The puck drops on the 2014 WHL regular season Friday, Sept. 19, with seven games on the slate across the league.
The Kootenay Ice kick-start their campaign at the ENMAX Centrium in Red Deer when they visit the Rebels at 7 p.m. Friday night.
The Townsman, with some help of beat reporters from around the league, takes a look at what fans can expect from the 2014 WHL season. Today, we shift our focus to the East Division.
Regina PatsGreg HarderRegina Leader-Post
Last season: 39-26-4-3, first in East Division, swept in first round.
Head coach/Sr. VP of hockey operations: John Paddock (first season).
Assistants: Dave Struch (ninth in WHL, first with Pats), Darrin McKechnie (first), Rob Muntain (goalies, fourth).
Key losses: C Boston Leier, RW Dyson Stevenson, D Jesse Zgraggen (all graduated), C Chandler Stephenson (signed, Washington) and D Dmitry Sinitsyn (signed, KHL).
The 20-year-olds: C Patrick D’Amico, C Logan McVeigh, LW Braden Christoffer.
The imports: Returning LW Max Kammerer and rookie D Sergey Zborovskiy.
Key returnees: Morgan Klimchuk, an NHL first-rounder and two-time 30-goal man, is poised to join the WHL’s elite … His primary scoring support comes from fellow wingers Connor Gay and Dryden Hunt, both of whom are coming off breakout seasons … Kyle Burroughs and Colby Williams – the only true veterans on the blueline – are expected to log big minutes and chip in offensively … G Daniel Wapple is ready to excel in his first season as a full-time starter.
New faces: C Sam Steel, the second-overall pick in the 2013 bantam draft, headlines a rookie class that also includes fowards Luc Smith, F Jake Elmer, F Jared McAmmond, F Rykr Cole and F Colton Kroeker, plus D-men James Hilsendager and Ryan Krushen.
Watch for: Steel and Zborovskiy to play major roles as rookies … The Pats to go young with an eye toward the future.
Noteworthy: Klimchuk (assuming he returns from the Calgary Flames) is a strong candidate for the Canadian world junior team and could also be trade bait prior to the Jan. 10 deadline … Long-time owner Russ Parker sold the Pats in the spring to five local businessmen known collectively as Queen City Sports and Entertainment Group.
Did you know? Paddock is making his first foray into the junior ranks after more than 30 years in the AHL and NHL.
The prognosis: The Pats are too young and lost too many key players to challenge for a second straight East Division title. However – barring a complete fire sale – they should have enough talent to compete for one of the final playoff spots in the conference.
Swift Current BroncosGreg HarderThe Prairie Post
Last season: 38-25-3-6, fifth in Eastern Conference.
Head coach: Mark Lamb (sixth season as coach and general manager).
Assistant coaches: Jamie Heward (third season), Josh Dixon (first)
Key losses: G Eetu Laurikainen, C Nathan Burns and C Graham Black all graduated.
The 20-year-olds: RW Coda Gordon and C Colby Cave both reached 70 points last season. Stephen Shmoorkoff is a longshot to hold down the sixth D spot, leaving the final spot to F Andrew Johnson.
The imports: Finnish D Julius Honka (16G, 40A) will again quarterback a potent power play. Eighteen-year-old Swede Andreas Schumacher was picked 96th overall in this year’s Import Draft and impressed during camp with his speed and shot.
Key returnees: Cave, Gordon and Jay Merkley (34G, 32A) lead the forward group, with big things also expected from sophomores Glenn Gawdin (10G, 12A) and Jake DeBrusk (15G, 24A). Honka is part of a D corps that also includes Dillon Heatherington, Brett Lernout and Brycen Martin. All four are NHL draft picks, none taken below the third round. Landon Bow takes over for Laurikainen in net after two years as understudy to one of the league’s best.
New faces: Tyler Steenbergen and Cole Johnson (12th and 34th overall, 2013) stood out in camp and will push a number of veterans for playing time. Luca Leone, acquired from Vancouver for Bobby Zinkan, and Schumacher, along with 1997 F Tyler Adams and 1995 F Austin Calladine will also start the year in Swift Current. Travis Child makes his WHL debut as Bow’s backup.
Watch for: Upgrades to the over-agers and goaltending if Johnson or Bow struggle, as expectations are sky high this year in Swift Current.
Noteworthy: Cave has played in 148 straight WHL games and missed just two since joining the Broncos full-time in 2011-12.
Did you know? The team’s 38 wins last year were the most of Lamb’s five seasons to date. Honka (14th overall to Dallas) was the Broncos’ first first-round NHL draft pick since Nathan Smith in 2000.
The prognosis: The Broncos should once again battle with Brandon for the regular-season crown in another weak East Division. Goaltending will determine how they fare come playoffs, but the team believes it’s a contender and anything short of the conference final will be a crushing disappointment.
Brandon Wheat KingsRob HendersonBrandon Sun
Last season: 34-29-6-3, eliminated in second round of playoffs.
Head coach: Kelly McCrimmon (12th season as coach, 26th as general manager).
Assistant coaches: Darren Ritchie (eighth season), David Anning (third), Matt Cockell (goaltending, sixth).
Key loss: Ryan Pulock, Brandon’s top defenceman three straight years, is set to play professionally as a 20-year-old after being chosen 15th overall by the New York Islanders in the 2013 NHL draft.
The 20-year-olds: D Eric Roy (Calgary Flames), RW Peter Quenneville (New York Rangers) and Czech LW Richard Nejezchleb (New York Rangers) are all in pro camps, but are unsigned by their NHL teams. If they come back, Brandon could have one of the top trios in the WHL.
The imports: Latvian RW Rihards Bukarts (28G, 26A) and rookie Russian D Ivan Provorov are holding the spots for now. If Nejezchleb returns, one will have to go, likely a forward.
Key returnees: C John Quenneville (25G, 33A) and RW Jayce Hawryluk (24G, 40A), were picked 30th overall by the New Jersey Devils and 32nd by the Florida Panthers, respectively, in this year’s NHL draft … C Tim McGauley (21G, 39A) is one of the team’s best two-way forwards … G Jordan Papirny was stellar in last season’s playoffs (.914 save pct.) … D Ryan Pilon (7G, 29A) was Pulock’s understudy and will handle increased responsibility.
New faces: C Nolan Patrick and D Kale Clague, were picked fourth and sixth, respectively, in the 2013 WHL bantam draft … C Tanner Kaspick was the top goal-scorer in this summer’s Canadian under-17 development camp.
Watch for: The Wheat Kings will score plenty of goals, but if preventing them becomes a problem, expect a trade for veteran help.
Noteworthy: Provorov is new to the WHL, but played the last three years in the United States.
Did you know? Hawryluk is the second Wheat King drafted 32nd overall by Florida, joining G Tyler Plante (2005 draft).
The prognosis: With abundant young talent, and 2014 No.1 overall pick Stelio Mattheos arriving next year, the Wheat Kings are poised to join the WHL’s elite. With some tweaking, that could happen this season.
Prince Albert RaidersAndrew SchoppPrince Albert Daily Herald
Last season: 35-32-3-2, eighth in Eastern Conference
Head coach: Cory Clouston (second season)
Assistant coaches: Tim Leonard (third season), Dave Manson (second season as associate coach).
Key losses: G Cole Cheveldave (graduated), LW Collin Valcourt (graduated), LW Chance Braid (traded to Prince George), RW Carson Perreaux (retired).
The 20-year-olds: The Raiders will enter the regular season juggling four; RW Dakota Conroy, RW Jayden Hart, LW Calder Brooks and D Sawyer Lange.
The imports: Should C Leon Draisaitl stick with the Edmonton Oilers in the NHL, the Raiders will move forward with Czechs C Simon Stransky and D Tomas Andrlik.
Key returnees: Raiders GM Bruno Campese is working under the assumption that NHL prospects Draisaitl and D Josh Morrissey will not be returning. D Sawyer Lange will be leaned on to provide offence from the backend and anchor the power play while C Reid Gardiner will compete for top-line minutes. G Nick McBride looks to establish himself as a bonafide starter after stealing the net from Cheveldave near the tail end of last season.
New faces: D Hunter Warner will provide a big body presence that was somewhat absent from the Raiders blue line last season. C Jordan Tkatch is a versatile forward coming off a breakout 46-point season with the Cougars.
Watch for: Gardiner to have a big year and show NHL clubs why they were nuts to pass on him in Philadelphia. A promising core of 1997s in Stransky, McBride, C Matteo Gennaro and D Brendan Guhle to shine a bright light for the Raiders future.
Noteworthy: Last season, McBride was the first 16-year-old Raiders goalie since 2001 to be on the team’s roster full-time.
Did you know? Clouston has never missed the post-season as a head coach in the WHL.
The prognosis: If Morrissey and Draisaitl return, the Raiders will contend for the East Division crown. If not, the Raiders just might have enough depth to eke out a playoff spot as McBride breaks out as one of the league’s elite goaltenders.
Moose Jaw WarriorsMatthew GourlieMoose Jaw Times-Herald
Last season: 21-42-3-6, 10th in the Eastern Conference.
Head coach: Tim Hunter (first season).
Assistant coach: Mark O’Leary (third season).
Key losses: C Sam Fioretti and D Jesse Forsberg both graduated. The Warriors also traded veteran forwards Colton McCarthy, Josh Uhrich and Miles Warkentine, while fellow veteran F Bryson Gore opted not to return.
The 20-year-olds: Forwards Tanner Eberle, Jack Rodewald and Jaimen Yakubowski are expected to beat out RW Scott Cooke for the overage slots.
The imports: Russian D Alexey Sleptsov had a strong IIHF World Under-18s and will look to contribute more in his second season. Tall Czech LW Jiri Smejkal was taken 12th overall in the 2014 CHL import draft.
Key returnees: C Brayden Point had 91 points a year ago, the most since Troy Brouwer led the league in scoring in 05-06. Goaltending tandem Justin Paulic and Zach Sawchenko will be leaned upon heavily. Veteran defencemen Spenser Jensen, Dallas Valentine and Reid Zalitach will be asked to assume a bigger role this season.
New faces: The Warriors have high hopes for towering D Austin Adam, 19, who came over from Everett. Noah Gregor (Alberta midget AAA scoring champion) and former first round pick Brett Howden (younger brother of Quinton Howden) – both 16 — will be expected to immediately chip in offensively. Yakubowski and Kolten Olynek add to the depth up front.
Watch for: Forwards Howden, Gregor and Jayden Halbgewachs to play significant roles in their rookie season.
Noteworthy: Sawchenko started in goal as Canada’s under-18s won the Memorial of Hlinka Tournament this summer.
Did you know: Former Warriors head coach Mike Stothers left the team over the summer to take the head coaching job in Manchester of the AHL after three years with the Warriors.
The prognosis: The Warriors revamped their offence in a bid to end their two-year playoff absence. They’re going to need increased production and strong goaltending to compensate for an inexperienced defence. Anything less than a return to the playoffs would be a massive disappointment for the team, though they aren’t likely to rise above the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference.
Saskatoon BladesDaniel Nugent-BowmanSaskatoon Star-Phoenix
Last season: 16-51-2-3, last in the East Division, 11th in the Eastern Conference.
Head coach: Bob Woods (first season).
Assistant coach: Dean Brockman (first season).
Key losses: D MacKenzie Johnston, D Dylan Busenius, RW Connor Sanvido to graduation. G Alex Moodie was dealt to Spokane. D Clayton Kirichenko was moved to Vancouver.
The 20-year-olds: RW Brett Stovin is the longest-serving Blade with 191 regular season games to his credit. G Troy Trombley ended last season as the starter. C Chase Clayton is also in the mix.
The imports: Russian RW Nikita Scherbak was the Blades leading scorer with 78 points. Russian LW Nikita Soshnin was taken ninth overall in the CHL import draft in July. Swedish D Amil Krupic went 69th. One will have to be moved if Scherbak, a first-round pick by the Montreal Canadiens, returns from the NHL.
Key returnees: Possibly Scherbak. D Nelson Nogier missed half of last season with a shoulder injury. He’ll be the No. 1 defenceman. LW Ryan Graham, who earned an invite to Minnesota Wild camp. Draft-eligible C Cameron Hebig.
New faces: Rookie C Wyatt Sloboshan, acquired from Swift Current on New Year’s Day. D Jordan Thomson finished the season in Saskatoon and is now a full timer. Former first-round bantam picks Ty Mappin and Alex Forsberg – the top choice in 2010 – are key additions.
Watch for: The Blades to make upgrades to their goaltending and 20-year-old spots. The possible trade of Scherbak.
Noteworthy: Nogier was drafted in the fourth round (101st overall) by the Winnipeg Jets in June. He became the first born and raised player from the Saskatoon area to be selected in the NHL draft as a Blade since G Michael Garnett (third round, 80th overall, Atlanta Thrashers, 2001).
Did you know? Long before Woods coached in the NHL as an assistant with Washington and Anaheim he was a defenceman for the Brandon Wheat Kings from 1987 to 1989.
The prognosis: The Blades, who hosted the 2013 Memorial Cup, underwent a full-scale rebuild last season posted their second-worst record in their 50-year history. They’ve improved, but almost certainly not enough to make the playoffs.