Pre-Camp Season Preview…

dsc_0945What a difference a year makes…

I remember sitting down last year to write the 2008-09 season preview for the Portland Winterhawks and there were so many more questions than answers…questions about ownership, coaching, returning players…questions that seemingly had no answers at that time.

Fast forward to now where there are no questions about ownership or coaching and the only questions have to do with the team and what players will make the 2009-10 edition of the Winterhawks.  A team that for the first time in three years appears, on paper, to have a real chance at making some noise in the U.S. Division and the Western Conference of the Western Hockey League.

It’s been a busy summer of signing players and adding talent, through listings and the CHL Import Draft.  General Manager and Head Coach Mike Johnston, as well as his Assistant Travis Green have been very active in transitioning this team towards what will hopefully be a run toward the WHL playoffs in late March of 2010 and for the first time in a long time, there appears to be a lot of competition for spots on the roster.  I’ve always said that competition is a good thing…and the training camp that starts with on-ice sessions on Sunday morning should confirm that thought.

Here is a synopsis of the players eligible to return for the 2009-10 season and some players that may be new additions to the team.

Forwards (G-A-Pts in parenthesis):

Eligible to return:

1989 (20 year olds) – Chris Francis (21-46-67); Stefan Schneider (11-5-16); Radim Valchar (21-20-41)

1990 (19 year olds) – Jason Grecica (0-0-0, injured all season); Tayler Jordan (2-5-7); Colin Reddin (13-20-33); Joel Ridgeway (4-9-13); Luke Walker (29-23-52)

1991 (18 year olds) – Riley Boychuk (7-10-17); Oliver Gabriel (6-5-11); Killian Hutt (13-22-35); Sawyer Mick (7-6-13)

1992 (17 year olds) – Taylor Peters (4-4-8); Brad Ross (9-17-26)

Potential New Faces:

1989 – Adam Basford (13-15-28 with the Vancouver Giants last season, acquired via waivers)

1990 – Spencer Bennett (20-21-41 with the Surrey Eagles of the BCHL last year, 5th round NHL Draft Pick of the Calgary Flames)

1991 – Jacob Berglund (16-12-28 with the Malmo U20, 2nd round CHL Import Draft from Sweden)

1992 – Teal Burns (2-5-7 as one of the youngest players in the BCHL with the Victoria Grizzlies last season); Ryan Johansen (5-12-17 with the Penticton Vees of the BCHL); Nino Niederreiter (20-14-34 with HC Davos, 1st round CHL Import Draft from Switzerland)

1993 (16 year olds) – Ty Rattie (29-25-54 with UFA Bisons last year, 1 goal in 10 games with the Hawks at the end of 2008-09); Seth Swenson (48-41-89 with the Colorado Thunderbirds in Midget AAA last season)

From looking at this list, it should be fairly obvious that there is going to be some competition for spots.   The Hawks only graduated one player from the forward unit (Max Brandl, who only appeared in 12 games as an overage after being acquired at the trade deadline) of 2008-09.

Right now, it would appear that Radim Valchar is in a tough spot, being a Euro and an overage player.  Both Neiderreiter and Berglund will be reporting to Portland and they have an advantage as being younger players.  Valchar is in Portland as well and to no one’s surprise, is in great shape and ready to battle for his spot.  He leads with his work ethic and attitude and it will be hard to replace that but it may just come down to a numbers game for Radim.

Bennett would appear to be a lock after signing with the Hawks and foregoing the NCAA route at Alaska-Anchorage.  He is a big body with good hands and should help provide some offense and maturity to the front lines.

Johansen was another player leaning toward the NCAA after playing his 16 year old season with Pentiction of the BCHL.  He is a tall, lanky player who is described as being crafty with good skill.  I saw Johansen as a 15 year old and was impressed then…we’ll see how he fits into the Hawks plans at training camp.

On the returning players, Chris Francis and Luke Walker return as the Hawks leading scorer and goal producer from last year and they will be counted on to do the same and it will be interesting to see who else from last year steps forward.

It will be fun to see young forwards Ty Rattie and Seth Swenson battle in camp (although Swenson may be a late arrival as he is taking part in the Five Nations Tournament for Team USA in Germany that ends on Saturday).

Defense:

Eligible to return:

1989 – Brock Cornish (2-6-8); Travis Ehrhardt (9-28-37)

1990 – Travis Bobbee (2-20-22)

1991 – Brett Ponich (1-17-18)

1992 – Daniel Johnston (1-0-1); Joe Morrow (0-7-7); Troy Rutkowski (6-9-15)

Potential New Additions:

1991 – Taylor Aronson (9-16-25 with the LA Jr. Kings Midget AAA team last season); David Watt (2-8-10 with the Brooks Bandits of the AJHL last season after starting the year with the Hawks)

1993 – Tyler Wotherspoon (11-13-24 with the Valley West Hawks of the BC Major Midget League last season, also appeared in four games for the Hawks)

With Travis Ehrhardt signing with the Detroit Red Wings organization and the injury concerns of Brock Cornish (as well as the trade of Ryan Kerr to Calgary), the Hawks could once again be without an overage presence on the blue line and with Travis Bobbee being the only 19 year old, the defense is shaping up to again be one of the youngest in the WHL.

The returning core of Bobbee, NHL draft pick Brett Ponich and the 1992 born players in Daniel Johnston, Joe Morrow and Troy Rutkowski are all a year older and should be ready to step forward in 2009-10.

Taylor Aronson should be a big addition as an 18 year old and David Watt could battle his way into a job as well.

Tyler Wotherspoon showed that he is ready for the WHL in his brief stint as a 15 year old last season and is a strong candidate to make the roster.

There seems to be less competition for spots on the blue line, but it will be interesting to see if any of the free agent camp invitees step forward and make a case to crack the roster.

Goaltenders:

Eligible to return:

1989 – Kurtis Mucha (13 wins, 3.74 GAA, .892 save percentage, 2 shutouts)

1990 – Ian Curtis (4 wins, 3.82 GAA, .897 save percentage)

1992 – Keith Hamilton (1 win, 4.81 GAA, .870 save percentage)

Potential New Additions:

1993 – Corbin Boes (17 wins, 2.89 GAA, .923 save percentage in the Saskatoon Midget AA league last season)

Others????

I think goaltending may be the most intriguing battle this year.  Mike Johnston has stated that he will only carry two goaltenders in 2009-10 and if Kurtis Mucha returns as an overage, there will be a battle for the second spot.

Ian Curtis had some spectacular games last year, but was inconsistent in others.  Keith Hamilton sat a lot of the year, but played pretty well late in the year when given the opportunity.

Boes is the only Hawk drafted goaltender left on the list, but there may be other goaltenders at the camp that step forward and try to earn a spot on the roster.

All in all, the Hawks are expecting approximately 100-125 players to compete at the team training camp starting with the rookie sessions for 1993 and 1994 born players on Sunday AM.

The veteran (or older) players hit the ice later in the day.

It’s been a long off-season…but it went by pretty quick…let’s drop the puck and let the battles begin.

See you at the rink…

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4 Comments

  1. Thanks for taking time to put this together, Andy.

    Training camp is open to the public, right? Can you post up details – I don’t see anything on the official ‘Hawks site.

    Thanks.

  2. There is a schedule on there…not sure which are scrimmages…should be more coming out in the next day or so…

    http://winterhawks.com/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=1172&Itemid=311

  3. Nice write-up Andy! I am concerned about the possibility of Valchar not making the team because of numbers… His on-ice effort, enthusiasm and attitude of always wanting to win and do his best, as well as his off-ice demeaner, are things that teams should want in all of their players…. IF he doesn’t make the PWH team, I know that other teams will be all-out to get him…he’s a gem of a player. I, for one, would be sad to see him go to another team….

  4. pwhfan–

    I agree with your sentiments about Valchar… I have mno doubt that he will will be on a WHL team this year, Portland or otherwise… there are several teams who are (at this point) carrying only one (or zero) European players, and under the limit for OA players as well. I would fully expect him to end up with one of those teams.

    Best of luck to Radim and the rest of the Hawks!


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