1 - DON’T BLINK: If you do, you’ll open your eyes to find the standings have shuffled like a deck of cards.
When we woke up on Tuesday morning the Brandon Wheat Kings miraculously found themselves occupying the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and it was the Red Deer Rebels who were on the outside looking in. The Rebels had dropped their last five games to that point and 11 of their last 12 to quickly fall out of the playoffs.
As I went to bed Wednesday night, the Rebels, fresh off back-to-back wins in Moose Jaw and Regina, find themselves back in a playoff spot and Brandon on the outside, two points behind. My how things can change in just 48 hours.
2 - CHIEFS CLINCH: A 7-1 win over the Prince George Cougars on Wednesday night was enough to make the Spokane Chiefs the sixth team to clinch a spot in the WHL playoffs. They have been lead by 19-year-old LA Kings second-round draft pick Jaret Anderson-Dolan who had five points in the win (2g, 3a).
Who will be next to get in? Tri-City had a chance on Wednesday night...
3 - DACH VS COZENS: I was on the radio in Saskatoon on Tuesday night for one of the bigger games of the week between the Saskatoon Blades and the Lethbridge Hurricanes. It was a salivating match-up between two of the highest rated NHL draft prospects in the Blades’ Kirby Dach and the Hurricanes’ Dylan Cozens. The place was jammed with NHL scoutes and team representatives.
Dach had the upper hand on that night (1g, 4a) and was named the game’s first star. Cozens finished with one assist and two shots on goal in a 6-4 Saskatoon win.
4 - SPEAKING OF THE DRAFT: I’ve had the chance to watch the ‘big three” Western Hockey League forward prospects lately in Dach, Cozens and Kootenay Ice forward Peyton Krebs. NHL Central Scouting has the prospects ranked this way in their midterm rankings among North American skaters:
My assessment of the three looks something like this: Kirby Dach has the biggest upside. His raw talent and ability to make players around him better is what sets him apart. Krebs also is someone who drives the play and creates opportunities for himself. He is the smallest of the three and might have the most difficult time transitioning to the next level. Cozens is probably the most NHL-ready of the three. His physical abilities set him apart and he wouldn’t look out of place at the pro level now. I don’t know if his ceiling is as high as the other two though.
5 - DON’T FORGET ABOUT BYRAM: Folks out on the coast will be screaming ‘But what about Bowan Byram??’ The young Vancouver Giants’ defenceman is listed #4 among North American skaters behind Dach and Cozens in the midterm rankings. Byram is 4th among ALL WHL defenceman with 59 points and leads all players his age.
While discussing the draft with a scout on Tuesday night it was suggested that Byram might be the best of the bunch when it comes to WHL prospects. The playoffs will determine a lot. Krebs will be the one player who won’t be there.
6 - WHERE DID YOU COME FROM?: That’s the question being asked of WHL rookie scoring leader Brayden Tracey of the Moose Jaw Warriors. The Warriors’ first-round pick in 2016 has 31 goals and 73 points in just 59 games to lead the rookie scoring race by 23 points! Last season he was lighting up the Alberta Midget AAA Hockey League with the Calgary Northstars scoring 52 points in 30 games.
With 11 points (6g, 5a) in four games last week, Tracey was named CHL player-of-the-week. His great year has him ranked 73rd among North American skaters ahead of the NHL entry draft.
7 - #MYWHL: Last week we had great discussion when we asked what WHL player past or present you would want to play with the most. This week’s question asks what is your favourite rink of all time? INTERESTING!
I haven’t been covering the league long enough to have seen many of the great buildings and I never had the chance to watch a game at the old Crushed Can in Moose Jaw. I love the atmosphere that has been created in the playoffs over the last couple of seasons in Regina and Lethbridge and have fond memories of each building and the scene in Swift Current last spring was something I’ll never forget!
8 - BRONZE FOR ALBERTA: It was a one-sided affair at the Canada Games and in the end, Alberta was wearing bronze. Matthew Savoie, who is eligible for the WHL draft this spring, led the way with a hat trick and five points as Alberta beat Saskatchewan 12-0.
9 - EXCEPTIONAL STATUS: Speaking of Savoie, there is belief across the WHL that he could become the first player to ever be granted ‘exceptional status’ in the league. If his family applies for the exception, and it is approved, Matthew would be granted status to enter the league full-time as a 15-year old. We have heard this happening with players like John Tavares and Connor McDavid in Ontario, but never in the Western Hockey League.
Savoie has been compared to Nathan MacKinnon and Sidney Crosby.
10 - DRAFT LOTTERY: The other interesting race late in the season is at the bottom of the standings. The three teams who finish at the bottom of the standings will have the opportunity to win the WHL draft lottery and select first overall. The team who finishes fourth-last can win the lottery, but only move up as high as the number two selection.
As of Thursday morning, the Regina Pats currently sit in 20th place out of 22 teams and in a lottery spot. The problem is the Regina Pats first-round pick this spring is owned by the Saskatoon Blades. Regina is just three points back of the Prince George Cougars for 19th and have one game in hand.
Folks in Regina won’t want to see their inter-provincial rivals have a crack at Savoie, so the race for 19th is a big one to watch over the final seven games!
There’s always something to play for!
(Follow Darren on Twitter at @darrendupont)