Kia CHL Top-10 Spotlight: Lethbridge Hurricanes

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The Lethbridge Hurricanes have cracked the Kia CHL Top-10 Rankings for the first time this season slotting in at number 10.

Winners of four straight, the Canes sit second in the WHL’s Central Division with a 33-12-2-5 showing and 73 points, coming off a perfect week following victories over the Red Deer Rebels, Prince Albert Raiders, and Calgary Hitmen as the club zeroes in a playoff berth for the fifth year running.

Led by Buffalo Sabres prospect Dylan Cozens, who last year became the first Yukon product to be selected in the opening round of the NHL Draft, the speedy centre has put up 67 points on the season counting 29 goals and 38 assists to rank seventh in scoring league wide.

Registering at least one point in 11 of his past 12 outings, that stretch includes a four-point showing versus the Moose Jaw Warriors in late January in which Cozens not only matched a season high but also notched his fourth career hat-trick. A natural leader, Cozens was presented with the Hurricanes’ co-captaincy at the end of last month.

“It means a lot to be named the captain of this team and to do it with Ty Prefontaine, who’s a great leader, it’s exciting and we’re going to do it the right way and it’s going to be a good thing,” Cozens said in a statement. “It’s a huge honour. We’ve both been here a long time and we’re both really excited to be co-captains.”

While Cozens leads the way up front, the Hurricanes also receive strong secondary scoring support from 19-year-old left-wing Oliver Okuliar, among other key contributors.

A native of Slovakia, Okuliar was chosen with the 49th pick in the 2019 CHL Import Draft and represented his country at the World Junior Championship. He’s made a good impression in his first season with the Hurricanes as through 44 contests he has recorded 60 points including a team-leading 31 goals. That ability to find the back of the net makes Okuliar an intriguing option to talent evaluators as evidenced by his 117th overall ranking in NHL Central Scouting’s Midterm Report.

A younger lineup, the Hurricanes have also seen plenty of up-and-coming talents take a shift this season, including 16-year-old left-wing Zach Stringer, a 2021 NHL Draft eligible who in his first campaign is scoring at nearly a point-per-game pace with eight goals and 22 assists through 38 appearances. Stringer was originally selected eighth overall in 2018 WHL Bantam Draft.

Separating from the competition, what makes the Hurricanes truly unique is the squad’s ability to generate offense from the back end with a pair of premium point producers in 2020 NHL Draft prospect Alex Cotton, who leads all WHL rearguards with 57 points on the season and who sits one slot back of Okuliar in NHL Central Scouting’s Report, as well as newly minted Minnesota Wild prospect Calen Addison, whose busy year has also included impressive performances alongside Cozens at the CIBC Canada Russia Series as well as World Juniors.

Currently riding a 10-game point streak, Addison was the difference in Saturday’s 3-1 victory over the Raiders as he fired home the eventual game winner midway through the final frame, marking the second time this season he has sealed the victory for his club.

“He’s a difference maker and when he gets an opportunity in the slot like that we feel pretty confident he is going to get a good look and get a good chance to score,” Hurricanes head coach Brent Kisio, who became the franchise’s all-time wins leader with 189 following the victory, said of Addison’s performance, per Dale Woodard of the Lethbridge Herald. “He (has) stepped up for us all year long and that’s what he does.”

Backed by netminder Carl Tetachuk, the Hurricanes are among the stingiest teams defensively as the sophomore has come away with an 18-8-1-5 record and a .912 save percentage through 33 appearances, while the club has also seen a solid showing from rookie goaltender Bryan Thomson who has come away with the victory in 15 of his 25 appearances.

Strong play in the blue paint coupled with an offensively gifted back end and solid leaders and scorers throughout the forward ranks has the Hurricanes set to punch their ticket to the playoffs, with the race to the postseason continuing in the coming week with three games in four nights counting dates versus the Winnipeg ICE and Edmonton Oil Kings.

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