WHL playoff preview: Second-round matchups in the Eastern Conference

Kelly Friesen
Brayden Point and the Warriors face the Wheat Kings int he second round. (Larry MacDougal, The Canadian Press)
Brayden Point and the Warriors face the Wheat Kings int he second round. (Larry MacDougal, The Canadian Press)

Albeit there were some hiccups, the first round of the WHL’s Eastern Conference playoffs didn’t include any big surprises. The Brandon Wheat Kings and Red Deer Rebels won their heavily favoured series while the Regina Pats and Moose Jaw Warriors came out on top of their close matchups.

The Wheat Kings stumbled out of the gate in their first series, as they dropped the first two games to the Edmonton Oil Kings. They pulled up their socks in Game 3, though, and went on to take the series in six matches.

Moose Jaw’s elite scorers were just too much for the Prince Albert Raiders to handle. Brett Howden, a 2016 NHL draft prospect, led the way with 11 points while veteran forwards Dryden Hunt and Brayden Point racked up 10 points each.

Red Deer’s trade deadline additions came up big in their five-game series over the Calgary Hitmen. San Jose Sharks pick Adam Helewka (5G-2A) and Boston Bruins first-round pick Jake DeBrusk (3G-2A) combined for 12 points.

Even though the Pats finished 14-points behind the Lethbridge Hurricanes in the standings, it wasn’t surprising to see them capture the matchup in five games. The Queen City Kids had the playoff experience on their side and a hot offense led by 120-point scorer Adam Brooks.

Both series in the second round of the WHL’s Eastern Conference playoff action kick off today.

Central Division

(3) Red Deer Rebels (45-24-1-2, 93 points) vs. (7) Regina Pats (36-28-3-5, 80 points)

Season series: 2-2-0-0 tie. Prediction: Rebels in 7.

Series in a sentence: Memorial Cup hosts look to topple red-hot Pats.

Why the Rebels should win: As the Memorial Cup hosts, Red Deer is expected to advance to the Eastern Conference final in a showdown with Brandon. Regina, similar to Calgary, will be hard-pressed to knock them out early.

Up front and on the back end, Red Deer has the advantage in depth over Regina. In addition to Helewka and DeBrusk, they have Winnipeg Jets pick Michael Spacek, St. Louis Blues prospect Adam Musil, overage Luke Philip and 22-goal scorer Grayson Pawlenchuk. Carolina Hurricanes prized pick Haydn Fleury, Jets prospect Nelson Nogier and veterans Colton Bobyk and Kayle Doetzel make up a solid defensive quartet.

Ardossan, Alta., native Trevor Martin, who became Red Deer’s No. 1 goalie when Rylan Toth went down with an upper-body injury, had an excellent series against Calgary. He posted a 2.21 average and a .927 save percentage.

How the Pats could win: Regina showed in their first-round matchup against the Hurricanes that they are better than their seventh-place finish suggests. They knocked the second-place team out in five contests and only allowed 10 goals against in the series.

The Pats’ top offensive talents were all over a point-per-game pace against Lethbridge. Brooks (5G-9A), draft prospect Sam Steel (4G-5A), overage Cole Sanford (3G-5A) and Los Angeles Kings pick Austin Wagner (2G-4A) combined for 37 points.

Tyler Brown was lights out in his first playoff series, posting a 2.00 average and .935 save percentage. Moreover, he helped slow down the high-powered Lethbridge power play to a 20.7 per cent success rate from its 28.9 regular-season average.

East Division

(1) Brandon Wheat Kings (48-18-4-2, 102 points) vs. (6) Moose Jaw Warriors (36-27-7-2, 81 points)

Season series: 7-1-0-0 Wheat Kings. Prediction: Wheat Kings in 6.

Series in a sentence: Wheat Kings in position to scatter the Tribe.

Why the Wheat Kings should win: After dropping the first two contests, the Wheaties showed why they are the favourites to win the Ed Chynoweth Cup in a 10-3 Game 6 victory over the Oil Kings. They are stacked at every positon with high-end talent.

Brandon had five players produce at a point-per-game pace or better against Edmonton: New Jersey Devils first-rounder John Quenneville (4G-5A), Florida Panthers pick Jayce Hawryluk (2G-7A), 2017 draft phenom Nolan Patrick (3G-5A), Minnesota Wild prospect Reid Duke (5G-2A) and 2016 NHL draft prospect Kale Clague (3G-3A). It’s a testament to their elite skill and unmatched depth up front.

On top of skill, the Wheat Kings have the clear edge in experience. Starting netminder Jordan Papirny has 34 playoff games under his belt. Moreover, the vast majority of the team went through the club’s long playoff run last season.

How the Warriors could win: Moose Jaw has the top 1-2 offensive punch in the WHL in Hunt and Point. The two point producers have been known to give goalies nightmares after combining for 93 markers and 204 points in 120 contests.

In addition to Howden, the Warriors had a handful of players step up against the Raiders. Tanner Jeannot (4G-5A), Noah Gregor (2G-5A) and Jayden Halbgewachs (3G-3A) made notable impacts up front while young Josh Brook (1G-2A) showed why he was a first-round bantam pick on the back end.

Zach Sawchenko, 18, stood tall in the first round after a strong regular-season. He only allowed Prince Albert to find the back of the net 10 times while posting a .942 save percentage.

Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen