While the forwards (which I previewed earlier this week) are a known commodity for the newly formed Winnipeg ICE, the defence and goaltending are far from it. We know this team is likely going to score – A LOT. However, we have no idea how well they’re going to keep the puck out of the net. While this can be debated, there are a few reasons for optimism.
Looking at the blue line…
The biggest reason for optimism is 16-year-old defenceman Carson Lambos. The Winnipeg product may still be 16, but he plays far beyond his years. Lambos is a smooth skating defenceman who rarely panics under pressure. You can often find him jumping up in the play and skating back equally as hard to defend. Additionally, Lambos is already 6’0″ and 200 pounds, so size will not be an issue for him. For my money, he was the best player for the ICE at training camp and could be primed for a huge rookie season. Although the competition is obviously not at a WHL regular season level, Lambos completely dominated the training camp showcase game. Every time he stepped on the ice, he dictated the game in all facets. Offensively and defensively, he was phenomenal. I didn’t recall a single time a player was able to get by him off the rush. He made every play look insanely simple, to the point my friend and I half-jokingly said he plays like a 20-year-old.
However, I do understand that the regular season will be a completely different beast for Lambos, who will likely struggle at times. Lambos played last season with the Rink Hockey Academy Prep team based out of Winnipeg in the CSSHL where he had 14 goals and 30 points in 23 games. He finished second in the league in defenceman points per game. For reference, these are similar numbers to 2019 NHL fourth overall pick Bowen Byram of the Vancouver Giants. Lambos was also able to get into 5 regular season games with the ICE last season where he was able to score his first Western Hockey League goal for his lone point in those games. Additionally, he represented Team Manitoba in the Canada Winter Games where he registered 3 goals and 7 points in 6 games. I fully expect Lambos to run the ICE powerplay either to start the season or by the season’s end. I also expect head coach James Patrick will play Lambos on the penalty kill as well. Lambos will likely be a rookie of the year candidate by the end of the season.
Another defenceman that provides optimism is 19-year-old defenceman Chase Hartje. Hartje was traded to the ICE from the Brandon Wheat Kings last season and as of now, is likely the top defenceman on the team. Hartje started last season with 4 goals and 12 points in 35 games with the Wheat Kings before notching one goal and 14 points in 25 games with the ICE. Hartje will be relied upon to contribute offensively this season for the ICE. I expect that either him or Lambos will run the number one powerplay unit which should score a lot of goals. Hartje will need to take a step forward this season if the ICE want to go far in the WHL playoffs.
After Lambos and Hartje, it gets a little murky. In the offseason, the ICE acquired 20-year-old overage defenceman Reece Harsch. The 6’3″ defenceman scored 20 points in 57 games last season for the Seattle Thunderbirds and later the Saskatoon Blades. You can pencil him in to the lineup come game one.
Other defenceman in the mix for spots include 2018-19 ICE players 19-year-old Marco Creta, 18-year-old Zac Patrick and 18-year-old Nolan Orzeck. Pushing those players for spots are 17-year-old Ben Zloty, 17-year-old hulking 6’6″ defenceman Anson McMaster and recently acquired defenceman Mike “the ladies man” Ladyman (I don’t know if that’s his nickname but it should be). Another defenceman of note is 15-year-old second round pick Karter Prosofsky who is likely at least a year away from joining the team full time.
And in net…
Goaltending is also a little murky. The starter will likely be 18-year-old Jesse Makaj. The 6’3″, 200-pound goaltender received little help last season on the way to posting an .878 save percentage and a whopping 4.41 goals against average. The ICE also have 19-year-old goaltender Duncan McGovern. The 6’2, 190-pound Goaltender had an .868 save percentage and even worse 4.77 goals against average last season.
Obviously, the numbers from last season for both goaltenders leave a lot to be desired, but the team was much worse last season and I am optimistic that these numbers will improve. One goaltender I am really interested in is 17-year-old goaltender Gage Alexander mainly due to his size. The young goaltender from Okotoks, Alberta measures in at a massive 6’7″ and 214 pounds. He finished last season in the AMHL (Alberta Midget Hockey League) with a .918 save percentage and 2.52 goals against average. I am hopeful that he gets an opportunity to make the team this season as I am so intrigued by that size.
That marks the end of the Season Preview. Now, a few predictions:
Standings Prediction: 2nd in the East Division behind the Saskatoon Blades – the talent is there, but does the defence and goaltending hold up? I say it does.
Breakout Candidate: Chase Hartje – I’m expecting a big step up in production
Breakout Candidate 2: Connor McClennon – although I’m not sure if this one could be considered a breakout?
Point Leader: If he wasn’t injured I’d put Krebs here but since he is I’m going with Connor McClennon
Goals Leader: Michal Teplý – great shot, should be a big producer on the powerplay. Could also see McClennon here.
Biggest Surprise: Nino Kinder will surprise. I don’t know if it’s a breakout candidate but I think he will be a pleasant surprise.
Top Rookie: I want to put Savoie here, but I’m not sure he’ll play enough games so I’m going with Carson Lambos (and even if Savoie played the full season I might still say Lambos)
Bold Prediction: Carson Lambos will score more points in his 16 year old season than Bowen Byram did (27 points).