With the season starting on Sept. 19, we will look at each division in the WHL and make 14 fun facts and fearless forecasts for the upcoming 2013-14 season.
After sweeping the Kelowna Rockets in the playoffs last season, the Kamloops Blazers cemented one final year of being the top team in the Canadian Hockey League's westernmost-division. It's their division to lose, particularly in a year with three rebuilding squads...
1. The Kelowna Rockets will win 50+ games again — It obviously depends how things shake out down south, but take a glance at the Rockets' roster, and they seem to be the ones best suited for a run this season. The Rockets won 52 games last season, and sent nine players to NHL camps this summer. Big man Madison Bowey anchors a tough and efficient defensive unit that allowed the third fewest goals in the 'dub last season, and last year's starter Jordon Cooke is returning for his overage year—his .912 career save percentage is an excellent mark. If the Rockets have a flaw, it's up front. Myles Bell is eligible to play professionally in the New Jersey Devils' organization and Colton Sissons has left, leaving Zach Franko, owner of 72 points last season, to pace the offence. 56-point getters Ryan Olson and Tyson Baillie will need to step up as the highest point-getting players other than Franko, and the Rockets didn't go out in the offseason to grab reinforcements up front. Baillie is already one of the top prospects for the 2014 draft.
2. Alex Forsberg will rebound in Prince George — It was a tumultuous 2012-2013 for the former No. 1 overall Bantam Draft pick. After failing to secure a trade from the Cougars, Forsberg walked out on the team and went to play Junior A in his home province of Saskatchewan.
Under new management—Dean Clark was replaced by Mark Hollick—Forsberg has returned. "I've changed a lot in the last year and the organization has changed a lot", said the one-time phenom. Forsberg has a short time in the WHL to prove himself to scouts. He scored 5 points in 4 preseason games.
3. This is the year for the Cougars to return to the playoffs — Okay, perhaps this prediction isn't entirely fearless, but it's been two years for the Cougars, and in a 10-team conference where 8 teams qualify for the postseason, that's an eternity. They're spurred by the return of Forsberg, but also St. Louis prospect Zach Pochiro and Colorado prospect Troy Bourke up front. The Cougars went 5-0 in the preseason and while they shouldn't be among the conference's elite, they ought to challenge in a weak division.Read More »from WHL preview: Cougars clawing upwards, but Kelowna fuel the B.C. Division