Kelly Friesen

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Kelly Friesen is a blogger for Yahoo! Sports

  • WHL Eastern Conference Playoff Preview: Brandon aims to dethrone Oil Kings

    Tim McGauley's Wheat Kings are up against last year's WHL champions in the first round of the playoffs. (Wheat Kings).Tim McGauley's Wheat Kings are up against last year's WHL champions in the first round of the playoffs. (Wheat Kings).

    Like any coin, there are two sides to the WHL’s Eastern Conference playoff picture. The Brandon Wheat Kings are heavily favoured to come out of the East Division following capturing the Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy. The Central Division, on the other hand, appears to be an all-out dogfight.

    Nonetheless, as every junior hockey fan knows, the post-season is very rarely as it seems. There is bound to be at least one upset every year. The third-seeded Calgary Hitmen were toppled by the Kootenay Ice last season, albeit it’s not exactly accurate to consider any team led by Buffalo Sabres prospect Sam Reinhart as an underdog. In 2012-13, the Medicine Hat Tigers swept the Saskatoon Blades, the Memorial Cup hosts, in the first round.

    East Division

    (1) Brandon Wheat Kings (53-11-4-4, 114 pts) vs. (4) Edmonton Oil Kings (34-31-4-3, 75 pts)

    Season series: Wheat Kings 3-1-0-0. Prediction: Wheat Kings in 6.

    Series in a sentence: Clash of the Eastern Conference Kings.

    It is fitting that the Wheat

    Read More »from WHL Eastern Conference Playoff Preview: Brandon aims to dethrone Oil Kings
  • The Chiefs ultimately landed Kailer Yamamoto (above) and the top pick in the 2015 draft in a deal with the Blades. (Gary Peterson/Action Sports Images)The Chiefs ultimately landed Kailer Yamamoto (above) and the top pick in the 2015 draft in a deal with the Blades. (Gary Peterson/Action Sports Images)

    The Saskatoon Blades’ 2013 Memorial Cup push just keeps on getting worse. For the second consecutive year, the Blades won the WHL bantam draft lottery without holding the pick because of prior trades. The Spokane Chiefs benefited from the last-place club's wheeling and dealing this year.

    At the 2013 trade deadline, Chiefs architect Tim Speltz swapped Collin Valcourt for a 2015 first-round pick and a 2013 fifth-round pick, which happened to be invested in rookie sensation Kailer Yamamoto. It looked like a lopsided deal at the time, but has evolved into one of the worst trades in the history of the WHL.

    It’s important to take the Valcourt deal into context before putting all of the onus on former Blades GM Lorne Molleken. He had orders from his boss, ex-owner Jack Brodsky, to do whatever it took to give the Bridge City Boys a shot at the Memorial Cup, regardless of how it affected the club’s future. Brodsky had no issue completely emptying the team’s cupboard because he knew he wasn’t

    Read More »from Spokane Chiefs win 2015 WHL bantam draft lottery, thanks to the Saskatoon Blades
  • Erie Otter duo leads top 10 NHL draft prospects in CHL’s playoff picture

    Connor McDavid's Otters play the Sting in the first-round of the OHL playoffs. (Marc Mead, The Associated Press)Connor McDavid's Otters play the Sting in the first-round of the OHL playoffs. (Marc Mead, The Associated Press)

    With the CHL’s second season kicking off on Thursday, the junior league’s draft eligible prospects will have one last opportunity to impress scouts on the ice.

    Regardless of how the playoffs unfold, Erie Otters superstar Connor McDavid will inevitably have his named called first at the 2015 NHL draft in Florida. It is not so cut and dry beyond the Newmarket, Ont., native, though. A strong or poor effort in the post-season could have a significant impact on the draft stock of many other prospects.

    Here is a look at the top 10 NHL draft prospects to watch in the CHL playoffs.

    1. Connor McDavid, centre, Erie Otters (OHL) – This will be the last hurrah for the best talent the CHL has seen since Sidney Crosby. Moreover, with McDavid NHL bound next season, it will be his last shot to lead Erie to its first OHL championship since 2002 following losing out to the Guelph Storm in the Western Conference finals last year.

    After notching 44 goals and 120 points in 47 contests, it will be tough

    Read More »from Erie Otter duo leads top 10 NHL draft prospects in CHL’s playoff picture
  • McCrimmon’s dealing leads to Wheat Kings capturing Scotty Munro Trophy

    Kelly McCrimmon made six key trades that helped the Brandon Wheat Kings win the Scotty Munro Trophy. (WHL.ca)Kelly McCrimmon made six key trades that helped the Brandon Wheat Kings win the Scotty Munro Trophy. (WHL.ca)

    The Brandon Wheat Kings took home the Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy, awarded to the WHL’s top team in the regular-season, on the weekend largely because of Kelly McCrimmon’s wheeling and dealing. The longtime general manager built much of his club’s foundation on six key deals.

    The hurdles involved in pulling off major trades in junior hockey makes the Wheat Kings’ roster moves quite impressive. Most high-end players aren't available until the trade deadline of their 19-year-old seasons, and that’s only if their team is rebuilding. In addition, it’s near impossible to acquire young skill because 16-year-old rookies are given no-trade clauses in the WHL for recruitment reasons.

    McCrimmon’s favourite dance partners were Lethbridge Hurricanes GM Brad Robson and Saskatoon Blades GM Lorne Molleken. It is no coincidence that both architects are no longer in the league and left their teams in the gutter.

    Brandon’s best deal kicked of their retool at the 2011 trade deadline. The club’s

    Read More »from McCrimmon’s dealing leads to Wheat Kings capturing Scotty Munro Trophy
  • NHL draft prospect Jake DeBrusk stepped up in a critical game for the Swift Current Broncos.NHL draft prospect Jake DeBrusk stepped up in a critical game for the Swift Current Broncos.

    No. 1 Star: Jake DeBrusk, Swift Current Broncos (WHL)

    The smallest market in the WHL is taking over BTN’s three stars feature. DeBrusk joins Colby Cave and Landon Bow as No. 1 stars in the last two weeks.

    The 6-foot, 171-pound winger (3G-1A, +1) earned the top star with a clutch four-point effort in a crucial 5-3 win over the Lethbridge Hurricanes. The victory guarantees the Broncos a playoff spot if they capture a single point tomorrow night against Lethbridge or the Moose Jaw Warriors lose their final game against the Brandon Wheat Kings.

    DeBrusk sniped a critical goal on the power play just 58 seconds into the second period to cut Lethbridge’s lead in half. He wrapped up the middle frame with three points after he set up a marker from Jay Merkley (1G-1A, +1) and lit the lamp for a second time. He completed his hat trick roughly midway through the third period when he notched Swift Current’s fifth consecutive goal.

    The Edmonton, Alta., native, who is regarded as a top 45 prospect of

    Read More »from Swift Current Broncos’ Jake DeBrusk nets a hat trick in crucial win: Friday’s 3 Stars
  • Nikita Scherbak trade pays dividends for Everett Silvertips

    Nikita Scherbak has helped the Silvertips in more ways than one this season. (Matt Slocum, Associated Press)Nikita Scherbak has helped the Silvertips in more ways than one this season. (Matt Slocum, Associated Press)

    The Everett Silvertips took a bit of a gamble when they acquired Nikita Scherbak from the Saskatoon Blades at the start of the season. They gave up a handful of future assets – a 2015 first-round pick, 2016 second-round pick and 1997-born goalie Nik Amundrud – in an effort to solidify their squad as one of the top teams in the WHL’s Western Conference.

    Seventy games later, the big trade has paid dividends for the Silvertips, at least in terms of the regular-season. The Montreal Canadiens first-round pick has easily been their most dangerous scorer all year long, notching 27 goals and 79 points in 63 contests. His offensive production is a major reason why Everett has left three of its U.S. Division rivals in the dust and is in a 90-point tie with the Portland Winterhawks for second place in the Western Conference.

    “He has added a lot of offense to our group that we thought we needed,” says Silvertips general manager Garry Davidson. “He has been a big part of our group’s success and

    Read More »from Nikita Scherbak trade pays dividends for Everett Silvertips
  • NHL draft tracker: Austin Strand, Red Deer Rebels

    Red Deer's Austin Strand is ranked 66th among North American skaters by NHL CSS. (Dave Brunner Photography) Red Deer's Austin Strand is ranked 66th among North American skaters by NHL CSS. (Dave Brunner Photography) 

    Red Deer Rebels rearguard Austin Strand has bought into the idea that he is a classic late bloomer. He was told that he wasn’t good enough to play in the Western Hockey League in his first year of major junior eligibility in 2013-14, but is now hearing his name will be called at the 2015 NHL entry draft.

    “I’ve heard people say I’m a late bloomer before,” says Strand, whom NHL Central Scouting Service ranked 66th among North American skaters in its midterm ranking. “I’ve talked to scouts who have told me I’m a late bloomer and I’d say the same.”

    The Calgary, Alta., native’s ability to make a seamlessly smooth transition to the Dub this year can be partially credited to the work he put in last off-season. He prepared himself mentally and physically in the summer to make Red Deer his permanent home this year.

    “Last summer I changed my workout schedule a lot to get ready for this year,” he says. “I thought I needed to make a push and a have good year in my draft year. I worked hard at

    Read More »from NHL draft tracker: Austin Strand, Red Deer Rebels
  • The Friesen Files: McDavid ‘just as good as Crosby’ at same age

    For the first time since Nov. 6, Connor McDavid was held off an OHL score sheet on Wednesday night against the Niagara IceDogs. The match ended the Erie Otters superstar’s 27-game scoring streak that included 26 goals and 67 points.

    The Newmarket, Ont., native’s scoring tear flared up more conversations on whether he has the edge on Sidney Crosby at the age of 18 or vice versa. When just evaluating pure numbers, Crosby’s 2.70 points-per-game ratio with the Rimouski Oceanic is slightly better than McDavid’s 2.53 average, but one has to take into account that the OHL has a reputation as being harder to score in than the QMJHL.

    “He will change a franchise like Crosby,” says an NHL scout. “I would say he’s just as good as Crosby when he was his age. You could argue McDavid has the edge in some areas, but the same arguments could made for Crosby. It’s so close that I wouldn’t be willing to say one is better than the other."

    There is understandably some skepticism surrounding McDavid

    Read More »from The Friesen Files: McDavid ‘just as good as Crosby’ at same age
  • NHL draft tracker: Mathew Barzal, Seattle Thunderbirds

    Mathew Barzal (No. 13) is in the running to be the first WHL player drafted in June. (Brian Liesse/Seattle Thunderbirds)Mathew Barzal (No. 13) is in the running to be the first WHL player drafted in June. (Brian Liesse/Seattle Thunderbirds)

    Mathew Barzal headed into this season regarded as the Western Hockey League’s top 2015 NHL draft prospect. The Seattle Thunderbirds centre’s enticing blend of a smooth stride, elite vision and top-notch play-making abilities seemed to separate him from the rest of his WHL peers in 2013-14.

    But with the regular-season portion of his sophomore year almost wrapped up, the Coquitlam, B.C., native is no longer considered the clear-cut best draft prospect in Western Canada. It is believed to be a tossup between him and Brandon Wheat Kings defender Ivan Provorov while Kelowna Rockets sniper Nick Merkley and Prince George Cougars star Jansen Harkins aren’t far behind in the rear-view mirror.

    In addition to some consistency concerns, a major knee injury in December is a notable reason for why Barzal hasn’t solidified himself as the Dub’s best prospect. It kept him out of action for about a month in a crucial time of the year.

    “It was tough those two first weeks when I was lying in bed doing

    Read More »from NHL draft tracker: Mathew Barzal, Seattle Thunderbirds
  • Brooks Maxwell led Red Deer to a 6-4 win over Saskatoon on Wednesday night with four markers. (Rebels)Brooks Maxwell led Red Deer to a 6-4 win over Saskatoon on Wednesday night with four markers. (Rebels)

    No. 1 Star: Brooks Maxwell, Red Deer Rebels (WHL)

    The veteran forward sniped the first hat trick of his WHL career and added a fourth for good measure in a 6-4 win against the Saskatoon Blades.

    Maxwell gave the Rebels a key 2-0 lead at the 12:21 mark in the first period when he completed a give-and-go with Myer Neil (1A, +1) on the penalty kill. After scoring his second of the night later in the opening frame on the man advantage, Nelson Nogier (2A) and Riley Sheen (3A) set him up for a pair of markers in the third period.

    The Raymond, Alta., native has proven to be a valuable offensive threat for the Rebels in his overage season. He has developed into a top-six forward on his way out the door with 26 goals and 47 points in 66 matches.

    With one less game in hand, the Rebels are only three-points back of the Calgary Hitmen and Medicine Hat Tigers for top spot in the Central Division.

    No. 2 Star: Maxim Lazarev, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (QMJHL)

    The Russian import (3G, +3) found the

    Read More »from Brooks Maxwell’s 4-goal effort propels Rebels over Blades: Wednesday’s 3 Stars

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