Sunday, September 18, 2011

Some Questions to Ponder.

Heading into the 2011-2012 Regular Season there are question marks surrounding every team in the WHL and the Prince George Cougars are no exception. Tonight I thought I would pose some of these questions, and attempt to answer them as best as possible.

These questions are in no particular order or importance.

1) How many 16 year olds will start the season in Prince George?

A very difficult question to answer due in large part to the success that the 16-year-old players have had during the preseason and Training Camp. Heading into the season it was wide assumed that Alex Forsberg would have a spot on the team, and I fully expect that to be the case. But add the likes of Jordann Tkatch, Chase Witala, Jarrett Fontaine and Jake Mykitiuk to the mix up front, and you've got some tough decisions to make. Tkatch was tied for the team lead in scoring during the preseason, and there's no denying that Fontaine, Mykitiuk and Witala have enough talent to play.

On the back end, the lone 16-year-old remaining is Michael Mylchreest. The California-born defenceman has size, poise and some obvious offensive potential. The fact that there are so many young players posing as a legit threat to the veterans is a good thing.

2) Who is going to be the 'breakout player' for Prince George in 2011-2012?

Again there are several options. Offensively the Cats are loaded with potential, and now it's time for some of the forwards to seize the opportunity and breakout. For me the name that sticks out is Brock Hirsche. Hirsche had 25 points last season as an 18-year-old. I'm sure that his role will increase this season, especially at the start. With Hirsche's grit, speed and smarts there is room for more offense. Greg Fraser, Spencer Asuchak are two other names that come to mind that could be due to breakout offensively this season.

3) Are the Cougars prepared the possibility of life without Brett Connolly and Martin Marincin?

It goes without saying that the Cougars are a much better team with the likes of Brett Connolly and Martin Marincin in the fold. That being said, it's certainly a strong possiblity that both are wearing NHL colors in early October. If that's the case, then the Cougars will have to find a way to create an identity without them. Offensively the Cats have Charles Inglis, Troy Bourke, Nick Buonassisi, and Alex Forsberg who are very capable offensive play-makers. Defensively Cody Carlson, Jesse Forsberg, Dan Gibb, Shane Pilling, and Josh Smith provide a solid nucleus with a ton of upside at both ends.

The Prince George Cougars simply cannot afford to 'wait' for Connolly and Marincin to return. They need to stick to their strengths, listen to the coaching staff and establish their identity in the early stages of the season. That way IF one or both of Connolly and Marincin returns, it's an effortless transition.

4) Where do the Cougars Stack Up in the BC Division?

As far as I'm concerned, the BC Division is wide open this year. Kamloops, Kelowna, Vancouver and Victoria all have their strengths, and all of those teams have top-notch talent. That said there isn't one particular team that JUMPS OUT at me either. There's not a team that I would consider the 'clear-cut' favourite to win the division, which is a good thing for Prince George. There's no doubt that this team is ready to be a part of the discussion in the Western Hockey League. The players have big expectations for themselves, and I know that the coaching and management staff are confident that the Cats can accomplish great things in 2011-2012. Now it's just a matter of preparing, and executing better than the rest.

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