The first round of the Western Hockey League’s postseason has come and gone, and despite some bumps in the road, it went largely without many upsets. However, the predictable nature of the opening round has been followed by a second round that could go in many, many different directions.
Here’s how we see the second round of the WHL playoffs going down.
The Western Conference
VICTORIA ROYALS (50-16-3-3; beat Spokane) vs. KELOWNA ROCKETS (48-20-4-0; beat Kamloops)
Season Series: Victoria won five of their eight match-ups with the Rockets this season.
Recent High NHL Picks: Kelowna’s Nick Merkley (2015 30th overall, Arizona)
Top 2016 Draft Eligibles: Kelowna’s Dillon Dube (35th-ranked North American skater) and Lucas Johansen (38th-ranked North American skater)
Two of the WHL’s best clubs meet in the second round, with the winner likely becoming the de facto favourite for the league’s championship. Victoria rolled over Spokane in the first round, really flexing their offensive muscles in the process. To contrast, Kelowna had to survive a seven-game series with Kamloops in which none of their players generated over a point-per-game. Kelowna has the potential for playoff greatness, but was the Kamloops scare enough to wake up their group? There are just too many question marks surrounding the Rockets.
Prediction: Victoria in six games
SEATTLE THUNDERBIRDS (45-23-4-0; beat Prince George) vs. EVERETT SILVERTIPS (38-26-5-3; beat Portland)
Season Series: Everett edged Seattle in the 10-game season series by a 6-4 margin.
Recent High NHL Picks: Seattle’s Matt Barzal (2015 16th overall, NY Islanders), Ryan Gropp (2015 41st overall, NY Rangers); Everett’s Noah Juulsen (2015 26th overall, Montreal)
Both teams rolled over their competition in the first round through a nice combination of strong offense and stellar goaltending. Everett’s Mario Petit was superb in the opening round and Seattle’s London Bow wasn’t far behind. This should be a really entertaining series, but Seattle is just a little bit deeper offensively and should be able to grind out a series win.
Prediction: Seattle in six games
The Eastern Conference
BRANDON WHEAT KINGS (48-18-4-2; beat Edmonton) vs. MOOSE JAW WARRIORS (36-27-7-2; beat Prince Albert)
Season Series: The Wheat Kings won seven of their eight meetings with Moose Jaw.
Recent High NHL Picks: Brandon’s Ivan Provorov (2015 7th overall, Philadelphia), John Quenneville (2014 30th overall, New Jersey), Jayce Hawryluk (2014 32nd overall, Florida)
Top 2016 Draft Eligibles: Brandon’s Kale Clague (22nd-ranked North American skater); Moose Jaw’s Brett Howden (27th-ranked North American skater)
After an early scare against Edmonton, the Wheat Kings rounded into form and won the last four games of their opening-round series. They face a big test in a talented and scrappy Moose Jaw club. Moose Jaw netminder Zach Sawchenko was superb in the opening round and was a big part of the Warriors advancing, while Brandon’s Jordan Papirny managed to get things together after a rough first couple of games. The teams are closely matched, but the Wheat Kings are a bit deeper everywhere but in net. Sawchenko’s heroics should make the series close, but Brandon should advance.
Prediction: Brandon in six games
RED DEER REBELS (45-24-1-2; beat Calgary) vs. REGINA PATS (36-28-3-5; beat Lethbridge)
Season Series: These clubs split their four-game season series, each winning twice.
Recent High NHL Picks: Red Deer’s Jake DeBrusk (2015 14th overall, Boston), Haydn Fleury (2014 7th overall, Carolina), Conner Bleackley (2014 23rd overall, Colorado)
Top 2016 Draft Eligibles: Regina’s Sam Steel (29th-ranked North American skater)
The Rebels have a guaranteed ticket to the Memorial Cup by virtue of being the hosts, but they were very sharp in dispatching the Hitmen in the opening round. They’re facing another white-hot team in the Pats, who summarily dismissed the Hurricanes without much concern. Much like the other series, depth will be a huge difference-maker here for the Rebels – they just have too many weapons for the Pats to grind out a win here. Regina will make it interesting, and they’re a team on the rise, but expect Brent Sutter’s crew to continue on the road to the Memorial Cup.
Prediction: Red Deer in six games
How We Did In The First Round: seven of a possible eight series were predicted correctly (Lethbridge getting upset by Regina was the lone exception).