WHL information: Prince George Cougars appear like group to beat in B.C. Division

Plus: Winnipeg shifting to Wenatchee provides B.C. followers extra possibilities to see Chilliwack product Zach Benson

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May this be the Prince George Cougars’ yr?

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That hasn’t been a typical chorus for a few years, particularly when you think about that final spring’s opening spherical playoff win for Prince George over the Tri-Metropolis Individuals marked the franchise’s first journey out of the primary spherical since 2006-07.

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They do really feel like they’re hitting a candy spot, although. They appear like the favourites within the B.C. Division, on the very least.

Centre Riley Heidt was the No. 2 total choose by Prince George within the 2020 WHL Draft, proper after the Regina Pats took centre Connor Bedard. Heidt, 18, completed fifth in WHL scoring final season with 97 factors, together with 25 targets. He was a second second-round choose of the Minnesota Wild within the NHL Draft final summer season. 

Proper-winger Koehn Ziemmer was the No. 4 total choose by Prince George within the 2019 WHL Draft. Ziemmer, who turns 19 in December, completed ninth in league scoring final season with 89 factors, together with 41 targets. He was a third-round alternative of the Los Angeles Kings within the low season.

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Add defenceman Hudson Thornton, who had 23 targets and 74 factors final season, and Prince George ought to have as potent a one-two-three punch as anybody within the WHL. Thornton turns 20 in November; he ought to be one of many league’s finest overages.

The Cougars look robust in objective as effectively with Ty Younger, 19, who was a 2022 fifth-round choose of the Vancouver Canucks. 

They did lose Chase Wheatcroft, who tallied 47 targets and 107 factors final season, to commencement. And it appears to be like like defenceman Ethan Samson will spend his 20-year-old season someplace within the Philadelphia Flyers’ system quite than returning to Prince George to be an overage.

Prince George, who’re coached by Mark Lamb, made a 28-point leap within the standings from two seasons in the past (29-39-4-1) to final yr (37-24-6-1).

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Prince George opens the common season Friday, internet hosting the opener of a weekend doubleheader with the Tri-Metropolis Individuals. No phrase on when the Cougars may see the likes of Heidt and Ziemmer again from NHL camps.

The Cougars are one of many storylines this season within the WHL. Listed below are some others.

Parity returns?

Final yr felt like a three-way duel between the Seattle Thunderbirds, Kamloops Blazers and Winnipeg Ice for the highest spots within the league. WHL onlookers are pegging this yr to be extra wind open.

Should you’re searching for an early favorite for high spot, it’s doubtless the Portland Winterhawks. They’re the highest WHL group within the CHL nationwide rankings this week, coming in at No. 3 behind the QMJHL’s Rouyn-Noranda Huskies and OHL’s London Knights. The Moose Jaw Warriors begin out at No. 5, the Saskatoon Blades No. 9.

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The 2024 Memorial Cup goes subsequent spring in Saginaw, Mich., hosted by the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit. Kamloops hosted final season.

Zach Benson
B.C. followers will get to see winger and Chilliwack product Zach Benson extra usually this season. Picture by Larry MacDougal /The Canadian Press Pictures

Wild about Wenatchee

One of many massive switches within the WHL this time round is that the Ice have been bought and moved to Wenatchee, Wash., to the group that had owned the BCHL’s Wenatchee Wild. The Ice took that group’s identify and look as effectively, and shifted from the WHL’s Japanese to Western Conferences.

The BCHL Wenatchee franchise stays dormant.

The Ice transfer to the West and the U.S. Division means B.C. followers will get to see Wenatchee winger and Chilliwack product Zach Benson extra usually this season, with Wenatchee making two visits every to the Cougars, Blazers, Vancouver Giants, Kelowna Rockets and Victoria Royals. Winnipeg made a five-game journey by B.C. final season and wasn’t slated to come back once more till 2024-25 underneath the present WHL scheduling format.

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Benson, 18, is the highest returning scorer within the WHL, his 98 factors, that includes 36 targets, slotting him third in 2022-23 behind Bedard and Wheatcroft. Benson, who’s listed at solely 5-foot-10 and 159 kilos, was the No. 13 total choose in final summer season’s NHL Draft by the Buffalo Sabres.

Wenatchee’s first B.C. recreation is Sept. 30 on the Rockets. They go to the Giants the next afternoon.

Speaking swap

Seattle, Kamloops and Winnipeg all have robust gamers slated to return, however will it’s tempting to turn into sellers this yr contemplating how closely all three spent final yr on the commerce market?

There have been offers like we have now by no means seen earlier than and will not see once more. Kamloops gave up 10 draft picks and 4 gamers to Everett for defenceman Olen Zellweger and ahead Ryan Hofer. Winnipeg dealt 4 gamers and 4 draft picks, together with three first rounders, to Vancouver for ahead Zack Ostapchuk. 

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Final yr for the Commish

That is the twenty fourth and remaining yr as WHL commissioner for Ron Robison. The league posted an open letter on its web site from Robison this week.

“The long run may be very vivid for the WHL,” it included. “After the nice fortune of witnessing a generational expertise the calibre of Connor Bedard, WHL followers in every single place can’t wait to see the subsequent wave of WHL expertise, which can be unveiled this season and within the years to come back.”

No phrase but on who will substitute Robison.

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