The Western Hockey League (WHL) kicked off their regular season on Friday. I am going to give you a preview of what each team has to offer as they look to play a full 68 game regular season for the first time since 2019-20.
There will be plenty of exciting players to watch this season. Get ready for the Battle of B.C. to be fierce as the Kamloops Blazers look to take home the division title once again, with 2021 Dallas Stars draft pick Logan Stankoven leading the team. Kelowna, Prince George, and Vancouver will all be top competitors. The Cougars have some young talent in the pipeline ready to make an impact.
The U.S. Division has been getting continuously better. Portland underwent a major rebrand, and the Winterhawks and Everett will likely battle for the number one spot.
Edmonton will be the top team to watch in the Central this year, especially if hometown boy Dylan Guenther returns from the Arizona Coyotes. Six-foot-six monster and Detroit Red Wings prospect Sebastian Cossa will be a star between the pipes once again for the Oil Kings. Medicine Hat could be among the top teams, though the Tigers will be anxiously waiting for Cole Sillinger to return from Columbus.
Winnipeg will be a top contender in the East — 2022 NHL prospect Matthew Savoie will have the spotlight on him, as he’ll be one of the elite talents representing the WHL at the 2022 NHL Draft. Watch out for prospects Kevin Korchinski, Mathew Ward, Denton Mateychuk, Fraser Minten, and Mats Lindgren, among others, to all compete hard to fulfill their dreams of being a first-round selection.
Brandon, Prince Albert, and Regina will all be tough competition. Sixteen-year-old Connor Bedard and the Pats look to take in a full WHL season. Bedard is considered by many to be a generational talent, and is a top prospect for the 2023 NHL Draft.
I’ll skip forward to my predictions for the 2021-22 WHL season — from the division standings to the playoff picture — followed by analysis on each of the 22 teams and my power rankings as of today.
1) Kamloops Blazers
2) Kelowna Rockets
3) Vancouver Giants
4) Prince George Cougars
5) Victoria Royals
1) Everett Silvertips
2) Portland Winterhawks
3) Spokane Chiefs
4) Tri-City Americans
5) Seattle Thunderbirds
1) Winnipeg Ice
2) Brandon Wheat Kings
3) Saskatoon Blades
4) Regina Pats
5) Prince Albert Raiders
6) Moose Jaw Warriors
7) Swift Current Broncos
1) Edmonton Oil Kings
2) Medicine Hat Tigers
3) Calgary Hitmen
4) Lethbridge Hurricanes
5) Red Deer Rebels
BC1) Kamloops Blazers vs. WC2) Prince George Cougars
BC2) Kelowna Rockets vs. BC3) Vancouver Giants
US1) Everett Silvertips vs. WC1) Tri-City Americans
US2) Portland Winterhawks vs. US3) Spokane Chiefs
BC1) Kamloops Blazers vs. BC2) Kelowna Rockets
US1) Portland Winterhawks vs. US3) Everett Silvertips
BC1) Kamloops Blazers vs. US1) Portland Winterhawks
Western Conference Champion — Kamloops Blazers
E1) Winnipeg Ice vs. WC2) Regina Pats
E2) Brandon Wheat Kings vs. E3) Saskatoon Blades
C1) Edmonton Oil Kings vs. WC1) Lethbridge Hurricanes
C2) Medicine Hat Tigers vs. C3) Calgary Hitmen
E1) Winnipeg Ice vs. E2) Brandon Wheat Kings
C1) Edmonton Oil Kings vs. C2) Medicine Hat Tigers
E1) Winnipeg Ice vs. C2) Edmonton Oil Kings
Eastern Conference Champion — Edmonton Oil Kings
Ed Chynoweth Cup
BC1) Kamloops Blazers vs. E1) Edmonton Oil Kings
WHL Champion — Kamloops, in seven games
Western Conference Breakdown:
ANALYSIS: The Blazers are coming into this 2021-22 season with big expectations after winning back-to-back B.C. Division titles. Stankoven will lead the group as he looks to make an even bigger impact on the roster. Additionally, Quinn Schmiemann, Josh Pillar, and Caedan Bankier will lead the course. There were some minor changes made to the Blazers’ roster during the offseason, adding 20-year-old forward Nick McCarry from Medicine Hat. 2020 Swedish import selection and Vancouver Canucks prospect Viktor Persson will also join the team.
It appears that the future for the blue and orange is looking bright with the likes of Connor Levis, Fraser Minten, Mats Lindgren, Matthew Seminoff, and Kaeden Hammell, among other promising players. They will be backstopped by Dylan Garand and 2022 NHL draft prospect Dylan Ernst. They will open up the season against the Prince George Cougars on October 2nd.
ANALYSIS: The Rockets are ready for yet another season of hockey. They tied for third in the B.C. Division last season and are looking to get back to the top of the standings. Former Rocket Trevor Wong was traded to the Blades last week in exchange for Colton Dach. Last season, Wong scored 16 points in 16 games and led the Rockets in scoring. But Dach will be a great asset to the team, nonetheless. Others to watch are Pavel Novak, Noah Dorey, Tyson Fesit, Andrew Crsitall, and 2021 CHL import pick Gabriel Szturc.
The Rockets also acquired hometown boy Max Graham from Everett in exchange for 20-year-old forward Alex Swetlikoff. In net this year will be the duo of Cole Schwebius and Cole Tisdale. It is very possible that they will be one of the top teams in the B.C. Division.
Prince George Cougars:
ANALYSIS: The Prince George Cougars will be a team to watch this season as they look to challenge Kelowna and Kamloops for the number one spot in the B.C. Division. The Cougars come into this season with some weight on their shoulders. They will be backstopped by the dynamic duo of Tyler Brennan and Taylor Gauthier, with Jordan Fairlie also playing the third string.
Other notable players to watch are Keaton Dowhaniuk, Riley Hedit, Koehn Ziemmer and 2021 CHL import pick Liekit Reichel. The Cougars also signed 6-foot-3 Slovakian defenceman Jozef Viliam Kmec this offseason, in what will help bolster their defence core. Overall the Cougars have an exciting group this season to watch.
ANALYSIS: The Giants are still well equipped to compete against the best of the best. They are coming off a second-place finish in the B.C. Division last year, posting 12 wins and 10 losses. Goaltender Drew Sim gets ready to take over the starting position as Trent Miner has graduated from the WHL. Sim could be backed up by 2021 CHL Import Pick Jesper Vikman, who looks to be a promising young goalie. Justin Sourdif will likely be named the new captain this season, as he is coming off a dominant season where he put up 34 points (11 goals, 23 assists) in 22 games.
The Giants were busy this offseason, making deals with Brandon to acquire forward Ty Thorpe, as well as a multi-player deal with Seattle to acquire defenceman Cade McNelly and forward Payton Mount. Other notable players to watch this season are Mazden Leslie, Adam Hall, and Zack Ostapchuk. Expect the Giants to battle hard in the B.C. Division.
ANALYSIS: Another team that stayed busy this offseason was the Royals. The team made a couple of deals to land Regina Pats 20-year-old forward Carter Massier and Swift Current Broncos defenceman Devin Aubin. Both additions have decent potential. In addition, the Royals added Tyler Palmer and 2021 Import Pick Sebastian Wraneschitz as goaltending additions to their club; they will join Connor Martin between the pipes. Other notable players to keep an eye on are fan favourite Tarun Fizer, Keanu Derungs, Ty Yoder and Gannon Laroque. The Royals will look to battle among the monsters in the B.C. Division.
ANALYSIS: The 2021 U.S. Division champions are looking to come back as strong as last season. The Silvertips will need some help from everyone if they want to finish in first again. The team will be lead on defence by Tips’ star Olen Zellweger; he will be aided by Jonny Lambos, Ronan Seely and Aidan Sutter. Other players to keep an eye on are Michal Gut, Jackson Berezowski, Matthew Ng, Jacob Wright, and Alex Swetlikoff, who they acquired in a trade with the Rockets.
Everett lost All-Star and two-time WHL goalie of the year Dustin Wolf this offseason. This season, the likely tandem will be Braden Holt and former Rockets goaltender Roman Basran. 2021 CHL Import Pick Niko Huuhtanen will be joining the roster as well, and the flashy Finnish forward will bring a heavy dose of skill and physicality to the lineup. The Tips have all the right tools to have yet another successful season.
ANALYSIS: The rebranded Winterhawks will likely be the top team out of the U.S. Division this season. They come into this season with a well-put-together roster led by Seth Jarvis. While Jarvis will be the energizer for the group, other players to keep an eye on this season are Robbie Fromm-Delorme, Cross Hanas, Jack O’Brien, Luca Cagnoni, and Tyson Kozak.
Portland will also be bringing in 2021 CHL Import Pick Marek Alscher from the Czech Republic, and he will join Danish defenceman Jonas Brøndberg. Other key additions include Dawson Pasternak from the Chicago Steel of the United States Hockey League (USHL). Dante Giannuzzi looks to settle into the starter role this season, while Lochlan Gordon serves as the backup.
ANALYSIS: The Thunderbirds are no longer the only pro hockey team in Seattle anymore. The NHL was pleased to announce the completion of the expansion process for the Seattle Kraken this summer, and the Kraken will make their NHL debut in October. While hockey is buzzing in Seattle, let’s talk WHL. The Thunderbirds are looking to make an improvement from last season. Captain Tyrel Bauer has returned to the defence core, and will look to lead the team in the right direction.
Goaltender Thomas Millic will return to the team after going undrafted this year in the NHL Draft; all eyes will be on Millic and what he has to offer. They made a couple of transactions during the offseason. A few new faces will include Cory King of the Moose Jaw Warriors, rookie Niko Tsakmuis, and CHL Import picks Leon Okonkwo Prada and Alessandro Segafredo. Other notable players to keep an eye on will be Sam Oremba, Jordan Gustafsson, Conner Roulette, and Mekai Sanders.
ANALYSIS: The Chiefs finished second to last in the U.S. Division last season and are hoping to turn things around this year. A few rookies will be making their WHL debuts, including defenceman Brayden Crampton and forwards Kooper Gizowski, Jake Gudelj, and Michael Cicek. The Chiefs took Belarusian forward Timafey Kovgoreniya 17th overall in the 2021 CHL Import Draft, and he will make his North American debut this fall.
Other notable players to keep an eye on are Jack Finley, Bear Hughes, Saige Weinstein, and Luke Toporowski. The Chiefs will be backstopped again by the trio of Campbell Arnold, Mason Beaupit, and Manny Panghli. They aren’t the favourites for the U.S. Division, but they could surprise a lot of people.
ANALYSIS: After finishing last in the U.S. Division, the Tri-City Americans are desperately trying to turn their franchise around. The team will be backstopped this season by monster 6-foot-7 goaltender Talyn Boyko and Czech Republic product Tomas Suchanek, who looks to make his debut on North American ice. They will have a few other rookies on hand this season, including Lukas Dragicevic, Carter Savage, Andrew Fan, and Dwayne Jean.
Fellow Czech Republic native and 2021 CHL Import Pick Petr Moravec will also be a top forward in the Americans’ system this season. A few other players to keep an eye on are fan favourite Rhett Melnyk, Connor Bouchard, Marc Lajoie, Tyson Greenway, and Jake Sloan. If the Americans can stay healthy, they shouldn’t have a problem competing for a wild card spot.
Eastern Conference Breakdown:
Brandon Wheat Kings:
ANALYSIS: After winning the East Division in 2020-21, the Wheat Kings are ready to go to battle again. With the graduation of former leading goal scorer Ben McCartney, the Wheat Kings are going to have to rely on other forwards to get the job done. Those forwards will include Riley Ginnell Nolan Ritchie and Ottawa Senators prospect Ridly Greig.
Another forward who could make quite the impact on the Wheat Kings roster is 2021 CHL Import Pick Zakhar Polshakov, who had 26 points in 38 games last season in the Belarusian League. Other notable players to keep an eye on are Vincent Lorio, Brett Hyland, Nate Danielson, Tyson Zimmer, and Jake Chaisson. Backstopping the Wheat Kings this season will once again be the duo of Ethan Kruger and Connor Ungar. In a division full of talent, this will be an exciting year of hockey for Wheat Kings fans.
Moose Jaw Warriors:
ANALYSIS: The Warriors could surprise a lot of people this season in the East Division. Eighteen-year-old Eric Alaire will return to the Warriors; he led the team in points last year and will see a lot more ice time. Other notable players will be Ryder Korczak, Brayden Yager, Denton Mateychuk, Jagger Firkus, and Daemon Hunt.
They have brought over Slovakian forward Robert Baco and Czech forward Martin Rysavy from the CHL Import draft; both forwards will make their Warriors debuts this fall. They also acquired goaltender Carl Tetachuk from Lethbridge, and he’ll be accompanied by Brett Mirwald and Jackson Unger. While the Warriors are by no means the favourites, they could have a season for the books.
Prince Albert Raiders:
ANALYSIS: The Prince Albert Raiders are hoping to have a big year. Captain Kaiden Guhle will be returning and will continue to anchor the defence core. Guhle will have help from Nolan Allan, who has made quite a name for himself in the past year. Allan was drafted 32nd overall by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. While the roster will relatively remain the same from last year, a couple of new additions include Keaton Sorensen from Red Deer and defenceman Landon Koisor from Regina.
Starting in net this season will be Carter Serhyenko, who will have help from both 17-year-old Max Hildebrand and 2021 CHL Import Pick Tikhon Chayka, who was playing in Belarus. Other notable players to watch will be Ozzy Wiesblatt, Niall Crocker, Tyson Laventure, Adam McNutt, and Terrell Goldsmith. The Raiders will have some tough competition but could hold onto a wild card spot at the end of the regular season.
ANALYSIS: Arguably the most exciting team to watch this season in the entire CHL will be the Pats, thanks to phenom Connor Bedard. The Pats were busy this offseason trying to surround Bedard with exceptional players, as they picked up strong forward Zack Stringer from the Lethbridge Hurricanes and took star-studded Czech defenceman Stanislav Svozil in the 2021 CHL Import Draft. While all eyes will be on Bedard, other players to watch are Jakob Brook, Carson Denomie, Cole Dubinsky, Ryker Evans, Luke Bateman, and rookie Tanner Howe. Between the pipes this season will be the trio of Spencer Welke, Matthew Kieper, and former Royals goaltender Keegan Maddocks.
ANALYSIS: The Blades have a lot of questions surrounding their organization at the moment. Three-year captain Chase Wouters has graduated from the WHL and will be moving on, leaving more ice time for veteran forwards. The Blades only made a few roster moves this offseason, acquiring Brendan Lee from the Everett Silvertips in exchange for goaltender Koen MacInnes and drafting Import forwards Yegor Sidorov and Moritz Elias, both of whom will be making their WHL debuts.
Questions surround whether or not veteran Tristen Robins will return from the San Jose Sharks rookie camp. Robins will be a crucial player for the Blades up front, along with Colton Dach and Kyle Crnkovic. Other notable players to keep an eye on are Rhett Rhinehart, Jayden Wiens, Brandon Lisowsky, Aidan De Le Gorgendiere, Tanner Molendyk, and Pavel Bocharov. Nolan Maier is the number one goalie once again for the Blades this season, and holds the current record for most victories as a Blade goalie. Austin Elliot and last year’s backup Ethan Chadwick will battle for the number two position. They open up the season against the Warriors.
Swift Current Broncos:
ANALYSIS: After finishing last in the East Division once again, the Broncos are ready to make a comeback. This season, they will be welcomed by Russian Import forward Alexi Shanaurin and Polish defenceman Rayan Bettahar, both of whom were picks in the 2021 CHL Import Draft. They also acquired defenceman Noah Lamb from the Victoria Royals in exchange for Devin Aubin and acquired 20-year-old Rylan Thiessen from the Wheat Kings this offseason.
While the new Broncos players are ready to get rolling, a few other players to keep an eye on this season will be 2022 prospect Mathew Ward, Brady Birnie, Josh Davies, and Cole Nagy. Hometown boy Jacob Herman will have the opportunity to backstop the Broncos, as his rights were dealt by the Prince George Cougars back in June in exchange for goalie Jordan Fairlie. Reid Dyck and 20-year-old Isaac Poulter will likely see the most action between the pipes. This is the year for the Broncos to turn their franchise around.
ANALYSIS: The Ice came second in the East Division last season, trailing the Wheat Kings by just one point, so you know they will be fired up. All eyes will be on forward Matthew Savoie, who is a top prospect for the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. The Ice have brought over Czech defenceman Martin Bohm and Swiss defenceman Maximilian Streule, both of who were picks in the 2021 CHL Import Draft. While the Ice will be lead by Savoie, a few other players to keep an eye on are Carson Lambos, Conor Geekie, Zach Benson, Connor McClennon, and Jakin Smallwood. In net this season will once again be the duo of Gage Alexander and Daniel Hauser. With how consistent they have been in the last couple of seasons, this could be the year they win the East title.
ANALYSIS: The Hitmen are coming off a mediocre season where they ranked third among teams in the Central Division. This year, they are looking for a big rebound season and will be led by defencemen Luke Prokop and Jackson van de Leest. Last season’s leading scorer and team captain Josh Prokop has graduated from the WHL, thus leaving the scoring role to veterans Riley Fidler-Schultz and Adam Kydd.
Another forward who will have a big impact this season will be Sean Tschigerl, who recorded 21 points in 21 games last season. Other notable players to watch will be Tristan Zandee, Tyson Galloway, Anton Yatyashin, Grayden Siepmann, and Owen Palfreyman. The Hitmen will be backstopped once again by the duo of Brayden Peters and Jack McNaughton. If the Hitmen are able to find the right footing, they could battle for a wild card position in the Central.
Edmonton Oil Kings:
ANALYSIS: It will be an interesting season once again for the Oil Kings. They are loaded up front with the likes of Guenther, Jake Neighbours and Josh Williams. They also have a monster between the pipes. The Oil Kings have brought over 2021 import pick and Vegas Golden Knights prospect Jakub Demek; he will make his WHL debut this fall.
A few other players to watch this season are Carson Latimer, Matthew Robertson, Simon Kubicek, Jalen Luypen, and Keegan Slaney. Sebastian Cossa will backstop the Oil Kings and will have lots of help from Colby Knight and/or Kolby Hay. They are the favourites to win their division and the East this season, so this will be a very exciting team to watch.
ANALYSIS: After finishing fourth in the Central last season, the Lethbridge Hurricanes are looking for a big rebound. They will once again be lead by Ty Nash, the son of former NHLer Tyson Nash, who is hoping to make an even bigger impact. The Hurricanes have brought over Import picks Yegor Klavdiev and Peter Repcik, who will make their WHL debuts this fall.
Other forwards to watch will be Jett Jones, Justin Hall, Logan Barlage, and Chase Wheatcroft. Detroit Red Wings prospect Alex Cotton and Trevor Thurston will lead their defence. Backstopping the Hurricanes this season will be Bryan Thomson and Jared Picklyk.
Medicine Hat Tigers:
ANALYSIS: The Medicine Hat Tigers are one of the only teams in the East that will be able to compete against the Oil Kings at a high level. Although signs are pointing that Tigers star forward Cole Sillinger could make the Columbus Blue Jackets out of camp, there are a number of players who can step up to the plate. Those players include Lukas Svejkovsky, who recorded 22 points (12 goals, 10 assists) in 20 games last year, as well as Oren Shtrom, Corson Hopwo, and Oasiz Wiesblatt.
The defence will be led by 20-year-old veterans Eric Van Impe and Daniel Baker. Expect some big minutes, though, from Drub Krebs and Reid Andersen. The Tigers have also brought over 2021 Import pick and Latvian product Bogdans Hodass, who will be on the blue line. Gavin Bjorklund and Beckett Langkow will backstop the team once again. The Tigers have a big year ahead, and if the stars can align, they will be able to battle hard for that top position in the Central.
Red Deer Rebels:
ANALYSIS: The Rebels are coming off an atrocious season, but it is evident they are in a clear rebuild around the organization. They will be led by captain Jayden Grubbe, who should have a big turnaround season. Another forward who will have a big impact on the Rebels is Ben King; he led the team with 28 points (12 goals, 16 assists) in 21 games in 2020-21. A few other forwards to watch this year are Arsheep Bains, Jhett Larson, and 16-year-old Kalan Lind.
Red Deer acquired Kai Uchacz from the Thunderbirds in the offseason for a second-round pick. Uchacz was removed from the Thunderbirds back in March 2021 after he had directed racist comments and actions towards another player on the team. He has undergone extensive training and education on anti-racism, equity, diversity, and inclusion. Christopher Sedoff, Kyle Masters, Joel Sexsmith, and Trey Patterson will once again quarterback the defence core. Expect some big minutes to come from Blake Gustafson, Jace Weir, and Hunter Mayo. Between the pipes this year will be former Wheat Kings goaltender Connor Ungar and Chase Coward.
WHL Preseason Power Rankings
1) Kamloops Blazers
2) Edmonton Oil Kings
3) Portland Winterhawks
4) Winnipeg Ice
5) Moose Jaw Warriors
6) Regina Pats
7) Spokane Chiefs
8) Saskatoon Blades
9) Medicine Hat Tigers
10) Seattle Thunderbirds
11) Prince George Cougars
12) Everett Silvertips
13) Kelowna Rockets
14) Calgary Hittmen
15) Brandon Wheat Kings
16) Vancouver Giants
17) Red Deer Rebels
18) Tri-City Americans
19) Prince Albert Raiders
20) Swift Current Broncos
21) Lethbridge Hurricanes
22) Victoria Royals
Born and raised in Kamloops B.C. and a die-hard fan of the Kamloops Blazers, hockey has always been a part of his life. Now, Colton is exploring the sports media world and looking to make it a career. He currently covers the Winnipeg Jets, as well as contributes to World Juniors, and draft-related content. He is co-host of the WesternCentric Podcast, which revolves around the WHL.