Back again for a quick look at how the Campbell Conference breaks down this season. It will likely be a very tight race between the 2nd and 6th seeds with several teams having the talent to turn an upset or two. It's sure to be an exciting season!
Edmonton Dropkicks – A new GM could help motivate this squad to be a better playoff team; something that has plagued this squad for years. Sophomore Nicklas Backstrom will likely get more ice time as will winger Wojtek Wolski. Evgeni Nabokov may be on his last leg and last chance to win a Cup with the Kicks this season before heading to the KHL. The Kicks are likely a playoff team but they’re probably not a Cup contender this season.
Player(s) to watch: Kristian Huselius & Mike Comrie – Can Huselius repeat his awesome performance from last season? Huselius’s surprise performance excited many fans of Edmonton last season and they’re hoping he can continue to put up those kind of numbers. He’ll start the season behind Alex Semin on the second line which could hurt his stats a bit but if he can continue to provide that kind of secondary scoring it’ll be a good season for the Kicks. Mike Comrie will have to step it up from the 18 goals and 20 assists he provided last season. He’s the team’s second line center behind Backstrom so he’ll need to be more consistent this year.
Last Season: 49-28-7
Last Season’s Top Scorer: Kristian Huselius – 53 goals, 33 assists in 84 games
Predicted Finish This Season: 6th in Campbell
Saskatchewan Dugouts – They have some guys that can play, but they’re probably not among the league’s elite. Dwayne Roloson and Marty Turco will split time in goal while Anze Kopitar and Miroslav Satan assume scoring duties. The Dugouts have some question marks but could surprise some teams heading into this season if Kopitar can continue to produce.
Player(s) to watch: Miroslav Satan & Anze Kopitar – The Dugouts’ success will depend on the chemistry built by these two offensive studs coming into the season. Satan is getting older which led to his departure from Las Vegas. If he can keep up with Kopitar the Dugouts could have a very good top line.
Last Season: 40-36-8
Last Season’s Top Scorer: Anze Kopitar – 37 goals, 41 assists in 84 games played
Predicted Finish This Season: 7th in Campbell
Saskatoon Fighting Irish – There is a lot of talent on the Fighting Irish’s roster…just not on the pro roster. The Fighting Irish could very well be the team of the future in the WHL with the likes of Patric Hornqvist, Magnus P.Svensson, Jordan Eberle, Keith Yandle and others in the system. They’ll be a good team someday very soon but this year look for the Irish to continue to make moves to help them with their rebuild.
Player(s) to watch: Patric Hornqvist & Keith Yandle – Fighting Irish fans have been excited to see these two skate in the blue and gold for quite a while now and they’ll get their chance this season. Both players have a shot at the Calder Trophy this season and both will likely get good minutes for the Irish. They represent the future and to some extent the present of Fighting Irish hockey.
Last Season: 32-46-6
Last Season’s Top Scorer: Zbynek Michalek – 11 goals, 37 assists in 84 games played
Predicted Finish This Season: 11th in Campbell
Grand Forks Gorillas – The Gorillas will be a playoff team this season and will be very competitive. Their only weakness is on defense where the team will depend on Brent Burns, Adam Foote, Dennis Seidenberg and Kris Letang. Behind those four there isn’t much else and Burns is the only bona-fide top-four dman out of that mix. The Gorillas have two excellent goaltenders and some offensive punch from Phil Kessel, Jordan Staal, and Brandon Dubinsky. Matt Duchene and James Neal should benefit from some extra playing time this season.
Player(s) to watch: Brent Burns & Roberto Luongo – Burns struggled at times last season in Minnesota and for that reason was shipped to Grand Forks. Fans in Grand Forks love their hockey and they’ll love Burns if he can rebound into the form that won him the Norris Trophy just two seasons ago. Luongo’s name was on the trade block all offseason. It’ll be interesting to see how he responds to the trade rumors and if he can carry this club deep in the playoffs.
Last Season: 17-57-10
Last Season’s Top Scorer: Jordan Staal – 37 goals, 34 assists in 84 games played
Predicted Finish This Season: 5th in Campbell
Anchorage Orcas – Just call the new GM of this squad a lucky bastard. He inherits one of the WHL’s best young squads especially on defense and in goal where this team drafted really well. There’s a need for help up front but Tyler Ennis and Alex Burmistrov could be viable options in the next couple of years. The Orcas surprised last year by getting into the playoffs. This year may be a little tougher.
Player(s) to watch: Erik Johnson & Steve Mason – Johnson continues to improve. As he matures and gets stronger, he’ll likely become one of the league’s best defenders. Mason played well sharing goaltender duties with Carey Price last season in his rookie campaign. This year Mason could get a bigger share of the load.
Last Season: 34-42-8
Last Season’s Top Scorer: Scott Gomez – 38 goals, 44 assists in 84 games played
Predicted Finish This Season: 9th in Campbell
Winnipeg Warriors – It’s a good thing the Warriors still have their 1st round pick for next season. They’re going to need it. With very little to work with this year, it’s a sure bet the Warriors will be in the mix for a Lottery draft pick next season. The good news – the Warriors drafted Jack Campbell and has Jiri Hudler in the system.
Player(s) to watch: Tim Gleason & Mike Smith – How long until Gleason is dealt to help the rebuild in Winnipeg? He’s one of the guys who can make an impact on a club right now as a shutdown defender. With good size and average puck handling ability he’s arguably the best player on this club. Smith is a decent goaltender who will see a lot of rubber. He’ll have to be on his game to squeak out some wins.
Last Season: 15-64-5
Last Season’s Top Scorer: Jozef Stumpel – 22 goals, 42 assists in 84 games played
Predicted Finish This Season: 12th in Campbell
Las Vegas Bulls – The Bulls still have one of the best rosters in the league and with some crafty deals in the offseason they now have some good farm depth. Although they don’t have as much depth as they did last season, the Bulls still have arguably the best three lines in the WHL which should allow them the opportunity to defend their Cup.
Player(s) to watch: Ilya Kovalchuk, Dany Heatley & Zach Parise – There isn’t one player on the Bulls’ top 3 lines (forwards) who couldn’t play on any WHL team’s top line. The Bulls have some of the top scorers in the league and this trio tops the bunch. Heatley was acquired in the offseason and will only add to the Bulls’ chances of repeating as Cyber Cup champions.
Last Season: 69-9-6
Last Season’s Top Scorer: Ilya Kovalchuk – 54 goals, 85 assists in 84 games played
Predicted Finish This Season: 1st in Campbell
Kelowna Cats – The Cats were a surprise last season and now have one of the better rosters in the league. Rookie Tyler Myers is slotted into the 3rd spot on defense while rookie Antti Niemi will start in goal. With good depth across this roster, the Cats still are looking for another solid defenseman. If they land one, the Cats could find themselves in a very nice position to take a shot at this year’s Cup. This team will face a lot of competition and starting their season in the CzechRepublic could lead to some serious jet leg to start the season. They could be as high as 2nd in the Conference or as low as 5th. Our prediction – a very close 4th behind Portland.
Player(s) to watch: Steven Stamkos, Tyler Myers & Chris Kunitz – Myers steps in as a rookie as the 3rd defenseman on the depth chart. He’s a legitimate Calder Trophy threat. Stamkos will assume added responsibilities and more ice time than last season. He could be on his way to becoming an elite scorer in the WHL this season. Kunitz’s performance surprised everyone last season when he scored 59 goals and 57 assists. Can he continue those numbers or was last season a fluke?
Last Season: 51-25-8
Last Season’s Top Scorer: Chris Kunitz – 59 goals, 57 assists in 81 games played
Predicted Finish This Season: 4th in Campbell
Rocky Mountain Express – The Express were a surprise last season not because of how well they played but because of how poorly they played. They had one of the better rosters in the league and didn’t manage to make the playoffs. With an aging roster and plenty of depth, the Express are again one of the favorites going into the season. This could be their last chance for a while so guys must step up in order for them to be among the league’s elite again.
Player(s) to watch: Rick DiPietro, Mike Modano & Brendan Shanahan – DiPietro must stay healthy and regain the form that had many talking about him becoming one of the league’s best a few years ago. If he flounders, Cristobal Huet could step in but his inconsistencies leave you guessing. Shanahan has said this will be his last season. He can still produce numbers, and while he’s done after this year, Modano isn’t too far behind. They represent the old guard of the WHL and must step up for the Express to have a chance.
Last Season: 32-47-5
Last Season’s Top Scorer: Brendan Shanahan – 40 goals, 43 assists in 84 games played
Predicted Finish This Season: 2nd in Campbell
Los Angeles Patriots – If there were ever a team in need of a rebuild it is the Patriots. The former management sold out for one last chance at the Cup. Their moves resulted in a first round exit and a bunch of old farts. There isn’t much youth on this club and they don’t have any picks coming up either. This team needs to make smart decisions from the get-go in how they move their players. The current squad has some solid players but this situation is in dire need of some youthful legs.
Player(s) to watch: Martin Brodeur & Daniel Alfredsson – Two of the best players on the squad, both are solid trade chips for this new GM. Brodeur had trouble last year in the playoffs but he’s proven that he’s one of the best to ever play the game and has enough gas left in the tank to carry another contending team. Alfredsson was the team’s leader in scoring last year. A long time Saint, Alfredsson could benefit from a change of scenery and some new teammates.
Last Season: 58-17-9
Last Season’s Top Scorer: Daniel Alfredsson – 52 goals, 52 assists in 84 games played
Predicted Finish This Season: 8th in Campbell
Portland Timberjacks – The Timberjacks have some good depth and are always considered one of the league’s top contenders. Ryan Getzlaf will be counted on to lead this team again this season and the hope is that Alex Ovechkin can rebound after a rough season last year. Andy McDonald and Maxim Afinogenov should provide some good secondary scoring. The TJacks will be in a tough race for 2-4 in this year’s Campbell Conference.
Player(s) to watch: Alex Ovechkin & Henrik Lundqvist – Ovechkin needs to rebound from his 26 goals and 27 assists in 59 games last season. He has the talent to be the best in the league; he just needs to play with more consistency. Lundqvist is among the league’s best goaltenders. He can steal games on his own.
Last Season: 43-32-9
Last Season’s Top Scorer: Ryan Getzlaf – 36 goals, 52 assists in 84 games played
Predicted Finish This Season: 3rd in Campbell
Vancouver Voodoo – The Voodoo gambled by moving Patrick Kane, two first round picks and a 2nd round pick for the 1st overall selection (Taylor Hall) and a late 1st round pick this offseason. Hall has the makings of a number one scoring centerman but the cost was high. The Voodoo should be excited about their first line in Brad Richards, Rick Nash and Thomas Vanek – one of the best top lines in the league. Kyle Okposo will continue to make strides as will Marc-Andre Fleury.
Player(s) to watch: Thomas Vanek & Marc-Andre Fleury – Vanek had a tough season last year. With only 33 goals and 15 assists (not to mention he was a -39), Vanek disappointed a lot of people in Vancouver. He’ll need to bounce back this year and play more responsibly in his own end for the Voodoo to make strides. Fleury hasn’t had to play much in the WHL to date. He’s played behind Martin Brodeur for the majority of his young career but when Brodeur was traded last season Fleury had to step up. He didn’t have much success with a 6.95 gaa and .857 sv%. He’ll need to limit his mistakes in order for the Voodoo to make some noise in the WHL this season.
Last Season: 32-44-8
Last Season’s Top Scorer: Dany Heatley – 30 goals, 51 assists in 84 games played
Predicted Finish This Season: 10th in Campbell
Campbell Conference Regular Season Predicted Standings:
1. Las Vegas Bulls
2. Rocky Mountain Express
3. Portland Timberjacks
4. Kelowna Cats
5. Grand Forks Gorillas
6. Edmonton Dropkicks
7. Saskatchewan Dugouts
8. LA Patriots
9. Anchorage Orcas
10. Vancouver Voodoo
11. Saskatoon Fighting Irish
12. Winnipeg Warriors