With the new WHL season not too far off, I figured I would step out of my comfort zone of NHL-only writing and do a preview for the local WHL team here in Vancouver, the Giants.
Perpetual winners, the Giants had a rare off-year last season, finishing last in not only the BC division, but the WHL as a whole with just 44 points in 72 games; 6 behind their next closest competitor, the Prince George Cougars.
Despite the dismal team performance, there were certain individual bright spots that could be seen.
17-year-old Jackson Houck lead the team in scoring with 23 goals and 34 assists for 57 points in 69 games played. The sophomore winger scored 15 more goals and put up more than twice as many points than his rookie season, while adding 68 PIMs. Next season should be a breakout season for Houck after being drafted in the fourth round, 94th overall by the Edmonton Oilers. He will have something to prove if he one day hopes to crack the Oilers’ young lineup.
Another positive for the Giants is D Brett Kulak. Despite being a -34, the 2012 4th round pick of the Calgary Flames scored 12 goals and 46 points in 72 games played; good enough to earn him a call-up to the AHL’s Abbottsford Heat.
Being a minus player on last year’s Vancouver Giants isn’t a fair reflection of most players on the squad. All 4 goalies who suites up for the Giants this season seemed to have trouble stopping pucks, as Peyton Lee, the team’s leader in just about every category, still let in an average of 3.51 goals a game and only stopped 87.9% of the shots he faced. His backup(s) were no better and often the team was left high and dry coming back from 2-3 goal deficits.
Having one off year and finishing last in the league is never what you strive for, but it does have its positive. For example, coming in last means picking first at the bantam draft, which is exactly what the Giants did and selected LW Tyler Benson from the Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League.
Benson was unreal in the AMBHL, breaking the league record for points by putting up 57 goals and 89 assists for 146 points in only 33 games played. The 15-year-old plays hard along the boards and will provide a huge offensive boost. He should be a key part of the Giants offense for the next few years.
The Giants open next season at home on Friday, September 20th, against the Victoria Royals. Fans are sure to pack the Pacific Coliseum that night in hopes of seeing their team start their bounce-back season with a vengeance.
Some dates to look out for are as follows:
Friday, October 18th:Giants play the Kamloops Blazers. The Blazers had the Giants’ number last season, beating them 7 out of 8 times. The worst was a 6-0 beatdown which saw 4 fights throught the course of the game. The Giants will be poised to avenge that one.
Wednesday, January 14th: CHL Top Prospects game. Giants players Peyton Lee and Jackson Houck have a chance at making it, so watch their development throughout the season.
Saturday, March 15th: Final game of the regular season against none other than the Kelowna Rockets. Depending on standings, this could be a barn burner.
So, as I said before, junior hockey is not my area of expertise, but I will continue to do my homework and provide more in-depth coverage as I go along! As always, thanks for reading, leave me some comments and come back soon!