As the 2019-20 Western Hockey League’s regular season approaches, two teams will be previewed each day leading up to the start of the regular season, Friday Sept. 20. Team capsules are presented in order of 2018-19 finish within their own division. Today, we take a look at the East Division’s Regina Pats.
General Manager: John Paddock
Head coach: Dave Struch
Pre-season record: 2-2-0-1, 5 points
2018-19 record: 19-45-1-3, 42 points – Fifth in East Division, 20th in WHL
2019 Playoffs: Did not qualify.
Top scorers: RW Austin Pratt (25-26–51), C Ty Kolle (16-12–28), LW Sergei Alkhimov (13-14–27)
20-year-olds: RW Austin Pratt (25-26–51), LW Robbie Holmes (12-14–26), C Dawson Holt (6-13–19)
Imports: D Nikita Sedov (Russia)
Forwards: Experience and growth up front is key for Paddock’s Pats as they enter another season.
The trio of Austin Pratt, Robbie Holmes, and Dawson Holt will be counted on to lead the team’s group of forwards as the overage group. Pratt returns from last year’s team as their leading scorer looking to be that and more once again. Robbie Holmes, a long-time Pats player, was brought back via trade in the off-season from Everett. The Pats also made a significant trade to acquire Dawson Holt, who began to show his offensive strengths in the 2019 WHL Playoffs with the Vancouver Giants.
“Things settled down and his regular season was what the numbers say, but his playoffs were better,” Paddock said of Holt. “We have very high expectations of our three 20-year-olds. Those players should be expected to perform at a very high level for us.”
That trio will oversee and shelter the growth of the team as the younger players evolve more into a regular role with the team while taking on more duties. For the likes of Ty Kolle, Riley Krane, Duncan Pierce, and Logan Nijhoff, among others, getting the chance to contribute on a greater scale will help build their confidence further. Those that end up on lines with one of those overage players will also quickly have to raise their game to match that level of play, which will also provide positive dividends now and in the future.
“We’re expecting improved play,” Paddock said. “Nijhoff, [Garrett] Wright, [Carter] Massier; those kids were 17-years-old last year and now they’re a year older. That’s just the way it is around the league; they get a little bit better. We’re just looking for some regular improvement from our players.”
Defence: There’s no softening the blow on the blue in losing a pair of capable overage talents in the likes of Brady Pouteau and Liam Schioler.
This is where the Pats will have to experience growth the most going forward. Kyle Walker, acquired in November 2018 from the Silvertips, enters the season as the most-experienced part of the team’s defence as he begins his 19-year-old season.
Other than Walker, the likes of Tyson Feist, Nikita Sedov, Steven Zonneveld, and Ryker Evans will all enter their second full season in the WHL looking to set themselves apart from the rest. Of that group, Sedov was the offensive leader, contributing 19 assists in 68 games. Once Walker came over from the Silvertips, he played around the same offensive pace as Sedov and the team will certainly look for that and more going forward.
As a team, the Pats allowed 271 goals last season, falling into the bottom three teams in the league for that category. It goes without saying how critical the team’s growth on the blue line will be to improve that figure and turning things around going forward.
Goal: How important is goaltending to the Pats? Of their 19 wins last season, 14 came in one goal games.
While the Pats have made additions to their forward and defensive groups, the goaltending trio remains unchanged.
Max Paddock, one of the Pats’ few remaining holdovers from the hosting duties at the 2018 Memorial Cup, should help cushion the Pats’ growth for another season. Together with Dean McNabb, who had strong performances in his own right last season, they’ll have their chances to grab the lion’s share of the starts.
As both goaltenders are entering their 19-year-old season, the Pats haven’t yet been forced yet to make the decision between either as part of the team’s eventual overage group. However, with that decision looming on the horizon, this year will be essential for both in proving they can provide exceptional talent to the Pats as a 20-year-old.
For a team as young as they were last season, Paddock’s 3.52 goals-against average and 0.896 save percentage were a positive beacon for the team. McNabb had his moments as well, shutting out the Brandon Wheat Kings with a 30-save effort in January 2019 while also making 43 saves to become one of the few goaltenders to win inside Prince Albert’s Art Hauser Centre last season.
Waiting in the wings is Matthew Pesenti, who saw 50 minutes of regular season action in January 2019. He’s currently in the middle of his second pre-season with the Pats and could play his way onto the team soon enough.
Player to watch: Last season, the Pats scored 173 goals in 68 games, ranking 19th among 22 WHL teams. It doesn’t take a genius to then look to the team’s top producer and see what he’s capable of with another year of experience under his belt. Enter Austin Pratt.
The Minnesota product had 25 goals as he led the Pats in scoring during the 2018-19 WHL Regular Season. That represents a strong uptick from the seven he had in 60 games during the 2017-18 season and his previous career-high total of 16 he had with the Rebels in 2016-17. Granted, like there was in 2016-17 with the post-Memorial Cup Rebels, there was plenty of ice time available and the increased offensive opportunities that came with it. However, Pratt has shown he’s capable of being the team’s offensive leader and will be relied upon again to boost the team’s offence.
In late November, the trade of Jake Leschyshyn and Nick Henry exposed some of that protection for Pratt, seeing his point production slip from 0.92 points-per-game in the first 25 games of the season to 0.65 points-per-game in the final 43. However, he did pick up some of the slack in the goal department, notching 15 of his 25 goals after the blockbuster trade. If he can provide that same boost and protection to the team’s younger players while getting the same opportunities as last season, the Pats will benefit.
With more experienced players around him and similar, if not greater, opportunity to produce, it’s worth keeping an eye on Pratt’s start to see how capable the entire offence for Regina will operate this season.
Prognosis: A highlight of the season will no doubt be the WHL Prairie Classic on Sunday, October 27 at Mosaic Stadium. There, the Pats will host the Calgary Hitmen in a rematch of sorts from when the two teams faced each other at McMahon Stadium back in 2011.
Despite the wealth of talent that moves on each year, the East Division has been fiercely contested on a consistent basis. The Pats were once at the top of the hea0p while other teams took their turns as well. With a number of players from last year’s Regina roster returning, they have seen the competitiveness of the division on a first-hand basis. Using that experience, there’s no time like the present to drive forward.
The Pats don’t have the name appeal this year that other teams in the division will be able to carry into the arena on a nightly basis, but it counts for exactly zilch once they step on the ice. The Pats showed in glimpses that they can exposes weaknesses of the other teams in their division, but ultimately lacked the consistency to gain significant ground in the standings.
With knowledge of how things turned out last season, expect the Pats to come into the season prepared and focused on improvement as a team on the scoreboard and in the standings.