A few weeks back, our very own Jeff Angus laid out a few options for Canucks fans that were in desperate need of hockey to watch and follow this fall. I was in complete agreeance with him on this. Seemingly, the best option was the Vancouver Giants, who play in an easily accessible location, and have rather affordable ticket prices. And there’s also the fact that Western Hockey League hockey can be really fun to watch.
Unfortunately, whoever took our advice has been left with a relatively sour taste in their mouth, as the Giants have sluggishly started out the season with a 2-5 record. I still think there are plenty of reasons for optimism, but it’s not the start that you would have ideally liked to see. Especially with the opening they have in Vancouver hockey circles, given the state of the NHL.
I reached out to Cody Nickolet, who has his finger on the pulse of the WHL as much as anyone, to discuss what fans should be expecting of the Vancouver Giants going forward, and the general state of the league.
Click Past the Jump to Read our Discussion.
Dimitri Filipovic: What are your thoughts on the early season struggles (in the win column) for the Giants? I recently wrote about how I wasn’t ready to panic just yet, given the fact that they have been outplayed and thoroughly outshooting the opposition. For me, it all comes down to getting off to better starts, and hopefully getting some timely goaltending along the way.
Cody Nickolet: It has been quite the tough start to the season for the Giants, no doubt. Just looking up and down their roster, they’re a fairly young group. Moreso than that, I’m not sold on their goaltending – it’s an area where they have struggled, as they have allowed the most goals in their conference. I think they needed Liam Liston to step up, and prove that he’s better than his career .875 save percentage suggests. So far, that hasn’t happened.
On the bright side, they’re really not far enough down the standings to hit the panic button quite yet. The season is still awfully young.
DF: Given the losses of Gallagher, Martinook, and Morrison, many people have viewed the Giants as an afterthought this season. How do you feel about their chances to contend in the WHL this year?
CN: They lost some pretty solid players. Adam Morrison was a god-send in goal for the team last year after an early season trade with the Blades. Gallagher is one of the best Vancouver Giants of all-time, and Martinook really grew into a fantastic player and prospect during his time in Vancouver.
Any team would have been hurt by losing those three, so I think there could be a big learning curve in the first couple months of the season. They have young players learning how to adapt to the league, and other players learning to take on new roles with the club. Things like that take time, so I wouldn’t be shocked if they eventually turned things around and were able to salvage their year after this bumpy start.
DF: Which current Giant do you think has the brightest future in the NHL?
CN: He might not be the biggest name on the team, but I’ve always really liked the game of Brett Kulak. He’s a smooth skater, doesn’t panic with the puck, and is a solid defender despite his lack of a physical game. He faces stiff competition from guys like Musil, Tvrdon and Franson, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Kulak went on to have a long and successful NHL career.
DF: What are some of the main storylines that you are personally looking forward to seeing play out with this team? What should fans be watching for?
CN: One storyline that we’ve already heard whispers about is that the Giants might be looking to already start ‘selling’. Like I said before, I have confidence that they can turn it around after their slow start, but there has been word that the club is hoping to bid for the 2016 Memorial Cup. In order to be competitive for an event like that, you have to think about the future.
Is it too early to start worrying about something like that? I would say it probably is, but it will be interesting to see if that factors into how they approach the rest of the 2012-13 season.
DF: A big topic of discussion in Vancouver has been the Canucks’ seeming reluctance to take WHL talent. In the past 12 years, you can count on one hand the number of players they have selected from the ‘Dub’. Where do you stand on this strategy? Do you think that it’s just a case of taking the best player available, or do you think there’s something more to this?
CN: This is a hard question to answer, because I’m kind of split on where I stand. It’s safe to say that I have a slight WHL bias when it comes to scouting and prospects, but they are the players I see play every day, and the players that I feel attached to. On the other hand, there is no question that they are not always the ‘best player available’ when drafting.
I think that in the end, you can’t worry about where a player is from or who they play for. You have to do what’s best for your NHL organization, and clearly the Canucks feel that leagues besides the WHL produce those players.
DF: Do you think that we’ll be seeing the new rules that the OHL has established for fighting, implemented in the WHL any time soon? And if so, would you be for or against it?
CN: I’m definitely an old-school hockey fan. I may be a young guy, but I’ve always been attached to the way the game was played in the 1990’s. The players were big and rugged, and you needed to be physical to win. So with that, I would definitely hate to see more leagues continue to crack down on fighting like the OHL has.
I think Ron Robison and the WHL have been very adamant that they won’t rush into anything in this regard, and at this point, I have to say that I applaud their ability to stand tall in what they believe is right for the game.
DF: Let’s say a hockey fan tells you that they only have the time/money to attend one or two Giants game this season. They obviously want to get the best bang for their buck. Which teams/players would you highlight as the most must-see?
CN: I think there are two clear answers, in my mind. The first would be the defending WHL champion Edmonton Oil Kings. They lost a ton of talent from last year’s team, but are no doubt still contenders in 2012-13. They’ve got a little bit of everything – they’re fast, they play hard, they play disciplined hockey, and have great goaltending.
The other team is the Portland Winterhawks. No WHL team has produced prospect talent like the Winterhawks in recent years, and they are once again loaded in that regard with players like Ty Rattie, Nic Petan,and Seth Jones. Jones is likely going to be a top 2 pick in the 2013 NHL draft, and if you have a chance to see him play, you can’t pass it up.
DF: Cody, thanks for taking the time to chat. As for all you fans out there – I’m at the game nearly every Friday. If you’re around, feel free to shoot me a tweet @SoYoureAnExpert, and we can talk puck.