Moose Jaw-Brandon pre-game & season predictions

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Friday, Sept. 21, 2013

Here are Moose Jaw’s line combinations from Thursday’s practice after the Hansen-Rodewald trade (LW-C-RW):

Eberle-Point-Rodewald

Fiddler-Fioretti-Chirva

Potomak-Gore-White

Uhrich-Hansen-Warkentine

If I had to guess, I think Duperreault and Del Grosso will sit along with Tyler Brown and Rossignol on defence.

The trade moves Fioretti back to centre and off the wing. It’s a big opportunity for Rodewald playing with some skilled players. Still, that trio should be pretty effective on the cycle as well.

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Brandon is expected to be without three of their top defenceman tonight: Taylor Green (a 6-7 beast who played for Seattle last year), captain Ryan Pulock and Nick Walters. Pulock played for the New York Islanders Thursday night, while Green and Walters are both injured.

Eric Roy, Rene Hunter, Colton Waltz and Kord Pankiewicz will be leaned upon heavily on the Wheat Kings defence. That’s pretty good depth considering who they are missing, but the strength of the Wheat Kings’ team is not as strong as it will be.

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Here are my fearless predictions for the Eastern Conference this season:

East Division

1. Swift Current

2. Prince Albert

3. Moose Jaw

4. Brandon

5. Regina

6. Saskatoon

Former colleague Jeff D’Andrea from PA Now and I have been debating our respective picks for the division winner. PA has better high-end scoring and a better defence, but SC has the better goalie in Eetu Laurikainen and a lot more depth up front. The bottom line for me is that SC is going to be a tough team to play against and I think that and their goaltending (not that Cole Cheveldave isn’t a quality starter in his own right for PA) will give SC a slight edge in what is the weakest division in the league.

If Morgan Rielly is back, the Warriors should be right up there to challenge for the division and failing that should be a solid playoff team. I think for his impact on the power play alone, Rielly would make a big difference. But in the big picture it’s going to be consistency, secondary scoring and team defence that are really going to determine how high the Warriors climb this season.

Brandon has a strong defence and that should help offset the questions in goal. Regina is interesting. They have nine 18 year olds and nine 19 year olds. They should be built to win now, but questions in goal and questions about their scoring depth don’t instill a lot of confidence.

Central Division

1. Red Deer

2. Edmonton

3. Calgary

4. Medicine Hat

5. Lethbridge

6. Kootenay

For me, Red Deer is the best team in the division and the conference. Though getting Mathew Dumba back would be a huge boost to their defence.

After that it gets pretty murky. I honestly think Kootenay, Medicine Hat, Lethbridge and Calgary will all be pretty good and very similar to the top four teams in the East Division. I think those four teams will all be good teams and you could flip 3-6 in the list and it wouldn’t really surprise me. Given the number of divisional games these teams play it’s very hard to conceive of all six Central teams making the playoffs, but they might be close.

Lethbridge is maybe a year away, but getting 20yo goalie Corbin Boes helps in the short term. Kootenay made major strides a year ago and should challenge for a playoff spot. If Langhamer (or Wapple) can do the job in goal, the Tigers will be back in the playoffs. Calgary won’t be as good as they were a year ago, but they have a pretty balanced team that could be really good again in another year.

Edmonton lost a lot, but I think that they have enough quality left to be just a little better than the other four teams in the division. In fact if RD doesn’t get Dumba back, Edmonton will challenge for the division in my opinion.

The bottom line in the Eastern Conference is that there aren’t a lot of elite teams, but at this early stage there seems to be a lot of parity. The Warriors are going to be in a tough fight: not only with the likes of SC, PA and Brandon, but also Calgary, Medicine Hat, Lethbridge and Kootenay.

It’s so hard to make blanket predictions in junior hockey because a lot can change at the trade deadline. It’s pretty wide open in the Eastern Division — or even the whole league, beyond Kelowna and Portland no one looks particularly strong in the West — and that could lead to someone deciding to roll the dice at the deadline and look to make a run. Unlike last year when Portland and Edmonton were clearly going to be tough to beat, this is a good year for someone to decide they want to add some players and take a run.

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Over at Small Thoughts At Large, Alan Caldwell has once again done an amazing job of breaking down the WHL rosters.

Currently the Warriors are tied for third youngest (though the Warriors are essentially one of six teams that are all the same collective age) in the league and are the second shortest in the league.

You can see all of Caldwell’s good work here: http://smallatlarge.blogspot.ca/2013/09/2013-14-roster-breakdown.html

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