WHL Mailbag: Timeout with WHLFromAbove
By Cody Nickolet (@WHLFromAbove)
Editor’s note: Cody will take WHL questions from fans via social media and post the best five questions in his monthly mailbag. Be sure to follow him on Twitter and let him know your questions!
1. How much has Morgan Rielly benefited from being returned to the WHL this season?
WHLFA: I think the benefits of him being returned to the WHL have been huge. First of all, the thing you have to remember about this kid is that he missed the vast majority of his draft year last season. He had a great 16 year old season and was good both at the beginning and end of last year, but he still hadn’t played a ton of hockey in his short WHL career because of his knee injury last year. Being back with the Moose Jaw Warriors has allowed him to play big minutes each and every night and play in every single situation to round out his game. He’s a fantastic offensive player, but he still has room to grow and improve in many areas, including his play away from the puck and in the defensive zone. Being back in junior also allows him to just focus on hockey, not worrying about trying to adjust to a pro lifestyle and playing under the bright lights in Toronto, one of the toughest sports markets in all of North America.
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2. Do you think the Hitmen have what it takes to come out of the WHL’s Eastern Conference or at least make the Conference Finals?
WHLFA: The Calgary Hitmen are an interesting team. They’ve played second fiddle in their division nearly all season, with Edmonton being the top dog in the Eastern Conference. They’re a pretty balanced team with good goaltending, size and skill up front and some good veteran players on the blueline. I definitely think they are good enough to potentially win the conference, but there is some pretty stiff competition to face. The one thing that I’ve noticed with Calgary for much of the year is inconsistency. They can look like an elite team one night and then go through stretches where they look very average. As many people know, the playoffs can often be just about who peaks at the right time. If Calgary can end the season on a high note and get rolling into the playoffs, they definitely have the depth and talent to contend for a conference title or at least make it to the final 4.
3. What do you think the percentage is of the #1 seeds winning WHL Championship?
WHLFA: This is a pretty tough question to answer. The WHL has really impressed me this season with the parity they have been able to roll out in each conference. In the East you have teams like Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatoon and Prince Albert, with some talented teams in the middle group like Red Deer and Swift Current. Out West, Portland, Kamloops and Kelowna are all pretty dominant squads. To say that groups like Edmonton and Portland are obvious favourites would be a bit false if you ask me, even if the point totals in the standings don’t exactly agree with me.
4. Obviously forward acquisitions helped, but how did the Saskatoon Blades turn it around so hard?
WHLFA: The best answer for this question would have would be confidence. Coming into the season, the Blades had a very talented team on paper. The chemistry wasn’t quite there and the puck-luck wasn’t either. The losses piled up and everyone started doubting them. As the season has gone along, the group has come together much more both in the dressing room and on the ice and it’s really been a perfect storm for the team since the WHL trade deadline. Other big things for them include the added depth they picked up at the deadline and the goaltending of Andrey Makarov. They are now a team that is 4 lines deep, with any of those lines being able to win the game for them on any night and Andrey Makarov is posting fantastic numbers and bailing them out of some situations that would have set them up for disaster earlier in the season. They’re a confident group right now and obviously have the ball rolling more than I’ve seen in the past handful of seasons.
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5. If Leon Draisaitl was drafted this year (2013) what round & overall would he get?
WHLFA: I love this kids game and wouldn’t hesitate at all to say he would be a top 10 selection if he was going to be drafted in 2013 instead of 2014, which is his actual draft year. He’s exploded onto the scene for the Prince Albert Raiders after being a high selection in last year’s CHL Import Draft. The big German is a mix of great size, speed and skill. His vision is unbelievable and the Raiders really have done a great job in helping shelter his minutes by playing him with guys like Mark McNeill for much of the year. His skating is going to have to continue to improve for him to be dominant at the next level, but I have no doubts that it won’t be an issue. He’s a fun player to watch and I’m sure by the time the 2014 NHL draft comes around he’ll be talked about as a potential top 5 selection.