The Sea-to-Sky Boner Report Returns: May 3rd, 2014

That's Offside!
May 03 2014 01:59PM

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After a hiatus, the Sea-to-Sky Boner Report is back with a ton of Vancouver Giants and WHL news and notes. Since we last checked in, the Portland Winterhawks and Edmonton Oil Kings have both advanced out of their respective conferences in the WHL playoffs, the WHL bantam draft has taken place, and most notably, the Giants are now in the market for a new coach.

There's a lot to cover, so read past the jump for more.

The Playoffs

As expected, the Vancouver Giants' return to the postseason was a short one. They were disposed of by a juggernaut Portland Winterhawks squad in just 4 games. In those 4 games, Vancouver was outscored 19-7 and outshot 167-92 for a ShotsFor% of just 35.5%, which is a pretty thorough domination, especially of a team that was quite adept at controlling the shot clock through the regular season.

Although a sweep is never gratifying in any way, it's nothing really to be ashamed of to lose in four games to such a strong team. After all, the Winterhawks would go on to thrash the #3 seed Victoria Royals in round two and easily dismantle the CHL's #1 ranked Kelowna Rockets in the Western Conference finals. 

Portland managed to pile up 4.9 goals for per game in 10 games against the West's two stingiest teams, and look poised to do the same against the WHL's best defensive team in the Edmonton Oil Kings. Game 1 of the WHL finals goes Saturday at 7:00 pm in Portland.

As for the Giants going forward, they will lose Dalton Thrower, Cain Franson, and Tim Traber to graduation, and 19 year olds Brett Kulak and Dominik Volek are also both unlikely to return (according to EliteProspects, Volek has already been transferred to HC Sparta Praha in the Czech Republic). 

This leaves Joel Hamilton and Dalton Sward as probable odds-on favourites to recieve two of Vancouver's three overage roster spots, while Travis McEvoy, Jared Rathjen, and newly re-acquired Matt Bellerive will presumably compete for the third and final spot.

Volek's planned departure also opens a second import spot for the Giants to fill. Dmitry Osipov will look to build on a disappointing rookie season in the CHL, as the 1st overall pick from last year's CHL Import Draft struggled to find his game, with just 3 goals and 0 assists in 54 games. The big Russian defender was also a frequent healthy scratch under Don Hay. 

Vancouver will surely be looking for massive strides from him in the coming year, especially since a number of players drafted after Osipov, including Nikolaj Ehlers, Julius Honka, and Nikita Scherbak, were 17 year old CHL standouts that played themselves into 1st-round consideration in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft.

Speaking of young players, the Giants are banking on the continued development of Thomas Foster, Arvin Atwal, Ty Ronning, and Alec Baer as well as contributions from Tyler Benson and Jakob Stukel (who missed the entire 2013-14 season with a leg injury) in their first full WHL seasons in 2014-15. Benson is intriguing in particular given his impressive pedigree. While Benson will be just 16 next season, it's still conceivable that he could hover around a point-per-game pace. 

In the last decade, U-17 players who have scored 0.9 pts/gp or more include Brayden Schenn, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Kyle Beach, Sam Reinhart, Brett Connolly, Mathew Barzal, Gilbert Brule, and Hunter Shinkaruk. Even for players as talented as Benson, this is a pretty rare accomplishment. It's probably unlikely he breaks a point-per-game, but he'll be as good a bet as any other WHL rookie.

The Draft

The annual WHL bantam draft was held on Thursday. The Giants had two top-10 selections, three second round selections, and two third round selections, as well as a handful of picks in rounds 6 to 9. Vancouver traded a couple of those selections away, and we'll get to those in a second, but first here are their selections from rounds 1-3:

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You can see a complete list of the Giants' selections here. Alan Caldwell's blog Small at Large also has more stats on all drafted players in greater detail if you're interested. There are also EliteProspects pages for Holt, Semchuk, Plouffe, Hardy, and Gildon where you can check out how each kid stacked up with the rest of his league.

Personally, I'm very excited about this draft class. Dawson Holt easily crushed the rest of his league, and Brendan Semchuk has been considered the second best forward available, behind consensus 1st overall selection Stelio Mattheos. Dylan Plouffe was also a projected 1st round pick (along with James Malm) after he was the only D to lead his AMBHL team in scoring and led the AMBHL in goals by a D-man, but may have slid because of defensive concerns.

The real gem, however, may be Max Gildon at 51st overall. Gildon played above his age group this past year in Texas, and is considered one of the very best players in the entire draft. He had the potential to challenge Mattheos for 1st overall, and was supposedly unlikely to slide past the 3rd overall selection held by Kamloops. But, as a highly-touted American, there is always the question of player recruitment. If Gildon chooses to play in the WHL, he will forego his NCAA eligibility. 

Of course, the NCAA is going to be heavily recruiting Gildon as well, so whether or not he ever suits up for a WHL franchise has less to do with whether or not he's good enough, and more to do with which league he commits to. From what I've been able to gather, Gildon (and his family - let's not lose sight of the fact that he's just 14 years old) has so far been non-committal.

I wouldn't hold my breath on Gildon since he comes with a massive recruitment risk, and even if he decides to go the NCAA route, this can be a very successful draft for Vancouver. Still, taking risks like this one is an excellent gamble to make since the payoff is so high. If Gildon does commit to Vancouver, it will be a boon for the Giants (GM Scott Bonner has promised to pull out all the stops to try and recruit Gildon, including using ex-Giants Milan Lucic and Brenden Gallagher, as well as star co-owners like Pat Quinn and Michael Buble. Maybe we should tweet him pictures of Vancouver in the summer to sell him on the city too. Why the hell not).

Vancouver also made two trades on draft day. The first one saw them trade their second 3rd round pick (66th overall) to the Saskatoon Blades for Clayton Kirichenko. The '96-born Kirichenko scored 3 times for the Saskatoon Blades this year and added 9 assists in 70 games, but was an astonishing -35 and posted one of the lowest Elo +/- ratings in the WHL. 

While this certainly doesn't mean that Kirichenko is a bad player, it raises a few eyebrows as to what went on last year. The data available to us seems to show that he was one of the worst players on one of the league's worst teams. I don't really trust our data to draw clear, definitive conclusions yet, but it's worrying enough to warrant some really strong scouting justification to make this move. But again, a relatively known, WHL-tested player is a worthwhile gamble with your 6th pick of the draft.

(Note: Elo +/- is something Josh Weissbock has been playing around with for a while. He wrote an article about it here for NHLNumbers that's worth reading. Basically it weights on-ice goals for and against by the strength of your opponent. You get punished much more for getting scored on by a weak line than by, say, Nic Petan.)

Vancouver's second draft day trade sent one of their 6th round picks to the Red Deer Rebels in exchange for soon-to-be overage forward Matt Bellerive. Bellerive is a former Vancouver Giant who was dealt away amidst rumblings of a poor relationship with head coach Don Hay. He scored 18 goals and added 23 assists in 60 games split between Kamloops and Red Deer. He may not stick with the Giants through next year as he will be an overager, but a 6th round pick generally isn't worth much so if he does stick, it'll be a fine gamble to make. Still, it was odd seeing Bellerive back in the Giants organization with Don Hay still the head coach.

The Coach

Surprisingly, Don Hay was not the coach of the Vancouver Giants for much longer. In the hours after the draft concluded, it was reported that Hay would be leaving the Giants to join B.C. Division rivals the Kamloops Blazers where he won two Memorial Cups in the 1990's. Steve Ewen has an excellent breakdown of the situation here that I suggest reading. Here are the key points from that article:

  • GM Scott Bonner and Hay supposedly had a disconnect in the style of play they felt the team should have. Hay wanted a crash-and-bang style, while Bonner has tended to recently acquire smaller, puck-possession types in the draft like Alec Baer and Ty Ronning.
  • Coaching and player acquisition go hand-in-hand in junior hockey. Since CHL-eligible players have multiple options as to where to play, they have the ability play in a different league if they don't like the CHL team that holds their rights. Ewen reports that multiple players have asked out of Vancouver in recent years after feuds with Hay, so if management regarded Hay as an obstacle to getting guys like Max Gildon to commit to the organization, it's probably in the best interest of the organization for both parties to part ways.
  • Ticket sales have been suffering in recent years, and it's pretty clear that owner Ron Toigo wants a shake-up. There have been rumblings of a proposed new arena for the Giants, and it's pretty well known that the franchise would love to host the Memorial Cup in the 2015-16 season. This move gives Vancouver the opportunity to have a clean slate and try to refresh and revitalize a fanbase that's been waning of late. Average attendance is only 75% of what it was just a few years ago.
  • Toigo supposedly wants a "rock star" big name coach to replace Hay. Marc Crawford's name has been thrown around, not necessarily as a candidate, but as the type of guy that Toigo will attempt to woo to Vancouver. I hear Stanley Cup champion John Tortorella is available.

At the end of the day, Vancouver is still saying goodbye to a very good coach, and by far and away the most successful one they've ever had. Hay led Vancouver to a Memorial Cup in 2006-07, and will remain the winningest coach in franchise history for a long, long time, but it's pretty clear that the Giants felt that a refreshing was necessary to move forward as an organization. If this marks a move towards an organizational commitment of being a high-skill, forward thinking team along the lines of the Portland Winterhawks, it's a very exciting prospect.

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Rhys Jessop - CanucksArmy's resident CHL buff/hater of prospects, depending on who you ask. Follow my ramblings on Twitter: @Thats_Offside. Email contact: thats.offside.hockey[at]gmail.com
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