Winterhawks' power plays are work in progress
By the time you read this, the Portland Winterhawks will be at least four games into their six-game, 10-day swing through the Western Hockey League Central Division.
The trip started with losses at Lethbridge on Oct. 4 and Calgary on Oct. 6, the first two losses of the season for a Portland team that had climbed briefly into the Canadian Hockey League top 10 with its 3-0 start.
Goalie Joel Hofer continued to be a solid foundation for the Hawks, and a big reason Portland's penalty kill was in the WHL's top 10 through five games.
Portland killed seven of nine opponents' power plays and scored one shorthanded goal over the first two games of the Central Division swing.
That Portland's power play is struggling (4 for 22 through five games and 0 for 10 in the games at Lethbridge and Calgary) is no surprise. As coach/GM/VP Mike Johnston noted, most of the firepower from last season's top power-play unit is gone. As is true with the forward lines in general, sorting out the best combinations is a work in progress.
The loss at Lethbridge was a game Portland had the upper hand in until the Hurricanes scored shorthanded after intercepting a pass, then got a break and tied it on a breakaway when an errant Hawks pass landed on the stick of Chase Wheatcroft as he exited the penalty box.
At Calgary, Portland was a bit overwhelmed at the start against one of the more experienced teams in the league. But after falling behind 3-1 in the first 11 minutes, the Hawks settled down and were competitive the rest of the way.
Defenseman Nick Cicek and rookie forward Jack O'Brien each scored his first WHL goal early in the season and Seth Jarvis scored his first of the season at Calgary. Entering Tuesday's game at Medicine Hat, 12 players had scored goals. Johnston believes this team will have more scoring balance than last season when Joachim Blichfeld led the league in goals. Interestingly, defensemen Johnny Ludvig and Clay Hanus led the Hawks through five games with three goals apiece.
• A league-high five Winterhawks are among 44 WHL players listed on the first NHL Central Scouting "Players to Watch" list for the 2020 NHL draft. Forwards Cross Hanas, Seth Jarvis and Simon Knak each received a B grade, meaning they project as second- or third-round picks. Defenseman Jonas Brondberg and forward Robbie Fromm-Delorme were given a C grade, meaning a projected rounds 4-6 selection.
Of the five WHL goalies on the list, Portland faced two in their losses at Lethbridge and Calgary. Calgary's Jack McNaughton received a B grade and Lethbridge's Bryan Thompson a C grade.
Four draft-eligible WHL players currently are projected as first-round picks: Vancouver winger Justin Sourdif and defensemen Kaiden Guhle (Prince Albert), Daemon Hunt (Moose Jaw) and Braden Schneider (Brandon).
• Cody Glass had a memorable NHL debut.
Last season's captain for the Portland Winterhawks, Glass scored his first NHL goal on his first career shot on Oct. 2 in a 4-1 season-opening win for the Vegas Golden Knights over the San Jose Sharks.
Glass opened as the Knights' second-line center, playing between veterans Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone. He one-timed a cross-ice pass from Pacioretty past Sharks goalie Martin Jones 2:12 into the second period.
With his debut, Glass became the 125th former Winterhawk to play in the NHL. With his goal, he became the youngest player to score for the Golden Knights (20 years, 184 days).
Here are the other 12 former Winterhawks who were on opening-day NHL rosters:
Oliver Bjorkstrand, 24, Columbus forward, fifth NHL season (third season full-time on Blue Jackets roster). Entering the season, Bjorkstrand has 44 goals and 53 assists in 197 regular-season games. His career highs are 23 goals last season and 29 assists in 2017-18.
Dennis Cholowski, 21, Detroit defenseman, second NHL season. Cholowski had seven goals and nine assists in 52 games as a Red Wings rookie. Through Sunday, he had one assist in two games this season.
Braydon Coburn, 34, Tampa Bay defenseman, 15th season. Coburn has played 924 NHL regular-season games through 14 seasons with Philadelphia and Tampa Bay. He enters his fifth full season with the Lightning with career totals of 48 goals and 180 assists and a plus-44 rating.
Brandon Dubinsky, 33, Columbus forward, 13th NHL season. He is on injured reserve and out indefinitely with a wrist injury. He has 153 goals and 285 assists in 823 NHL games, but posted a disappointing six goals and eight assists with a minus-16 rating last season.
Matt Dumba, 25, Minnesota defenseman, seventh NHL season. Entering the season, Dumba had played 342 games over six NHL seasons, producing 56 goals and 94 assists. His 12 goals through 32 games last season led NHL defenseman prior to tearing his right pectoral muscle, an injury that ended his 2018-19 season last December. He scored a goal in the Wild season-opener Oct. 3 and had an assist in the second game of the season.
Adin Hill, 23, Arizona goalie, second NHL season. The Coyotes' backup goalie to start this season, Hill had 17 NHL appearances, including 13 last season, when he went 7-5 with a 2.76 goals-against average and a .901 save percentage.
Ryan Johansen, 27, Nashville forward, ninth NHL season. Entering the season, in 592 games, Johansen had 130 goals, 276 assists and a plus-15 rating. The one-time All-Star (2015) had 14 goals, 50 assists and a plus-7 rating. Had one assist in each of the first two games this season.
Henri Jokiharju, 20, Buffalo defenseman, second season. Traded in a surprise summer move by the Blackhawks that sent forward Alexander Nylander to Chicago, Jokiharju opened the season on the Sabres' roster. He had 12 assists in 38 games for Chicago as a rookie last season.
Seth Jones, 25, Columbus defenseman, seventh NHL season. Jones is considered one of the top defenseman in the NHL and has played in two of the last three NHL All-Star Games. Over the past three seasons, Jones had 37 goals, 108 assists and a plus-17 rating.
Brendan Leipsic, 25, Washington forward, third NHL season. Entering the season, Leipsic played in 126 regular-season games with 13 goals and 35 assists. Played in each of the first three games this season and posted one assist for the Capitals, his fifth NHL club in four years.
Nino Niederreiter, 27, Carolina forward, eighth NHL season. Entering the season, Niederreiter played in 534 regular-season games with 126 goals and 135 assists. Traded to Carolina at midseason last season, he posted 14 goals and 16 assists in 36 games for the Hurricanes.
Colton Sceviour, 30, Florida forward, seventh NHL season. Entering the season, Sceviour had played in 385 regular-season games with 52 goals and 72 assists. He had one assist through two games of this, his fourth season with the Panthers.
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