Special to WHL.ca
With the Christmas Break upon us, it is officially the midway mark of the 2016-17 Western Hockey League season. Some very interesting stories have begun to emerge upon delving into some of the stats from the opening half of the season.
Here’s a look at some of the top performers halfway through this season.
Points Per Game
Leading the league in points per game is Regina Pats forward Sam Steel with 2.16 Pt/G, while fellow teammate Adam Brooks is right behind him with 2.12.
Steel, who just recently signed his entry level contract with the Anaheim Ducks after being drafted 30th overall in 2016, also leads the league in points with 54, tallying 23 goals and 31 assists.
Brooks is just behind with a total of 17 goals and 36 assists equaling 53 points. Born in Winnipeg, MB, Brooks was drafted in the fourth round (92nd overall) in the 2016 NHL Draft.
After the two Pats, the next highest point per game player is Medicine Hat Tigers’ winger Chad Butcher with a total of 1.61 Pt/G.
With 16 goals and 37 assists, the product of Kamloops, BC, is just one off the league lead with 53 points. The undrafted Butcher is in his fifth WHL campaign with Medicine Hat and has collected 209 points (71G-135A) in 266 career WHL regular season contests.
The fourth highest point per game player this season is the 19-year-old product of Emerald Park, SK, centre Jayden Halbgewachs. Eligible for the 2017 NHL Draft, Halbgewachs has put up a point per game total of 1.58 Pt/G.
Rounding off the top five in points per game is forward Kailer Yamamoto, the hometown kid playing for his Spokane Chiefs with a total of 1.56 Pt/G. He is currently eligible for the 2017 NHL Draft as well and projected to go in the first round this summer.
Goal Scorers and Playmakers
The player with the biggest goals-to-assists ratio this half season is Max Gerlach, the speedy centre playing for Medicine Hat. The Tigers forward currently has 23 goals compared to his 11 assists. Passed up on at the 2016 NHL Draft, Gerlach, the product of Flower Mound, TX, has 79 points (53G-26A) in his 108 career WHL games.
Right after him is Kootenay right winger Zak Zborosky with 23 goals and 14 assists, which has him tied for third in the league in goals. Born in Regina, SK, he was drafted in the fifth round (105th overall) in the 2011 WHL Draft by the ICE.
On the other side of the coin, the player with the biggest assist-to-goals ratio so far is another Tigers centre, Mason Shaw. His 42 assists in comparison to his 11 goals leads the league, while also contributes to him being tied for 2nd in the league in points. Born in Wainwright, AB, Shaw is eligible for 2017’s NHL Draft.
Moose Jaw forward Brayden Burke is right up there along Shaw in his playmaking skill. The Edmonton, AB, native has 36 assists and six goals which brings his assists-to-goals ratio up to 30. Burke was drafted in the seventh round (145th overall) in the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft by Red Deer and has 185 points (41G-144A) in 144 career WHL games.
Special Teams by Player
The biggest performer on the power play so far this season is Medicine Hat defender David Quenneville with 14 goals while on the man advantage. So far, in his 165 game WHL career, Quenneville has 28 total power-play goals. The Edmonton, AB, native was drafted in the seventh round (200th overall) in last year’s NHL Draft by the New York Islanders.
As for short-handed goals, it is another Medicine Hat Tiger that leads the league, this time left winger Mark Rassell with six. Born in Calgary, AB, Rassell was listed by the Tigers and has a total of 70 points (34G-36A) in 169 WHL games.
Kamloops Blazers’ right winger Deven Sideroff leads the league with eight game-winning goals. Four of them have come in overtime. Sideroff is a product of Summerland, BC, and was drafted in the third round (84th overall) by the Anaheim Ducks in the 2015 NHL Draft.
Tyler Steenbergen, a centre for the Swift Current Broncos is in second with six. Steenbergen is in his third year in the WHL, after being selected 12th overall in the 2013 WHL Bantam draft by Red Deer and went undrafted in last year’s NHL Draft.
Another clutch stat is insurance goals – goals that give a team a two-goal lead in a game. The leader in the WHL this season features a three-way tie, with all of them having five each. Regina left winger Filip Ahl, Victoria forward Matthew Phillips, and Kamloops left winger Rudolfs Balcers all share the lead at the midway mark this season.
Points by Age
Leading the 20-year-olds in points are Medicine Hat forward Chad Butcher and Regina centre Adam Brooks with 53 points each. That is good for second in the league overall. After them is Lethbridge Hurricanes right winger Tyler Wong with 44.
The 19-year-olds are led by Jayden Halbgewachs, the center in Moose Jaw. He has 52 points in 33 games this season. Winger Patrick Bajkov in Everett is next with 44 points, while forwards Brayden Burke and Michael Spacek from Moose Jaw and Red Deer respectively round out the top three with 42 points each.
The leader of the 18-year-olds is also the league leader in points. Sam Steel, the Regina centreman has 54 points in only 25 games so far this season. Second is Medicine Hat centre Mason Shaw, who with his 42 assists is tied for second in the league in points with 53. In third is the second year Russian import Nikita Popugaev. The Moose Jaw right winger has 47 points.
Leading the 17-year-old group is Portland centre Cody Glass. Eligible for the 2017 NHL Draft, the Winnipeg, MB, native has 50 points in 36 games played so far.
For the young 16-year-olds, there are two players currently tied for the lead. Lethbridge defender Calen Addison, the second overall pick in 2015’s WHL Bantam Draft and Moose Jaw centre Luka Burzan, the sixth overall pick in the same draft, both have 17 points in their rookie years.
Special Teams by Team
The top five teams with the best power-play percentages thus far this season are Regina at 29.8 per cent, with 39 power-play goals on 131 attempts; Medicine Hat at 29.6 per cent, with players like David Quenneville and Max Gerlach leading the way with 26 power-play goals between them alone. Tri-City has converted at a rate of 27.5 per cent, scoring 44 times on 160 power plays; Portland at 25.3 per cent, with their top player Skyler McKenzie scoring seven goals on the man advantage, and finally Spokane at 24.2 per cent, with 31 power-play goals on 128 attempts.
The bottom five power-play percentages in the league at the midway mark are Prince Albert at 12 per cent, only scoring 18 times on 150 opportunities. Vancouver is at 14.4 per cent, with only one more goal than Prince Albert, but in only 138 attempts. Calgary’s percentage is at 14.9 per cent, Kootenay’s at 15.3 per cent, and Seattle at 17 per cent, scoring 23 times on 135 power-play opportunities.
As for the penalty kill, the teams with the top five penalty-killing percentages so far are Prince George at 88.1 per cent, as they’ve killed 140 penalties this season, while only giving up 19 goals. Medicine Hat is at 86 per cent, only giving up 22 goals while being short-handed 157 times. Everett’s penalty kill is at 85.1 per cent, killing off 86 penalties; Seattle’s at 83.3 per cent, and Kamloops is at 83.2 per cent on the penalty kill.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, the worst penalty-killing percentages belong to Spokane at 72.9 per cent, giving up 38 goals on 140 penalties; Vancouver at 73.4 per cent, giving up the same amount of goals while taking three more penalties; Saskatoon’s at 74.1 per cent, with the same situation as the other two teams, but with seven more penalties taken than Spokane. Lethbridge is at 75.2 per cent, and Swift Current rounds off the bottom five at 76.2 per cent.
Home and Away Records
The teams with the best home records entering the Christmas break are Regina (12-0-4-0), Everett (16-2-1-0), Kamloops (12-4-1-0), Medicine Hat (12-4-1-0), and Prince George (13-5-1-0).
The teams with the worst records at home are Prince Albert (4-11-1-0), Kootenay (3-11-5-0), Saskatoon (5-7-2-0), Edmonton (7-9-1-1), and Vancouver (8-10-1-1).
Now as for records on the road, the teams with the best winning percentage are Prince George (13-3-1-0), Regina (10-3-2-0), Everett (8-2-4-0), Medicine Hat (13-6-0-0), and Moose Jaw (9-4-1-0).
The teams with the worst records playing away from home are Prince Albert (3-15-0-1), Kootenay (3-11-2-1), Brandon (5-10-2-0), Calgary (6-10-1-0), and Vancouver (5-8-0-1).
PDO, called SPSV% by the NHL, is the sum of a team’s shooting percentage and its save percentage at even strength. It is based on the theory that most teams will ultimately regress toward a sum of 100. Any team higher than 102 is likely to regress, while any team lower than 98 is better than they appear.
So, at the midway point of the season, the only teams that are bound to regress are Everett and Moose Jaw, with PDOs of 102.40 and 102.14 respectively, and even then, they should not be expected to regress by much.
On the other hand, the team that is underperforming by a lot this year is Calgary with a PDO of 96.09. They are bound to see their fortunes improve over the next three months. Prince Albert is another team in the same boat as the Hitmen, with a PDO of 96.34. Teams such as Edmonton, Saskatoon, and Kootenay all have PDOs under 98 as well, so their records should improve.
Changes in Win Percentage from the Quarter Mark
The teams with the biggest trends upwards since the quarter mark of the season are Kelowna (22-12-2-0), after starting 11-10-0-0 have won 11 of their past 15 games, Lethbridge (18-12-3-2), going 11-2-2-0 in the second quarter, and Everett (24-4-5-0) has continued their torrid pace to the season, with 10 wins in their previous 15 affairs.
Teams that are on their way down however are Prince Albert (7-26-1-1), continuing to slump, earning only five of a possible 30 points in the last 15 games, Kootenay (6-22-7-1), are also continuing to struggle, losing 13 games in the same time span, and Saskatoon (13-19-3-1), after starting the season around .500, they have fallen off the wagon recently, going 4-8-2-1 in their previous 15 games.
Changes in Win Percentage from Last Year
As compared to last year, some teams have been performing at much different rates. Whether it be a positive or negative change, and whether it’s caused by new impact players or old ones leaving, each team is drastically different from season to season.
One of the most improved teams, as compared to last year is Medicine Hat, who had a win percentage of .417 last year, and they have improved that to .694 in the 36 games they’ve played this year. In fact, they are only five wins away from tying the amount they had the season prior (30).
The other teams that have improved the most are Regina, moving from a win percentage of .500 to .710, and Everett, who moved from .528 to .710.
However, not all teams improve, and the teams that have dropped off the most this year are Prince Albert, who had a win percentage of .528 last year, and after half a season, it has dropped to .200. Victoria also had a big drop off. They went from the top of the league last year with a win percentage of .694 to being just barely in a playoff spot with a .472 winning percentage.
Joey Loewen is a first-year English student at Mount Royal University in Calgary.