Warriors Versus The Blades - How They Stack Up
By Nick Murray
Coming into the 2018-2019 WHL season the Moose Jaw Warriors weren't expected to be to much of a threat.
Most of the top dogs on the previous seasons' record setting squad left to begin their professional careers, leaving behind a few solid defenders, a pair of high scoring second liners, and a couple role players. The seasons opening volley didn't inspire much hope either as the club started the campaign out with three consecutive losses.
But things turned around. The club won some tough games, pulled off a bunch of upsets, goaltenders stood on their heads, veteran and rookie defencemen connected seamlessly and one line in particular added some absolutely phenomenal offense.
The WHL playoffs and the race for the Ed Chynoweth Cup and a berth in the Memorial Cup will very soon be underway. Moose Jaw has a few games left but it's already been established that they will meet the Saskatoon Blades in a round 1 best-of-seven series.
Here is the series breakdown.
The Season Series:
The Saskatoon Blades come into the series with, as of March 12th, a record of 44-14-0-8 and 96 points. It's highly possible that by the end of the season they will have crossed the 100 point barrier. That's a pretty solid season by any club's standards. The only team in the whole league with a stronger record right now is the league leading Prince Albert Raiders. Saskatoon are the second ranked team in the conference but also the second ranked team in the East division, on account of the WHL's playoff structure they end up playing the divisions third place team, your Moose Jaw Warriors. It's a tough break for both teams, as under other playoff formats they would both definitely be up against lighter competition; but that's the way the cracker crumbles.
Moose Jaw, as of the date of this publication, has turned in a very respectable 37-20-6-2 record, with a tally of 82 points.
The clubs played each other 5 times this season, Saskatoon won 4 of them; including all three meetings here at Mosaic Place; and they weren't even close. You could argue the Blades aren't too affected by playing outside of their rink but the playoffs are a completely different animal.
This was how the season series played out.
Saskatoon 5-2 Moose Jaw (In Moose Jaw)
Moose Jaw 3-2 Saskatoon (In Saskatoon)
Saskatoon 5-2 Moose Jaw (In Moose Jaw)
Saskatoon 6-1 Moose Jaw ( In Saskatoon)
Saskatoon 4-1 Moose Jaw (In Moose Jaw)
Saskatoon 5-3 Moose Jaw (In Saskatoon)
As far as the season series plays a role Saskatoon clearly has the upper hand.
The offence in this series is difficult to quantify. Moose Jaw had the most productive line in the WHL. The trio of Tristan Langan, Justin Almeida and Brayden Tracey was fantastic all season long.
Tristan Langan was the club's biggest shocker this season. He put up a sturdy 42 points last year but has improved massively since then. He will most likely finish the season second in scoring, behind only Joachim Blichfeld of the Portland Winterhawks. But it's also possible that he finishes the campaign strong and takes the league leader slot. So far Langan's got 50 goals and 56 assists (106 points) and it can be expected to see him surpass the 110 point milestone.
Centreman Justin Almeida continued with the offensive success he had last season, surpassing 100 points for the second straight year. The 5'11" Pittsburgh Penguin prospect so far leads the league in assists with 71 and should have no problem holding onto that lead for the remainder of the season.
Brayden Tracey had to outplay a lot of competition to earn a spot on the Warriors' top line. But once he got there he wasted no time making his presence felt. The kid is only 17 and he's now got an 80+ point season under his belt. Bet your bottom dollar that Tracey fronts the top line come the start of next season.
But outside of that one line, the rest of the club struggled to find the back of the net. The closest forward to Tracey's 80 points is Keenan Taphorn's 22, then Tate Popple's 19.
Offensive depth has been a huge problem for the Warriors all season long and if they can't find a way to get those secondary and tertiary lines producing the Blades should have no problem taking advantage of that. Because the Blades cut deep.
Saskatoon has three lines that can score. That could prove to be a problem for the Tribe.
Saskatoon also has a very exciting star on the rise. It might be worth watching the games live at Mosaic Place simply to see the spectacle that is Kirby Dach. The big 18 year old centreman is expected to be selected in the top 5 at the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. He's a two-way threat who meshes well anywhere you put him. He's got 71 points on the season and can be counted on to keep that offence rolling deep into the playoffs.
The Blades have a lot of guys who can score outside of Kirby Dach though. Max Gerlach has 71 points as well and, along with Gary Haden (63), has had Moose Jaw's number all season.
Ryan Hughes was a big pickup at the trade deadline. He came over from Portland and has 67 points this year.
Eric Florchuk (50) and Chase Wouters (39) round out the second line.
Third liners scorers Lyle Crnkovic, Kristian Roykas-Marthinsen and Riley McKay each have more points than any Warrior forward not on the top line, as well.
Moose Jaw has a dynamic line that has been better than any other trio in the league but Saskatoon's depth makes them the bigger offensive threat.
Moose Jaw has two defenceman on their way to the NHL. Both Josh Brook and Jett Woo are going places. Brook to Montreal and Woo to Vancouver. And both of them have been stellar this season, both on the defensive end and in supplying the puck to the big three scorers.
Brook has 71 points and Woo has 60. There aren't many teams in the league with a better one-two punch on defence.
It doesn't end there for the Warriors though, their defence is much deeper than their offence. Secondary guys like Daemon Hunt and Dalton Hamaliuk have been spectacular.
Saskatoon's top point scorer so far is defenceman Dawson Davidson. The 20 year old from Moosomin has been a killer on the power play all season and has certainly cherished the opportunity of feeding the puck to a team chock full of scoring threats.
Back in Mosaic Place will be big Brandon Schuldhaus, who was an integral part of Moose Jaw's success last season. Only this year he'll be rocking the blue and yellow of the Saskatoon Blades. He has 30 points as of publication.
Second line D men Nolan Kneen and Emil Malysjev have 25 and 17 points, respectively.
The edge on Defence certainly belongs to the Warriors.
Moose Jaw has been fortunate enough to have to reliable goalies they could platoon all season.
Brodan Salmond started 36 games and finished with a Goals Against Average of 2.69.
Adam Evanoff started 34 times and his GAA was slightly better at 2.80.
Both guys will likely see service in the series.
Saskatoon has an 18 year old kid with a future between the pipes. Nolan Maier started 52 times this year and his GAA is an impressive 2.65.
Saskatoon could find themselves in trouble of Maier goes down for any reason. But as it stands, they've got the best keeper in the series.
I'm not going to give any team the edge here. The fact that Maier has been slightly better than both Warrior goalies gets deleted because the Warriors are in a position to rest a goalie and have an equally solid replacement for him.
Moose Jaw will be tougher at home during the playoffs than they were in the regular season. But it won't be enough. Saskatoon's offence is too diverse. I predict they will take the series in 6.