WHL season preview: Victoria is royalty

Brandon offers another stiff challenge, but look for the Royals to soar in a league where NHL defections could cause havoc
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The Western League has the best NHL draft prospect this season in Brandon’s Nolan Patrick, but perhaps the most uncertainty, as well. Big names such as Matt Barzal and Ivan Provorov could leave for the NHL, or return and have major impacts on their WHL squads. Nonetheless, there’s some great talent to watch. Here are my power rankings, helped along by experts who contributed to my survey, plus a couple players to watch on each team.

1. Victoria – How many points will Matthew Phillips (CGY) score? Probably a lot. Tyler Soy (ANA) will get up there, too.

2. Regina – Big Filip Ahl (OTT) joins an offense already flush thanks to Sam Steel (ANA) and Austin Wagner (LA).

3. Kelowna – Cal Foote (2017) and Jonathan Smart (2017) are the latest defensemen to watch for the Rockets. Nick Merkley (ARI) will lead the offense.

4. Seattle – Will Matt Barzal (NYI) come back? He’s a huge X-factor. Otherwise, Ethan Bear (EDM) and Keegan Kolesar (CBJ) will have to pick up the slack.

5. Brandon – Nolan Patrick is the No. 1 prospect for 2017 and he’ll have support again. But will Ivan Provorov (PHI) leave for the NHL?

6. Lethbridge – Stuart Skinner (2017) is a top goalie to watch, while a healthy Giorgio Estephan (BUF) will go a long way up front.

7. Calgary – Jake Bean (CAR) brings offensive excellence from the back end, while Carsen Twarynski (PHI) is an imposing force up front.

8. Kamloops – Goalie Connor Ingram (TB) has a shot at Canadian world junior duty, while Deven Sideroff (ANA) has smarts and quickness.

9. Spokane – Kailer Yamamoto (2017) will once again lead the offense, but keep an eye out for Jaret Anderson-Dolan (2017) as well.

10. Moose Jaw – It’s time for Brett Howden (TB) and Noah Gregor (SJ) to lead the offense, but don’t sleep on big Nikita Popugaev (2017), either.

11. Prince George – Jansen Harkins (WPG) needs a rebound year, while Jesse Gabrielle (BOS) brings the toughness.

12. Red Deer – Can’t wait to see a full year of Josh Mahura (ANA) on defense. Michael Spacek (WPG) has the moves up front.

13. Everett – Carter Hart (PHI) will be a rock in net once again, while Noah Juulsen (MTL) needs a big year on the back end.

14. Prince Albert – Ian Scott (2017) handles net duties, while a pair of Buffalo picks – Brendan Guhle and Vojtech Budik – anchor the blueline.

15. Portland – Caleb Jones (EDM) is evolving nicely as a defenseman. He’ll be joined by Henri Jokiharju (2017). Plus, Mike Johnston is back behind the bench!

16. Tri-City – Juuso Valimaki (2017) looked like an Olli Juolevi clone this summer, while Michael Rasmussen (2017) has excellent size and skill up front.

17. Swift Current – Max Lajoie (OTT) is best as an offensive defenseman, while Glenn Gawdin (STL) was a point-per-gamer up front last year.

18. Medicine Hat – Defenseman David Quenneville (NYI) plays a quick game, while John Dahlstrom (CHI) brings goal-scoring from Sweden.

19. Saskatoon – The solid Libor Hajek (TB) returns to the blueline, where he’ll be joined by hard-working Mark Rubinchik (2017).

20. Edmonton – Artyom Baltruk (2017) looks promising up front, as does mobile Brayden Gorda (2017) on the back end.

21. Vancouver – Tyler Benson (EDM) is hurt again, so Ty Ronning (NYR) will have to drive the offense.

22. Kootenay – They whiffed on top import pick Klim Kostin, but second-rounder Nikita Radzivilyuk (2017) has made the trek to the mountains.


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