Winterhawks make decent showing in preseason play
As preseasons go, this one was reasonably good for the Portland Winterhawks. They played six games and won four, scoring nearly six goals per game.
Another impressive number is the 11 Winterhawks who are attending NHL preseason camps. All of them are likely to return to Portland. If all five 20-year-olds come back, Mike Johnston and his staff will have until mid-October to decide on which three overage players to keep.
Six Winterhawks who have been NHL draft picks are attending training camps: first-rounders Keiffer Bellows (New York Islanders), Cody Glass (Las Vegas ) and Henri Jokiharju (Chicago) and later-round picks Joachim Blichfeld (San Jose), Brendan De Jong (Carolina) and Skyler McKenzie (Winnipeg).
Five undrafted Winterhawks were invited to participate in NHL rookie tournaments: Ryan Hughes (Nashville), Alex Overhardt (Nashville), Keoni Texeira (Las Vegas), Evan Weinger (Los Angeles) and goalie Cole Kehler (Winnipeg).
The rookie tournaments ended early this week. Main training camps begin later this week for NHL teams, so players not invited to the main camp will soon return.
Johnston, the Winterhawks' VP/GM/head coach, says attending NHL camps can provide junior players a confidence boost, especially for invitees who weren't drafted.
Eleven is a high number. WHL teams usually send three to eight players each.
Having 11 players gone is not the ideal to prepare for the Sept. 23 season opener at Everett, but it does provide more time to coach rookies and prospects in Portland.
"We get to work with our young guys leading up to the season," Johnston says. "In another way, you'd like to have your veterans around so you can get some lines and power play and penalty kill all set for opening weekend."
Johnston says his team's 4-2 preseason record doesn't indicate how the teams will stack up this season.
Johnston, though, likes his depth. He says 17-year-old rookies Ryan Miley, John Ludvig, Nick Cicek and 16-year-old Clay Hanus, all defensemen who were playing mostly against players their age, showed they "can all play at this level, for sure."
Who among them factors into this season is to be determined.
Another rookie defenseman, 16-year-old Nolan Kade, also had a good camp but will play midget hockey this season.
In goal, Johnston is encouraged by the growth of Shane Farkas entering his 18-year-old season. Kehler, as a 20-year-old, is expected back in Portland this week. The team parted with goalie Ethan Middendorf, 18. Another goaltender, Evan Fradette, 16, also will play midget hockey this season.
Johnston says each of the returning forwards has made strides. Jake Gricius, 18, had a strong camp. In five preseason games, he had four goals and four assists. Ty Kolle, who played 13 games with Portland as a 16-year-old last season, had four goals and two assists in six games.
• A recent survey conducted by The Hockey News named the Winterhawks the top organization in the Western Hockey League.
The unscientific survey of agents, advisers, NHL executives and scouts named the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League the top program in major junior hockey.
The Kelowna Rockets were a close second in the WHL, and the Tri-City Americans were another popular choice.