It's never too early to take a look at how the next WHL season will shape up and now is as good of a time as any, to do just that.
In breaking down the U.S. Division outlook for 2016/17, let's go over the teams in order of their finish last year.
2016/17 U.S. Division Early Preview Part Two: Everett Silvertips
-Will be looking to build upon last year's second place finish and their second straight second round exit.
-Three of Everett's top-five point-getters from last season were overage players. So, a group that already struggled enough, will be missing those that were the most successful at it. Carson Stadnyk and Remi Laurencelle were two-thirds of the Tips' most potent line and they are both too old to play major junior in 2016/17. Leaving that way with them also, is d-man Cole MacDonald, who had a knack for big goals. D-man Brycen Martin was signed by the Buffalo Sabres and will likely not return for his overage season.
-2000 born forward Brett Kemp will be looking to make the team out of camp, as will local players Dawson Butt and Wyatt Wylie. 1998 born goalie Austin McGrath was acquired from Edmonton for a conditional seventh-round pick and you have to think the Tips are looking for a spot for him behind Carter Hart.
2016/17 Overage Situation:
-Everett is likely down to five options now with Martin going pro, but that is till two more than is allowed by WHL rules. You have to think team captain Dawson Leedahl is a lock to return as he plays coach Kevin Constantine's system to a tee and is a physical force. Besides him, the tips have depth forwards Brandon Ralph and Graham Millar to go along with defensemen Lucas Skrumeda and Tristen Pfeifer. With the importance that Constantine puts on experienced d-men, I would not be surprised if Skrumeda and Pfeifer are the two, besides Leedahl, that he goes with.
Three Major Story Lines:
1) Who Will Score the Goals?
-The Tips struggled mightily to score last season, undermining amazing team-defense, time and time again. Their lack of elite talent showed it's ugly head again as they were bounced by a rival who had it, in the second round yet again. Matt Fonteyne has shown signs of being ready for the top center role, but he has hardly shown enough to think him capable of matching what Remi Laurencelle was able to do. Patrick Bajkov and Noah Juulsen both boast ridiculous one-timers, but were not able to replicate the success on the power play, they had in 2014/15. Both will need to step up their offensive game to help make up for the goals lost to leaving players. If Everett were able to get more goals from those two and Connor Dewar were able to build upon his great rookie campaign, they may be able to score enough to give Seattle a run for their money.
2) Why Acquire Another Goalie?
-Everett picked up incoming 18-year-old goalie Austin McGrath, despite having reigning WHL goalie of the year (and finalist for CHL goalie of the year) Carter Hart entering his 18-year-old season and capable backup Mario Petit entering his 19-year-old year. Was this a backup plan in case Hart is selected in the first round and misses time at the start of the year, while in an NHL training camp? Or, is this is a sign that Petit will be offered around the league as trade bait? General manager Gerry Davidson is a shrewd man and likely just took a flier (conditional seventh round pick) and if McGrath shows he can play at this level, he could acquire a needed piece for either him or Petit.
3) Can Everett Continue to Win Without Being Able to Recruit the Most Elite Players on Their Protected List?
-Seth Jones decided he'd rather play in Portland after being taken in the first round back in 2009. Auston Matthews chose to go play in Switzerland instead of coming to Everett, after being drafted by the Tips in the third round in 2012. Tyson Jost has yet to commit to the Tips and appears to be headed to the University of North Dakota, after being taken in the first round by Everett in 2013. Recently their second round pick in 2013, Patrick Khodorenko committed to Michigan State. Jones was a first round pick in 2013, Matthews is expected to go first overall in this year's draft and Jose should go in the first round somewhere as well this year. That is a huge amount of elite talent that never put on a green and white sweater. When you look at the teams that compete for the WHL title year in and year out, they continually have elite talent like this. Even with a great system that your players really buy into and play well, you will not win titles without several elite level guys. Outside of goalie Carter Hart, Everett does not have any.
-Another year of the Silvertips winning more games than anyone thought they would, but falling short in the playoffs.