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B.C.’s Lower Mainland set to be hub of WHL action in 2018-19

Vancouver Giants/Victoria Royals

 

With three major events and a team poised to compete for the Ed Chynoweth Cup, British Columbia’s Lower Mainland will be the hotbed of Western Hockey League action for the coming year.

With the Vancouver Giants once again ready to challenge for the WHL Championship and the second game of the 2018 CIBC Canada Russia Series, the Langley Events Centre will be a hub for action all year long.

Fans will also get a chance to get into the hockey/holiday spirit with the 2019 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships taking place in Vancouver and Victoria, B.C. The event returns to the Lower Mainland for the first time since 2006 with Victoria hosting games for the first time in their history.

Once the final whistle goes on the 2019 WHL Championship Series and even after the Memorial Cup is awarded in late May 2019, Vancouver. B.C. will still be in the spotlight with the 2019 NHL Draft scheduled to be held there in late June. Fittingly, with the event back in Western Canada, high-profile WHL talent will be available for selection, led by the likes of Vancouver Giants defenceman Bowen Byram and Lethbridge Hurricanes forward Dylan Cozens.

This exciting season kicked off with a promising start for the Vancouver Giants yesterday at the Langley Events Centre against the Everett Silvertips. The Giants scored the 3-1 victory in their home opener as Arizona Coyotes prospect David Tendeck stopped 30 of 31 shots and a pair of goals from draft-eligible forward James Malm provided the offence in the victory.

As the third-place finishers in the B.C. Division last season, eliminated by the Victoria Royals in a seven-game series in Round One of the 2018 WHL Playoffs, the Vancouver Giants agenda for the 2018-19 season involves a deeper run.

With three players selected at the 2018 NHL Draft, including top forward Milos Roman who was selected by the Calgary Flames in the fourth round, 122nd overall, the Giants front line is poised to bring a strong attack night-in and night-out to their opponents. Vancouver’s blue line isn’t looking too shabby either. The Giants’ strong defensive core should also greatly improve their chances in the quest for the Ed Chynoweth Cup.

Ranked by several experts as the top defenceman available in the 2019 NHL Draft, Bowen Byram will play a key role in defending the Giants territory. However, Byram’s not the only one to keep your eye on. Top defenders for Vancouver, including Dylan Plouffe, Matt Barberis, and Washington Capitals prospect Alex Kannok-Leipert will certainly support the blue-line brigade.

Last but certainly not least is the strong selection of goaltenders that the Giants have to choose from. As the 166th selection by the Arizona Coyotes in the 2018 NHL Draft, Tendeck has certainly proven his capabilities with a full-time season under his belt where he went 25-16-3-2 with a 3.02 goals-against-average, and a 0.912 save percentage with three shutouts. Another easy and reliable choice for Vancouver is with backup Trent Miner, Vancouver’s 20th overall selection from the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft and the future heir to the Giants’ crease.

With a well-balanced roster and a recent honourable mention as one of the teams to beat in the CHL’s Top 10 Pre-Season Rankings, don’t be surprised when the Giants’ standings put them in a position to seriously compete for the Ed Chynoweth Cup.

As always, the CIBC Canada Russia Series will feature six games from coast-to-coast, featuring players from all three leagues within the Canadian Hockey League competing against the Russian National Junior Team. This series is an integral part of the identification process for Team Canada prior to the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship.

The Kamloops Blazers will kick off the 2018 CIBC Canada Russia Series on Monday, November 5 at the Sandman Centre where both teams will be in pursuit of an early lead to the series. The second game will then take place in Langley with the Vancouver Giants taking their turn to host the following night, Tuesday, November 6.

There will be no time to slow down for the B.C. teams as both the Giants and Royals gear up to host the 2019 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships. From December 26, 2018 to January 5, 2019 Vancouver and Victoria will welcome ten teams to compete in the event.

Canada’s National Junior Team will be ready and stocked with WHL talent to defend its title on home ice after beating Sweden in the 2018 Gold Medal game in Buffalo, N.Y.

Just like the IIHF World Junior Championship will return to the Lower Mainland for the first time since 2006, so to will the NHL Draft, coming back to Western Canada in a year where the WHL has produced several top-end draft-eligible players.

There’s a strong consensus between NHL teams that indicate that Cozens could be drafted as early as the second overall pick. As the Jim Piggott Memorial Trophy winner last season as the WHL’s Rookie of the Year, Cozens put up 53 points (22G-31A) in 57 games. With these impressive stats, the Hurricanes forward has already showcased an unmatched work ethic and has NHL teams jumping at the chance to grab him early.

A fellow member of Hockey Canada’s championship team from the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, Bryam is also slated to be a high pick. The 6-foot-0, 180-pound defenceman rarely had any turnovers in his rookie WHL year and his ability to compete in both ends of the ice make him a high-threat player at all times. After finishing the 2017-18 season with 27 points (6G-21A), the third-overall selection from the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft showed promising talent that could translate well into the NHL.

The list of potential first round talent extends strongly as well, with more WHL players from Canada’s team from the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup earning time in the spotlight.

Up front, the likes of Peyton Krebs, Kirby Dach, Josh Williams, Sasha Mutala, and Nolan Foote will attract attention from NHL teams looking for the next blue-chip prospect for their organization.

On defence, Edmonton Oil Kings defenceman Matthew Robertson is likely to be another WHL rear guard taken sooner rather than later in June’s draft. Kelowna Rockets blueliner Kaeden Korczak has also made a name for himself early on and could be a solid pickup for any club.

There’s a wealth of WHL talent available for selection between the pipes as well with Dustin Wolf of the Everett Silvertips, Taylor Gauthier of the Prince George Cougars, and Nolan Maier of the Saskatoon Blades projected to draw strong interest.

With a such a strong projection for the WHL’s 2019 NHL Draft class, the potential to equal or surpass 2017’s total of seven players selected in the first round of the NHL Draft is gaining more potential.

The rankings, game results, and podium finishes remain undecided at the moment, but it’s clear that if you’re a fan of the WHL or hockey in general, B.C.’s Lower Mainland is the place to be over the next 10 months.

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