their team's success this year.