The 2016 WHL Playoffs were finally set last night when the Edmonton Oil Kings defeated the Medicine Hat Tigers in a one game tie-breaker for the right to face the Brandon Wheat Kings. Last Word on Sports previewed the Western Conference games earlier in the week and now shifts its focus to the WHL’s Eastern Conference.
Brandon Wheat Kings vs. Edmonton Oil Kings
The Wheat Kings own the best record in the conference with an impressive 50-16-3-3 and have not lost in regulation in their last 13 games. Edmonton is 2-8 in their last ten games, limped into the playoffs with 65 points and were seven games under .500 for the season. Inexplicably, the Wheat Kings only won one of the four regular season matches against the Oil Kings.
The Wheat Kings offense features Jayce Hawryluk, the fourth-leading scorer in the WHL who posted 106 points on the season, including 101 penalty minutes. Hot on his heels is Nolan Patrick, the early front-runner for the top pick in the 2017 NHL draft. Patrick is already physically ready for the pro ranks and his 102 points this year is evidence of his offensive upside. The talent continues for the Wheat Kings on the blueline with top-prospect Ivan Provorov, who will likely be playing in the NHL next year. Edmonton will have great difficulty slowing down the explosive forwards and getting though a more than capable defense.
Last Word On the Series: Wheat Kings in five games.
Lethbridge Hurricanes vs. Regina Pats
The Lethbridge Hurricanes finished first in the Central Division with a record of 46-24-1-1 and received solid goaltending from Stuart Skinner all year, and a nifty goal as well. The Regina Pats finished fourth in the East Division with a 36-28-3-5 record. According to WHLstats.ca, the Pats finished 17th in the WHL in shots allowed, surrendering 34 shots on goal per contest.
In the series, two of the WHL’s top scorers will be facing off. Adam Brooks finished first in the WHL with 120 points to lead the Pats and Brayden Burke’s 27 goals, and 82 assists led the Hurricanes and finished third in the league. Lethbridge’s 304 goals this season were second in the WHL, whereas the Pats finished with a -10 goal differential. Both teams have star forwards, but the ‘Canes offensive depth, goaltending and a defensive corps that has an average height of 6’2 and over 200 pounds should carry the day.
Last Word On the Series: Hurricanes in six games.
Price Albert Raiders vs. Moose Jaw Warriors
The Price Albert Raiders finished with 84 points and a record of 38-36-7-1, good enough for second in the East Division. Moose Jaw finished right behind the Raiders in the third position, with a record of 36-27-7-2. Despite their similar records, the Warriors won six of the eight games played between the two clubs, including all four on their home ice.
Moose Jaw captain Brayden Point only played in 48 games this year but still was able to compile 35 goals and 53 assists. He had a solid performance at the World Juniors as the captain for Team Canada and had five points in five games in the tournament. Dryden Hunt was a hat trick machine for the Warriors and parlayed one of the hottest shots into an entry-level contract with the Florida Panthers. Prince Albert boasts some offensive talent as well, with 2016 eligible Simon Stransky averaging a point per game in the 62 he skated in for the Raiders. Reid Gardiner is again eligible for the draft, and he lead the Raiders with 92 points. Hulking defenseman Marc McNulty will likely see a lot of ice time in the series. His 51 points were the best of his WHL career, and he will be playing in the WHL playoffs for the first time. Both teams boast solid play in their nets with Zach Sawchenko going for the Warriors and Rylan Parenteau for the Raiders.
Last Word On the Series: Moose Jaw in seven games.
Red Deer Rebels vs. Calgary Hitmen
Red Deer finished second in the East division with 93 points and a record of 46-24-1-1. Calgary was right behind the Rebels with 88 points in third place and a record of 42-26-2-2. Each team won three of the six contests when the two squads faced off.
In the offseason, Red Deer traded for Ivan Nikolishin to provide an offensive spark for the Rebels and he delivered, playing in all 72 games and recording 82 points. Adam Helewka was brought in from the Spokane Chiefs and scored a combined 74 points for the two clubs in addition to skating in three AHL games earlier in the year. Radel Fazleyev was the leading scorer for the Hitmen with 71 points in 59 games. Haydn Fleury, the seventh overall pick in the 2014 NHL draft, will see plenty of action in the WHL Playoffs for Red Deer. Fleury posted 41 points in the 56 games he skated for Red Deer. The Calgary blueline has two of the best the WHL has to offer in Jake Bean and Travis Sanheim. Bean will likely be the first WHL player taken in this year’s draft. He skated in 68 games for Calgary and posted 64 points. Sanheim continued his stellar play this year and in 52 contests racked up 15 goals and 53 assists. This matchup is a good, close series, but the Hitmen should take out the Rebels.
Last Word On the Series: Calgary in six games.