I know we've been pumping out the reposts of last year's favoutes, but I thought it would be good for you to get something fresh to read ahead of the season. It's still hard to believe summer's almost over and we're getting primed up for some WHL hockey again. But here we are...
This time of year, everyone likes to be prognosticators and make bold predictions about how their team will fare. It's always hard to tell how things will shape up though, given it's not until mid-October that you start to see rosters take shape, with players getting over the summer break, plus some coming back from pro camps. That always leads to some burning questions. For the Lethbridge Hurricanes, I have three that will need to be answered over the coming weeks:
#1. Who fills the leadership role left behind by Tyler Wong?
This is more than just who will fill the captaincy role now that Wong has graduated. He was loved in Lethbridge for the things he brought to the table away from the rink, like community appearances and fundraisers. The captain needs to be a leader, someone who can guide the troops and say the right things in all of the different situations, both on-ice and off, that can galvanize the squad. So who becomes THE guy this year?
Sometimes, teams will go to a veteran 20-year-old in hopes of having them take on some extra responsibility. But that can sometimes backfire if that player just doesn't have leadership qualities. Sometimes, teams will go with a younger player who already has those qualities but that too can backfire if the older players don't buy in. GM Peter Anholt did tell Canes This Week last season that Jordy Bellerive "will be captain one day". Will that day happen this season? Or will they go with an older player like Giorgio Estephan in hopes of elevating his play. A big decision looms on that front.
#2. Where will the offense come from?A couple of @WHLHurricanes players taking part in #mnwild camp: @Gestephan_9 & @brennanmenell. #CaneTrain #yql #WHL https://t.co/jL6sU6C7CQ— Canes This Week (@CanesThisWeek) September 6, 2017
When you take Wong, Zak Zborosky and Matt Alfaro out of the lineup, you take away three of the team's top five scorers (I do understand Zborosky and Alfaro were added late, so I'm counting full season stats here). That leaves Estephan and Menell, who will likely be big parts of the powerplay (which was ranked 6th in the WHL last season). You have to believe that Calen Addison will add to his totals, as will Bellerive. But can youngsters like Jadon Joseph, Zane Franklin and Dylan Cozens make up for some of the offense that will be lost this season?
Speaking of the powerplay, it was operating at around a 24-percent clip during both the regular season and the playoffs. That'll need to continue if the Hurricanes want a shot at getting back to the final four. Wong was a major part of that (36 PP points in the regular season). That production needs to come from somewhere. Could Ryan Bowen or Alec Baer get more of that opportunity? That'll be up to Brent Kisio and the coaching staff to decide.
#3. What did the Hurricanes learn from the Eastern Conference's best?
Sometimes, it takes getting beat by the best to see where you have to be to get to the next level. The Hurricanes had to go the distance against both Red Deer and Medicine Hat before losing to the Regina Pats in six. They were the underdogs in that series and while it might have been a bitter pill to swallow, but it also could have proved to be a learning moment for a team that has only been in the playoffs for two consecutive seasons.
With some of their key centrepieces like Bellerive, Calen Addison and Stuart Skinner getting a tad older, the next couple of years might be a window where the Hurricanes could and probably should challenge for a conference or even WHL championship. This is how teams build for that, is small steps taken over a three- or four-year period. This year will be a big one in terms of watching the development and it might start with what they noticed in that series with the Pats.
Many other questions will likely pop up in the days ahead as the team gets its final roster put together. I'm sure you'll hear plenty of them coming up on the first episode of Canes This Week, coming up on Wednesday, September 13th.