Friday, January 8, 2016

Friday's Portland Winterhawks' News and Notes: What Will the Hawks Do This Weekend?

Adin Hill
The trade deadline is fast approaching and Portland has still not made any trades. Several weeks ago, it was widely believed that the struggling Winterhawks would be making players like goalie Adin Hill and forward Dominic Turgeom available for the right price.

Since the Christmas break though, Portland has looked like a different team and has won four of their last five games, all against U.S. Division competition. Going into a pivotal game tonight in Seattle against the new look Thunderbirds, Portland now looks like a contender in a tight division.

Here's where the standings currently sit and how each team has done over their last ten games.
  1. Everett-36 GP-22 W-12 L-2 OTL-46 Pts (7-3)
  2. Seattle-37 GP- 20 W-14 L-3 OTL-43 pts (3-6-1)
  3. Spokane-39 GP-19 W-15 L-3 OTL- 2 SOL-43 pts (3-5-1-1)
  4. Portland-38 GP-20 W-17 L-1 OTL-41 pts (6-3-1)
  5. Tri-City-40 GP-17 W-21 L-2 OTL-36 pts (6-3-1)
So even halfway into the season, 10 points is all that separates first from last in the division (though Everett has four games in hand on Tri-City). Also, two of three hottest teams over their last 10 games are in the bottom of the division, which has tightened the race.

Portland has won 13 of 21 games so far within the division this year and 19 of their last 34 games are inter-divisional games. How far older, rookies like Caleb Jones, Jack Dougherty and Rodrigo Abols have come along as they have gotten used to both the WHL and coach Jamie Kompon's system is one of the main reasons that the team's record has improved.

Jones has 12 points over his last 11 games and has finally found a balance as an all-important puck-rushing d-man in coach Kompon's system. The amount of breakaways the other way due to Jones mistakes has been cut down as well.  Dougherty has been the driving force in Portland's power play going from eighth or ninth in the league a few weeks ago, all the way up to where it currently sits at fifth. He's also been more than a point-a-game d-man over his last 15 games, with 16 points. Abols, meanwhile, since being moved to Dominic Turgeon's left wing and returning from the World Junior Division 1A championship, has found a bit more consistency, with five points in his last five games. His work along the half-board on the power play has also played a role in it's improvement in the ranks.

So, with Jones, Dougherty and Abols coming along there is a lot of reason to believe Portland could make another playoff run. The optimism floating around the team recently has likely affected what they want to do at the deadline.

Another large factor in what Portland does has to be how old the roster is.

Here is the hockey-age of each player that has signed a WHL education contract with Portland:

20-Alex Schoenborn (F)- drafted but unsigned by San Jose.
20-Rihards Bukarts (F)
20-Blake Heinrich (D)
19-Jack Dougherty (D)- signed pro deal with Nashville.
19-Dominic Turgeon (F)- signed pro deal with Detroit.
*19-Paul Bittner (F)- signed pro deal with Columbus. *=out for possibly the season with an injury.
19-Keegan Iverson (F)- drafted but unsigned by the N.Y. Rangers.
19-Adin Hill (G)- drafted but unsigned by Arizona.
19-Rodrigo Abols (F)- Import.
18-Caleb Jones (D)- drafted but unsigned by Edmonton.
18-Evan Weinger (F)
18-Keoni Texeira (D)
18-Alex Overhardt (F)
18-Colton Veloso (F)
18-Mike Bullion (G)
17-Skyler McKenzie (F)
17-Brendan De Jong (D)
17-Carter Czaikowski (D)
17-Brett Clayton (F)
17-Tanner Nagel (F)
17-Conor MacEachern (D)
16-Cody Glass (F)
16-Ryan Hughes (F)
**16-Jackson Caller (D)
**16-Ethan Middendorf (G)
**16-Jake Hobson (D)
**= Currently not on the active roster.

-So if you count the overage players and the three NHL signed players, Portland is certainly losing six players off of this year's team. Iverson and Hill could also earn pro deals (doesn't have to be in the NHL) and be gone as well. Abols will likely be drafted this June and as an import overage next year, might leave to get a pro deal somewhere. 

If all three of them are gone, Portland will be left without nine players off of their current roster, all of whom play big roles on the team. They would be losing one of their top-two defensive pairings, along with five of their top-six forwards and their starting goalie. 

So, in this writer's opinion, if they want to give up on this season, they should be trading away a majority of those nine players, in order to re-stock the cupboards with 16, 17 and 18-year olds, as well as, bantam draft picks.

If that is not the case (and since there have not been any deals yet, I bet it's not), then you have to try and make a playoff run with the roster you have. Next year's team will likely be relying upon Hughes and Glass as their top-two centers and thus will be built for the future.

Now, as far as adding pieces to the roster in hopes of making a deeper run, I'm not entirely certain this is something they will do either. There just isn't a lot in the way of bantam picks that would get you any big-named forward like a Brayden Point or Brett Pollock, which is likely what Portland needs. 

The most likely scenario, in my opinion is Kompon and co. standing pat and hoping that Bittner can return in time for the playoffs and help lead this team on yet another long run.

Winterhawks in the NHL:
-Nino Niederreiter notched his 12th assist of the year on Minnesota's first goal of the game, but the Wild ended up falling to Philadelphia 4-3 in overtime. Nino has 20 points this year, on pace to match or beat his career high of 37 points that he set last year.

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