The Sea-to-Sky Boner Report: Dec 24th, 2013

That's Offside!
December 24 2013 10:24AM

20 year old Dalton Thrower may be the best defenseman in the WHL this year.

With the World Junior Hockey Championships starting soon and Chritsmas just around the corner, the WHL has entered its winter break, meaning that there are no games until December 27th. This also marks the halfway point of the season, so it's a good time to look back on how the Giants are doing compared to the rest of the WHL.

Read past the jump for a look at how the Giants have faired so far, and what we can expect them to do over the rest of the season.

First off, we'll take a look at the standings:

Two impressive wins over the very, very strong Everett Silvertips have put the Giants into 7th in the Western Conference, four points ahead of Tri-City and three back of Spokane. They have played the second most games in the West however, so nearly every team has a game or two in hand. But on the other side of that coin is the fact that Vancouver has been on fire since getting off to a slow start, as their 6-2-1-1 record in the last 10 games is the 3rd best in their conference.

Now here are some WHL fancystats as of Dec 15th, including expected wins, possession estimates and simplified PDO:

Expected wins show that Vancouver has outperformed their record, PDO shows they're in line for a bit of positive regression in goal, and possession close shows that they're a really, really good team. Only the offensive juggernaut Portland Winterhawks manufacture more shots in the 1st and 2nd periods than Vancouver does, and from this it's pretty clear that the majority of the Giants' problems stem from a WHL-worst 0.881 team save percentage.

The good news here is that since taking over the starting duties from Payton Lee, Jared Rathjen has been very steady. He has a solid .903 save percentage on the year, and not surprisingly his record has been very good at 7-3-2-1. The Giants will continue their ascent up the WHL standings so long as Rathjen keeps providing them with league average goaltending or better.

As far as offense goes, the majority of team scoring has been carried by the 5 man unit of Cain Franson, Jackson Houck, Carter Popoff, Brett Kulak and captain Dalton Thrower. These five players have combined for 63 goals and 103 assists so far. The remaining 19 players have contributed just 59 goals and 85 assists. As a result, Don Hay tends to spread Houck, Franson and Popoff throughout the lineup to give the Giants a little more depth up front, while Kulak and Thrower play monster minutes in all situations. In fact, the play of Thower and Kulak may be the single largest reason why the Giants underlying numbers are as good as they are. Their 64 combined points are tied for the highest total by a defense tandem in the WHL with Spokane's Reid Gow and Jason Fram, and their combined 23 goals are unmatched by any other pair of defensemen, and only surpassed by 6 entire teams.

It's going to be interesting to see what GM Scott Bonner does going forward. On the one hand, the Giants are trying to rebuild for a Memorial Cup run around 2015 so it may not be wise to mortgage the future, but on the other hand this may be the best Giants team that will be put together in the next 5 years. Not only are their key players like Thrower, Franson, Kulak, and Houck all 19 or older, but most of their key depth players like Joel Hamilton, Dalton Sward, Tim Traber and Blake Orban are veterans as well. This isn't a core group of guys that's going to be around for the next few years, so a decision has to be made soon as to what course they'll take.

I'd like to see the Giants at least acquire a goaltender (Red Deer's overage import Patrik Bartosak comes to mind). If they can do that, I think they stand a reasonable chance of upsetting an Everett or Kelowna or Seattle. And if that happens, then who knows where the run could end. All things considered, the Giants are definitely one of the most intriguing teams to watch in the 2nd half of the WHL season.

Around the B.C. Division

Kelowna Rockets: Ranked #2 in the CHL thanks to a 12 game winning streak...D Damon Severson was returned from the WJCs, although he may still be recalled if Mat Dumba is suspended...Sit 8 points ahead of 2nd place in the WHL with games in hand on all other teams.

Vancouver Giants: D Dalton Thrower suspended for two games for a check to the head against Prince George...D Mason Geertsen suspended for three games for a check to the head against Victoria.

Victoria Royals: D Keegan Kanzig signed an NHL contract with the Calgary Flames...Acquired F Braden Oleksyn from Calgary in exchange for F Landon Welykholowa...F Brandon Magee was suspended for two games for a match penalty against Vancouver.

Other News and Notes:

  • Last year's WHL leading scorer Portland F Brendan Leipsic was suspended 7 games for a charging major that concussed Seattle F Keegan Kolesar. This is Leipsic's second suspension of the season, and the longest handed out by the WHL this year. Portland is already without 5 of their top players due to the WJCs.
  • As we covered here, Hunter Shinkaruk was unsurprisingly cut from Canada's WJC team due in large part to injuries limiting his ability to play. There is no word on if Shinkaruk will take time off to heal, but he is expected to make a full recovery.
  • Here are the latest WHL Plays of the Week, featuring a nice goal from Carter Popoff.
10df053f41f4bdaf4d65eca6e982e46d
Covering the WHL - with a focus on the Vancouver Giants - for the Nations. Helping feed your sea-to-sky boners. Follow my inane ramblings on Twitter @Thats_Offside.
Comments are closed for this article.