WHL Playoff Predictions: Wicked Matchups in First Round

There will be no easing into this year’s Western Hockey League playoffs.

The top seeds will be tested in the opening round, including a couple division winners in Kelowna and Medicine Hat. Moose Jaw and Everett should have it easier, but all four of the 2-versus-3 series could go either way. Expect a few of them to go the distance, with the fans emerging as the real winners.

As for my expectations, I’ll keep it short and sweet with this year’s WHL playoff predictions. The original plan was to incorporate the opinions of Andy Eide, covering the Thunderbirds in Seattle and the U.S. Division, and Ryan Pike, covering the Hitmen in Calgary and the Central Division — thus encompassing three of the four divisions and both conferences, with myself in Kelowna covering the Rockets and the B.C. Division — but time constraints on my end kyboshed that collaboration.

So, instead, you’re only getting my two cents this year and not a full dollar’s worth of insight. Disappointing, I know, but anything is better than nothing, right? Well, here goes nothing . . .


U.S. Division

Everett Silvertips (US1) vs. Seattle Thunderbirds (WC2)

REGULAR-SEASON SERIES: 6-2-0-2 for Everett, 4-4-2-0 for Seattle

ANALYSIS: One would think the defending WHL champions won’t go down easy — and the T-Birds haven’t been a pushover this season, even without Matt Barzal and Ethan Bear — but this is a mismatch and Carter Hart will close the door for Everett to erase any doubts about his ability as a playoff goaltender.

PREDICTION: Everett in 4.

Portland Winterhawks (US2) vs. Spokane Chiefs (US3)

REGULAR-SEASON SERIES: 5-2-0-1 for Portland, 3-5-0-0 for Spokane

ANALYSIS: Who’s ready for some firewagon hockey? Yes, this should be a barnburner with plenty of offensive talent on both teams. Spokane is deeper, at least up front, but Portland has better goaltending. Last save wins.

PREDICTION: Portland in 7.

Kieffer Bellows Portland Winterhawks
(Chris Mast/Everett Silvertips)
Kieffer Bellows was a goal-scoring stud for the United States at the World Juniors and the Portland Winterhawks are hoping he’ll come through in the clutch during the WHL playoffs as well. Bellows, Cody Glass and Henri Jokiharju against Kailer Yamamoto, Jaret Anderson-Dolan and Ty Smith, with run-and-gun coaches Mike Johnston and Dan Lambert overseeing the action, this series should be a treat to watch.

B.C. Division

Kelowna Rockets (BC1) vs. Tri-City Americans (WC1)

REGULAR-SEASON SERIES: Tied 2-1-1-0 (split four games, each winning once in overtime)

ANALYSIS: Speaking of barnburners, here are two teams boasting both high-end talent and depth at forward and on defence. Goaltending is the question mark for both and will likely decide the series. Tri-City is finally healthy and has upset potential, but Kelowna is healthy too and has playoff experience on its side. This could go down as the best series of the entire playoffs — not just the first round — and the winner could go all the way.

PREDICTION: Kelowna in 7.

Cal Foote, Kelowna Rockets, WHL
(Marissa Baecker/Shootthebreeze.ca)
Cal Foote has been getting the job done at both ends of the ice as the Kelowna Rockets’ captain and top defenceman this season. Against Tri-City, he’ll be matched up against his Team Canada partner Jake Bean as one of several intriguing storylines. That includes a matchup between two of the Calgary Flames’ top prospects in Rockets forward Dillon Dube and Americans defenceman Juuso Valimaki, while the Topping brothers will also be facing off with the elder Jordan (Tri-City) taking on draft-eligible Kyle (Kelowna).

Victoria Royals (BC2) vs. Vancouver Giants (BC3)

REGULAR-SEASON SERIES: 7-3-0-0 for Victoria, 3-4-1-2 for Vancouver

ANALYSIS: A budding rivalry now that Vancouver is relevant again, both these teams were buyers at the trade deadline. Pretty evenly matched on paper, this could be yet another high-scoring series. Victoria has the advantage in depth up front and more playoff experience, but the Royals have looked vulnerable at times down the stretch.

PREDICTION: Victoria in 7.

Tyler Benson Vancouver Giants
(Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)
Tyler Benson is healthy — knock on wood — and determined to make up for lost time in leading the Vancouver Giants into the playoffs for the first time in his four-year WHL career. This Battle of B.C. will have Battle of Alberta overtones with Benson drafted by the Edmonton Oilers and Victoria’s top scorer Matthew Phillips in the Calgary Flames’ pipeline. Both are signed prospects and will be clashing for years to come, in the AHL next season and perhaps the NHL sooner than later.


East Division

Moose Jaw Warriors (E1) vs. Prince Albert Raiders (WC2)

REGULAR-SEASON SERIES: 5-2-0-1 for Moose Jaw, 3-4-0-1 for Prince Albert

ANALYSIS: The Warriors are loaded, but the Raiders didn’t waive the white flag at the trade deadline. Prince Albert was more buyer than seller and Ian Scott can steal a game in goal. Steal a series against Jadyen Halbgewachs and the Moose Jaw juggernaut? Highly unlikely.

PREDICTION: Moose Jaw in 5.

Swift Current Broncos (E2) vs. Regina Pats (E3)

REGULAR-SEASON SERIES: 5-0-1-0 for Swift Current, 1-4-1-0 for Regina

ANALYSIS: The Broncos dominated the season series, but the playoffs are a different beast and the Memorial Cup host Pats will be putting up a desperate fight. This is going to be the marquee series of the first round, between two stacked rosters that both deserve to see the second round (and beyond). Sadly, only one team can advance and this is Stuart Skinner’s time to shine.

PREDICTION: Swift Current in 7.

Tyler Steenbergen of the Swift Current Broncos
(Darwin Knelsen/Swift Current Broncos)
Tyler Steenbergen scored the golden goal for Canada at the World Juniors in January and will now try to lead the Swift Current Broncos to a playoff championship on the WHL’s most dominant line alongside Aleksi Heponiemi and Glenn Gawdin. That trio has proven near impossible to stop, but Regina is capable of attacking in waves as well. Hang on to your hats for that regional rivalry in southern Saskatchewan!

Central Division

Medicine Hat Tigers (C1) vs. Brandon Wheat Kings (WC1)

REGULAR-SEASON SERIES: 3-0-1-0 for Brandon, 1-0-3-0 for Medicine Hat (all four meetings decided in overtime)

ANALYSIS: Underdogs, the Wheat Kings are not, despite the Tigers having home-ice advantage. That could play a factor, but Brandon still has the better team on paper even after parting with Kale Clague at the deadline. Medicine Hat can score, so the Wheat Kings will need Logan Thompson to be healthy and solid but not spectacular.

PREDICTION: Brandon in 6.

Ty Lewis of the Brandon Wheat Kings
(Tim Smith/Brandon Sun)
Ty Lewis of the Brandon Wheat Kings was one of nine WHL players to tally 100 points this season, hitting that number on the nose with 44 goals and 56 assists. Lewis took a massive leap forward in his development and Brandon is still a threat to make some noise in this year’s playoffs without Nolan Patrick and Kale Clague, especially playing out of the weaker Central Division bracket.

Lethbridge Hurricanes (C2) vs. Red Deer Rebels (C3)

REGULAR-SEASON SERIES: 4-2-0-0 for Lethbridge, 2-2-1-1 for Red Deer

ANALYSIS: Red Deer had a surprisingly strong finishing kick — thanks in large part to Riley Lamb’s goaltending — but Jordy Bellerive and Dylan Cozens are clutch scorers for Lethbridge. This could be another coin flip in a rematch of last year’s seven-game thriller that saw the Hurricanes rally from a 3-1 series deficit to prevail. The Rebels are older and will have a long memory, but the Hurricanes have youthful exuberance working in their favour.

PREDICTION: Lethbridge in 6.

If that’s how the first round shakes down — with Brandon pulling off the only upset in terms of seeding — here’s how the rest of my playoff bracket would play out.

Second Round — Division Finals

U.S. Division

Everett Silvertips (US1) vs. Portland Winterhawks (US2)

PREDICTION: Everett in 6.

B.C. Division

Kelowna Rockets (BC1) vs. Victoria Royals (BC2)

PREDICTION: Kelowna in 5.

East Division

Moose Jaw Warriors (E1) vs. Swift Current Broncos (E2)

PREDICTION: Moose Jaw in 7.

Central Division

Brandon Wheat Kings (WC1) vs. Lethbridge Hurricanes (C2)

PREDICTION: Brandon in 5.

Third Round — Conference Finals

Western Conference

Everett Silvertips (US1) vs. Kelowna Rockets (BC1)

PREDICTION: Everett in 7.

Eastern Conference

Moose Jaw Warriors (E1) vs. Brandon Wheat Kings (WC1)

PREDICTION: Moose Jaw in 5.

Fourth Round — League Final, Ed Chynoweth Cup

Moose Jaw Warriors (E1, EC1) vs. Everett Silvertips (US1, WC1)

PREDICTION: Everett in 6.

Playoff MVP: Carter Hart

Carter Hart Everett Silvertips
(Chris Mast/Icon Sportswire)
Carter Hart is the best goaltender to come out of Western Canada since Carey Price and he’ll want to go out on top during his final playoff run in the WHL. If my predictions come to fruition for Everett, Hart will most likely win the Most Valuable Player honours for both the regular season and the postseason this year before launching his pro career in the Philadelphia Flyers’ system.