Minneapolis, MN - It was a long and miserable season for most Rink Rat fans - a season that saw a lot of change on the Minnesota roster. Minnesota, who came into this season with low expectations while rebuilding, failed to make the playoffs for the first time since GM Tyler LaDouceur took over one of the worst WHL franchises back in WHL12. Minnesota started off well going 5-3-2 in the team’s first 10 games, and 10-10-5 in the first 25. Minnesota had one of the top special teams in the league at that point and although the team wasn’t marked by injuries, the momentum from the early part of the season definitely didn’t carry over throughout the remainder.
Finishing 28-46-10 and 7 games out of the playoffs, the Rink Rats ended the season in 9th place in its conference. The team had what seemed like a revolving door of players all season long, moving the biggest name – Ryan Miller prior to the trade deadline. Miller’s absence left a pretty deep hole in net for the Rink Rats, especially when Jimmy Howard went down for a 10 game stretch. Rookies, Cory Schneider and Justin Peters took over in Howard’s absence giving Minnesota a glimpse into its future behind Schneider. Minnesota was not disappointed as Schneider impressed in his time as the team’s starter. Howard returned after injury and improved his play with the confidence knowing he’s the man in Minnesota. The Rink Rats have a lot of faith in Howard’s ability to take over for Miller heading into next season and know that he can become one of the league’s elite goaltenders.
The high notes of the season included David Krejci, fighting off the sophomore slump and leading the team in scoring with 31 goals and 39 assists – quickly becoming one of the league’s top playmakers. Drew Stafford’s record pace early in the season was another highlight, although he failed to continue his pace late in the season, but still managed to lead the team in goals with 36. Minnesota also saw some nice progression from its prospects playing in the minors – a good sign for seasons to come.
Prospects such as Kevin Shattenkirk, Cam Fowler, Mike Santorelli, Cory Schneider and Nathan Gerbe may all be in the WHL next season; not only will they be playing, but they will be making an impact. Fowler and Shattenkirk both look to be very exciting young defenseman. Both Gerbe and Santorelli have nice offensive skill and great speed which will help their cause in making next year’s lineup. Jamie McBain could be there too, but a logjam at defense could keep him in the minors for another year.
The offseason and next year will both be exciting for Minnesota fans as this team continues to rebuild into a more competitive squad. Look for some noticeable improvement from Leopold, Berglund, Stafford, Jones and others as this
On the verge of an interesting and crucial offseason, the Rink Rats will no doubt be working the phones leading up to the draft. With a lot of depth at defense and Fowler and Shattenkirk ready to step up next season, Minnesota will likely look to move someone on defense, namely Jordan Leopold, Kyle Cumiskey, Marc Staal, John-Michael Liles or Scott Hannan. Derek Roy, Viktor Stalberg, David Jones and Troy Brouwer could also be shopped as could the team’s goaltenders. A few changes could unfold this offseason for the Rink Rats as the Rats continue to try to improve.
Up next for the Rink Rats – scouting for the WHL Waiver Draft & the WHL Entry Draft and quite possibly some trades as rumors have swirled the Rats have already received a couple of intriguing offers. Check back next week for Minnesota’s offseason game plan report. For now, here are some player awards and notes:
Minnesota Rink Rats Team Awards
Team MVP: David Krejci
Top Defenseman: John-Michael Liles
Top Defensive Forward: David Krejci
Top Rookie: Kyle Cumiskey
Most Exciting Player: Drew Stafford
Top Offseason Acquisition: Scott Hannan
Top Acquisition In-Season: Drew Stafford / Patrik Berglund
Player(s) We Can’t Wait to See Next Year: Patrik Berglund, Cam Fowler, Kevin Shattenkirk