Nathan MacKinnon (right) and Jonathan Drouin (The Canadian Press)Last season it was the Shawinigan Cataractes and Saint John Sea Dogs who fought for the top spot in the Dynamic Dozen week-to-week. Neither of the two teams in contention for the top CHL club this season is constructed like either team. The Cataractes were built as a Memorial Cup host with lots of 19- and 20-year-old additions, while the Sea Dogs had a deep team centred around a top NHL prospect in Jonathan Huberdeau.
Halifax and Portland have built their teams from within, and while the Mooseheads have two top prospects, there's a debate as to which one is the feature. The Portland Winterhawks seem to keep replacing the talent that leaves for the pros with even more. Two seasons ago the team won the WHL Western Conference with Nino Niederreiter and Ryan Johansen. This season they've made do with Oliver Bjorkstränd and Ty Rattie filling those spots. The team is built to protect even more prospects like Seth Jones and Nic Petan, who can both expect to go in the first round this June. While "Jones vs. MacKinnon" was the marquee headline for the CHL coming into this season, it's proved that both the Mooseheads and the Winterhawks are both composed of a little more than that. Halifax holds onto the top spot this week.
There's some competition out West however. The Saskatoon Blades are eking their way into contender status after an 18-game win streak (although one that was snapped on the weekend) and a familiar foe for the Winterhawks could once again greet them in the WHL championship series should they make it that far.
1. Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL (.579 RPI, 1.9 SRS, —) — The Mooseheads went 3-for-3 this week to maintain their standing on top of the Dynamic Dozen, leading the nation in both RPI and SRS. Having won ten straight and with Jonathan Drouin showing no sign of slowing down, the only thing that could hurt the Mooseheads come the playoffs is health. Nathan MacKinnon could be back before the playoffs now that he's skating with the team, a scary thought for Sherbrooke or Saint John who are the two likely teams to match up against Halifax in Round One of the 'Q' playoffs later this month.
2. Portland Winterhawks, WHL (.564 RPI, 1.7 SRS, —) — The Winterhawks in contrast to the Mooseheads lost some ground this week after blowing a 3-1 lead to the Edmonton Oil Kings at the Vet in Portland last week. On Saturday, Portland lost again in Everett. That said, there aren't any pressing concerns for the Winterhawks as they prepare for the playoffs. They'll face either Seattle or Everett, and the team has lost just four times in 23 tries against those two teams this season.
From an individual perspective, with just a few games left it looks like Brandon Leipsic and Nic Petan are going to finish 1-2 in the WHL in scoring. Taylor Peters was signed to a contract by the Dallas Stars. Considering they've done this all without their suspended head coach, this has to be one of the more dominant WHL seasons in recent memory.
3. Edmonton Oil Kings, WHL (.561 RPI, 1.4 SRS, +1) — That said, the Oil Kings are looking to again contend in the Eastern Conference and any WHL fan looking to go to games in the final would be wise to book a hotel in Portland or Edmonton. After starting their eight-game road trip through the United States, Saskatchewan and Manitoba 0-2, the 'Kings responded with three victories over the Thunderbirds, Winterhawks, and Silvertips.
With two goals and nine points in three games, Michael St.-Croix was named the WHL Player of the Week, but more impressive was the display of dominance the 'Kings showcased over the 'Hawks in their game. Granted, it's a small sample and not indicative of a 72-game season, but if Portland have a road-block, it's the defending WHL champions who beat them in seven games last spring.
4. London Knights, OHL (.556 RPI, 1.2 SRS, +1) — If you believe teams require momentum, or can get hot at the right time, consider that prior to beginning their seven-game winning streak, the Knights lost four straight including two games at home and another game against Erie. It's going to take an awful lot to knock off a team that's only lost 12 times all year, but opponents can find solace in the fact that they have dropped four-out-of-seven at least once this season.
While everything was going wrong for the Knights at this time last week, they've earned strong performances from draft-eligible Bo Horvat and Max Domi in the absence of Seth Griffith. It's not that the Knights are an average team without Griffith, Scott Harrington or Matt Rupert, it's that they're a very good team even without those key players and a lengthy playoff run could mean they get a significant lineup boost into the spring.
5. Kelowna Rockets, WHL (.553 RPI, 1.4 SRS, -2) — Funny how RPI works: the Rockets won their first two games of the ranking period by a combined score of 11-2, but with a 3-0 loss to Kamloops on Sunday fell below London and Edmonton. The Rockets maintain a three-point lead on the Blazers with a game-in-hand for the division title. Former Blazer Ryan Huska, now Kelowna's coach, says that the division title is a mental achievement as much as it is a determinant of home-ice advantage.
6. Owen Sound Attack, OHL (.549 RPI, 0.8 SRS, —) — No change for the Attack despite a 1-1-1 week that brought the end of their recent five-game winning streak. The team wasted an excellent 40-save effort from goaltender Jordan Binnington against Kitchener but broke out offensively on a charge from Cody Ceci in a 6-1 win over Mississauga.
7. Plymouth Whalers, OHL (.548 RPI, 1.2 SRS, —) — These rankings were done before Tuesday's matinee game that saw Vincent Trocheck score against his former Saginaw team en route to a 4-1 victory over the rival American team. Given how close Plymouth and Owen Sound are in the rankings, that may have been enough to push Plymouth into 6th place. The extraordinarily deep Whalers have eight 20-goal scorers and Trocheck has been nails since the trade brought him over from the Spirit: he's recorded a point in 23 of 24 games.
8. Guelph Storm, OHL (.545 RPI, 0.7 SRS, +3) — Guelph have a game with No. 11 Kitchener Tuesday night as the second of two OHL games on the schedule. The Storm are playing well and have put together a three-game winning streak, including a comeback win against the Soo and another against Sudbury on Sunday. Carolina prospect Brock McGinn is leading the offensive charge for the Storm—he had 10 points in February and has a pair of two-point games at the start of March.
9. Moncton Wildcats, QMJHL (.537 RPI, 1.0 SRS, +9) — It's not so much what Moncton have done here, but moreso that Rimouski are in the middle of an un-characteristic three-game losing streak. The Cats play most of their remaining schedule on the road. Being stuck in a tough division with Halifax, it's still possible that they can catch Rimouski and claim the No. 4 seed, but the quality of opponent shouldn't change too much.
10. Kamloops Blazers, WHL (.535 RPI, 0.8 SRS, -1) — Newspapers don't print on Sundays in most small towns, so after the Blazers' Sunday night win over Kelowna, coach Guy Charron jokingly complained to the media "where were you guys last night?" when the team beat the Vancouver Giants. A distinguished member of the press replied "the same place you were on Wednesday" when the Blazers managed a 5-3 loss on the road to the lacklustre Giants.
11. Kitchener Rangers, OHL (.533 RPI, 0.5 SRS, +4) — Good news for Kitchener as centreman Radek Faksa is back in the Rangers' lineup after missing 15 games with a knee injury. A bit of ring rust for the Dallas Stars prospect as he has gone pointless in two games and was a minus-3 in the teams' 6-1 loss to London. Steve Spott was quick to criticize his group after that loss, calling overage checker Dominic Alberga the only player he felt comfortable with. Some percentages are setting back Josh Leivo who signed an entry-level deal with the Maple Leafs Monday: after 21 points in his first 17 games with Kitchener, he now has just one in his last seven. Bet that picks up for the playoffs.
12. Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, QMJHL (.533 RPI, 0.9 SRS, +1) — The Armada went 2-1 on the week including a shootout victory over Gatineau to jump into the Dynamic Dozen. Étienne Marcoux, not MacKinnon, could prove to be the X-Factor of the QMJHL playoffs. We know how important goaltending can be, and Marcoux continues to lead the league in save percentage and goals against average as the Armada prep for the playoffs with only four 20-goal scorers and just 251 goals for, sixth in the league.
The not as dynamic but still very distinguished dozen — 13. Saskatoon Blades, WHL (.532, +6); 14. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, OHL (.532, -6); 15. Tri-City Americans, WHL (.531, -1); 16. Spokane Chiefs, WHL (.530, +5); 17. Baie-Comeau Drakkar, QMJHL (.530, —); 18. Calgary Hitmen, WHL (.529, -6); 19. Rimouski Océanic, QMJHL (.525, -9); 20. P.E.I. Rocket, QMJHL (.525, —); 21. Val-d'Or Foreurs, QMJHL (.523, +1); 22. Sarnia Sting, OHL (.523, +4); 23. Drummondville Voltigeurs, QMJHL (.521, —); 24. Oshawa Generals, OHL (.520, —).
Hot team — Moncton Wildcats, up 9 (18th to 9th).
Cold team — Belleville Bulls, down 10 (16th to 26th).
Nowhere to go but up — Ottawa 67's (.424).
An explanation on rankings — Buzzing The Net uses Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) with a recency factor. RPI combines a team's record with the strength of its opponents to produce an overall rating. Our method also gives more weight to recently played games. Shootout wins and losses are classified as ties, for philosophical and practical reasons. Simple Ranking System (SRS), an equation which uses goal differential and strength of schedule, is used as a complement. All three CHL leagues are considered equivalent in quality.
(All rankings through play on Mar. 4.)