WHL Eastern Conference preview

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, Last Updated: 9:17 AM ET

The Western Hockey League season begins tonight in Kelowna. Here's an Eastern Conference preview.

East Division

Brandon Wheat Kings

Last season: 48-19-3-2, 101 pts (2nd in East Division, 3rd in Conference). Lost to Calgary in Conference final.

GM/coach: Kelly McCrimmon

Key returnees: Four of the Kings' top six scorers are back from last season's potent offence. Included in that group is 2009 NHL first round picks Brayden Schenn and Scott Glennie, and 30-goal man Jay Fehr. Up to six D-men also return from last season, anchored by 19-year-old Florida Panthers draft pick Colby Robak, who had 42 points last season. In the nets, 19-year-old Andrew Hayes takes over between the pipes.

Stepping up: The Wheaties are looking for big things from 20-year-old sophomore Aaron Lewadniuk, while veteran D-man Brodie Melnychuk should be in line for a bigger role.

Rookie threats: Greenhorns Jordan DePape, Jesse Sinatynski and Klarc Wilson could see regular time up front.

Moose Jaw Warriors

Last season: 19-50-1-2, 41 pts (6th in East Division, 12th in Conference). Missed playoffs.

GM: Jeff Truitt

Head Coach: Dave Hunchak

Key returnees: The offensively-starved team from last season (18th in the WHL in goals scored) will look to 20-year-old Jason Bast (64 points in 2008-09) to lead the way. Veteran forwards Brendan Rowinski, Thomas Frazee and Dylan Hood also return. On defence, Travis Hamonic and Ryan Stanton lead the way. Goaltender Jeff Bosch, 19, who came over from Regina last season, will start in goal.

Stepping up: Sophomore Quinton Howden, the top pick in the 2007 bantam draft, had 30 points as a 16-year-old rookie and could be highly regarded for the 2010 NHL draft.

Rookie threat: Goalie Brandon Glover, 17, takes over the backup role for the Warriors after beating out incumbent Deven Dubyk for the job.

Prince Albert Raiders

Last season: 31-36-4-1, 67 pts (4th in East Division, 9th in Conference). Missed playoffs.

GM/coach: Bruno Campese

Key returnees: The club lost its top two scorers from last season (Justin Bernhardt and Ryan McDonald), but 20-year-old Dustin Cameron, who had 33 goals in 2008-09, is back to lead the offence. The club returns six rearguards from last season, which was one to forget in the defensive department -- P.A. was fifth-worst in the WHL in goals against. Boston Bruins prospect Ryan Button will lead the group.

Stepping up: The club will look for increased scoring contributions from Brandon Herrod, Ryan Harrison and Igor Revenko, while new additions Craig McCallum and Justin Maylan add depth. Sophomore blueliner Ryan Aasman saw 41 games as a 16-year-old.

Rookie threat: Freshman goalie Jacob Edwards could factor in the battle for playing time, as duo Steven Stanford and Garrett Zemlak battle for the starting spot.

Regina Pats

Last season: 27-39-1-5, 60 pts (5th in East Division, 10th in Conference). Missed playoffs.

GM: Brent Parker

Head Coach: Curtis Hunt

Key returnees: If Jordan Eberle doesn't make the Edmonton Oilers, he's in for a possible MVP campaign in the WHL this season. Eberle has 105 goals over three seasons. Also back up front are Brett Leffler, Matt Strueby and sparkplug Garret Mitchell. On defence, the team will get much younger, but it hopes to have 20-year-old Colten Teubert returned to them from L.A.

Stepping up: Sophomore Jordan Weal steps to the forefront as a 17-year-old this season after leading all 16-year-old WHL players in assists (54) and points (70) last season. In the nets, 18-year-old Damien Ketlo has emerged as the club's new starter, beating out incumbent Linden Rowat.

Rookie threats: Myles Bell slots onto the blueline as a 16-year-old and with a youth movement on the back end, he has a shot at playing time.

Saskatoon Blades

Last season: 49-18-3-2, 103 pts (1st in East Division, 2nd in Conference). Lost in first round to Lethbridge.

GM/coach: Lorne Molleken

Key returnees: Saskatoon returns seven of its top eight scoring forwards from last year. This list includes Derek Hulak, Milan Kytnar, Walker Wintoneak, Burke Gallimore, Gaelen Patterson and Curtis Hamilton. On the back end things look good, too -- with puck movers Jyri Niemi and Stefan Elliott back and shutdown man Teigan Zahn also returning.

Stepping up: Brendon Wall, 18, got a taste last season with seven points in 32 games and there's nowhere to go but up. Adam Morrison takes over the starting job in the nets after Braden Holtby graduated.

Rookie threat: Duncan Siemens, 16, has been impressive on the blueline.

Swift Current Broncos

Last season: 42-28-1-1, 86 pts (3rd in East Division, 4th in Conference). Lost in first round to Medicine Hat.

GM/coach: Mark Lamb

Key returnees: The Broncos will make up for the loss of leading scorer Keegan Dansereau by getting scoring threats Geordie Wudrick, Justin Dowling and Michael Stickland back. The club will get its top two defencemen back -- Derek Claffey and Eric Doyle.

Stepping up: Cody Eakin, 18, a Washington Capitals prospect, is primed for an impact season if he can stay healthy. Big things are also expected out of Taylor Vause up front. Goalie Travis Yonkman has graduated, leaving the duties to 19-year-old Vancouver Canucks prospect Morgan Clark, who came over from Red Deer in a trade last season.

Rookie threats: Highly regarded rearguards Taylor Ernst and Reece Scarlett could be in the mix for playing time.

Central Division

Calgary Hitmen

Last season: 9-9-3-1, 122 pts (1st in Central Division, 1st in Conference). Conference champs. Lost WHL final to Kelowna.

GM: Kelly Kisio

Coach: Mike Williamson

Key returnees: Calgary has lost the lion's share of their offensive stars from last season, when they scored a league-leading 330 goals. But leading scorer Brandon Kozun (108 points) will be back, along with Minnesota Wild prospect Kris Focault and power forward Ian Schultz. The club has also been ravaged by graduations on the blueline, but Michael Stone returns after a 61-point campaign. Calgary gets starting goalie Martin Jones back.

Stepping up: There's room for a scorer to emerge from this group: Chase Schaber, Tyler Fiddler, Cody Sylvester and MacKenzie Royer. D-man Matt MacKenzie is eligible for the 2010 NHL draft, while sophomores Erik Bonsor and Austin Madaisky will factor into the Hitmen's defensive plan.

Rookie threat: Prospect Chase Komistek is knocking at the door for a spot in the nets.

Edmonton Oil Kings

Last season: 29-34-4-5, 67 pts (5th in Central Division, 8th in Conference). Lost in first round to Calgary.

GM: Bob Green

Head Coach: Steve Pleau

Key returnees: As the expansion club from 2007 looks to improve on a first-round playoff exit last season, it will be led by veterans Brett Breitkreuz, 20, and Brent Raedeke, 19, up front. Czech winger Tomas Vincour, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 CHL import draft, hopes to put his injury woes behind him. Torrie Jung was downright awesome in the playoffs last season and he has a shot to be one of the top goalies in the WHL this season.

Stepping up: This is D-man Mark Pysyk's NHL draft year and he was once considered a top-10 prospect.

Rookie threats: Dylan Wruck, 17, and Michael St. Croix, 16, could help inject some dynamite into the offence.

Kootenay Ice

Last season: 35-29-2-6, 78 pts (4th in Central. Div., 6th in Conference). Lost in first round to Brandon.

GM: Jeff Chynoweth

Head Coach: Mark Holick

Key returnees: It's not pretty as the team only returns two players who topped the 20-goal mark last season -- Dustin Sylvester and Kevin King. D-man Brayden McNabb, a Buffalo Sabres prospect, will lead a solid blueline.

Stepping up: Sophomore forwards Jesse Ismond, Max Reinhart, Drew Czerwonka and Dominik Pacovsky, will need to replace the offensive losses. The goaltending job is up for grabs between Nathan Lieuwen, Todd Mathews and Dylan Tait.

Lethbridge Hurricanes

Last season: 35-32-3-2, 75 pts (4th in Central Division, 7th in Conference). Lost in second round to Calgary.

GM/coach: Rich Preston

Key returnees: Carter Ashton a first-round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks is back, as well as Kyle Beach and Carter Bancks, making the loss of Zach Boychuk and others sting less. Gone also is Luca Sbisa off the blueline as the club gets younger on the back end.

Stepping up: Austin Fyten had 25 points in his rookie season, while Brody Sutter is primed for a bounce back from injuries. The No. 1 goalie job is up for grabs between Michael Tadjdeh and 17-year-olds Brandon Anderson and Ville Kolppanen.

Rookie threats: With a youth movement on the blueline, 16-year-olds Reid Jackson, Drew Graham and Brandyn Hulit are hoping to make an impact early in their WHL careers.

Medicine Hat Tigers

Last season: 36-29-4-3, 93 pts (2nd in Central Div., 5th in Conf.). Lost in second round to Brandon.

GM/coach: Will Desjardins

Key returnees: With the tough task of trying to replace more than 100 goals in offence (with the chief loss being Tyler Ennis), the Tigers turn to L.A. Kings draft pick Linden Vey, who had 72 points last season, and Czech Zdenek Okal. Five D-men return, including 20-year-old Mark Isherwood, who scored 13 power-play goals last season. Ryan Holfeld and Tyler Bunz return in the nets.

Stepping up: More is expected from forwards Colton Grant, Bretton Cameron, Tristan King and Wacey Hamilton.

Rookie threats: Emerson Etem, 17, has shown solid offensive instincts in preseason. Dylan Busenius, 16, could be a factor on defence.

Red Deer Rebels

Last season: 25-37-1-9, 60 pts (6th in Central Division, 11th in Conference). Missed playoffs.

V.P. of Hockey Operations/coach: Jesse Wallin

Key returnees: This could be the year the club's recent youth movement will pay off. Landon Ferraro, drafted by Detroit and coming off a 37-goal campaign, is expected to lead the charge. The club acquired scorer Nathan Green, 20, from Brandon. Minnesota Wild prospect Darcy Kuemper is back in the nets.

Stepping up: Forwards Cass Mappin and Willie Coetzee, combined for 35 goals and 81 points last season. Alex Petrovic, 17, is set for a jump in production from the back end, a corps short on WHL experience but long on talent.

Rookie threat: Offensive phenom Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, 16, could be a factor right away.


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