1)Brandon Wheat Kings vs. 4)Edmonton Oil Kings
-The Wheat Kings are on a roll winning nine games in a row to close out the regular season. Included in those nine wins were seven that were by four goals or more. They should roll over the Oil Kings with Jayce Hawryluk(106 points) and Nolan Patrick(102 points) leading the way. Edmonton chose not to trade off guys like Brett Pollock and Dysin Mayo and still needed a play-in game in order to sneak into the playoffs.
-If this series goes five, it will be because Edmonton goalie Peyton Lee stole a game.
Brandon in Five
2)Prince Albert vs. 3)Moose Jaw
-This should be a tight series. The Raiders are led by Reid Gardiner, who has provided some overtime heroics this year. They also have stellar goaltending from Rylan Parenteau. The Warriors though, have probably the most talented player in the league in Brayden Point and the second leading scorer in the WHL in Dryden Hunt (112 points), to go with the Eastern Conference's goalie of the year Zach Sawchenko. I have to go with Moose Jaw, as the elite players can take over a series and Point has the ability to do that.
Moose Jaw in Seven
Central Division Bracket
1)Lethbridge vs. 4)Regina
-The Hurricnaes have been the darling of the WHL this year, as they have come out of nowhere to not only make the playoffs, but win their division. Brayden Burke and Stuart Skinner lead the way for the Hurricanes. Regina has the leading scorer in the WHL Adam Brooks (120 points) and can score in bunches, as evidenced by the 9-8 thriller they had with Lethbridge recently.
Lethbridge in Six
2)Red Deer vs. 3)Calgary
-The Rebels do not want to go to the Memorial Cup through the back door, but have a really dangerous match up in the first round with Calgary. The Rebels not only are without starting goalie Rylan Toth, they lost Conner Bleckley for the season, after he received a cut to his arm from a skate blade and required surgery. They still have some great individual players in Adam Helewka, Haydn Fleury, Jake DeBrusk and Luke Philp, but need them to start playing better as a group in order to advance and avoid a couple months off before the Memorial Cup. Calgary has the likes of Jake Bean and Travis Sanheim on their blue line and they do a great job of providing some blue lien scoring.
Despite the injuries, I think Red Deer will pull through in seven.
B.C. Division Bracket
1)Victoria vs. 4)Spokane
-Things could not have worked out much better for the Royals. In getting Spokane instead of Portland or Tri-City, they avoid a healthy team that still has their top goalie and top center available. They get to take advantage of the fact that Tyson Verhlest and Wyatt Johnson are out for the Chiefs. Joe Hicketts provides them veteran leadership and I would look for the Royals to ride their captain through a pretty easy first round.
Victoria in Five.
2)Kelowna vs. 3)Kamloops
- The Rockets, like Spokane, are without their starting goalie and one of their best forwards in Jackson Whistle and Nick Merkley. Unlike Spokane, they still boast some elite scorers like Tyson Baillie, Rourke Chartier and Dillon Dube, Kelowna has some inexperienced d-men, but still have a solid goalie in Michael Herringer. If they were facing Victoria or Seattle, I would be concerned they would drop the series, but Kamloops does not look to have enough to take advantage. Connor Ingram provides them with some elite netminding and Collin Shirley and Gage Quinney can score enough to make this a long series. If the series goes seven, I trust Baillie or Chartier to grab the moment and score the big goal when it's needed.
Kelowna in Seven.
U.S. Division Bracket:
1)Seattle vs. 4)Prince George:
-There are few hotter teams then Seattle, as they finally started to become the team that we thought they would be at the start of the year. Few teams can contend with what the T-birds can do offensively and goalie Landon Bow has given them some amazing goaltending since being acquired from Swift Current as well. Prince George has really struggled since January began and has taken a lot of bad penalties, putting themselves at a disadvantage way too often. Seattle's power play will make them play, if they do this against them.
Seattle in Five.
2)Everett vs. 3)Portland
Portland in six.
Hinchee's playoff predictions
Victoria vs. Spokane
This may be the most lopsided of the first round series. Victoria is on a roll and Spokane crawled into the playoffs. Defensively is where Victoria will win this series, and win it decisively. The Chiefs have been one of the most injury-riddled teams you will ever see, and while their healthy has improved, it won't be nearly enough. Anchored by Western Conference player of the year Joe Hicketts and some outstanding goaltending, Royals in 5.
Seattle vs. Prince George
Seattle is playing its best at the right time, and the Cougars may be in for more than they can chew. The offensive firepower of the Thunderbirds mixed with the in-season addition of goaltender Landon Bow have this club poised to make a deep playoff run. Prince George lost seven of its last 10 coming into the playoffs, so the Cougars are scaring anybody right now. I like Seattle to take this one in 4 games.
Portland vs. Everett
This series excites me the most in the first round. Division foes, rematch from last season's playoffs (Portland won in 5), this has all the makings for a fantastic series. Many still see Portland as the "Big Dogs" of the U.S. Division, and Everett would love nothing more than to dethrone them. All that points to an emotion series, and Everett's discipline could lead them to a series win. Each team won five against the other this season, and I see this one going the distance with Portland finding a way to win Game 7.
Kamloops vs. Kelowna
After missing the playoffs a year ago, Kamloops made huge strides this season. But taking down the defending WHL champs appears too large a task for a club that hasn't seen the playoffs since 2013. Kelowna will be without goalie Jackson Whistle for the playoffs, which drastically changes the Rockets' chances. They will rely on Michael Herringer to make a deep playoff run, and he's proven to be reliable, but will he be able to steal a game in later rounds (if they advance of course)? In recent meetings with Herringer in goal, Kamloops has been victorious. Kamloops got the better of the Rockets during the season, but I still say Kelowna gets by in 5.
Brandon vs. Edmonton
Edmonton won Tuesday's tie-breaker with Medicine Hat, but Brandon is a different beast. The Eastern Conference leaders boast a pair of 100-point scorers in Jayce Hawryluk and Nolan Patrick. Brandon is also top-5 in both special teams' categories. Edmonton's only hope for this series weighs on goaltender Payton Lee, who was traded mid-season from Vancouver. Edmonton looked exhausted for much of Tuesday's tiebreaker, and going toe-to-toe with the East's best won't last long. The Wheat Kings lost three of four to Edmonton in the regular season, but I think Brandon will finish this series in 4 quick games.
Calgary vs. Red Deer
Red Deer is hosting the Memorial Cup in May. So it will be interesting to see how seriously the Rebels take these playoffs. They built most of their club off trades, costing draft picks for years to come. But all that building was for one purpose: to win a Memorial Cup. Calgary doesn't have the free ride. I think that edge will show, and Calgary will steal a game in Red Deer and turn the tide in the series. The question will be, how invested in a long playoff run is Red Deer? I'll go with the more desperate team, Calgary, in 6.
Moose Jaw vs. Prince Albert
This East Division rivalry should produce a fantastic playoff series. Dryden Hunt's 58-58 season lead the league in goals and landed him second in points. Prince Albert is led by dynamic winger Reid Gardiner (43-49-92), who found his way onto just about every scoresheet I saw from the Raiders this season. The difference could be the play of Raiders forward Jordan Tkatch, who is coming off an injury. Moose Jaw took six of eight from the Raiders during the season, but in a rivalry like this previous results mean little. I'll still go with the goaltending of Zach Sawchenko as the difference and Moose Jaw in 7.
Regina vs. Lethbridge
Lethbridge has to be the best turnaround story in the WHL this season, from 48 to 94 points. I'll admit it's hard not to root for this club after some of the stories I read prior to the season. Former Tri-City American Justin Gutierrez has been a huge part of the Canes' success this season, with 49 points in 46 games. He's been out since January but could return for the series. The Pats also feature the WHL's leading scorer Adam Brooks, a fantastic playmaker with 82 assists. Even though Regina won three of four against the Hurricanes in the regular season, I say Lethbridge in 6.