The Eastern Conference Playoffs are here.
For the first time since 2019, the WHL will have actual playoffs. Eight best of seven series to determine who will represent the WHL in the Memorial Cup.
Here are the matchups.
8. Prince Albert Raiders vs 1 Winnipeg ICE
7 Lethbridge Hurricanes vs 2 Edmonton Oil Kings
6 Brandon Wheat Kings vs 3 Red Deer Rebels
5 Saskatoon Blades vs 4 Moose Jaw Warriors
Most of the so-called experts would suggest that the this will come down to the Winnipeg Ice and Edmonton Oil Kings. They have been at or near the top of the CHL rankings all year. Both have been at number 1 a few times this year, with Winnipeg ultimately holding down the number one seed. But that doesn’t mean there can’t, and won’t be upsets. The playoffs bring out intriguing storylines and players you may or may not expect to be a factor. Here are some X factors and players to watch.
Liam Keeler, Red Deer Rebels.
25G, 20A, 45 Points
There will be a lot of attention given to Arshdeep Bains and Ben King as the top point-getters. But the Rebels do have two other 20-goal scorers, Kalan Lind, who has 11 PPG goals and two shorthanded goals. Expect Keeler to have a massive series for Red Deer.
Brayden Yager, Moose Jaw Warriors.
34G, 25A, 59 Points
There was a ton of hype, and deservedly so, towards Connor Bedard. Bedard made history. But don’t sleep on Yager. The third pick of the 2020 draft had 34 goals this year and played in all situations on a quietly talented Moose Jaw team. If the Warriors are going to beat the Blades, the East Division nominee for Rookie of the Year will have an impact.
Josh Pillar, Saskatoon Blades
13G 24A 37 Points
The Blades haven’t been fully healthy to end the season. This includes trade deadline acquisition, Josh Pillar. Pillar hasn’t yet been productive yet for the Blades, but he had 31 points in 29 games for the Blazers. The Blades have a lot of talent in Kyle Crnovic, Tristen Robins, and Brandon Lisowsky, but, if Pillar gets to the point per game player he was with Kamloops, the Blades are going to be a lot tougher to beat.
Yegor Klevdev, Lethbridge Hurricanes
21G, 26A, 47 Points.
There is no question that the Oil Kings will be the heavy favourites in the series versus the Hurricanes. The star and driver of the Lethbridge Hurricanes is Justin Hall. Klevdev scored 21 goals for the Hurricanes. He has nine points in the last six games and may be getting hot at the right time. If the Canes have a chance, Klevdev needs to contribute.
Tikhon Chaika, Prince Albert Raiders
22W, 21L 3OTL, 1 SO 2.79 GAA.
The Winnipeg Ice will be a heavy favourite against the Prince Albert Raiders. Despite this, don’t look past Chaika. Head Coach Marc Habscheid said that although Chaika got a late start, he steadied the ship. He also got the Raiders two huge wins over the Swift Current Broncos and the Brandon Wheat Kings to keep the Raiders in the playoffs. Upsets happen because of great goaltending. Chaika can steal a game for the Raiders.
Jack Finley, Winnipeg ICE.
27G, 23A 50 Points.
There is a ton of talent on the ICE, and Finley fits right in. Finley has 19 goals for the Ice since Matt Cockrell acquired him from the Spokane Chiefs. As a matter of fact, ICE Centres have scored 139 goals this year. The ICE will be tough to shut down, and it’s because of depth players like Finley.
Luke Prokop, Edmonton Oil Kings
11G, 24A, 35 Points.
Oil Kings President and GM Kirt Hill made headlines acquiring Kaeden Guhle at Christmas and Justin Sourdif at the Trade Deadline. Let’s not forget the acquisition of Prokop. This isn’t about his off-ice courage, leadership and quality person he has shown to be. Prokop provides a steady presence on the ice, quality minutes and will shut the key offensive players on the other team. You may not see Prokop on the offensive statistics at the end of the night. But you know he will be a big difference.