The Western League kicks off Friday and our prospect expert has surveyed the situation to figure out who will come out of the junior circuit to compete for the Memorial Cup.
Last season, the Western League’s Edmonton Oil Kings toppled Guelph of the Ontario League to win the Memorial Cup. Can the Oil Kings get back on top, despite losing a bunch of players and coach Derek Laxdal? Their old foes from Portland are still dangerous, while some new names are rising up, too. I consulted with a crew of experts from the region to put together power rankings for the league, then added one name to know for each team:
1. Portland Winterhawks – One to watch: Winnipeg Jets pick Nic Petan is a points machine who will gun for his second scoring title in three years.
2. Calgary Hitmen – Once Jake Virtanen is back from his shoulder injury, the Vancouver first-rounder will be a dominant offensive force.
3. Kelowna Rockets – Washington Capitals prospect Madison Bowey will anchor the blueline with his size and offensive talent.
4. Brandon Wheat Kings – New Jersey first-rounder John Quenneville will bring back his diverse game at center, where his strengths include skating and playmaking.
5. Victoria Royals – Draft-eligible center Tyler Soy is quick on his skates and helped Canada win gold at this summer’s Ivan Hlinka tournament.
6. Edmonton Oil Kings – Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Tristan Jarry will have to be excellent in net again, with several top Oil Kings gone from last year’s squad.
7. Swift Current Broncos – Dallas first-rounder Julius Honka was excellent for the Stars in Traverse City, exhibiting his elite offensive game from the blueline.
8. Seattle Thunderbirds – Draft-eligible center Mathew Barzal is a dynamic prospect with speed and quick hands destined to go in the top 10.
9. Regina Pats – It’s all about Calgary Flames first-rounder Morgan Klimchuk. The left winger is a scoring machine who also works hard and plays with grit.
10. Red Deer Rebels – Carolina Hurricanes first-rounder Haydn Fleury anchors the blueline on a tough team with his size, speed and bite.
11. Tri-City Americans – Winnipeg Jets prospect Eric Comrie will be one of the best goaltenders in the country and a world junior candidate for Canada.
12. Vancouver Giants – He’s not eligible for the draft until 2016, but left winger Tyler Benson is an incredible talent and rookie of the year candidate.
13. Medicine Hat Tigers – St. Louis Blues prospect Tommy Vannelli is a wizard with the puck on his stick and brings offense to the blueline.
14. Prince George Cougars – Draft-eligible center Jansen Harkins is a two-way center with playmaking abilities and a lot of character.
15. Moose Jaw Warriors – Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Brayden Point plays with a lot of heart and skill; look for him to put up huge numbers.
16. Kootenay Ice – Jaedon Descheneau played well for St. Louis in Traverse City, living up to his reputation as a smart offensive player.
17. Saskatoon Blades – Winnipeg prospect Nelson Nogier missed a lot of the season due to injury, but he’s a big defenseman who moves very well.
18. Everett Silvertips – Draft-eligible defenseman Noah Juulsen has bulked up his frame this summer. He plays physical and skates very well.
19. Prince Albert Raiders – Vancouver prospect Mackenze Stewart is humongous at 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds. The raw D-man was actually born deaf (but can hear now).
20. Kamloops Blazers – Dallas prospect Cole Ully brings speed, hustle and a good amount of offense back to the left wing.
21. Spokane Chiefs – Brothers Keanu and Kailer Yamamoto are hometown boys the locals can cheer on together.
22. Lethbridge Hurricanes – Minnesota Wild pick Reid Duke brings back a growing two-way game to center for the Canes.