Friday, May 3, 2013

Dusting off the crystal ball

Michael St. Croix (Edmonton Oil Kings)
Over the years covering the New York Ranger prospects, there has been one thing that Gordie Clark and his scouts have somehow keyed on and that is selecting players from winning teams. It makes sense when you stop to think about it as players who come from winning teams already have the mindset where they expect to win.

Last year Ranger prospects Chris Kreider (Boston College NCAA Champions), Michael St. Croix (WHL Champions) and Steven Fogarty (BCHL and Canadian National Junior "A" Champions) created a very interesting hat trick of winning for the Ranger prospects and this year the Rangers have a chance to have as many as 5 players competing for the 2013 Memorial Cup.

I don't cover enough of the QMJHL or OHL to be in a position to offer anything more than a "close my eyes and throw a dart" guess so my best recommendation would be to follow the predictions of the folks at Buzzing the Net who have the Halifax/Baie-Comeau series right here and the London/Barrie matchup right here.

But I do know the WHL and the Portland/Edmonton series as it starts with Michael St. Croix and his Edmonton Oil Kings who open their defense of the WHL championship in a much anticipated rematch with the Portland Winterhawks. Portland is making their 3rd straight trip to the WHL finals after losing in the last 2 attempts.

This rematch might have been closer if the Oil Kings had not lost New York Islander prospect (and Oil King captain) Griffin Reinhart to injury during their series with the Calgary Hitmen. But it is on defense where the Winterhawks will hold an advantage that my crystal ball says why Portland will win.

Goal- Mac Carruth Portland vs Laurent Brossoit Edmonton

Nothing against Carruth who thanks to being sent back to the WHL by the Chicago Blackhawks for an overage year now holds several WHL goaltending records but Brossoit is the bigger game goalie. Carruth has been here twice (to the WHL finals) and on both occasions was outplayed by the opposing goalie.

Brossoit has 5 shutouts in his 12 wins and his performance against Calgary in game 7 of that series is why Edmonton is back here. Should anything happen to either starter then I wouldn't blink to start Edmonton's Tristian Jarry who is ranked 3rd among North American goalies in the final 2013 CSB rankings.

Portland's Brendan Burke isn't a bad goalie but he was 13th in the same rankings but the difference is Jarry has the better all around skill set. EDGE Edmonton

Defense- Even if Griffin Reinhart was in the Oil King lineup, the Oil Kings would be hard pressed to match up against the Portland blueline corp which has been dominating at both ends of the ice during the WHL playoffs.

The top four of Seth Jones, Troy Rutkowski, Derrick Pouliot and Tyler Wotherspoon are in my book the best Top 4 quartet in junior hockey. Jones is the expected first pick in the 2013 NHL Entry draft while the other 3 have signed NHL contracts. Edmonton's blueline took a huge loss when Reinhart went down and while they aren't bad in their own right (Martin Gernat, David Musil, Keegan Lowe, and Cody Corbett) but they haven't been as dominate as the Winterhawk's blueline has been. EDGE Portland

Forwards- The Winterhawks boast Ty Rattie who has put up a mind boggling 15-16-31 in just 15 games along with linemates Nic Petan (9-13-22) and Brendan Leipsic (7-13-20) as their top line. Edmonton isn't bad with St. Croix, Stephane Legault, and Edgars Kulda as their top line but they have question marks beyond that.

First Henrik Samuelsson has been a loose cannon very prone to taking bad penalties that have come back to haunt his team like the loss in game 6. The status of Trevor Cheek who missed game 7 against Calgary is up in the air (he is expected to play) because of injury and the hot/cold play of Curtis Lazar is where Portland starts to pull away.

Edmonton is bigger size wise but Portland is deeper and without Reinhart in the lineup the Edmonton penalty kill is suffering (once an impressive 97% has dropped to 88%) and Portland with a 28.8% power play is way too dangerous to give any extra opportunities. EDGE Portland

Coaching- Edmonton's Derek Laxdal has done a masterful job getting his team to buy into the "Unfinished business" mantra that has carried his team in the 2nd half of the season. Laxdal should be a top candidate for NHL positions this off-season as he is an excellent teacher/tactician/motivator.

His players believe in him and he into his players and I for one would have no hesitation in turning over a team like Colorado to help turn that franchise around. On the flip side is Travis Green who had the Portland job thrust on him when the WHL suspended Portland's head coach Mike Johnson.

If Portland wasn't so unpopular within the WHL because of the Winterhawk's "crimes" then a strong case can be made for Travis Green as WHL Coach of The Year. Green it is well documented how the team rallied behind the "Evil Empire, Us against the World" mindset.

And yes you can say given the roster that Green was given that he should have won. What Green did was get his players focused on the season and not on the media circus following the WHL's sanctions on the franchise.

Green stepped into a minefield and came away unscratched, Green flies under the radar because of Mike Johnson as Portland's GM/Coach but I see a guy who has earned the right to run his own team. The smartest guy actually might be Portland's owner Bill Gallacher who when he hired Mike Johnson talked him into hiring Green. EDGE EVEN

In the end
It is Portland and the reason why is Seth Jones as here is a player who lives for the big games and because I don't think Edmonton has an answer for him. Edmonton is more banged up and bruised which plays right into the hands of Winterhawks.
Portland in 6 games because 3rd time is the charm.

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