September 01, 2011
It seems the Canadian Hockey League is like a revolving door, every year the league loses top-end talent to the pros, but then replaces them with a new crop.
This year's revolving door will be just as busy as any others. Considering the likes of Saskatoon Blades' Brayden Schenn, Spokane Chiefs' Jared Cowen and Brandon Wheat Kings' Scott Glennie are expected to move onto the National or American Hockey League. Those losses and many more will obviously be a hit to the talent in the WHL. But with players from recent bantam and import Drafts ready to make their mark on the league, the excitement will soon fill the void left by the departed..
Here's a look at ten new faces in the Dub to keep an eye on.
1. Eric Comrie, goaltender, Tri-City Americans
The Tri-City Americans management threw the saying "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" out the window this past off-season. The Kennewick, Wash.-based club traded its top two goaltenders from last season, Drew Owsley and Chris Driedger, in order to make room for both highly touted and inexperienced goaltending prospect Eric Comrie.
The risky move will unquestionably make Americans GM Bob Tory look like a genius or a fool. Although, considering Comrie is only the second goaltender the Americans have drafted in the first round of the bantam draft with Montreal Canadiens' Carey Price being the first, there's reason to believe Tory and the Americans tend to know what they're doing between the pipes.
2. Victor Rask, forward, Calgary Hitmen
After drafting Victor Rask 42nd overall in the 2011 NHL entry draft, Carolina Hurricanes General Manager Jimmy Rutherford has been putting pressure on the big Swede to spend this upcoming season in North America. Despite there being a chance Rask could play for the Hurricanes or their AHL affiliate, it seems more likely he'll suit up for the Calgary Hitmen. With the Hitmen finishing dead last in the WHL last season, they definitely could use Rask in their lineup. The 6-foot-1, 187-pounder, who the Hitmen took third overall in the CHL import draft, would easily walk right into the first-line centre position and possibly rack up 20 minutes a game.
3. Curtis Lazar, forward, Edmonton Oil Kings
If you want to hear someone pump Curtis Lazar's tires, just listen to an Edmonton radio station. Several Edmonton-based reporters have compared the 6-foot, 181-pound centre to Edmonton Oilers top prosepct Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Despite these comparisons being a little over the top, Lazar definitely seems to have a bright future ahead of him. The No. 2 pick in the 2010 bantam draft excelled with the Okanagan Hockey Academy last season, notching a remarkable 26 goals and 58 points in 45 games. With the Edmonton Oil Kings appearing to be on the verge of a MasterCard Memorial Cup run, expect Lazar to play a major role in their expected success.
4. Dominik Volek, forward, Regina Pats
Volek is going to give Regina Pats fans a lot to be excited about this season. The 6-foot, 175-pound centre could be the WHL's European sensation this season, similar to Portland Winterhawks' Sven Bartschi, whom the Calgary Flames took in the first round of the NHL entry draft.
Volek spent last season with the HC Sparta Praha of the Czech U20 League, counting 21 goals and 40 points in 39 games. Volek, whom the Pats took ninth overall in the import draft, has impressive hockey bloodlines. The 17-year-old is the son of former NHLer David Volek.
5. Steffen Soberg, goaltender, Swift Current Broncos
In order for the Swift Current Broncos to make the playoffs this season, Steffen Soberg is going to have to be a difference-maker. The 5-foot-11, 176-pound goaltender, taken sixth overall in the import draft, will be counted on heavily with the Broncos having a young and inexperienced team. The Washington Capitals prospect does bring a lot of international experience with him. Soberg has represented Norway at several international tournaments, including the 2011 world junior tournament in Buffalo.
After scoring 42 goals and 107 points in 67 regular-season games in the past two seasons with the Beardy's Blackhawks of the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League, it's clear Alex Forsberg is ready for a new challenge. The 5-foot-9, 170-pound centre will be joining a Cougars club that seems to be growing into a promising young squad. With Forsberg being the top bantam pick in 2010, high expectations have undoubtedly fallen on the 16 year old's shoulders.
7. Andrey Makarov, goaltender, Saskatoon Blades
With the Saskatoon Blades trading up in the import draft to select Andrey Makarov, it's clear Blades management have high hopes for the Russian goaltender. At this point 20-year-old Adam Morrison is expected to be the Blades' No. 1 goaltender, but don't be surprised if Makarov steals his starting position. As Blades colour commentator Cody Nickolet put it, "He's been excellent in training camp. He could definitely become the go-to goalie."
8. Sam Reinhart, forward, Kootenay Ice
With star forward Cody Eakin turning pro with the Washington Capitals organization, expect Reinhart to help void his loss. Reinhart dominated the the British Columbia Major Midget League last season with 38 goals and 78 points in 34 regular-season games with the Vancouver NW Giants. Considering Reinhart isn't draft eligible till 2014, the Ice are fortunate enough to be guaranteed his skills for at least another three years.
9. Jared Hauf, defence, Seattle Thunderbirds
With his 6-foot-5, 198-pound frame, it's hard to overlook Jared Hauf. The big defenceman will add some much needed size and grit to the Seattle Thunderbirds blueline. Despite initially appearing as merely a shut-down defenceman, Hauf can also move the puck. The combination of his size, strong defensive play and offensive instincts has sparked comparisons to Jared Cowen.
10. Morgan Klimchuk, forward, Regina Pats
Similar to Volek, Morgan Klimchuk will play a major role in the Regina Pats' rebuild. Klimchuk lit up the Albert Midget AAA Hockey League last season with 27 goals and 50 points in 32 regular-season games with the Calgary Buffaloes. The 5-foot-10, 160-pound forward is joining a team whose fans are used to seeing talented scorers call Evraz Place home, with the Edmonton Oilers' Jordan Eberle having come through Regina and with Los Angeles Kings prospect Jordan Weal entering his 19-year-old season.
Kelly Friesen is a Western Hockey League writer for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on twitter @KellyFriesen.