Jackets CHL Prospect Season In Review
Part One: Western Hockey League
Shane Bendera – G – Kelowna Rockets
At the beginning of the season, who could’ve conceived that Shane Bendera would not be suited up in his familiar colors of the Red Deer Rebels. Instead, Bendera was shipped off to Kelowna midway through December. In 30 games with his new squad, Bendera played respectably, but did not put up the amazing numbers we saw earlier in the year from his Red Deer days. In Kelowna, he managed a 13-9-8 record with 2.61 GAA and .907 SV%, still very respectable numbers. While with Red Deer, Bendera put up better numbers. Through 20 games, he managed a 2.28 GAA and a .918 SV%.
All in all, the acquisition of Bendera by the Rockets did exactly what the organization hoped it would, and that is land the Rockets a playoff birth. This is where Bendera shines, the playoffs. It is no secret that Bendera craves the big game, and even lead his former Rebel teammates to the Memorial Cup last season. The fans of Kelowna hopes he can do the same for their squad when they face off against the Kamloops Blazers in the first round of the WHL Playoffs.
Ben Knopp – RW – Kamloops Blazers
Ben Knopp was another Blue Jacket prospect dealt this year, and although it took him some time to connect with his new linemates, once he did, his productivity increased dramatically. Knopp, who was acquired from Moose Jaw, finished the season with 44 goals in 78 games. He averaged more than a point-per-game, adding 39 assists to run his totals to 83 points in 78 games. He was added solely for the purpose of putting up strong numbers, but his defensive game came around somewhat once he found his offensive game. When Moose Jaw shipped him off to Kamloops, Knopp found himself in double digits to the negative for plus/minus. He finishes up the season at a +7.
By aquiring Knopp, the Blazers got a proven producer in the offensive end, to go with the likes of Aulin and Upshall. The Blazers have a blend of speed and size upfront in these three players. They will all need to produce together if they want to overcome Shane Bendera and the Kelowna Rockets.
Kiel McLeod – C – Kelowna Rockets
This season must’ve been very frustrating for Kiel McLeod, especially considering he’s looking to take his game to the next level in the very near future. McLeod only appeared in 41 games this season, and one has to question how many of those 41 games he was completely healthy in. Despite various injuries, most notably a groin injury which bothered him for quite some time, McLeod managed to put up 48 points in 41 games, including 31 assists. In fact, McLeod lead the team in points-per-game with 1.17, over teammates Chuck Kobasew(1.13) and Cam Paddock(1.01).
McLeod hopes to make a playoff appearance, but is continually plagued with that groin injury previously mentioned. The addition of McLeod would definitely mean an increased offensive threat to throw against the Blazers, though McLeod cannot let this injury frustrate him and effect his development. It will be interesting to see if McLeod can make a playoff appearance, but it would not be surprising to anyone if he did not recover in time. Unfortunately I do not know the extent of the injury, as the WHL Injury List just states that it is McLeod’s groin that is bothering him.
Tyler Sloan – D – Kamloops Blazers
While Tyler Sloan’s point production didn’t improve in his 2nd WHL season, his all round game saw development. He was a much more disciplined player this season, only taking 89 minutes in penalties, almost half of his total last season. His points per game were very respectable for a defenseman, with 32 points (3-29-32) in 70 games. His plus/minus, +29, was second on the team to only Jared Aulin(+30) and Nikita Korovkin(+33).
Sloan has to consider this season to be an improvement over the last. While he had higher offensive totals last season, his role this season improved immensely. He developed into a top-two defenseman in Kamloops this season, and was arguably their top defenseman, and certainly their second best.