With the first round of playoffs in the books, a number of future NHLers find themselves on the outside looking in. For others, it’s on to Round 2, just another step closer to a Memorial Cup championship.
In the Eastern Conference, the veteran-laden Brandon Wheat Kings disposed of the Prince Albert Raiders in five games. The Wheaties’ lineup includes forwards Juraj Simek (VAN) and Codey Burki (COL) along with defenseman Dustin Kohn (NYI) and goaltender Tyler Plante (FLA). Forward Andrew Clark (2007) can improve his stock for the NHL Entry Draft with an inspired playoff run.
The Regina Pats disposed of the Swift Current Broncos in six games, giving Logan Pyett (DET) at least another week of playoff action. Goaltender Linden Rowat (2007) and defenseman/forward Nick Ross (2007) are also getting a longer look as the playoffs progress.
The Medicine Hat Tigers were pushed to the limit by the upstart Red deer Rebels in the first round. In the seventh game, goaltender Matt Keetley (CGY) shut out the Rebels 2-0. Coincidentally for Calgary Flames’ fans, Keetley is the Eastern Conference nominee for the WHL’s top goaltender, up against Everett Silvertips’ Leland Irving (CGY) of the Western Conference.
The Calgary Hitmen have advanced past the Kootenay Ice in what has to be considered the biggest upset of the first round. Forwards Ryan White (MTL) and Brodie Dupont (NYR), along with defenseman Karl Alzner (2007) and Alex Plante (2007) provided steady contributions in the seven-game victory.
In the Western Conference, the Prince George Cougars ousted the Kamloops Blazers in four games. Forward Devin Setoguchi (SJ) scored three game winners, including the series clincher in overtime of Game 4. Defenseman Ty Wishart (SJ) recently signed a contract with the Sharks. Forwards Chris Durand (COL), Eric Hunter (NYR), Evan Fuller (VAN) and Nick Drazenovic (STL), along with defenseman Vlad Mihalik (TB) are all looking to wind up their junior careers with a deep playoff run. Forward Dana Tyrell (2007) has had an outstanding season and continues to improve his stock for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. Defenseman Jesse Dudas (CBJ) is done for the season with a thigh injury.
The Vancouver Giants are guaranteed a spot in the Memorial Cup as hosts. However, the last thing the club wants is a four-week holiday before the tournament starts in late May. The Giants beat the expansion Chilliwack Bruins in five games to advance to the second round. Goaltender Tyson Sexsmith (2007) was shaky in the first two games, but rebounded to stone the Bruins in the final three games. John Blum (2007) has been very good on the Giants backend this year while Spencer Machacek (2007) has developed nicely during the second half of the season.
Defensemen Cody Franson (NAS) and Brendan Mikkelson (ANA), who have both signed with their pro teams, have been solid on the backend all season. J.D. Watt (CGY), Milan Lucic (BOS), Kenndal McArdle (FLA), Mario Bliznak (VAN) and Wacey Rabbitt (BOS) give Vancouver plenty of offensive punch.
The No. 1 ranked Everett Silvertips knocked off the pesky Spokane Chiefs in six games to move onto the second round where they will face the Cougars. Peter Mueller (PHX) was rested late in the season and will be relied upon to provide consistent offensive production. Irving will carry the load between the pipes, while forward Ondrej Fiala (MIN) should provide secondary scoring. A productive playoff run for WHL scoring champion Zach Hamill (2007) should guarantee at least trip to the podium at the NHL Entry Draft during the first couple of rounds. Defensemen Taylor Ellington (2007) and Graham Potuer (2007) can also improve their chances while veteran Dane Crowley (TB) is another ‘Tips blueliner with professional aspirations.
The Seattle Thunderbirds eliminated the Tri City Americans in six games as well. Forward Aaron Gagnon, who was drafted by Phoenix in 2004 and subsequently went unsigned, is now property of the Dallas Stars after signing a contract during the second half of the WHL regular season. Bud Holloway (LA) will look to improve on a mediocre regular season, while the backend is anchored by veterans Scott Jackson (STL) and Bretton Stamler (DET). Thomas Hickey (2007) is among the WHL’s top defenseman and is likely to be chosen in the first three rounds at the Entry Draft.
World U-18 Championship
From the group eliminated from postseason play, there will be a definite WHL flavor on Team Canada’s roster when the team travels to Finland to defend its 2006 gold medal at the U-18 World Championship. Those selected to attend the pre-tournament camp are Kelowna Rocket Luke Schenn (2008), Kootenay’s John Negrin (2007), Lethbridge Hurricanes’ Zach Boychuk (2008), Swift Current’s Eric Doyle (2007) and Red Deer’s Brandon Sutter (2007). A pair of Saskatoon Blades have been chosen: Colton Gillies (2007) and Braden Holtby (2008).
Among the prospects eliminated in the first round are:
Levi Nelson, F (BOS) Swift Current
Ray Macias, D (COL) Kamloops
Juuso Puustinen, F (CGY) Kamloops
Matt Kassian, F (MIN) Kamloops
Oscar Moller, F (2007) Chilliwack Bruins
Adam Hobson, F (CHI) Spokane
Michael Grabner, F (VAN) Spokane
Drayson Bowman, F (2007) Spokane
Carey Price, G (MTL) Tri-City
Mike Gauthier, D (STL) Prince Albert
Ryan Russell, F (NYR) Kootenay
Ben Maxwell, F (MTL) Kootenay
Taylor Dakers, G (SJ) Kootenay
Martin Hanzal, F (PHX) Red Deer
James Reimer, G (TOR) Red Deer
Kirill Starkov, F (CBJ) Red Deer
Second round matchups:
Calgary vs Brandon
Regina vs Medicine Hat
Prince George vs Everett
Seattle vs Vancouver
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