WHL: Kamloops Blazers Off to Hot Start

The Western Hockey League (WHL) kicked off their regular season on Oct. 1, and the Kamloops Blazers opened up their season on Oct. 2, beating the Prince George Cougars by a score of 5-4. The Blazers are coming off back-to-back B.C. Division titles and are not going to let anything get in the way once again. They currently sit first in the Western Conference with a record of 5-1-0-0 and are second in the league behind Matthew Savoie and his Winnipeg Ice. While it is still early in the season, I am going to touch upon a few Blazers notes and why I believe this will be a special season.

Stank and Banks

2021 Dallas Stars draft pick Logan Stankoven has got off to an exhilarating start this season. After spending some time at the Stars’ training camp back in September, the captain got a taste of his future and has been phenomenal ever since. He currently is tied for first among Blazers scoring leaders with nine points (three goals, six assists) and there are no signs of slowing down. Expect Stankoven to have another strong month ahead, followed by an invite from Hockey Canada to represent Team Canada at the 2022 World Juniors.

Logan Stankoven Kamloops Blazers
Logan Stankoven of the Kamloops Blazers (Allen Douglas/Kamloops Blazers)

Another forward who is off to a great start is Minnesota Wild prospect Caedan Bankier, who is one of four players tied for first league wide. Bankier has posted nine points (six goals, three assists) in six games — the crafty playmaker has a knack for putting pucks in the back of the net. Both players have made major contributions to the Blazers early success.

Persson Adjusting Well

Swedish defenceman Viktor Persson has made a flawless transition to the WHL. Persson is a 2020 seventh-round selection by the Vancouver Canucks and has already been named one of their top defensive prospects. He was drafted in the 2020 CHL Import draft by the Blazers and had intentions to play last season in Kamloops, but due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, he was unfortunately unable to make the trip. Persson is one of the top defensive players on the Blazers right now behind co-captain Quinn Schmiemann and former Vancouver Giants defenceman Marko Stacha, who was acquired in a trade. He also quarterbacks the second power-play unit with 2022 prospect Mats Lindgren. Persson has four points (one goal, three assists) in five games with the Blazers thus far.

Related: 2021-22 WHL Season Preview & Predictions

Four 2022 NHL Draft Prospects

The Blazers currently have four prospects who are available for the 2022 NHL Draft. That list includes defenceman Lindgren, forwards Fraser Minten and Matthew Seminoff, and goaltender Dylan Ernst. Lindgren is considered a first-rounder by many scouts — the left-shot defenceman is great at playing both ends of the ice. Whether you need him to jump up in a rush or scale back to take shut down an opposing forward, he can do it all.

Minten is a player who will only attract more attention as the season cruises along. He had 18 points (four goals, 14 assists) in 20 games last season as a 16-year-old rookie and he currently has three goals in five games so far. The last forward is Seminoff. After a struggling rookie campaign in 2019-20, he had a turnaround season where he registered 16 points (11 goals, five assists) in 22 games, leaving a mark on the Blazers roster. He is now one of the Blazers’ top forwards and has six points (one goal, five assists) in six games. He will likely be a second- or third-round selection at this year’s NHL Draft.

Lastly, goaltender Dylan Ernst could hear his name get called next summer. The Weyburn, Saskatchewan product has slowly been easing his way into the Blazers lineup. Last season, he backed up New York Rangers prospect Dylan Garand. He played in four games, posting a 3.00 goals-against average (GAA) and a .872 save percentage (SV%). Ernst will be used a lot more frequently this season as the Blazers try to keep Garand rested for major games and playoffs. He has already played one game this season, posting an 8-3 victory over the Victoria Royals.

Early Success Will Pay Off

The early success they have seen is no fluke. The Blazers roster is full of talent right now. This is an exciting team to watch and they are only going to get better as the season progresses. This is a squad that can compete among the best for the WHL and Memorial Cup titles. The Blazers will finally be able to play teams in the U.S. Division for the first time since 2019-20, when the U.S. and Canada border closure was announced. The Portland Winterhawks will make the trip to Kamloops for a game on Nov. 3, and the Blazers will head on a U.S. road trip later that month to play Seattle, Everett, and Portland. This is not only a big season for the Blazers, but junior hockey as a whole.