There will be a shift in leadership in Cranbrook this season. As Sam Reinhart (left) moves on to the NHL

There will be a shift in leadership in Cranbrook this season. As Sam Reinhart (left) moves on to the NHL

2014-15 WHL Regular Season Preview: Central Division

With help from beat reporters around the WHL, The Townsman looks at what to expect in 2014-15. Today, we dial in on the Central Division

Edmonton Oil KingsBrian SwaneEdmonton Sun

Head coach: Steve Hamilton (first season as head coach, fifth with team).

Assistant coach: Ryan Marsh (first)

Key losses: D Cody Corbett, C Riley Kieser, and C Reid Petryk graduated. LW Mitch Moroz (Oilers prospect), D Griffin Reinhart (Islanders), and C Henrik Samuelsson (Coyotes) are virtual locks to stick in the pros.

The 20-year-olds: The Oil Kings are currently one over the limit with four in LW Edgars Kulda, D Blake Orban, G Tyler Santos, and D Ashton Sautner, though Kulda (Coyotes) may stick in the pros and Santos is competing with rookie Patrick Dea for the backup goalie job.

The imports: Again the Oil Kings are one over limit, with three; Veterans Kulda, a Latvian, and Denmark’s LW Mads Eller, along with 17-year-old Russian newcomer Marsel Ibragimov. If neither Kulda nor Eller (Stars) stick in the pros, one will have to be traded.

Key returnees: 2014 NHL draft picks LW Brandon Baddock (Devils) D Aaron Irving (Predators) D Dysin Mayo (Coyotes) C Brett Pollock (Stars) are all expected to return after stints in pro camp. The team will go as far as 2013 pick G Tristan Jarry (Penguins), a candidate to be Canada’s World Junior starter, can take them.

New faces: C Brayden Brown, C Davis Koch, LW Garan Magnes, and D Chance Patterson are among the next crop of Oil Kings, players that dressed for a game or two last season and  now get an opportunity to become regulars.

Watch for: The immediate future of the Oil Kings rests largely on the pro fate of Curtis Lazar (Senators), the heart and soul of the team, who may or may not make the cut in Ottawa. If he returns, he’ll be the team’s captain, and top offensive threat. If not, the entire complexion of the team changes.

Noteworthy: The Oil Kings currently have half a dozen players in pro camps. At their home-opener Saturday, when the Memorial Cup banner is raised to the Rexall Place rafters Saturday, the Oil Kings lineup could feature as few as four players that saw the ice in their championship win last May.

Did you know? In 40 career WHL playoff games, RW Luke Bertolucci has 8 goals, exactly as many as he has in 104 regular season games. After scoring six times in the 2013-14 season, he picked up six goals in the 2014 WHL playoffs, and also scored twice in the Memorial Cup.

The prognosis: The roster turnover is so great that it’s almost impossible to see the Oil Kings making another championship run, but a good nucleus of young talent will keep them competitive. Everything else depends on Lazar.

Calgary HitmenScott FisherCalgary Sun

Last season: 48-17-3-4, second in Central Division, lost in first round to Kootenay Ice in six games.

General manager: Mike Moore (2nd season).

Head coach: Mark French (first season).

Assistants: Darcy Wakaluk (10th season), Joel Otto (seventh season), Brent Kisio (seventh season).

Key losses: G Chris Driedger and overagers C Brady Brassart, D Jaynen Rissling and D Alex Roach.

The 20-year-olds: D Kenton Helgesen, C Mike Winther, C Adam Tambellini, LW Connor Rankin.

The imports: C Pavel Karnaukhov (2014 CHL import, first round), C Radel Fazleev (2013 CHL import, first round), RW Pavlo Padakin (2012 CHL import, first round).

Key returnees: LW Jake Virtanen was selected sixth overall by the Vancouver Canucks in June’s NHL Draft. Edmonton Oilers prospect Greg Chase will battle Virtanen for team scoring lead.

New faces: C Beck Malenstyn, Karnauklhov, C Jordan Stallard, LW Taylor Sanheim, LW Carsen Twarynski, D Kirk Johnson, D Marshall Donald, D Jake Bean, G Evan Johnson, G Brandon Kegler.

Watch for: The Hitmen to rebound after an embarrassing first-round upset last spring. The Hitmen should win the division and compete with the Wheat Kings for top spot in the Eastern Conference.

Noteworthy: French coached the KHL expansion Medvescak Zagreb into the post-season in 2013-14 … G Mack Shields was 20-3-0 as a backup last season.

Did you know? The Hitmen have qualified for the post-season 16 of the last 17 seasons.

Prognosis: LW Jake Virtanen, once recovered from off-season shoulder surgery, will become the league’s most dominant power forward.

Medicine Hat TigersRyan McCracken & Sean RooneyMedicine Hat News

Last season: 44-24-3-1, fourth in Eastern Conference, lost to Edmonton in conference finals.

General manager/head coach: Shaun Clouston (fifth season as head coach, third as GM).

Assistant coaches: Joe Frazer (fifth season), Jerrid Sauer (first season).Key losses: C Curtis Valk, who led the Tigers in goals (47) and points (92), won 11 awards at team banquet, including MVP; RW Jacob Doty and D Dylan Bredo also graduated as overagers.

The 20-year-olds: G Marek Langhamer, G Jared Rathjen, D Tommy Vanelli, D Kyle Becker, D Tyler Lewington. Rathjen hasn’t played in the pre-season due to undisclosed medical problems while Vanelli (St. Louis) has a good chance of playing pro this year in the AHL.

The imports: Langhamer (Czech Republic), C Markus Eisenschmid (Germany).Key returnees: Vanelli, Langhamer, C Trevor Cox, RW Cole Sandford, D Tyler Lewington, RW Miles Koules, C Steven Owre. Lewington and Koules are both at Washington Capitals rookie camp.

New faces: Rathjen, traded from the Vancouver Giants; Rookies D David Quenneville, C Mark Rassel and C Mason Shaw are among those battling for spots.

Watch for: The Tigers to make a few moves depending on the status of Langhamer, signed and currently at Arizona Coyotes training camp.

Noteworthy: Connor Hobbs was a member of Canada’s under-18 team that won gold at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup in August. So was Clouston, who was a last-minute addition as an assistant coach.

Did you know? The Tigers will play their 45th and final season in the Medicine Hat Arena prior to leaving for a $61 million regional events centre slated to open next fall.

The prognosis: Medicine Hat will again aim to host a playoff series or two, presuming Langhamer returns and Cox and Koules have expected big years. After 12 straight seasons of reaching the playoffs, their fans have come to expect no less.

Kootenay IceTaylor RoccaCranbrook Daily Townsman

Last season: 39-28-2-3; sixth in Eastern Conference; lost to Medicine Hat Tigers in Eastern Conference semi-final

General manager: Jeff Chynoweth (14th season)

Head coach: Ryan McGill (third season in second stint; previously coached Ice from 1998 through 2002)

Assistant coaches: Jay Henderson (second season), Mike Bergren (goaltending coach, third season), Wayne Dougherty (skills coach, first season)

Key losses: C Sam Reinhart led the Ice with 105 points in 2013-14. After being awarded the Four Broncos Trophy as WHL Player of the Year, Reinhart was drafted second overall by the Buffalo Sabres at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. The 2014 CHL Sportsman of the Year is expected to stick with the Sabres this fall; F Tim Bozon (62 points) expected to graduate to minor pro ranks after recovering from Neisseria meningitis; D Jagger Dirk graduated as overager.

The 20-year-olds: RW Austin Vetterl, LW Levi Cable, G Mackenzie Skapski. Skapski could stick with the New York Rangers AHL affiliate in Hartford.

The imports: C Alexander Chirva (Russia), D Rinat Valiev (Russia).

Key returnees: C Luke Philp, RW Jaedon Descheneau, D Tanner Faith, Valiev. All four are at NHL camps, but expected to return.

New faces: Chirva, 33rd overall – 2014 CHL Import Draft; rookie forwards LW Austin Wellsby, C Vince Loschiavo, LW Jared Legien looking for openings; rookie blueliners Cale Fleury, Bryan Allbee, Mark O’Shaughnessy remain in the mix.

Watch for: Philp to take over the reigns of this club, both in terms of leadership and offense, with the expected NHL graduation of former captain Reinhart.

Noteworthy: Fleury was invited to Hockey Canada’s U-17 development camp this summer and is the younger brother of Carolina Hurricanes 2014 first-round pick Haydn Fleury.

Did you know? The Ice have made the WHL playoffs in 16 consecutive seasons. The team will look to build on its WHL record of 15 consecutive regular seasons with a record of .500 or better.

The prognosis: The Ice should build on that WHL regular-season record in 2014-15, while also extending the playoff-appearance run. But there is no replacing a player like Reinhart. How far the team goes will depend on the emergence of youngsters like Fleury, Legien and Loschiavo.

Red Deer RebelsGreg MeachemRed Deer Advocate

Last season: 35-32-1-4, ninth in Eastern Conference, missed playoffs.

General manager/head coach: Brent Sutter (11th season).

Associate coach: Jeff Truitt (third season).

Assistant coaches: Steve O’Rourke (second season), Taylor Dakers (goaltenders, second season).

Key losses: G Patrik Bartosak, whose .924 save percentage was third-best in the league, and RW Rhyse Dieno ( 25-41-66 last season), to graduation; C Aspen Sterzer, 20, will attend university.

The 20-year-olds: RW Brooks Maxwell; D Brett Cote, acquired from Victoria; Devan Fafard, who moves from defence to forward.

The imports: Latvian D Hugo Jansons and Slovak D Mario Grman, both 17, were selected in the 2014 CHL import draft.

Key returnees: D Haydn Fleury and C Conner Bleackley were selected in the first round of the 2014 NHL entry draft; Maxwell and C Presten Kopeck are candidates to wear a letter; C Wyatt Johnson, D Kayle Doetzel and LW Evan Polei were invited to NHL camps; LW Grayson Pawlenchuk and C Adam Musil are expected to have breakout sophomore seasons.

New faces: C Jeff de Wit, the club’s first pick in the 2013 bantam draft and D Josh Mahura, taken in the second round; Cote; G Ryan Toth, 18; Grman and Jansons; D Austin Strand, C Brayden Burke and RW Mason McCarty, all 17.

Watch for: Toth and returnee Taz Burman, 17, to share goaltending duties almost equally early in the season.

Noteworthy: Musil was a member of Canada’s U18 team that won gold at the Memorial of Ivan Hlinka tournament in August.

Did you know? The Rebels haven’t advanced past the second round of the playoffs since 2004.

The prognosis: The team will score more in 2014-15 and the blueline is much improved in terms of skill and agility. The question is: Can Burman and Toth supply the goaltending necessary to make a move up the standings? If so, the Rebels will qualify for post-season play.

Lethbridge HurricanesDylan PurcellLethbridge Herald

Last season: 12-55-2-3, last in the Eastern Conference, the Western Hockey League and all three Canadian Hockey League members.

General manager: Brad Robson (second season)

Head coach: Drake Berehowsky (second season).

Assistant coaches: Bryan Maxwell (first season), Mike Craig (second season) and Jeff Battah (goaltenders, second season).

Key losses: Overage captain F Josh Derko (11g, 5 a) graduated and 19-year-old D Macoy Erkamps did not report to training camp, demanding a trade.

The 20-year-olds: D Nick Walters, D Tyler Bell and F Riley Sheen. Sheen is still limping around after sustaining a knee injury but should return soon to provide needed offence. Bell was one of the few shot-blockers on the team.

Key returnees: F Reid Duke (15g, 25a), who held out of training camp, and a healthy F Tyler Wong (17g, 14a) will need to stay healthy and motivated because this team needs help up front. Duke was drafted by the Minnesota Wild (6th round, 169th overall) then skipped the team’s training camp, hoping for a trade which never happened.

New faces: Start with former Canes head coach and GM Maxwell, who provides the only experienced hand on the bench. The two-time Memorial Cup champion coach will handle the defence and is the first public relations win for the organization in years. . . . F Jaeger White is only 16 but was the most electrifying player in the preseason. A speedy forward with something to prove after being passed by 71 times in the 2013 bantam draft, White plays like an angry young man — with loads of skill. . . . Another rookie, G Stuart Skinner, will be the team’s starting goalie, based on training camp hype alone. Skinner — then 15 — had a four-game tryout at the end of last season and looked good again in preseason. He’ll battle with another rookie, 18-year-old Zac Robidoux, for starts but Robidoux has even less experience (2 games with Medicine Hat last season) than Skinner.

Watch for: Duke, since everyone seems to think he came back to the team because of a promise to be dealt. Otherwise, keep an eye on import F Pavel Skumatov, who looks like a dynamic offensive threat with plenty of grease on a team lacking both.

Noteworthy: The Hurricanes were in financial distress during last season and the WHL got involved in the offseason, telling Lethbridge City Council that if certain targets weren’t met, there would be consequences. All the ominous pronouncement did was enhance the soap opera surrounding the Hurricanes.

Did you know? Maxwell won the 1987 Memorial Cup with the Medicine Hat Tigers, then won it again in 1991 with the Spokane Chiefs before overseeing a WHL championship team in Lethbridge in 1997. He was fired by the Hurricanes in 2002-03.

The prognosis: Another struggling season but at least there appears to be a plan in Lethbridge, as the defence has added height — with heft coming as those players age. The forwards continue to be on the small side, but White and the two Russians should add some excitement while the management tries to avoid the league’s murky admonishments.

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