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WHL season preview: another Giant year, but one filled with wild cards

Some of the biggest difference-makers in the league are also in the running for NHL jobs and that could tip the balance of power in the 'Dub.' As it is, Vancouver and Saskatoon are your likely candidates to be duking it out up top.

Welcome to my final CHL season preview. We’ve already plunged through the OHL and QMJHL, so now it’s time to shine some light on the ‘Dub.’ This is going to be a fascinating opening month for the circuit, as several key players will be fighting for NHL jobs - and it wouldn’t be surprising if one or two nab them. Saskatoon’s Kirby Dach, Vancouver’s Bowen Byram and Spokane’s Ty Smith are all in the same boat, where they either make the big club or have to go back to junior (none are eligible for the AHL yet). That makes for some great uncertainty, but we go with the information we have and based on my survey of journalists from the WHL region, those teams are going to be pretty good either way.

These rankings are not divisional-based, it’s just who looks best on paper right now. I’ve also included a couple NHL prospects to watch for, where applicable. The first two teams both received first-overall votes, while last place was unanimous. Let’s get to it.

  1. Vancouver Giants: Superstar D-man Bowen Byram (COL) is most likely returning, but it’s clearly a huge loss if he sticks in the NHL with the Avs. In net, the Giants return the killer tandem of David Tendeck (ARI) and Trent Miner (VAN).
  2. Saskatoon Blades: An all-around solid squad has veteran center Eric Florchuk (WSH) and intriguing defenseman Aidan De La Gorgendiere (2020), but obviously the main X-factor is Kirby Dach (CHI), who could push for an NHL spot.
  3. Spokane Chiefs: The Chiefs lost some talent, but the continued ascent of Adam Beckman (MIN) will help, as will the addition of import goalie Lukas Parik (LA). Getting Ty Smith (NJ) back from the Devils would also be huge.
  4. Edmonton Oil Kings: Matthew Robertson (NYR) returns to the blueline with his solid defensive game, while forwards Jake Neighbours (2020) and Dylan Guenther (2021) seek to make names for themselves in the ‘Dub.’
  5. Kamloops Blazers: Two-way defenseman Quinn Schiemann (TB) will look to increase his role further, while center Connor Zary and goalie Dylan Garand (both 2020) have scouts to impress.
  6. Medicine Hat Tigers: Mads Sogaard (OTT) returns in net with his 6-foot-7 frame and that should provide comfort for the Tigers, who otherwise have a nice collection of veteran forwards.
  7. Kelowna Rockets: The Memorial Cup hosts have a nice base to work with and they added to it during the summer with Seattle’s Dillon Hamaliuk (SJ) and Jake Lee. Nolan Foote (TB) brings his heavy shot back up front and steady Kaedan Korczak (VGK) anchors the blueline.
  8. Calgary Hitmen: Carson Focht (VAN) leads a pretty solid crew up front with his two-way play, while the defense corps gets a big boost from the physical Jett Woo (VAN), who was acquired from Moose Jaw.
  9. Portland Winterhawks: Joel Hofer (STL) is the main man in net, where composure and structure are among his strengths. Center Seth Jarvis (2020) is coming off a very nice performance at the summer Hlinka-Gretzky tournament.
  10. Brandon Wheat Kings: Power forward Luka Burzan (COL) will be dangerous on offense and he’s not alone. New addition Marcus Kallionkieli (VGK) comes in from the USHL, where he excelled alongside top players, while Jiri Patera (VGK) enters the crease.
  11. Lethbridge Hurricanes: Dylan Cozens (BUF) will be one of the top offensive threats in the entire league and veteran puckmover Calen Addison (PIT) may take up the same title on the blueline.
  12. Prince Albert Raiders: Aliaksei Protas (WSH) has the size and scoring ability to dominate in his second WHL season, while sweet-skating Kaiden Guhle (2020) will try to break out on the back end.
  13. Everett Silvertips: Gianni Fairbrother (MTL) and Wyatt Wylie (PHI) both bring their talents back to the blueline, while Dustin Wolf (CGY) has all the motivation in the world to be a wall in net again.
  14. Winnipeg Ice: It’s going to be a wild first season for the ex-Kootenay franchise. Captain Peyton Krebs (VGK) will start late due to an Achilles injury, but the team adds playmaking import Michal Teply (CHI) up front. And how many games will phenom Matt Savoie (2022) play in the league this year?
  15. Tri-City Americans: Power forward Sasha Mutala (COL) will be a load to handle up front, while new import Jan Cikhart (2020) brings size and skill to the table on the left wing.
  16. Seattle Thunderbirds: Roddy Ross (PHI) will be the man in the crease once again, while Henrik Rybinski and Matthew Wedman (both FLA) will be key drivers up front.
  17. Red Deer Rebels: Blueliner Dawson Barteaux (DAL) showed off his impressive defensive game at the Traverse City prospects tournament, while Keaton Sorenson (2020) will try to catch eyes up front.
  18. Moose Jaw Warriors: Brayden Tracey (ANA) was a revelation last year and the talented left winger will have to be even better for the Warriors this time around. Daemon Hunt (2020) is an interesting name to watch on the blueline.
  19. Regina Pats: The Pats don’t have any NHL draft picks and at this point, no one stands out for the 2020 draft. But they do have a veteran goaltender in Max Paddock.
  20. Victoria Royals: Much like Regina, the Royals don’t have any NHL prospects or obvious 2020 draft candidates right now, but veteran goalie Shane Farkas is new and he’ll help.
  21. Swift Current Broncos: The Broncos took talented defenseman Kasper Puutio (2020) first overall in the CHL Import Draft and he’ll have help up front from big right winger Ben King (2020).
  22. Prince George Cougars: The unanimous choice for the basement, the Cougars aren’t completely bereft of talent: defenseman Cole Moberg (CHI) looked pretty solid at the Traverse City prospects tournament and he boasts a nice shot.



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