WHL Season Previews
After a much anticipated season of “what could have been” the 2011-12 Portland Winterhawks don’t have to wait much longer to continue their quest for the club’s third Memorial Cup in franchise history.
Soaring through three rounds in the playoffs winning 16 of 20 games, the ‘Hawks were eventually cooled off by the Kootenay Ice in a bid to represent the WHL at last year’s Memorial Cup Championships. This year’s team now has the tools, and experience, to make that next step.
Portland heads into 2011-12 ranked 7th by the Canadian Hockey League’s preseason rankings. The Saskatoon Blades (2nd) and the Red Deer Rebels (4th) are the only other WHL teams placed higher on the list.
Absentees include two-headed offensive monster: Ryan Johansen (92 points) and Nino Niederreiter (41 goals in just 55 games). Johansen, a 4th overall pick in the 2010 draft, is almost a lock to make the Columbus Blue Jackets this season, while Niederreiter is too talented ( 5th overall in 2010) not to play with either the New York Islanders or their AHL affiliate in Bridgeport.
The team also says goodbye to deadline-day acquisition Craig Cunningham’s 87 points. While most teams who lose that kind of pedigree take a few steps back, the Winterhawks have had 12 players taken in the last two NHL drafts and continue to boast an embarrassment of riches.
Starting up front, Sven Bartschi returns after a phenomenal rookie campaign which saw him score 34 goals and collect 85 points. The Swiss winger played terrific in the postseason (27 points) and was rewarded in the 2011 draft by getting picked 13th overall by Calgary.
St. Louis Blues’ second-round pick, Ty Rattie, accompanies Bartschi on the top-line and should improve on the 79 points he chipped in last year. Bruising forward Brad Ross knows how to find the twine marking 34 goals to accompany a team-high 171 PIMs.
Riley Boychuk, 6’5″ 227-pounds, is a bull in a china shop 20-year-old (18 goals, 148 PIMs) who provides Portland with a balanced attack, adding feistiness to their finesse.
The defence looks just as deadly as the forward corps. Six-foot-two defenceman Joseph Morrow carries a cannon on the point (9 goals, 40 points in 60 games), while Troy Rutkowski (47 points) and Taylor Aronson (37 points) also boost the Winterhawks blueline offensively.
Tyler Wotherspoon (6’2″, 203 lbs) was excellent in a shutdown role that lead to him being drafted by and will be that rock on the blueline this season as well.
2012 NHL eligible draft-pick Derrick Pouliot rounds out the Top-5 and should provide more production as a sophomore after adapting the rigours of the ‘Dub last year.
Chicago Blackhawks prospect, Mac Carruth returns between the pipes for another campaign. Coming off a 31-win season, Carruth should easily garner 40-45 wins this go around.
The 19-year-old 6’3” 182-pound goaltender, posted a .913 save percentage during the 2010-11 regular season and was even better in the playoffs (.919).
The Portland Winterhawks begin their quest for the Memorial Cup on Friday, September 23 when the host the Everett Silvertips. Puck drops at 7:30 p.m.