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Above the Glass

From the Dub: The Future Is Now

June provides a good preview of things to come this fall in the WHL. Coaching changes, the 2018 - 2019 preseason schedule, player signings and the NHL Entry Draft all make for a busy month. And let's not forget the nine league alumni who are celebrating their Stanley Cup win as members of the Washington Capitals. June marks the convergence of the past, present and future here in the Dub. The future is now and the future is bright. 

Onward and upward: It's no surprise when championship coaches leave at the end of the season to move up to the NHL. This year was no exception. After guiding the Swift Current Broncos to the Eastern Conference Championship, Manny Viveiros left to join the Edmonton Oilers as an assistant coach. The U.S. Division has also seen several major coaching changes: 

Tip of the hat: The Saskatoon Blades hired Mitch Love as their new head coach. Love had been an assistant coach with the Everett Silvertips for seven seasons, including this year's championship run. The Silvertips have been a formidable foe for WHL opponents in recent years and Love was a big reason why. He has also been named an assistant coach for Hockey Canada's National Summer Under-18 Team for the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, which debuts in Alberta Aug. 6 - 11, 2018.

Silvertips Director of Player Personnel Bil La Forge has joined the Seattle Thunderbirds as GM, replacing Russ Farwell. Farwell will remain with the team as Vice President of Hockey Operations. La Forge's first order of business will be the Import Draft on June 28. Sami Moilanen left to play in his native Finland, leaving that spot up for grabs. 

Long time coming: Matt Bardsley has long been regarded as the secret weapon of the Portland Winterhawks, where he rose through the ranks over nearly 20 years from Area Scout to Assistant General Manager. The question of whether he would make the leap to a GM position had really just become a question of when, not if. Bardsley has joined the Kamloops Blazers as General Manager, where he has had already signed several top draft picks. Matt Bardsley is regarded as one of the best people in the hockey business. It's a loss for Portland but a well-deserved and long overdue promotion for him. I'll be keeping my eye on the Blazers this season and next, for more reasons than one: 

Hosts with the most: The Blazers are also one of four teams bidding for the right to host the 2020 Memorial Cup. The Kelowna Rockets, Victoria Royals and Lethbridge Hurricanes are also in contention.

Days of future past: Nine WHL alumni won the Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals. Most notable among them were goalie Braden Holtby and Head Coach Barry Trotz. 12 WHL alumni were represented on the Vegas Golden Knights roster, including Cody Eakin, Deryk Engelland, Brayden McNabb and one of my favorite former Winterhawks, Luca Sbisa. 

Sign here, please: Henri Jokiharju has signed an entry-level deal with the Chicago Blackhawks after an impressive post-draft season this year. In typical hockey player fashion, he's not looking too far into the future. He's a smart player, on and off the ice. Many junior players get hyped up when they sign a deal, only to be sent back after training camp or play their limit of nine games. Henri's obviously got a healthy perspective on his future, which is exactly why he'll be ready for whatever comes his way this season. 

The future is now: The WHL has 41 players and four goaltenders listed on Central Scouting's final draft rankings. Defensemen will be on display this year. Spokane Chiefs defenseman Ty Smith is the highest ranked WHL player in the final draft rankings, at 14. He had 73 points in 69 games this year, which helped lead the Chiefs to their best season since 2012 - 2013. Another defenseman who may go in the first round is one of my favorite players here in the Dub, Jett Woo. He's ranked at 28. Wedged in between them is Alexander Alexeyev, ranked at 22. The Red Deer Rebels defenseman is good when he's healthy, but his frequent injuries will also factor into his chances. Rounding out the top-ranked defensemen is Calen Addison, ranked at 30. His draft year has been outstanding, culminating with his performance in playoffs. He was a key player in the Lethbridge Hurricanes' run up to the Eastern Conference final. 

Plan ahead: Once all the hype around the NHL draft dies down, the WHL enters a little bit of a dead zone. My favorite news release every year is the announcement of the preseason schedule. It makes it feel like hockey will be here soon. The WHL preseason will commence August 30 with a matchup between the Prince Albert Raiders and the Saskatoon Blades. It concludes on September 16 with a game between Brandon and Moose Jaw. Then it's off to the races.

Other notable preseason games include a rematch between the Swift Current Broncos and the Lethbridge Hurricanes on September 14. They last met in the Eastern Conference Final. Western Conference opponents the Everertt Silvertips and the Tri-City Americans will meet again on August 31. The pre-season already looks diverse and exciting, even at a glance. You can view the full preseason schedule here

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Comments

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This is only my 5th year in WHL territory, but I am very surprised at the lack representation on the Central Scouting list. Maybe last year was uncommonly good?

Posted by pnwwing on 06/22/18 at 01:09 AM ET

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Last year 89 of the 217 total picks were from the CHL as a whole, and 33 of those were from the WHL. The 33 players represented the second-most prospects provided out of any league in the world. Numerically, that’s actually smaller than the total WHL picks taken in recent years.

The 10-year history of WHL picks taken in the NHL draft is at the bottom of this article: http://whl.ca/article/33-whl-players-selected-in-2017-nhl-draft

I think the WHL sometimes feels “small but mighty” because the top picks often come from the OHL, the QMJHL or the European leagues.  Something to keep in mind is that the league also has an excellent reputation for free agency signings. WHL players who aren’t ranked or drafted often get a second chance in free agency.

Posted by Samantha from Portland, Oregon on 06/23/18 at 12:07 AM 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