Buzzing The Net - Junior Hockey

Portland Winterhawks’ pair the WHL’s most dynamic duo entering playoffs

There was no shortage of goals in the Western Hockey League this season. Eight players scored at least 100 points and four players reached the 50-goal plateau.

All of the league's top-10 goal scorers are headed into the post-season. So it seems the second season could be a scoring frenzy as well.

The only thing scarier for a goaltender than having one red-hot goal scorer flying down the ice towards him is having two snipers looking to light the lamp behind him. That being said, here's a look at the best 1-2 scoring punches that are playoff bound.

Ty Rattie and Sven Bärtschi, Portland Winterhawks (combined points: 215, points-per-game average: 3.7) — Rattie and Bärtschi have not only proven to be the most lethal one-two scoring punch in the regular-season, but also the post-season. The scoring duo notched a combined 19 goals and 49 points in the Winterhawks' 21-game playoff run last year.

This year they will be counted on even more to score when it matters with Ryan Johansen and Nino Niederreiter no longer in Winterhawks jerseys. Both players have shown significant improvements in their games this season. Rattie, a St. Louis Blues second-rounder, netted 42 more points this season than last. Bartschi, who recently notched three goals in a five-game stint with the Calgary Flames, averaged .72 more points a game than he did in his first North American season.

Brendan Shinnimin and Adam Hughesman, Tri-City Americans (combined points: 250, points-per-game average: 3.54) — Shinnimin and Hughesman scored the most points combined; however, they were edged out in points per game.

When Shinnimin and Hughesman are hot, bluelines crumble around them.  Shinnimin scored 23 goals and 43 points throughout 14 games in February, including back-to-back hat tricks against the Everett Silvertips. This outstanding play helped him earn an entry-level contract with the Phoenix Coyotes. Meanwhile, Hughesman ended the season by notching 12 goals and 15 points in the last 10 games. Not bad for two players passed over in the past three NHL entry drafts.

Mark Stone and Michael Ferland, Brandon Wheat Kings (combined points: 219, points-per-game average: 3.26) — Stone and Ferland are arguably the strongest two-way forwards among the Dub's most dynamic duos. They hit, back check, block shots, and obviously can put the puck in the back of the net.

The Wheat Kings were knocked out of the post-season in the first-round by the Medicine Hat Tigers last year. Ferland and Stone, though, combined for five goals and 16 points throughout the six-game series.

Sixth-seeded Brandon has drawn the Calgary Hitmen. It seems as though the Hitmen will be an easier opponent than the Tigers were last year. However, a lot of people underestimated Calgary in the regular season. Therefore, one shouldn't make the same mistake of underestimating this Hitmen squad twice. As the saying goes — fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

Emerson Etem and Hunter Shinkaruk, Medicine Hat Tigers (combined points: 198, points-per-game average: 3.02) — Tigers play-by-play announcer Bob Ridley practically has to say this isn't a recording after every time Etem or Shinkaruk fire a puck past a goaltender. The two snipers' combined 110 goals was the most of any WHL teammates.

The Tigers do lack depth up front. So Etem and Shinkaruk will have to perform for the Tigers to have any shot at a playoff run. Nonetheless, the two wingers seem to be a pretty safe bet. Etem scored 10 goals and 21 points in 15 playoff games last year; Shinkaruk netted four goals and nine points in 14 games as a 16-year-old. Since the 5-foot-10, 165-pounder doubled his season point total and then some this year, one should expect the same pattern in his playoff numbers.

Michael St.Croix and Dylan Wruck, Edmonton Oil Kings (combined points: 185, points-per-game average: 2.68) — St. Croix and Wruck are the Oil Kings' top goal scorers but are hardly their only consistent snipers. Edmonton's locker room contains seven players who scored at least 20 goals. Highly touted Henrik Samuelsson might have had that many if he played the entire season.

The Oil Kings will face arguably the top playoff-proven goaltender in junior hockey. They will take on Kootenay Ice's Nathan Lieuwen, who has a WHL championship ring after posting a 2.24 average and .923 save percentage throughout last year's playoffs. This obviously won't be an easy task.

Brendan Gallagher and Marek Tvrdon, Vancouver Giants (combined points: 151, points-per-game average: 2.64) — Gallagher and Tvrdon missed their fair share of games this year because of injuries and the world junior championship.Nevertheless, when they were in the lineup they made goaltenders look quite foolish. They notched a combined 72 goals throughout 114 matches.

It seems the best way to get Gallagher at the top of his game is to invite a Montreal Canadiens alumnus to watch him play. The Habs prospect netted a hat trick and four assists against the Winterhawks in a game in early January while Guy Lafleur watched the game from a press box in Pacific Coliseum. Can Giants owner Ron Toigo fly Larry Robinson or Ken Dryden in for Vancouver's series vs. the Spokane Chiefs?

Brendan Ranford and Colin Smith, Kamloops Blazers (combined points: 177, points-per-game average: 2.52) — Ranford's and Smith's scoring success is a major reason that the Blazers went from second-last in their conference a year ago to clinching their division title this season.

Ranford, the nephew of former NHL goaltender Bill Ranford, appeared to take off right where he left off the year before. The Philadelphia Flyers prospect scored 40 goals and 92 points this season, improving his point total by six.

After being passed over in last year's NHL draft, Smith made a strong case for why it was a mistake not to take a chance on him. The 5-foot-10, 172-pound centre improved his point production by 35 points, netting 35 goals and 85 points in his third season with the Blazers.

Jordan Weal and Lane Scheidl, Regina Pats (combined points: 171, points-per-game average: 2.44) — The Pats offence is often referred to as Jordan Weal and company. The Los Angeles Kings prospect's 41 goals and 116 points works out to be more than double of any of his teammates' point totals.

Despite being overshadowed by Weal, Scheidl also had an impressive season on the score sheet. The Saskatoon native notched 27 goals and 55 points in 70 games. Since Weal can't be expected to do it all, Scheidl will be looked upon to take some pressure off his shoulders against the Pats' first-round opponent, the Moose Jaw Warriors.

Matej Stransky and Josh Nicholls, Saskatoon Blades (combined points: 149, points-per-game average: 2.36) — Since the Blades lost Brayden Schenn, Marek Viedensky and Curtis Hamilton to the pros this past off-season, they desperately needed more from their younger forwards. This opportunity was not taken lightly by Stransky and Nicholls.

Stansky broke out as one of the top goal scorers in the Dub. The Dallas Stars prospect scored an impressive 39 goals and 81 points in 70 games, more than tripling his previous season's numbers.

Unfortunately for both he and the Blades, Nicholls was out of the lineup for roughly six weeks with a torn ACL. He did, however, make the most of his season when healthy. The Toronto Maple Leafs prospect notched 30 goals and 68 points throughout 56 games.

Cam Braes and Quinton Howden, Moose Jaw Warriors (combined points: 147, points-per-game average: 2.34) — The acquisition of Braes from the Lethbridge Hurricanes at the trade deadline has been so far so good for the Warriors. The 21-year-old winger has netted 17 goals and 37 points in 30 games since landing in Moose Jaw.

Howden, similar to Giants' Gallagher and Tvrdon, missed a ton of action because of injuries and the world juniors. The Florida Panthers prospect only suited up for 52 games, but posted 30 goals and 65 points.

Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen.

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