Kukla's Korner

Above the Glass

From the Dub: Signed, Sealed, Delivered

As a longtime junior hockey fan, I've learned that a player's post-NHL draft year is the true breakout year. It's the one where teams discover whether that first round pick really is worth all the hype. It's also the year scouts start paying closer attention to players picked in later rounds. As such, it's typically when first-round draft picks really get to work and lesser known draftees make their move. The WHL is almost 20 games into the regular season, and it's clear that NHL-drafted players are already delivering on their promise. 

Save the Date: The Swift Current Broncos don't roll into Portland until January 19, by which time Tyler Steenbergen will probably have scored at least 25 more goals, if his current pace holds. In 15 games played, he has amassed 23 goals and 15 assists for 38 total points. His +/- is 18. He had 4-goal games in back-to-back games on September 30 and October 6. He repeated the feat on October 20. In games where he didn't score, he had at least one assist. Also impressive is the fact that in the 2014 - 2015 and 2016 - 2017 seasons, he played in all 72 of the Swift Current Broncos' regular season games. He was recently named the WHL Player of the Month for October. Looking at his ridiculous stats this season, you'd never know he went undrafted in his first year of NHL eligibility and was drafted in the fifth round, 128th overall by the Coyotes this year. I will simply conclude by saying get ready, Arizona. Here in the Dub, the future is now and the future is bright.

Winnipeg is the new Portland:  It's safe to say the Jets like what they see in the Winterhawks. Nic Petan and Chase De Leo are already in the system and current Portland Winterhawks forward Skyler McKenzie was drafted 198th overall this year. Also getting a good look at the Jets' rookie camp this year was Winterhawks goalie and Altona native Cole Kehler. The Portland pipeline alone is a sign of things to come:

Kehler just won his second CHL Goaltender of the Week honor for the week ending November 5. He posted a record of 3-0-0-0 with a goals-against-average of 1.00 and a save percentage of .976. In a trifecta of Winterhawk wins, he stopped 120 shots, including a season-high 47 shots in a Friday night win over the Spokane Chiefs. Kehler doubled down with another 43-save win on Saturday, when he played in his 100th career game.  He was also named WHL Goaltender of the Week, becoming the first goaltender to win the WHL weekly award twice this season. Kehler is also tied for second place in the league for shutouts.

Meanwhile, McKenzie is on a tear after being overlooked in his original draft year. In 16 games played he has 13 goals and 11 assists. He has only been held pointless in two games so far. He topped it off with a highlight reel WHL play of the week that is quickly becoming his signature move. It's no surprise that he was chosen to be part of the team's leadership group this season, an honor that Mike Johnston bestows to about six or seven players each season that he deems to be exceptional models of professional behavior on and off the ice. Skyler McKenzie has been quietly building up to this moment since the first day he reported to Winterhawks training camp in 2013. I will only be surprised if Winnipeg doesn't sign him.

Pass the ketchup, please: Edmonton fans have gotten a good look at prospect Kailer Yamamoto. But I will always remember the first time I crossed his path. Each year, the Everett Silvertips host a pre-season tournament over the Labor Day weekend. Largely a scouting showcase, it's also a chance for fans to preview the upcoming season.  Players and fans alike usually stay at what used to be the Holiday Inn, which hosts a breakfast buffet each morning. It was there that I found myself sitting next to the Spokane Chiefs and their new rookie that everyone was already talking about. From what I could tell, Yamamoto was having his first taste of hotel food and his teammates were teasing him about it. What I remember is that he put ketchup on his eggs, something I do myself to add flavor to them. Players like Yamamoto and Michael Rasmussen may be the opponent here in the Dub, but that also means that we get a good look at talent beyond our own city limits.  And we pay respect where it is due. Kailer Yamamoto earned every minute of the time he spent with the Oilers this season before being returned to the Dub for the season. And I look forward to where he will go from here.

The son also rises: The blockbuster acquisition of the Winterhawks off-season was New York Islanders first-round draft pick Kieffer Bellows, son of NHL All-Star Brian Bellows. It has been my experience that junior players with NHL lineage are generally more mature and professional than the average junior player. This was true of Dominic Turgeon and it's true of Bellows. He gives "get the puck on net" new meaning. I'm also pleased to report that the newest generation of the Bellows family is smart, well-spoken and professional off the ice. And he's inching ever closer to a hat trick: in his last eight games, he's had three 2-goal games. The Winterhawks are only 16 games into their season; stay tuned Islanders fans, because Bellows is just getting started. 

Glass and out: I would be remiss if I didn't keep you posted on Cody Glass. But then I realized, I really don't need to. He and his teammates put on a show at the Canada-Russia series, the latest in a series of achievements that really started when he was drafted in the first round of the WHL Bantam Draft in 2014. I knew Glass would go in the first round of the NHL draft this year. That was evident when he first reported to Winterhawks training camp as a rookie. But no one could have known then that he would also make history when the Las Vegas Golden Knights chose him 6th overall. That's the beauty of Cody's story; for all that he's achieved to date, the best is yet to come. Stay tuned, because the same is true of the WHL regular season. 

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Nice writeup and it’s good to hear about a team that gets no coverage here in NorCal.  My wife travels to Portland a lot for business and I think I’ll have to see if any Winterhawks games happen to coincide with her schedule.  Always good to have an excuse to take the flight up from Santa Rosa to Portland.

Posted by MikeMorrisSantaRosa from Santa Rosa, California on 11/09/17 at 06:51 PM ET

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About Above the Glass

Welcome to Above the Glass, a definitive anti-expert’s guide to hockey. I started blogging in 2009 as part of an effort to learn all 87 rules in the NHL Rulebook in 107 days before the 2010 Olympics, 30 years after I discovered the sport. You can peruse the archival results here. Growing up in Arizona, I didn’t even know hockey existed until February 22, 1980, when the USA played Russia in the Olympics. And just like that, the game of the century changed my life. I still don’t quite understand the icing rule or which faceoff circle goes with what offense, but I do know that every aspect of hockey has something to teach us about life. That’s what you’ll find here, along with my unadulterated passion for the game.

I live in Portland, Oregon, home of the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks. I invite anyone who wants to know more about hockey in the Rose City to visit here, where I blog exclusively about the Winterhawks. I’ll post an occasional musing about the Hawks, the WHL and junior hockey here as well.

Follow me on Twitter: @AbovetheGlass

Email: samantha@kuklaskorner.com