It’s the end of the season, and we are getting ready for the first WHL Playoff series since 2019.
Here are the first-round matchups.
1 vs 8: Everett Silvertips vs Vancouver Giants
2 vs 7: Kamloops Blazers vs Spokane Chiefs
3 vs 6: Portland Winterhawks vs Prince George Cougars
4 vs 5: Seattle vs Kelowna
The West is fascinating. Most will be picking Everett and or Kamloops to win the West; however, I would consider Seattle and Portland as having a pretty good chance of pulling off upsets. Seattle plays a tough, tough game with tons of skill, while Portland also has a ton of skill.
There is an old saying that your best players have to be your best players. But there are also players that surprisingly come out and make a difference. In this article, we will look at those that are the X-Factors in the Western Conference.
Fabian Lysell, Vancouver Giants
22G, 40A, 62 points
Yes, Lysell led the Giants in scoring, so it would be fair to expect him to be a factor. The question here is if he has another level? Remember, Lysell was picked 21st in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, 26 picks ahead of Logan Stankoven. Many would have agreed with Lysell being a first-round pick, so the talent is there. Not only has Lysell been getting better and more engaged as the year went on, he has seven points in four games against Everett. (1 G, 6A). There is enough talent on the Giants, that of Lysell takes another step, they could give the Silvertips a run for their money in the first round.
Reid Schaefer, Seattle Thunderbirds
32G,26A 58 Points.
The Thunderbirds have a deep group of forwards that includes Jared Davidson, Connor Roulette, Lukas Svejovsky, and Henry Rybinski. Schaefer brings an added dimension. Not only did he have 32 goals, but he also had 88 penalty minutes, which was second on the team; he brings a playoff heavy style of game to the Thunderbirds that the Rockets may not be able to match in a seven-game series.
Taylor Gauthier, Portland Winterhawks.
31W, 9L, 4 SO, 2.34 GAA.
Specifically for the Winterhawks, Gauthier was 24 wins, 4SO, a .931 Save Percentage and a 2.14 GAA. Gauthier has seemed to have found his footing with the Winterhawks. Great goaltending gives a team confidence. Considering the quality of goaltending in the Western Conference, having Gauthier could give the Winterhawks an extra step as they go into the playoffs. This is assuming, of course, they beat Gauthier’s former team, the Prince George Cougars, in the first round.
Quinn Schmiemann, Kamloops Blazers
14G, 40A ,54 points.
While Logan Stankoven is the face of the Blazers, Schmiemann may be the heart of the franchise. Schmiemann wears the C on the road for the Blazers. He’s their top-scoring defenceman and plays in all situations. Defenceman like Kevin Korchinski and Olen Zellweger may grab more headlines; the Blazers allowed the least goals in the Western Conference and were second in the entire WHL. Lots of credit to Dylan Garland, but this is an underrated Blazers defence led by Schmiemann.
Andrew Cristall, Kelowna Rockets
28G,41A, 69 Points.
If you are a Rockets fan, you know that the 2005-born Cristall has grown up before your very eyes. Cristall had four multi-point games in the final eight games. Rockets Head Coach Kris Mallette said earlier this year that you will see the players that are engaged going forward. That included Cristall and Caden Price. Colton Dach and Pavel Novak are still the big scorers in Kelowna. Cristall will have a say in the series against Seattle.
Niko Huuhtanen, Everett Silvertips
37G, 40A 77 points.
Hard to find an X-Factor on what appears to be the most complete team in the West, but how can you not pick the guy that was the last pick of the 2021 NHL Draft? Huuhtanen didn’t score his first goal of the year until the eighth game in; then, he took off. You just get a feeling that Huuhtanen will have a big game or two in the playoffs that will lead the Silvertips where they want to go.
Ethan Samson, Prince George Cougars
15G, 28A,43 Points.
Samson is the Quarterback of the Cougars. Not only offensively but defensively. The team that drafted him, the Philadelphia Flyers, are very high on him for his all-around defensive game. Some are concerned about the Portland Winterhawks’ defensive game. Clay Hanus is the star defenceman in the series, but don’t sleep on what Ethan Samson can do for the Cougars in this series.
Nick McCarry, Spokane Chiefs
23G, 40A, 63 points.
Since McCarry was acquired from the Spokane Chiefs, he has 35 points in 36 games (16G, 19A). The Blazers are going to be heavily favoured in this series, but the Chiefs have some players that can make this a tougher series. McCarry has found a home in Spokane and might have a small chip on his shoulder that he could make a difference. The Chiefs seem to be finding their groove under Interim Head Coach Ryan Smith. 12 of their 24 wins came since he took over as coach, while McCarry has 15 of his 23 goals since the coaching change.