As the 2019-20 Western Hockey League’s regular season approaches, two teams will be previewed each day leading up to the start of the regular season, Friday, Sept. 20. Team capsules are presented in order of 2018-19 finish within their own division. Today, we take a look at the B.C. Division’s Prince George Cougars.
General Manager: Mark Lamb
Head coach: Mark Lamb
Pre-season record: 0-3-0-0
2018-19 record: 19-41-5-3, 46 points – Fifth in B.C. Division, 19th in WHL
2019 Playoffs: Did not qualify
Top scorers: RW Vladislav Mikalchuk (25-25–50), Josh Maser (30-12–42), D Cole Moberg (13-27–40)
20-year-olds: LW Josh Maser (30-12–42), RW Vladislav Mikalchuk (25-25–50), D Austin Crossley (3-6–9), D Ryan Schoettler (4-28–32)
Imports: LW Matej Toman (Czech Republic), RW Filip Koffer (Czech Republic)
Forwards: With import and previous scoring leader Vladislav Mikalchuk moving to the European professional league, there is an offensive gap that needs to be filled. Although they may not have the scoring power individually, together Josh Maser (30-12-42) and Ethan Browne (9-22-31), can combine to fill that gap and boost the offensive drive of the team.
As the ninth-overall selection in the 2018 WHL Bantam Draft, Craig Armstrong is a promising player that could spark a youthful-offensive movement. While he will look to surrounding 2000 and 2001-born players like Jackson Leppard, Tyson Upper, Matej Toman and Browne for support, Armstrong could ignite the offensive lineup.
“We had a hard time scoring goals this past year so we’ve got do it by committing to,” Lamb said. “Hopefully some of our other guys that were here last year had a good summer and they will help out and improve their game.”
Defence: As he has for the past two seasons, Cole Moberg will remain a defensive leader for the Cougars. After recording 40 points (13G-17A) in 61 games and becoming a 2019 NHL Entry Draft selection with the Chicago Blackhawks in the seventh round, 194th overall, the bench will not only look to Moberg for defensive leadership, but also offensive leadership given his previous success on the scoreboard.
Moberg’s jump from 11 points (2G-9A) in the 2017-18 season to 40 points (13G-17A) in the 2018-19 season indicates a positive trend and it will be imperative it continues in order to increase the Cougars’ scoring chances.
Also, a 1999-born blueliner, Ryan Schoettler, who finished fourth overall in scoring for the Cougars, will be asked to step up his performance this season in the defensive zone. As he was already an alternate captain with Prince George last season, he will be the second-hand man on the blueline needed to lead the group of younger defencemen.
The key is going to be to how strong we can play defensively,” Lamb said. “It’s going to be hard for us to score so if can score by committing and play a real strong defensive game that will work well.”
Goal: Arguably, Taylor Gauthier had one of the best performances as a goaltender with one of the lowest teams ranked overall in league standings last season. Playing in 55 games, the fourth-highest number of games in the league, Gauthier finished with a 3.25 goals-against average, .899 save percentage and a record of 15-30-4-2. After going undrafted in the 2019 NHL Draft, despite many other indications and beliefs, you can bet that Gauthier will be fired up and ready to stand tall in net for the Cougars in the 2019-20 season, ready to prove many wrong.
“He sure thinks [he’s motivated],” Lamb said. “He came to camp in great shape and then went to Boston right after the draft and now he’s back there again so he’s going to be very motivated. There’s nothing better than a little adversity for anybody. If you deal with that, it can help you so much down the road and that’s what he’s doing.”
While there’s no question Gauthier will be the starting goaltender in Prince George, Isaiah DiLaura will be looking to improve upon his 4-10-1-1 record from last season. Over his WHL career, DiLaura has continued to advance his minutes played, GAA and SV% and it shows positive progress that could be promising in the role of backup goaltender.
Player to watch: Although Browne doesn’t have as many games under his belt as other 2001-born players in the league, he proved his worth on the Cougars’ roster last year after recording 31 points (9G-22A) in 57 games. In the 2017-18 season, the 14th overall selection from the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft began his year with the Everett Silvertips but was acquired by the Cougars in January of 2018. During that time Browne had a brief tenure with the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s (AJHL) Drayton Valley Thunder before getting joining the Cougars full-time. His contribution to the Cougars’ points total didn’t go unnoticed and he could be a real star in the lineup if things continue as they had last year.
Prognosis: While the offensive strength continues to improve, it will be imperative the defencemen are also involved in offensive efforts to provide support for scoring. With veterans like Maser and Moberg ready to lead both groups, a combined effort should produce closer games and potentially more wins. It certainly won’t be easy for the Cougars to climb back from the bottom of the league standings, but a focus on their improvement the B.C. Division standing should be an attainable goal within reach.