As we near the start of a new WHL season, many clubs are optimistic thinking “this is the year”. Today we take a team-to-team look at the Wales Conference and see how the conference breaks down. Check back tomorrow as we break down the teams in the Campbell Conference.
Ottawa Capitols – The Capitols are in rebuilding mode and are a good bet to land one of the top 3 picks in next year’s draft. The Caps have a good young goalie in Josh Harding and just drafted playmaking center Tyler Bozak in the first round of this year’s draft so there are some pieces in place. Scottie Upshall could be a nice trade chip or provide some much needed offense for Ottawa this season.
Player(s) to watch: Tyler Bozak – Arguably the most exciting player on the Capitols’ roster, Bozak will step in right away for this club and make an impact. The Caps hope he can build some good chemistry right away with winger Scottie Upshall to give this club a much needed boost.
Last Season: 15-63-6
Last Season’s Top Scorer: Jarret Stoll – 23 goals, 40 assists in 84 games played
Predicted Finish This Season: 12th in Wales
Halifax Citadelles – With two of the best centers in the game and some good depth across the lineup the Citadelles are an easy pick for a playoff berth. The question remains whether the Citadelles can go deep into the playoffs.
Player(s) to watch: Kari Lehtonen & Shea Weber – Much of the success of this Citadelles club rests on the health of Lehtonen. If he goes down so does the team. If he can stay healthy, this will be a tough group to beat. With the departure of Dion Phaneuf, Shea Weber will be the go-to guy on the point for the Citadelles. He will be counted on to teach youngsters Michael DelZotto and Ryan Wilson how things are done in the WHL.
Last Season: 42-32-10
Last Season’s Top Scorer: Travis Zajac – 43 goals, 50 assists in 84 games played
Predicted Finish This Season: 5th in Wales
Quebec City Corinthians – The Corinths got a lot younger last season and still have a very good roster led by Paul Stastny, Danny Briere and Ilja Bryzgalov. John Tavares may get a chance at a roster spot this season and could produce
some solid numbers if given the minutes. David Backes could also break out with added responsibilities this season. This team is a playoff team, but probably not as strong of a contender as in year’s past.
Player(s) to watch: Ilja Bryzagalov & Bryan Little – Bryzgalov had a rough season last year for the Corinths but the hope is he can bounce back and lead this team back to the dominant squad they once were. Bryan Little didn’t get much of a chance with the Saints last year so a new team and new teammates could help his numbers this season for the Corinths.
Last Season: 54-30-0
Last Season’s Top Scorer: Andrei Markov – 31 goals, 66 assists in 84 games played
Predicted Finish This Season: 4th in Wales
New York Demons – This very well could be the Demons’ year. They have solid depth at every position with the exception of goal, which is their only weakness. The Demons will have to hope their towering defense lead by Zdeno Chara will be able to hold off opponents enough to win the Cup.
Player(s) to watch: Rene Bourque & Niklas Backstrom – Bourque will get top-six minutes this season on a very good squad. His numbers should escalate by being around better talent. Niklas Backstrom is a good goalie but by no means is he elite and if he goes down Legace is the next best option and the Demons’ Cup hopes (at least for this season) could be squashed.
Last Season: 55-17-12
Last Season’s Top Scorer: Joe Thornton – 42 goals, 63 assists in 84 games played
Predicted Finish This Season: 1st in Wales
Boston SnowDogs – This team continues to get better on paper and they’ll only continue that trend if they continue to make smart moves. The Snowdogs have a lot of young talent from the likes of Tyler Seguin, Mikael Backlund, Nikita Filatov, Mikael Boedker and others so the future looks quite bright. The present will see an improved team but likely a year or two away from being a playoff contender – unless Jokinen, Phaneuf and Anderson play way above their heads.
Player(s) to watch: Dion Phaneuf & Craig Anderson – There’s a lot to be excited about for this squad. No doubt the Snowdogs will improve on the 12 wins they had last season. This team has a lot of potential and it starts with defenseman Dion Phaneuf. An acquisition in the offseason Phaneuf adds a lot to this young club. Phaneuf will log a ton of minutes and could be one of the team’s top scorers this season. Craig Anderson backstops this young club and will likely be an upgrade over Cam Ward.
Last Season: 12-68-4
Last Season’s Top Scorer: Joffrey Lupul – 35 goals, 37 assists in 84 games played
Predicted Finish This Season: 10th in Wales
Chicoutimi Sparrows – The acquisition of JS Giguere was a huge move for this season’s Sparrows. The team didn’t have much hope without him, but now have a much better chance at the playoffs. Giggy, Mike Ribeiro, P-M Bouchard, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Marc-Andre Bergeron will be counted on for much of the Sparrows’ success this season.
Player(s) to watch: JG Giguere & Marc-Andre Bergeron – Without Giggy, the Sparrows likely aren’t a playoff team this season. With him, they have a very good chance at turning some heads. Bergeron adds a lot of offense from the point. He will get top-line minutes alongside Marc-Edouard Vlasic and could be one of the team’s top scorers.
Last Season: 47-27-10
Last Season’s Top Scorer: Rob Niedermayer – 41 goals, 56 assists in 84 games played
Predicted Finish This Season: 6th in Wales
Detroit Cougars – The Cougars, much like the Demons, have solid depth and a good chance to make a run this season. Jonas Hiller could get a chance at number one duties this season in goal while Marian Gaborik, the Sedin bros, Jonathan Toews and Paul Kariya provide the bulk of the scoring. They could be the dark horse for this season.
Player(s) to watch: Marian Gaborik & Doug Weight – Gaborik played in all 84 games last season for the Cougars and as a result scored 39 goals and 42 assists. IF he can stay healthy, Gaborik will continue to be one of the best offensive players in the game. If he doesn’t, the Cougars may have to re-evaluate his status with the squad. The Cougars opted to keep weight over Mikael Backlund before this year’s waiver draft and they’re hope is that it pays off with a trip to the Cup. Weight is nearing the end of his career but still can contribute offensively.
Last Season: 46-30-8
Last Season’s Top Scorer: Paul Kariya – 49 goals, 48 assists in 84 games played
Predicted Finish This Season: 3rd in Wales
Niagara Falls IceDogs – A monster deal at the draft landed the Icedogs a lot of good talent to help them rebuild but also stay competitive right now. The Icedogs are without a GM but the GM that lands this squad will have plenty of options when they take the helm. Pavel Datsyuk, Patrick Marleau, Alexei Kovalev and Jarome Iginla will provide the majority of the scoring while Pekka Rinne backstops the squad. The Icedogs are a top contender from the Wales Conference this season.
Player(s) to watch: Patrick Marleau, Patrick Kane & Jarome Iginla – A full season of this great offensive trio will be a treat for Icedog fans to watch. In what could only be described as crazy, lopsided deals, the rich definitely got richer when the Icedogs acquired each of these three players. With a rookie in goal, this team may rely on high scoring, offensive contests.
Last Season: 60-20-4
Last Season’s Top Scorer: Pavel Datsyuk – 65 goals, 97 assists in 84 games played
Predicted Finish This Season: 2nd in Wales
Waterloo Lunatics – The Lunytics will be a much improved team over last season’s squad with Martin St. Louis, Mike Cammalleri and Olli Jokinen in the fold. Questions on defense and in goal may be the only thing holding this squad back this season. The Lunatics have a strong chance at the playoffs this season if Tuuka Rask plays well in his rookie season.
Player(s) to watch: Olli Jokinen & Nik Antropov – The top two centers in Waterloo will benefit from having two diminutive scorers in St. Louis and Cammalleri. Both players could be on their way to career numbers this season if St. Louis and Cammalleri can stay healthy.
Last Season: 11-65-8
Last Season’s Top Scorer: Eric Belanger – 28 goals, 30 assists 79 games played
Predicted Finish This Season: 7th in Wales
Minnesota Rink Rats – A lot of new faces will be coming into Minnesota this year. Much of this team’s success will rely on the play of Ryan Miller. The Rink Rats also will be counting on David Krejci, Derek Roy and Dustin Penner to do the bulk of the scoring if Penner isn’t moved before the season’s start. The Rink Rats are likely on the outside looking in this season but could surprise some people.
Player(s) to watch: David Krejci & Derek Roy – The offense will begin and end with Krejci and Roy. Krejci won the Calder Trophy last season and proved to be one of the better puckhandlers in the game. He’s patient with the puck and has great vision but his numbers may drop with the departure of Mike Cammalleri. Roy had a rough season last year after guiding the Rink Rats to a Cyber Cup appearance the year before. He’ll need to bounce back and provide top-line numbers in order for the Rink Rats to crawl into the playoffs.
Last Season: 33-42-9
Last Season’s Top Scorer: Mike Cammalleri – 43 goals, 39 assists in 84 games played
Predicted Finish This Season: 9th in Wales
Toronto Stallions – Can the Stallions’ old legs compete for 84+ games this season? The core of this team is pretty old and that alone brings some question marks, but guys like Sidney Crosby and Bobby Ryan should have the legs to log plenty of minutes to help the old guys out. Miika Kiprusoff is among the league’s elite goaltenders while Brent Seabrook and Dennis Wideman will command the defense. The Stallions will make the playoffs but likely be an early round exit.
Player(s) to watch: Sidney Crosby & Bobby Ryan – These two could be on the Stallions’ top line for many years to come or the Stallions could use them as awesome trade chips to get younger and bring in added depth. The last scenario is highly unlikely, but Crosby and Ryan will be counted on to continue to be top scorers for this aging team. Ryan could have a breakout year and move into elite status for the league’s scorers.
Last Season: 56-24-4
Last Season’s Top Scorer: Shane Doan – 51 goals, 40 assists in 84 games played / Sidney Crosby 41 goals, 50 assists in 84 games played
Predicted Finish This Season: 8th in Wales
Nashville Stampede – There’s a lot to be optimistic about in Nashville … Just not this season. The future is bright for Nashville with players like Kyle Turris, Nikolai Kulemin and Brian Elliott in the system. The present looks to be a bit of a struggle. The team will rely on Marek Svatos, Lee Stempniak, Ryan Suter and Mark Giordano for success. Without a lot of depth and a proven goaltender the Stampede are good candidates for a Lottery pick next season (which has to please the Gorillas) and should continue to try to build from within.
Player(s) to watch: Marek Svatos & Brian Elliott – Svatos complained about ice time in Las Vegas and now he’ll be the star. He’ll be one of the only proven scorers on this young, rebuilding squad. Elliott will finally get the chance to start in the WHL. He was in a logjam of goaltenders in Minnesota and now will be able to show what he can do as a WHL rookie. With not much help in front of him, Elliott could suffer from severe sunburns this season.
Last Season: 21-54-4
Last Season’s Top Scorer: Andrew Brunette – 44 goals, 26 assists in 80 games played
Predicted Finish This Season: 11th in Wales
Wales Conference Regular Season Standings Prediction:
9. Rink Rats