WHL Season Preview: Dach’s status with Chicago clouds Blades’ outlook

The Western Hockey League regular season is set to begin, and the excitement of a new year is building ahead of Friday’s opening night.

As always, questions exist about the possible return of some players from NHL camps, but there are plenty of other storylines to watch in every market. Here’s a look at some of those storylines:

Here’s a look at some of those storylines:

Brandon Wheat Kings: With the graduation of Stelio Mattheos, the Wheat Kings will look to Colorado prospect Luka Burzan to take his game to another level. The former Moose Jaw first rounder had 40 goals last season, a 25-goal improvement from the previous season. Ridly Greig, a 2020 NHL draft prospect, will look to add to a solid rookie season as well.

Calgary Hitmen: After three full seasons with the Moose Jaw Warriors, Vancouver Canucks prospect Jett Woo is coming off a career-year offensively and will look to build off that with his new club. Woo was acquired by the Hitmen in early May.

Edmonton Oil Kings: The 2018-19 season was a banner year for overage goaltender Dylan Myskiw with 28 wins and a 2.53 goals against average. With a veteran blue line in front of him that includes New York Rangers prospect Matthew Robertson, Myskiw stands to have an opportunity to make his final year a memorable one.

Everett Silvertips: The goaltending in Everett continues to be a focus. After serving as Carter Hart’s backup in 2017-18, Dustin Wolf took advantage of his opportunity to be a starter last year, winning 41 games. The Calgary Flames prospect had a 1.69 goals against average in 61 games last season.

Kamloops Blazers: New coach Shaun Clouston will look for three veteran forwards to take their game to another level this season in Zane Franklin, Connor Zary, and Orrin Centazzo. The Blazers, who finished the 2018-19 season strong and forced a tiebreaker game to get into the WHL playoffs, look poised to improve this season.

Kelowna Rockets: The 2020 Memorial Cup host is coming off a fourth-place finish in the B.C. Division last season before losing to Kamloops in the tiebreaker game. San Jose Sharks prospect Dillon Hamaluik only played 31 games last season but is expected to be a major part of an offensive resurgence in Kelowna.

Lethbridge Hurricanes: What the Buffalo Sabres decide to do with Dylan Cozens will be of major importance to the Hurricanes this season. Cozens, the seventh overall pick in the 2019 NHL draft, was a major piece of the Hurricanes offence last season (84 points in 68 games) and is likely to put up impactful numbers again if he’s returned by the Sabres.

Buffalo Sabres select Dylan Cozens during the first round NHL draft at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, Friday, June, 21, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Medicine Hat Tigers: Willie Desjardins takes the reigns with the Tigers in his return to the league as general manager and head coach. Overage forward James Hamblin is coming off a 2018-19 season that saw him post career-highs offensively in what has been an offensive progression throughout his time in Medicine Hat.

Moose Jaw Warriors: Anaheim Ducks prospect Brayden Tracey had 81 points last season, his first full season in the league, and will be a key piece on a team that lost four of its top five scorers from a year ago.

Portland Winterhawks: New York Islanders prospect Reece Newkirk will be looked to as a key piece to the Portland offence as the team looks to replace the production of Joachim Blichfeld and Cody Glass (Vegas Golden Knights). Veteran goaltender Joel Hofer, a St. Louis Blues selection, will also look to take a step in his first full season with the Winterhawks after joining the team via a trade with Swift Current.

Prince Albert Raiders: Overage defenceman Brayden Pachal will lead a veteran group of blue liners in Prince Albert. The team will need to sort out the overage situation, with four overage defenceman currently on the roster.

Prince George Cougars: The Cougars missed the playoffs last season and will look to take a step offensively this season. The team struggled to score at times last year. Chicago Blackhawks prospect Cole Moberg had 40 points on the blue line in 2018-19 and will be expected to help lead the offence this season.

Red Deer Rebels: Veteran defenceman Dawson Barteaux has been consistent offensively the past two seasons and will be expected to take on a leadership role on the Rebels’ blue line this season as a 19-year-old.

Regina Pats: The Pats look to be in a good position with overage players, as the team has Austin Pratt, Dawson Holt, and Robbie Holmes penciled in. Holmes was re-acquired by the Pats after he was traded to Everett last season, while Pratt is the Pats’ top scoring returning player (51 points in 68 games).

Saskatoon Blades: The status of Kirby Dach will make a difference in the potential success of the Blades this season. Selected third overall by the Chicago Blackhawks in June, Dach has the ability to drive the Blades’ offence if he’s not called to the NHL.

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Seattle Thunderbirds: A strong first impression with the Thunderbirds helped Roddy Ross get selected by the Philadelphia Flyers. The 19-year-old posted 16 wins and a 2.76 GAA in 25 games after joining the team.

Spokane Chiefs: Defencemen that can move the puck are always at a premium and New Jersey Devils prospect Ty Smith has shown that ability. The 19-year-old is getting a long look by the Devils at training camp and is a huge return for a Spokane team that relied on his skill on the blue line last season.

Swift Current Broncos: After a tough season last winter that saw a drastic drop-off from their Memorial Cup appearance in 2017-18, the Broncos stand to be a young lineup again this season. Ben King, Ethan Regnier, and Carter Chorney will be looked upon as key pieces up front for Swift Current this season.

Tri-City Americans: Colorado Avalanche prospect Sasha Mutala had 41 points for the Americans last season and will be expected to take on an increased offensive role this year.

Vancouver Giants: After being one goal short of winning the WHL title last season, the Giants enter this year with a handful of new faces. Among the returnees is Justin Sourdif, who had a solid rookie season with 46 points. Eligible for the 2020 NHL draft, Sourdif had a solid preseason and will be a key offensive contributor this year.

Victoria Royals: Kaid Oliver, a former third round pick, had 27 goals before having his season cut short due to injury. The team has high expectations for the 19-year-old, whose 49 points last year nearly doubled his total from 2017-18 — in fewer games. Overage goaltender Shane Farkas will look to fill the void left by the graduation of Griffin Outhouse.

Winnipeg ICE: Ahead of their first year in Winnipeg, the ICE have generated some buzz with the addition of 15-year-old Matthew Savoie. Peyton Krebs (a Vegas Golden Knights pick) is still rehabbing from surgery on his partially severed Achilles tendon in his left foot but his return to the ICE lineup will be a major boost.

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