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2019-20 CHL Season Preview Series: WHL’s Central Division

 

Day 4 of a 12-day coast-to-coast series previewing the 2019-20 Canadian Hockey League season features the Western Hockey League’s Central Division:

Calgary Hitmen

Last 5 Years

2014-15: 45-22-1-4, 95 Points (1st in Central Division)
2015-16: 42-26-2-2, 88 Points (3rd in Central Division) ▼
2016-17: 30-32-8-2, 70 Points (4th in Central Division) ▼
2017-18: 24-37-9-2, 59 Points (5th in Central Division) ▼
2018-19: 36-26-5-1, 78 Points (3rd in Central Division) ▲

Best Playoff Result: 2015 – Lost 4-1 vs. Brandon in Round 3

Need to Know

Head Coach: Steve Hamilton, 2nd Season
2018 Bantam Draft (Top Pick): 1/4 (C) Sean Tschigerl (OHA Edmonton Bntm Prep)
2019 CHL Import Draft (Top Pick): 1/37 (LW) Jonas Peterek (Frydek-Mistek HC)
2018-19 Notable Graduates: (LW) Luke Coleman, (RW) Kaden Elder, (C) Jake Kryski
NHL Prospects: (C) Carson Focht (Vancouver, 5/133, 2019), (C) Mark Kastelic (Ottawa, 5/125, 2019), (D) Jett Woo (Vancouver, 2/37, 2018)

Players to Watch

Returning Leader: (D) Jett Woo
On the Horizon: (D) Luke Prokop

The Hitmen made a big-time addition this spring in acquiring highly touted defender Jett Woo. After spending the first three seasons of his junior career with Moose Jaw, Woo joins his new club where it is expected he’ll be one of the top offensive contributors. On the back end, 17-year-old blue-liner and 2020 NHL Draft prospect Luke Prokop, who put up 10 points in 62 appearances last season, should benefit from Woo’s addition to the defensive core.

Edmonton Oil Kings

Last 5 Years

2014-15: 34-31-4-3, 75 Points (5th in Central Division)
2015-16: 29-36-6-1, 65 Points (4th in Central Division) ▼
2016-17: 23-43-5-1, 52 Points (5th in Central Division) ▼
2017-18: 22-42-6-2, 52 Points (6th in Central Division) ◀▶
2018-19: 42-18-4-4, 92 Points (1st in Central Division) ▲

Best Playoff Result: 2019 – Lost 4-2 vs. Prince Albert in Round 3

Need to Know

Head Coach: Brad Lauer, 2nd Season
2018 Bantam Draft (Top Pick): 1/1 (C) Dylan Guenther (Northern Alberta Xtreme Bntm Prep)
2019 CHL Import Draft (Top Pick): 1/52 (LW) Jesse Seppala (Tappara Tampere B)
2018-19 Notable Graduates: (RW) Quinn Benjafield, (RW) Trey Fix-Wolansky (Columbus), (C) Andrew Fyten, (C) Vince Loschiavo
NHL Prospects: (D) Matthew Robertson (N.Y. Rangers, 2/49, 2019)

Players to Watch

Returning Leader: (D) Matthew Robertson
On the Horizon: (LW) Jake Neighbours

One of the top prospects ahead of the 2020 NHL Draft will come out of Edmonton in budding winger Jake Neighbours, who impressed on the national stage this summer, captaining Team Canada White at the U17 camp where he put up six points across five contests. Limited to 47 games with the Oil Kings last season, Neighbours still notched 24 points, but is sure to take another step offensively in 2019-20. Also returning to the squad is 18-year-old rearguard Matthew Robertson, a second-round pick by the New York Rangers this summer after he finished last year with 33 points in 52 games.

Lethbridge Hurricanes

Last 5 Years

2014-15: 20-44-5-3, 48 Points (6th in Central Division)
2015-16: 46-24-1-1, 94 Points (1st in Central Division) ▲
2016-17: 44-21-4-3, 95 Points (2nd in Central Division) ▲
2017-18: 33-33-6-0, 72 Points (2nd in Central Division) ▼
2018-19: 40-18-5-5-, 90 Points (2nd in Central Division) ▲

Best Playoff Result: 2018 – Lost 4-2 vs. Swift Current in Round 3

Need to Know

Head Coach: Brent Kisio, 5th Season
2018 Bantam Draft (Top Pick): 1/8 (LW) Zack Stringer (Lethbridge Hurricanes MAAA)
2019 CHL Import Draft (Top Pick): 1/49 (RW) Oliver Okuliar (Sherbrooke Phoenix)
2018-19 Notable Graduates: (C) Jordy Bellerive (Pittsburgh), (RW) Jake Elmer (N.Y. Rangers), (RW) Nick Henry (Colorado), (C) Jake Leschyshyn, (D) Igor Merezhko, (LW) Taylor Ross
NHL Prospects: (D) Calen Addison (Pittsburgh, 2/53, 2018), (C) Dylan Cozens (Buffalo, 1/7, 2019)

Players to Watch

Returning Leader: (C) Dylan Cozens
On the Horizon: (LW) Zack Stringer

Dylan Cozens set a high-water mark last season when he became the first Yukon-born player to be selected in the opening round of the NHL draft. This year, he returns to the Hurricanes where he’ll once again be looked upon to lead the team offensively after he topped the charts in 2018-19 with 84 points. Joining the Cozens up front this season is Lethbridge’s top pick from the 2018 WHL Bantam Draft, Zack Stringer, who had a 14-game trial with the club last year, a stretch which included six postseason appearances.

Medicine Hat Tigers

Last 5 Years

2014-15: 45-23-2-2, 94 Points (2nd in Central Division)
2015-16: 30-37-3-2, 65 Points (5th in Central Division) ▼
2016-17: 51-20-1-0, 103 Points (1st in Central Division) ▲
2017-18: 36-28-8-0, 80 Points (1st in Central Division) ▼
2018-19: 35-27-4-2, 76 Points (4th in Central Division) ▼

Best Playoff Result: 2017 – Lost 4-3 vs. Lethbridge in Round 2

Need to Know

Head Coach: Willie Desjardins*, 1st Season
2018 Bantam Draft (Top Pick): 1/11 (C) Cole Sillinger (Okanagan H.A. Bntm Prep)
2019 CHL Import Draft (Top Pick): 1/34 (LW) Jonathan Brinkman Andersen (Aalborg Pirates)
2018-19 Notable Graduates: (LW) Ryan Jevne, (D) Dylan MacPherson, (D) Linus Nassen
NHL Prospects: (G) Mads Sogaard (Ottawa, 2/37, 2019)

*Desjardins enters his 9th cumulative season with the Tigers after serving as head coach from 2002-10.

Players to Watch

Returning Leader: (C) James Hamblin
On the Horizon: (C) Cole Sillinger

The Tigers will have a new look this season following some key departures, meaning the squad will look to some younger faces to help carry the offensive torch, including 16-year-old forward Cole Sillinger, the team’s top pick from the 2018 WHL Bantam Draft. In 2018-19, the budding scorer wrapped up his final season in the midget ranks with 31 goals and 45 assists in only 39 games. Meanwhile, veteran forward and captain James Hamblin, who led Medicine Hat in scoring last season with 77 points, is set to return for 2019-20.

Red Deer Rebels

Last 5 Years

2014-15: 38-25-5-6, 87 Points (3rd in Central Division)
2015-16: 45-24-1-2, 93 Points (2nd in Central Division) ▲
2016-17: 30-29-9-4, 73 Points (3rd in Central Division) ▼
2017-18: 27-32-10-3, 67 Points (3rd in Central Division) ▼
2018-19: 33-29-4-2, 72 Points (5th in Central Division) ▲

Best Playoff Result: 2016 – Lost 4-1 vs. Brandon in Round 3

Need to Know

Head Coach: Brent Sutter*, 8th Season
2018 Bantam Draft (Top Pick): 1/7 (C) Jayden Grubbe (Calgary CBHA Bisons BAAA)
2019 CHL Import Draft (Top Pick): 1/25 (D) Christoffer Sedoff (HIFK Helsinki B)
2018-19 Notable Graduates: (C) Jeff De Wit, (LW) Brandon Hagel (Chicago), (RW) Reese Johnson (Chicago)
NHL Prospects: N/A

*Sutter enters his 15th cumulative season with the Rebels after serving as head coach from 1999-2007.

Players to Watch

Returning Leader: (C) Brett Davis
On the Horizon: (C) Jayden Grubbe

After joining the Rebels midseason in 2018-19, 20-year-old forward and Dallas Stars prospect Brett Davis quickly turned heads with his new club, collecting 13 goals and 18 assists in 41 games to bring his season total to 50 points. That ability to put the puck in the net will be relied upon heavily this season following the departure of last year’s top five point producers. There will be some talent injection, however, as Red Deer introduces 16-year-old playmaker Jayden Grubbe, whose final season of junior saw him register four goals and 22 assists across 32 contests.

Swift Current Broncos

Last 5 Years

2014-15: 34-33-1-4, 73 Points (3rd in East Division)
2015-16: 24-38-7-3, 58 Points (5th in East Division) ▼
2016-17: 39-23-4-6, 88 Points (3rd in East Division) ▲
2017-18: 48-17-5-2, 103 Points (2nd in East Division) ▲
2018-19: 11-51-4-2, 28 Points (6th in East Division) ▼

*The Broncos will join the Central Division in 2019-20 following a division realignment.

Best Playoff Result: 2018 – Won 4-2 vs. Everett in Ed Chynoweth Cup Final

Need to Know

Head Coach: Dean Brockman, 2nd Season
2018 Bantam Draft (Top Pick): 3/54 (C) Finlay Williams (BWC H.A. Bntm Prep)
2019 CHL Import Draft (Top Pick): 1/1 (D) Kasper Puutio (Karpat Oulu B)
2018-19 Notable Graduates: (G) Riley Lamb, (RW) Tanner Nagel, (D) Matthew Stanley
NHL Prospects: N/A

Players to Watch

Returning Leader: (RW) Joona Kiviniemi
On the Horizon: (D) Kasper Puutio

A pair of Finns will be the key to the Broncos this season, including budding blue-liner and 2020 NHL Draft prospect Kasper Puutio, who joins the club following his first-overall selection in the 2019 CHL Import Draft. An exceptional two-way defenceman, Swift Current will benefit from Puutio’s ability to move the puck, as evidenced by his 12-point showing across 10 games with the Karpat U18 squad last season. Puutio’s transition to North America should come easier given he’ll reunite with former teammate and sophomore Joona Kiviniemi, who impressed with a 25-point showing in 2018-19.

Last 5 Years: WHL’s Central Division

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2019-20 CHL Season Preview Series

Day 1 – WHL’s B.C. Division
Day 2 – OHL’s Central Division
Day 3 – QMJHL’s West Division

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