The 2015-2016 season for the Portland Winterhawks is shaping up to be another successful one. The Winterhawks are hoping to pick up where they left off last season, after playing in their fifth straight Western Conference Final. However, with an astounding four players from last year's high-caliber squad getting the opportunity of a lifetime in the NHL, it will not be easy.
Jamie Kompon, in his sophomore year as the Winterhawk's Head Coach and General Manager, has been hard at work in the off-season. He has brought on players like defender Caleb Jones, the fourth-round draft pick of the Edmonton Oilers, and the younger brother of former Winterhawk and Nashville Predator Seth Jones. He also acquired defender Jack Dougherty, a second-round pick of the Predators. He added some youngsters on offense, such as right winger Taden Rattie (younger brother of Winterhawk great Ty Rattie) and center Cody Glass.
They have big skates to fill, though, after center Chase De Leo, center Nic Petan, and right wing Oliver Bjorkstrand departed to pursue their NHL careers. Replacing talent is familiar territory for the franchise. In the 2010-2011 season, head coach Mike Johnston led a similarly young and talented Portland team all the way to capturing the WHL Western Conference title, the first in a string of four.
If you have been paying attention to the WHL, or even just the Portland Winterhawks in the past five years, it would be difficult to not notice Portland's knack for picking up young talent and grooming them to be top prospects for NHL teams. In fact, they have produced 25 players who were drafted to NHL teams since 2010. Returning players like left wing Paul Bittner (Columbus Blue Jackets), right wing Alex Schoenborn (San Jose Sharks), and goalie Adin Hill (Arizona Coyotes) will be leading a very young team into battle this season.
Coming up for the younger players will be the always entertaining Neely Cup tournament (August 27-30). This intrasquad tournament will showcase their talents as they try to land a spot on the team for the upcoming season. The preseason starts on Friday, September 4, against the Spokane Chiefs (location TBA). Portland will open their regular season on the road with a pair of games in Victoria on September 25 and 26.
You can catch all the games on KPAM 860 AM (Portland) or call 503-236-HAWK to get tickets to the Neely Cup and all home games. You can also hear a limited schedule of games on my very own play-by-play coverage on my Facebook page.