WHL: Eastern Conference Preview

The Western Hockey League’s 49th season begins on Friday, September 19th, as fans gear up for another exciting winter of WHL hockey.

The Edmonton Oil Kings have been the class of the WHL’s Eastern Conference for the last three years. Can the defending WHL and MasterCard Memorial Cup champions find a way to top the Conference once again? Or, will another team rise up to dethrone the Oil Kings?

Here’s a look at the WHL Eastern Conference:

East Division

Brandon Wheat Kings
General Manager/Head Coach: Kelly McCrimmon
2014 pre-season: 4gp, 3-1-0-0
2013-14 Record: 34-29-6-3, 77pts (3rd in East Div., 7th in Eastern Conf.) GF: 271 GA: 269
2013-14 Power Play / Penalty Killing ranking: PP: 25.9% (2nd); PK: 75.2% (18th)
2014 Playoffs: Lost in five games to Edmonton in second round
2013-14 Top Scorers:
Jayce Hawryluk 59gp-24g-40a-64pts
Ryan Pulock 66gp-23g-40a-63pts
Tim McGauley 68gp-21g-39a-60pts

The Brandon Wheat Kings took a big step forward last season, making it back to the playoffs after missing out the year before. With a collection of young, high-end talent, the Wheat Kings will be gunning for East Division supremacy. Up front, the Wheat Kings return several key forwards from what was the third-highest scoring offense in the WHL Eastern Conference last season. Jayce Hawryluk, John Quenneville, Peter Quenneville, Rihards Bukarts and Tim McGauley lead what should be a dangerous attack while sophomores Jesse Gabrielle and Braylon Shmyr will look to take on a bigger role. Highly-touted rookie Nolan Patrick could also be a difference-maker as a 16-year-old. The Wheat Kings will miss the presence of former captain Ryan Pulock on the back end. However, 18-year-old Ryan Pilon should be able step up and help fill the void both offensively and defensively. Look for rookies Ivan Provorov and Kale Clague to step in on the back end as well. Goaltender Jordan Papirny takes on the starting job in goal after posting 22 wins in 46 games last year and further impressing in the post-season.

Player to Watch: John Quenneville
An 18-year-old from Edmonton, AB, Quenneville enjoyed a breakout campaign last year, scoring 25 goals and 58 points in 61 games to help the Wheat Kings make the post-season. He also turned the eyes of NHL scouts with his blend of offensive skill and physical ability, hearing his name called in the first round of the 2014 NHL Draft when the New Jersey Devils selected him 30th overall. A big-bodies forward who can skate, play physical and generate offense, expect Quenneville to build on his strong campaign last year and become a go-to guy in the Wheat Kings’ attack.

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Moose Jaw Warriors
General Manager: Alan Millar
Head Coach: Tim Hunter
2014 pre-season: 6gp, 1-3-2-0
2013-14 Record: 21-42-3-6, 51pts (5th in East Div., 10th in Eastern Conf.) GF: 202 GA: 283
2013-14 Power Play / Penalty Killing ranking: PP: 19.7% (16th); PK: 77.6% (15th)
2014 Playoffs: Did not qualify
2013-14 Top Scorers:
Brayden Point 72gp-36g-55a-91pts
Jack Rodewald 58gp-28g-27a-55pts
Sam Fioretti 65gp-20g-35a-55pts

The Warriors come into the 2014-15 season looking to end a two-year playoff absence. Up front, expect Brayden Point to carry much of the offensive load. The 18-year-old Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick put up an impressive 91 points last year, and should again be among the top scorers in the WHL this season. Veterans Jack Rodewald and Tanner Eberle, along with off-season acquisition Jaimen Yakubowski, will also need to factor into the offense. Defensively, the Warriors aim to improve on what was the 18th ranked defence last season. Russian sophomore Alexei Sleptsov is coming off a 25-point season last year, and will need to be a big contributor on the power play. Veterans Austin Adam, Spenser Jensen and Dallas Valentine bring plenty of size to the Warriors’ back end. Veteran goaltender Justin Paulic has 114 games of WHL experience, including appearing in 56 games last year for the Warriors. He will be pushed for the starting role by promising 17-year-old Zach Sawchenko.
Player to Watch: Zach Sawchenko
The netminder from Calgary, AB, who doesn’t turn 17 until December, enters his second season in the WHL playing the back-up role to veteran Justin Paulic after getting into 26 games as a rookie. Yet Sawchenko, who was the Warriors’ first pick, 33rd overall, in the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft, is the goaltender of the future for Moose Jaw. The Warriors’ Rookie of the Year last year, Sawchenko backstopped Canada’s Under-18 team to a Gold medal at the Memorial for Ivan Hlinka tournament in August, and also starred for Team Pacific in the 2014 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge. Expect Sawchenko to be a difference-maker for the Warriors when called upon this season.
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Prince Albert Raiders
General Manager: Bruno Campese
Head Coach: Cory Clouston
2014 pre-season: 6gp, 3-2-0-1
2013-14 Record: 35-32-3-2, 75pts (4th in East Div., 8th in Eastern Conf.) GF: 243 GA: 258
2013-14 Power Play / Penalty Killing ranking: PP: 24.9% (3rd); PK: 76.0% (16th)
2014 Playoffs: Lost in four games to Edmonton in first round
2013-14 Top Scorers:
Leon Draisaitl 64gp-38g-67a-105pts
Josh Morrissey 59gp-28g-45a-73pts
Collin Valcourt 71gp-28g-44a-72pts

The Raiders lose several key veterans from last year’s team that finished eighth in the WHL’s Eastern Conference. However, the team boasts a few players who are ready to step up and fill the void. Up front, the Raiders don’t expect leading scorer Leon Draisaitl back. It will be up to veterans Jayden Hart, Dakota Conroy and Reid Gardiner to take on key offensive roles in Draisaitl’s absence. Look for 19-year-olds Jordan Tkatch and Gage Quinney, and 17-year-old Matteo Gennaro to provide offensive punch as well. 19-year-old captain Josh Morrissey expects to have another dominant season on the Raiders’ blue line if he doesn’t stick in the NHL, while 20-year-old Sawyer Lange and 18-year-old MacKenze Stewart will also be key cogs on the Raiders’ back end. 17-year-old Nick McBride got into 27 games as a rookie last season, posting 12 wins and a 2.95 GAA. The 23rd overall pick from the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft looks poised to take on the starting role this season, with 18-year-old Rylan Parenteau pushing for starts.

Player to Watch: Reid Gardiner
Gardiner, an 18-year-old from Humboldt, SK, enters his third season in the WHL looking to be an impact player for the Raiders. The 5’11”, 185-lb pivot put up 22 goals and 44 points in 70 games last season, helping the Raiders make the post-season. A strong two-way forward with excellent hockey sense and vision, Gardiner will be expected to take on much more responsibility this season after the graduation of several of the Club’s top players from last year. Having gone undrafted in the 2014 NHL Draft, Gardiner would like nothing more than to use the upcoming campaign to prove NHL scouts wrong in passing him by.

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Regina Pats
General Manager/Head Coach: John Paddock
2014 pre-season: 7gp, 4-2-1-0
2013-14 Record: 39-26-4-3, 85pts (1st in East Div.,2nd in Eastern Conf.) GF: 257 GA: 247
2013-14 Power Play / Penalty Killing ranking: PP: 20.9% (T-11th or 12th); PK: 73.6% (20th)
2014 Playoffs: Lost in four games to Brandon in first round
2013-14 Top Scorers:
Chandler Stephenson 69gp-30g-59a-89pts
Dyson Stevenson 66gp-38g-38a-76pts
Morgan Klimchuk 57gp-30g-44a-74pts

Under the guidance of new head coach John Paddock, the Pats will look to some younger players as they set out to defend their 2013-14 East Division crown. Gone are top-scoring veterans Chandler Stephenson, Boston Leier and Dyson Stevenson, leaving the heavy offensive lifting to 19-year-old Calgary Flames first-rounder Morgan Klimchuk. 16-year-old Sam Steel comes in with plenty of fanfare, and certainly has the talent to make an immediate impact up front. Look for the likes of Connor Gay, Braden Christoffer and Dryden Hunt to step up. Veterans Colby Williams and Kyle Burroughs will anchor the back end for the Pats. Both are strong two-way defenders who can put up points and keep things organized in the defensive zone. Veteran Daniel Wapple is back to take over the starting job for the Pats. The 19-year-old missed time due to injury last year, but managed 12 wins, including two shutouts, in 19 games with the Pats. Fellow 19-year-old Tyler Fuhr will take on the back-up role.
Player to Watch: Sam Steel
The No. 2 overall pick from the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft, Sam Steel comes into his first season in the WHL with high expectations. The 16-year-old from Sherwood Park, AB, put up seven goals and 23 points in 14 games in an injury-shortened season for Sherwood Park of the Alberta Midget AAA League, and even got into five regular-season and two post-season games for the Pats. A great skater with elite-level offensive skill and instincts, Steel has the talent and ability to make an immediate impact in the Pats’ lineup, even as a rookie.

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Saskatoon Blades
General Manager/Head Coach: Bob Woods
2014 pre-season: 6gp, 3-2-1-0
2013-14 Record: 16-51-2-3, 37pts (6th in East Div., 11th in Eastern Conf.) GF: 207 GA: 317
2013-14 Power Play / Penalty Killing ranking: PP: 20.9% (11th); PK: 74.2% (19th)
2014 Playoffs: Did not qualify
2013-14 Top Scorers:
Nikita Scherbak 65gp-28g-50a-78pts
Connor Sanvido 68gp-16g-24a-40pts
Cory Millette 63gp-17g-17a-34pts

The Saskatoon Blades endured a difficult season last year as they entered a rebuilding phase. This year, the Blades return several of their young, promising talents who will look to improve the team’s standing in the East Division. 18-year-old Nikita Scherbak led the team in scoring last season as a rookie, and is eligible to come back this season. However, the first-round NHL Draft pick’s status is unclear with the Blades having picked up two more Import players during the off-season. If Scherbak remains with the Blades, he will undoubtedly be a top point-producer. 17-year-old Cameron Hebig, 19-year-olds Cory Millette and Alex Forsberg, and 20-year-old Brett Stovin will also be tasked with providing offense. On the blue line, Nelson Nogier has put last year’s injury woes behind him, and should be ready to log heavy minutes. Veterans Ayrton Nikkel and Jordan Thomson will be key cogs in the Blades’ defensive plans as well. 20-year-old goaltender Troy Trombley returns to hold down the starting job in the Blades’ cage. Trombley got into 49 games for the Blades last season.
Player to Watch: Nelson Nogier
An 18-year-old from Saskatoon, SK, Nogier enters his third season in the WHL with his hometown team looking to contribute much more after an injury-shortened season last year. The 6’3”, 202-lb rearguard only appeared in 37 games, scoring once and picking up six points, but still garnered plenty of interest from NHL scouts and wound up getting drafted in the fourth round of the 2014 NHL Draft by Winnipeg. A strong skating, defensive-minded blue-liner, Nogier prides himself on being hard to play against, being defensively sound, and providing strong leadership. Now healthy, expect Nogier to be a lynchpin in the Blades’ defensive scheme this season.

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Swift Current Broncos
General Manager / Head Coach: Mark Lamb
2014 pre-season: 7gp, 4-2-0-1
2013-14 Record: 38-25-3-6, 85pts (2nd in East Div., 5th in Eastern Conf.) GF: 248 GA: 229
2013-14 Power Play / Penalty Killing ranking: PP: 23.4% (6th); PK: 79.5% (10th)
2014 Playoffs: Lost in six games to Medicine Hat in first round
2013-14 Top Scorers:
Graham Black 69gp-34g-63a-97pts
Nathan Burns 68gp-27g-50a-77pts
Coda Gordon 59gp-26g-45a-71pts

The Broncos bring back many of the key players who helped the Club to a second-place finish in the East Division last season. 20-year-old veterans Colby Cave and Coda Gordon return to head up what should be a productive offense. Both put up 70 or more points last season. Also back are talented sophomores Jake DeBrusk and Glenn Gawdin, who should be ready to take on bigger roles in the attack. Veteran Jay Merkley will look to improve on his 34-goal campaign as well. The Broncos also return a strong defence corps, led by veterans Dillon Heatherington, Brett Lernout and Brycen Martin, who are all NHL prospects. The Broncos will benefit greatly if offensive standout Julius Honka returns. The graduation of Finnish standout Eetu Laurikainen leaves a hole in the Broncos’ net. 19-year-old Landon Bow, who backed up Laurikainen in each of the last two seasons, looks to take over the starting job. Bow has 41 games of WHL experience under his belt. 17-year-old Travis Child will get his first WHL experience, slotting into the back-up role.

Player to Watch: Jake DeBrusk
An Edmonton, AB, product, DeBrusk enjoyed a solid campaign as a rookie last season, netting 15 goals and 39 points in 72 games. The 6’0”, 177-lb left wing, who was a seventh-round pick of the Broncos in 2011, boasts strong offensive skill, and isn’t afraid to engage in physical battles. DeBrusk has already drawn the attention of NHL scouts, finding himself listed on NHL Central Scouting’s Watch List for players eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft. The son of former NHLer Louie DeBrusk, Jake will be expected to step into a much larger role in the offense for Swift Current this season.
Central Division
Calgary Hitmen
General Manager: Mike Moore
Head Coach: Mark French
2014 pre-season: 6gp, 4-2-0-0
2013-14 Record: 48-17-3-4, 103pts (2nd in Central Div., 3rd in Eastern Conf.) GF: 287 GA: 207
2013-14 Power Play / Penalty Killing ranking: PP: 22.8% (7th); PK: 83.0% (3rd)
2014 Playoffs: Lost in six games to Kootenay in first round
2013-14 Top Scorers:
Brady Brassart 70gp-35g-50a-85pts
Greg Chase 70gp-35g-50a-85pts
Jake Virtanen 71gp-45g-26a-71pts

The Calgary Hitmen enjoyed a terrific 2013-14 regular season, but were disappointed when they were eliminated in the first round of the 2014 WHL Playoffs. With new head coach Mark French at the helm and with many of their top players returning, the Hitmen will look to remain among the Eastern Conference’s elite. Veteran Greg Chase, 20-year-old Adam Tambellini and 18-year-old Jake Virtanen head up a strong offense that also includes Chase Lang, Connor Rankin and Radel Fazleev. With talents like Mike Winther, Pavel Padakin, Elliott Peterson and Pavel Karnaukhov in the mix, the Hitmen have plenty of offensive options. NHL prospects Travis Sanheim and Ben Thomas return to lead a Hitmen defence corps that finished third among all Eastern Conference Clubs in goals-against last year. Both Sanheim and Thomas are capable of contributing at both ends of the ice. Veterans Colby Harmsworth and Micheal Zipp add defensive depth. With Chris Driedger graduating, the Hitmen hand the No. 1 goaltending job to Mack Shields. The 19-year-old has posted 30 wins over 49 career appearances for the Hitmen over the last two seasons.
Player to Watch: Travis Sanheim
An 18-year-old product of Elkhorn, MB, Sanheim came into his rookie season last year as a relative unknown. However, the 6’3”, 184-lb two-way defender established himself as an impact player as the season went on, and also rocketed up the NHL scouting rankings to end up being selected in the first round of the 2014 NHL Draft. A mobile, intelligent defender with plenty of offensive upside, Sanheim has the tools to be a dominating presence in the WHL. Having consistently improved throughout last season, expect Sanheim to continue that trend with a bigger role in 2014-15.

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Edmonton Oil Kings
General Manager: Randy Hansch
Head Coach: Steve Hamilton
2014 pre-season: 5gp, 2-3-0-0
2013-14 Record: 50-19-2-1, 103pts (1st in Central Div., 1st in Eastern Conf.) GF: 290 GA: 179
2013-14 Power Play / Penalty Killing ranking: PP: 19.6% (17th); PK: 85.3% (2nd)
2014 Playoffs: WHL & MasterCard Memorial Cup Champions
2013-14 Top Scorers:
Henrik Samuelsson 65gp-35g-60a-95pts
Curtis Lazar 58gp-41g-35a-76pts
Mitchell Moroz 70gp-35g-28a-63pts

The Edmonton Oil Kings graduate several of their top stars that helped them win the 2014 WHL Championship and MasterCard Memorial Cup. However, they still return some talented younger players who will look to step up. Brett Pollock will lead the offense after breaking out for a 25-goal campaign last season while players like Lane Bauer and Tyler Robertson will need to take on more responsibility. 19-year-old Curtis Lazar will be relied upon heavily in all areas if he doesn’t end up playing in the NHL this season. 20-year-old Edgars Kulda, the MVP of the Memorial Cup, would also be a key cog up front if he doesn’t play in the professional ranks. The graduation of Griffin Reinhart and Cody Corbett leaves big shoes to fill on the back end. Dysin Mayo and Aaron Irving can expect to shoulder a bigger load while 20-year-old veterans Ashton Sautner and Blake Orban will also be counted on to log heavy minutes. 19-year-old Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Tristan Jarry gives the Oil Kings top-notch goaltending. A finalist for the 2013-14 WHL Goaltender of the Year award, Jarry put up 44 wins, including eight shutouts, last season.

Player to Watch: Brett Pollock
An 18-year-old from Sherwood Park, AB, Pollock took a huge step forward last year, his second season in the WHL, netting an impressive 25 goals and 55 points in 71 games after scoring just twice in 40 games as a rookie the previous season. His strong campaign with the Oil Kings made a strong impression on NHL scouts, and he was chosen by the Dallas Stars in the second round of the 2014 NHL Draft. With the departures of key Oil Kings forwards like Henrik Samuelsson and Mitch Moroz, Pollock will be expected to shoulder an even bigger offensive workload this season up front in Edmonton.

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Kootenay Ice
General Manager: Jeff Chynoweth
Head Coach: Ryan McGill
2014 pre-season: 5gp, 1-4-0-0
2013-14 Record: 39-28-2-3, 83pts (4th in Central Div., 6th in Eastern Conf.) GF: 235 GA: 209
2013-14 Power Play / Penalty Killing ranking: PP: 24.3% (4th); PK: 79.4% (11th)
2014 Playoffs: Lost in seven games to Medicine Hat in second round
2013-14 Top Scorers:
Sam Reinhart 60gp-36g-69a-105pts
Jaedon Descheneau 70gp-44g-54a-98pts
Luke Philp 71gp-31g-46a-77pts

The Kootenay Ice are coming off a 2013-14 campaign that saw them finish above .500 for a WHL-record 15th consecutive year. Last year’s success was due, in large part, to the offensive dominance of Sam Reinhart and Jaedon Descheneau, who combined for 80 goals and 203 points. With Reinhart almost assuredly to play in the NHL with the Buffalo Sabres this season, the Ice will need to fill a huge hole up front. Descheneau will be back to lead the attack, but will face an adjustment without his line mate. The Ice will lean heavily on veteran Luke Philp, who is coming off a 31-goal campaign, and 20-year-old Austin Vetterl to provide scoring. Defensively, veterans Tanner Faith, Tyler King and Rinat Valiev will be counted on to eat up minutes while sophomore Troy Murray will need to step into a bigger role on the back end. 19-year-old Spruce Grove, AB, product Wyatt Hoflin looks to take over the starting job in Kootenay’s net with the graduation of MacKenzie Skapski. Hoflin has posted 11 wins and a 3.24 GAA in 43 appearances over the last two seasons with the Ice.
Player to Watch: Jaedon Descheneau
A 19-year-old from Edmonton, AB, Descheneau has enjoyed a couple of highly productive seasons in Kootenay, playing alongside Sam Reinhart. The shifty, speedy and offensively talented winger netted 44 goals and 98 points last season, was selected to suit up for Team WHL in the SUBWAY Super Series, and heard his name called in the NHL Draft in June when the St. Louis Blues picked him in the fifth round. Now back for his fourth WHL campaign, Descheneau becomes the go-to guy for the Ice. The 5’9”, 192-lb sniper will need to show he can provide top-line offense without his All-Star line mate Reinhart.

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Lethbridge Hurricanes
General Manager: Brad Robson
Head Coach: Drake Berehowsky
2014 pre-season: 6gp, 2-4-0-0
2013-14 Record: 12-55-2-3, 29pts (6th in Central Div.,12th in Eastern Conf.) GF: 171 GA: 358
2013-14 Power Play / Penalty Killing ranking: PP: 18.4% (19th); PK: 69.8% (22th)
2014 Playoffs: Did not qualify
2013-14 Top Scorers:
Riley Sheen 61gp-19g-30a-49pts
Brady Ramsay 72gp-15g-27a-42pts
Reid Duke 62gp-15g-25a-40pts

The Lethbridge Hurricanes come into the 2014-15 season looking to erase the memories of what was a difficult campaign last year. Up front, the ‘Canes look to improve on their 22nd-ranked offense from last year. Veterans Riley Sheen, Reid Duke, Jamal Watson and Tyler Wong are all back, looking to pace the attack. Sophomore Giorgio Estephan hopes to take a step forward and contribute more while Russian rookie Nikita Milekhin should inject some scoring into the lineup. 20-year-old veterans Nick Walters and Tyler Bell will head up a Hurricanes’ defence corps that will hope to cut down on the 358 goals they allowed last season. 19-year-olds Lenny Hackman and Griffin Foulk both will look to bring more to the table while 17-year-old Thomas Lenchyshyn is one of a few rookies gunning for a spot on the blue line. 18-year-old Zac Robidoux and 16-year-old Stuart Skinner start the year as the Hurricane’s goaltending tandem. The pair have a combined seven games of WHL experience between them.
Player to Watch: Tyler Wong
An 18-year-old from Cochrane, AB, Wong comes into his third season with the Hurricanes looking to be a big part of their offense. The 5’9”, 165-lb centre enjoyed a breakout campaign last year, putting up 17 goals and 31 points in 52 games, and established himself as a scoring threat. An offensively skilled, competitive forward who boasts good skating ability and hockey sense, Wong is a player who the Hurricanes will count on to put the puck in the net. Look for Wong to see his goal and point totals increase as he helps the Canes on their quest to get themselves back into the playoff picture.

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Medicine Hat Tigers
General Manager / Head Coach: Shaun Clouston
2014 pre-season: 5gp, 3-2-0-0
2013-14 Record: 44-24-3-1, 92pts (3rd in Central Div., 4th in Eastern Conf.) GF: 260 GA: 196
2013-14 Power Play / Penalty Killing ranking: PP: 20.3% (15th); PK: 81.3% (6th)
2014 Playoffs: Lost in five games to Edmonton in Eastern Conference championship series
2013-14 Top Scorers:
Curtis Valk 72gp-47g-45a-92pts
Trevor Cox 70gp-25g-57a-82pts
Cole Sanford 72gp-33g-40a-73pts

The Tigers come into the new season returning many of the players who helped them reach the Eastern Conference championship series last year. Up front, veterans Cole Sanford and Trevor Cox are in line for top offensive roles after their outstanding performances during the 2014 WHL playoffs. Veterans Steve Owre, Miles Koules and Blake Penner are a few of those expected to contribute more to the attack to help offset the graduation of Curtis Valk. Tyler Lewington and Tommy Vannelli head up a defence corps that could return eight rearguards. Sophomore Connor Hobbs should be ready for a big workload in his first full season after enjoying success with Canada’s Under-18 team this summer. Rookie David Quenneville is the Tigers’ defensive lynchpin of the future. With veteran netminder Marek Langhamer likely bound for the AHL, the Tigers brought in 20-year-old Jared Rathjen to join Nick Schneider in the goaltending tandem. Rathjen has 74 games of WHL experience to draw upon while Schneider posted a 6-0 record with a .943 save percentage in eight games last season

Player to Watch: Cole Sanford
A 19-year-old product of Vernon, B.C., Sanford enters his third WHL season with high expectations for a productive offensive campaign. Sanford racked up 33 goals and 73 points in 72 games last season, marking a 31-goal and 62-point improvement from his rookie season in 2012-13, and became one of the Tigers’ biggest offensive threats. His performance in the 2014 post-season – 11 goals and 24 points in 18 games – was a key reason the team made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Championship. With last year’s success under his belt, expect Sanford to be a key cog in the Tigers’ attack.

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Red Deer Rebels
General Manager / Head Coach: Brent Sutter
2014 pre-season: 6gp, 3-2-1-0
2013-14 Record: 35-32-1-4, 75pts (5th in Central Div., 9th in Eastern Conf.) GF: 214 GA: 224
2013-14 Power Play / Penalty Killing ranking: PP: 18.5% (18th); PK: 81.5% (5th)
2014 Playoffs: Did not qualify (lost in tie-break game to Prince Albert)
2013-14 Top Scorers:
Conner Bleackley 71gp-29g-39a-68pts
Rhyse Dieno 65gp-25g-41a-66pts
Aspen Sterzer 70gp-29g-24a-53pts
The Red Deer Rebels narrowly missed the playoffs last season, losing to the Prince Albert Raiders in a tiebreaker game for the eighth and final playoff berth. This year, the Rebels return many of their key players who will be looking to move the team up the standings. Conner Bleackley, the Rebels’ captain, is back to lead the offense. The 18-year-old from High River, AB, scored 29 goals and a team-leading 68 points last year, but is also a tremendous two-way player who is strong in his own end. Sophomores Adam Musil, Presten Kopeck and Grayson Pawlenchuk will be counted on to take big roles in the offense, while veterans Wyatt Johnson and Brooks Maxwell will also be key up front. 18-year-old Haydn Fleury heads up a strong Rebels’ defence corps that also features veteran standouts Nick Charif and Kayle Doetzel as well as off-season acquisition Brett Cote. In goal, the Rebels will miss the outstanding netminding of Patrik Bartosak. 17-year-old Taz Burman and 18-year-old Rylan Toth will form the goaltending tandem this year. Burman got into 17 games last year as Bartosak’s back-up.

Player to Watch: Adam Musil
17-year-old power forward Adam Musil comes into his second season in the WHL looking to fill a big role up front for the Rebels. A big-bodied, strong and skilled pivot, Musil impressed as a rookie last year, notching 11 goals and 29 points in 60 games. He also played for Team Pacific in the 2014 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge and helped Canada’s Under-18 team win a Gold medal in the 2014 Memorial for Ivan Hlinka tournament in August. Listed by NHL Central Scouting in their ‘Ones to Watch’ list, expect plenty of eyes to be on Musil as the season goes on.

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