The 2016 offseason for the Portland Winterhawks has been an eventful one. A new, but familiar coach and General Manager Mike Johnston, almost an entire new squad of players due to experienced players leaving, and some updates to the Veterans Memorial Coliseum. This is nothing new for Mike Johnston. He has been in this position before with the Winterhawk's when he previously joined the team back in 2008. Johnston then, took over an organization that had been struggling for the past two years with no playoff appearances and finishing dead last in the U.S. Division only winning 28 total games. This time around, Portland has been in the playoffs for the last seven seasons, but losing 4-0 to Everett last year in the Western Conference Quarter Finals.
It didn't take long for Johnston to get right to work. He picked up from the 2016 Bantam draft;
Center-Reece Newkirk from Moose Jaw, Sask.
Goaltender- Evan Fradette St. Albert, Alta.
Goaltender- Callan Sandquist from Castle Pines, CO.
Center-Jaydon Dureau from White City, Sask.
Forward- Kishaun Gervais from Yorktown, Sask.
Forward-Judd Caulfield from Grand Forks, ND.
Center- Holden Kodak from Surrey, B.C.
And also getting Right Defenseman- Jason Chu from the Tri-City Americans.
Rodrigo Abols - photo by Jimmy Budinski
Johnston also picked up Left Winger Joachim Blichfeld from Frederikshavn, Denmark and Defenseman Henri Jokiharju from Oulu, Finland in the 2016 Import Draft. Blichfeld has already been drafted by the San Jose Sharks in the 2016 NHL Draft (Final Pick). Blichfeld had 26 points in 48 games with the Malmo Redhawks J20 squad last season and look to add a little offensive power for the Hawks hopefully, this season. Jokiharju is just 17 years old, he tallied 29 points in 47 games with the Tappara U20 team last season. He also won Gold with team Finland in the 2015 World Under-17 Tournament. The problem for Portland in the Import Draft, is that current Portland Winterhawk Import Forward, Rodrigo Abols, is still listed with the team. However; Mike Johnston and the Winterhawks are expecting Abols to make either the NHL Vancouver Canucks or the AHL Utica Comets after NHL training camps conclude. If he does not make either team and is forced to come back to the Winterhawks this season, this will pose a problem and a quick decision by Johnston to decide where to put him. Abols takes up two squad positions since he is an Import draftee and an over aged player.
Winterhawks will not be without returning players who have experience with the organization, F-Caleb Jones, F-Cody Glass, and F-Skyler McKenzie to name a few. However; many critics are not giving the Portland Winterhawks squad much chance this season and calling it a "Rebuilding Year" for the organization. Many are predicting that Portland will not win more than 35 games this year and may miss the playoffs for the first time in 8 seasons, but with Mike Johnston calling the shots, anything is possible. With his up tempo and pressuring style of play, Portland can possibly surprise many people with not only a playoff spot, but 40+ wins. It will be the second year of Johnston's tenor that will scare many teams in the WHL. Having all sanctions lifted for a previous infraction, Portland will have access to all their draft picks and will have a full arsenal of players, with experience, from this year's squad.
My prediction: Portland will go 37-25-5-5 on the season, just barely making the playoffs. I feel that the team will go through development changes and growing pains this season that will cost it wins, but they will be ready for next season to improve on their win total and success in the playoffs.
Coming up for the Winterhawks is the Neely Cup set to be played August 25th-28th at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland, OR. Then off to Preseason action when they take part in two mini tournaments in Everett, WA and Tri-Cities, WA. Here are the other upcoming preseason games for the Hawks:
09/02/2016- vs Tri-City - 11:30am (In Everett)
09/03/2016- vs Spokane - 11:30am (in Everett)
09/04/2016- vs Everett - 7:00pm (In Everett)
09/08/2016- vs Everett - 3:00pm (In Tri-City)
09/09/2016- vs Prince George - 11:00am (In Tri-City)
09/10/2016- vs Kootenay - 11:00am (In Tri-City)
The season will officially start on 09/24/2016 at home against the Seattle Thunderbirds. Game time will be at 7:00PM.
You can always catch the action on my play by play page at https://www.facebook.com/groups/946672248691074/
And as always; GO HAWKS!