Heading into the 2019-20 season, the Lethbridge Hurricanes had a deep, leadership-filled defensive group that included two overagers in Ty Prefontaine, who served as one of the teams co-captains, and Koletraine Wilson. Add in 19-year-old Calen Addison and they were set. Fast forward to 2020-21 season and the story is much different. With at least two of those players, if not all three, moving on in their hockey careers, there are jobs on the blue line up for grabs. So, who steps up and takes advantage? Let’s have a look.
The first big question around answering who will make up the top-six in Lethbridge is the future of Calen Addison. All signs point to him turning pro and most likely heading to the AHL. The door is still open for a return to the WHL for the Minnesota Wild prospect, whether he is back or not is beyond the Hurricanes control but would be a welcome addition if he does return to junior.
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Without Addison in the fold, the team will look to others to fill and lead the way on the blue line. Recently acquired Mitchell Prowse will be leaned on heavily. The 20-year-old who spent the last four seasons with the Victoria Royals, collecting 33 points last season. Prowse is known for his solid positioning and will be leaned upon to play heavy minutes to anchor a young blueline.
After taking a massive leap forward in his draft season in 2019-20, Alex Cotton will be returning and will be counted upon to continue to progress his game. Eligible for the 2020 NHL Draft, Cotton will return in 2020-21 as a top prospect for one of the 31 NHL teams and will be looking to build on his breakout from this past season.
The Langley, B.C. native led the Hurricanes defense in scoring last season with 20 goals and 67 points in 63 games played, easily career highs. Cotton also quarterbacked the Lethbridge power play for most of the season alongside Addison.
For the past few seasons, the Hurricanes have used one of their two import spots on defense. In the last two seasons, that player has been Danila Palivko. Import players are hard to peg sometimes as things change each season. That being said. there is currently no reason to doubt that the Belarus native will be back for his third season in the WHL. The Hurricanes have a ton of faith in the 19-year-old defender who played much of last season alongside Addison. Palivko has collected 36 points over 123 career games in the WHL.
An early favorite to fill out the top four is Trevor Thurston. Brought in last season to add depth to the Hurricanes, the Delta, B.C. native is in a great spot to be part of the team’s big shutdown pair. Thurston plays the traditional stay-at-home style and is not afraid to use his size and be physical.
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Filling out the bottom pair and naming the seventh defenceman becomes the harder task. A number of players could fill in those roles. Joe Arnsten was a rookie with the Hurricanes last season and appeared in 41 games. The former second-round bantam pick is a good bet to hold down an opening day spot, but Arntsen will have some competition in the form of two rookies.
Chase Pauls and Logan McCutcheon are both in a prime spot to find themselves on the opening night roster. Pauls is a 2003 birthyear making him eligible for the 2022 NHL Draft. He was listed by the Hurricanes in 2019. The Osler, SK native suited up in five games for the Hurricanes in the 2019-20 season where he collected his first WHL goal and only point to date.
McCutcheon was selected by Hurricanes in the third round of the Bantam draft in 2019. The 2004-born defencemen played in four games for the Hurricanes this past season. In limited minutes, he went pointless with zero penalty minutes. With Saskatoon Blazers in midget triple-A, he was an assist machine collecting 26 helpers and 32 points in 41 games.
Barring any trades, injuries, or other unseen moves from general manager Peter Anholt, it would seem like these seven players are in line for elevated minutes and roles on the Hurricanes. We all know training camps can bring a surprise or two. Come the new season it will be interesting to see which player takes advantage of his opportunity.