Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Winterhawks Select Two in the CHL Import Draft

The Portland Winterhawks selected two players today in the 2016 CHL import draft. First, they selected 1999-born Finnish defenseman Henri Jokiharju with the 25th overall selection and then took 1998-born Danish winger Joachim Blichfeld with the 85th overall pick.
Henri Jokiharju

Jokiharju is a right shooting d-man, eligible for the 2017 NHL draft, out of Oulu, Finland. He is listed as 5'11" and 165 lbs and has produced offensively at every level he's played at. In 2013/14, for the Jokerit U16 team, he had 23 points in 32 games in the Jr.C SM-sarja league. He was named to the all star team in the league and earned a spot on a national U16 camp roster.

In the 2014/15 season, he had 30 points in 37 games for the Jokerit U18 team in the Jr. B SM-sarja league. He not only made that league's all-star team, he was actually named the best d-man in the league, winning the "Pekka Marjamaki" award.

Last season, during the 2015/16 campaign, Jokiharju was named to the Finnish U-18 squad at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament. He was one of only four 16-year-olds on the U-18 teams' roster and the only '99 born d-man there. The Finns had a great start to the tourney, winning their first three games, but ended up with a disappointing fourth-place finish. Jokiharju had two assists in the five tournament games. He then had 29 points in 47 games with the Tappara U20 squad, playing with much older players. Surprisingly, Jokiharju was named "Rookie of the Month" for February, 2016 and made the second all star team in Jr.ASM-liga as one of the youngest players in the league. Jokiharju then helped avenge the Ivan Hlinka disaster for the Finns, by helping the U18 team to a gold medal at the World Hockey Championships. He had three assists in the seven tournament games.

Not surprisingly, Jokiharju is already getting buzz as a possible first or second round pick in next June's NHL draft and could use a great season with Portland to help bolster his draft stock. If Portland is able to get him to sign and come over to the U.S., he looks to be a lock for the top-four defensive group and a possible fit as a power play quarterback. Since he is right handed, it looks like he could step in and essentially replace Jack Dougherty in a lot of ways. I am looking forward to seeing him play in August's Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, where he, no doubt will take on a much larger role. He could be competing with Cody Glass at the tournament, as Glass is vying for a roster spot on Canada's U-18 team.

Here is a video of Jokiharju quarterbacking a power play for Tappara last year. He gets three shots on net in a matter of a minute and the rebound on one of them leads to a goal. 

With their second pick, Portland took Joachim Blichfeld, who was a seventh round selection (210th overall) in last weekend's NHL draft, by the San Jose Sharks. Blichfeld hails from Frederikshavn, Denmark and is listed as 6'2" and 176 lbs. He is also right handed and, at least form his stats, appears to be a sniper reminiscent of fellow Dane, Oliver Bjorkstrand. It looks like he rose in the ranks quickly on his local team, as a 16-year-old, back in 2013/14, playing first for Frederikshavn's U17 team, where he scored 27 goals and added 25 assists for 52 points in just 20 games and then for the U20 team, where he had 24 goals in 22 games (tops in the league). He also had 14 assists for 34 points overall. That same season, he had a point-a-game for the Danish National U-16 team.

In the 2014/15 season, Blichfeld played in the Swedish leagues for the Malmo Redhawks J18 and J20 teams, totaling 35 points in 39 games. He also competed internationally on the U-17 and U-18 teams that year for Denmark. At the U-18 World Junior Championships (Division 1A), he helped the Danes to a gold medal finish and thus advancement to the main U-18 WJCs.

Last season, he again split time between the Malmo Redhawks J18 and J20 teams, playing the most with the J20 team in Sweden's top U-20 junior league. He had 28 points in 45 games in that league. Blichfeld also added six points in seven games at the main U-18 World Junior Championships, where Denmark ended up getting relegated back to Division 1A, after falling to Latvia in game three of the best-of-three playoff by a 4-3 score. Despite his team's performance, Blichfeld tied for 12th overall in goal scoring in the tourney with four goals.  In this tournament, he played against some of the best international talent taken in last weekend's draft and thus proved he could score against the top players in the world in his age group.

Blichfeld, should he sign and come over to play, should be slotted in as a top-six forward somewhere in Portland's lineup. He could possibly give a great passer like Cody Glass, a sniper to feed. Blichfeld also seems likely to contend for a roster spot on Denmark's U-20 team at the 2017 World Junior Championships.

The Sharks have a nice recent history with international forwards (see Joonas Donskoi, Tomas Hertl, Nikolay Goldobin and Melker Karlsson) and so here's hoping this was yet another great find by them and thus one for the Winterhawks as well.

Historically, the Winterhawks have had success with Danish imports. Previously, they have taken Jannik Hansen, who is now with the Vancouver Canucks and, of course, Bjorkstrand, who will be trying to make the Columbus Blue Jackets out of camp next season. I believe, that Jokiharju is the very first Finnish player to be drafted by Portland in the CHL import draft.

-international stats taken from eliteprospects.com

Rodrigo Abols Drafted by the Vancouver Canucks

The Portland Winterhawks now have a eight-year streak of having a player drafted in the NHL draft as the Vancouver Canucks selected Latvian-born center Rodrigo Abols in the seventh round, with the 184th overall selection Saturday. Vancouver invited him last summer to their development camp and apparently liked his potential enough that they selected the 6'5" 188 lb forward with their last pick.

The seventh round is where teams generally take fliers on players that they think could develop into something and Abols certainly fits this category. He showed flashes of being an elite passer, especially on the rush and simply has incredible hands. He really struggled though, especially in the playoffs, with scoring when given great chances and appeared to shy away from physical play, despite his size.

In total, Abols had 49 points in 60 games, but still, in this writer's opinion did not take full advantage of the obvious talent that he had. The team needed him to take a bigger role, with the loss of Dominic Turgeon and Paul Bittner to injuries but he was largely invisible in the Hawks' first round exit.

So, since Vancouver drafted him they can either sign him to a professional deal, or they can send him back to the WHL and hope that former Canucks' assistant coach, Mike Johnston is able to develop him better than Jamie Kompon was able to last season. Also a possibility for Abols is a professional deal elsewhere, with the caveat that Vancouver maintain his NHL rights. Because Abols is an incoming overage player, Portland can (and did) draft two import players and wait to see what happens with Abols before having to make a decision between the three. If both Winterhawk import picks report and Abols is sent back to Portland, it certainly appears that Portland will be able to trade him and get at least something out of it. To be fair, there will not be a ton of teams clamoring for a "two-spotter" (import and overage player), but Portland will cross that bridge when they get there, so to say.

Historically, Abols is the 10th Winterhawk to be drafted by Vancouver, which is second, overall, for most Hawks drafted to Chicago, who has taken 11. The L.A. Kings remain the one, current NHL team, to never have drafted a Winterhawks' player.

Two players that are on Portland's protected list were also taken in last weekend's draft. Kieffer Bellows was drafted in the first round, 19th overall, by the New York Islanders. Bellows is committed to Boston University, starting this coming season. Also selected was forward Mitchell Mattson, by the Calgary Flames in the 5th round (126th overall). Mattson is committed to play for the University of North Dakota, starting this coming season.

Ranked by NHL Central Scouting and not selected in the draft were Winterhawks' D-man Brendan De Jong (188th among NA skaters) and protected list D-man Sam Rossini (195th).

Monday, June 20, 2016

Winterhawks' Announce Preseason Schedule

Portland and Everett face each other multiple times in the preseason
There were no big surprises as the Hawks announced their six-game preseason schedule.

As usual, it begins with a three-game stint at the Everett Silvertips' preseason tourney and then continues with three more games in Kennewick at Tri-Cities' annual tournament.

Here is the schedule:

Fri 9/2
Vs. Tri-City
Xfinity Arena, Everett
Saturday 9/3
Vs. Spokane
Xfinity Arena, Everett
Sunday 9/4
Vs. Everett
Xfinity Arena, Everett
Thursday 9/8
Vs. Everett
Toyota Center, Kennewick
Friday 9/9
Vs. Prince George
Toyota Center, Kennewick
Saturday 9/10
Vs. Kootenay
Toyota Center, Kennewick

-No home preseason games yet again for the Hawks, who have not played a preseason game at home in quite some time. Last season a home date vs. Everett at the Winterhawks' Skating Center fell through (the hole in the ceiling? Hah!) after the venue could not be prepared in time. 
-Everett continues to be Portland's most common preseason opponent as they are the only team that Portland will take on twice this year. Counting the game that had to be moved to Everett, the Hawks took on the Tips three times last preseason. 
-Despite being their closest rivals, the Hawks have not taken on the Seattle Thunderbirds in the preseason since 2013.
-In their last three preseason openers, Portland has won 7-2, 7-5 and 6-1, all over the Spokane Chiefs.
-We still have not received a regular season opening date, but it would be fair to guess that it will likely be 9/23 or 9/24. This would give them a full two weeks to get a closer look in practices and narrow down the roster to start the season.
-This year, it certainly appears that the only player who will certainly be gone for part of the preseason and part of the regular season due to being at NHL camp is Caleb Jones. If Brendan De Jong is drafted this coming weekend, he could miss part of the season too, though certainly not as much as Jones.
-I will, once again, be attending the Everett tournament and will bring you a lot more content on roster possibilities and more after seeing the games up there.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Winterhawks Hire New Assistant Oliver David

The Portland Winterhawks announced yesterday that they had hired Oliver David as an Assistant Coach to join head coach, general manager and vice president Mike Johnston, as well as, associate coach Kyle Gustafson on the bench.

David was hired to the position left vacant by former assistant Keith McKittrick, after that coach ran into some legal trouble associated with him being arrested for a Portand-area domestic violence incident.

David, 37, spent the last three seasons as an assistant with the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the USHL. Prior to that, he was the head coach of the NAHL's Kenai River Brown Bears, where he turned around a struggling franchise (sound familiar?). He was originally hired as an assistant with Kenai River and took over partway through the 2009/10 season. After the team had struggled to 12 and 14 win seasons, David got them to 27, 31 and 29 win seasons from 2010/11 to 2012/13. Interestingly enough, David had just signed an extension with Kenai River in 2013, before stepping down and taking the assistant job with Dubuque.

Before he went to Alaska to coach in the NAHL, David spent three seasons as an assistant with the L.A. Selects and before that two with the Anaheim Jr. Ducks and two more back in 2003/04 and 04/05 with the California Wave Hockey Club.

In looking at his twitter page, it seems obvious that his former players and colleagues have a lot of love for him, with countless tweets expressing congratulations. Bringing in another great and friendly personality can only help with recruiting players and connecting with those that are already here, in order to get the most out of them.

It's hard not to look at the David signing as one geared towards helping with recruiting in the United States. He has long ties to the California area and with Dubuque, likely helped recruit across the United States. As coach of Kenai River, he brought in players from all over the U.S. as well. Convincing a player from Colorado or California to come play in Soldotna, Alaska is impressive.

Of the players already on Portland's protected list that David has a connection with, Cole Guttman is the most obvious. The 1999 born forward who has committed to play for St. Cloud State, starting in 2018, played for David with Dubuque last season and is from Northridge, CA.

Other players that David could have some connections with are 2000 born d-men Slava Demin (played with Anaheim Jr. Ducks), who is currently set to play with the Wenatchee Wild next year and Noah Lee (played with L.A. U-16s). There are likely plenty more that are not as traceable over the internet.

With so many of your bantam picks lost over the past few season, Portland needed a recruiting boost and hopefully this hiring gives them that boost. It certainly appears like Johnston's first move in Portland was a savvy one.