HOCKEY BLAST fans may recall the re-branding of our fictional hockey league set that occurred last fall, where the World Hockey League became Hockey North America. The most significant change to the set, though, was not the name--it was the new optional team assignments that became a part of this series for the first time.
We've received much positive feedback about this, but maybe the biggest vote of confidence came from Joe Pritchard, Waunakee WI. Joe put together a team-by-team PLAAYers Guide for the 2018-19 Hockey North America set, which any fan of this series will find both helpful and entertaining! Thanks, Joe!
Team 1 is a team in transition. That's a nice way of saying they're not particularly good. The team does have some talent. Center Lauri Lenkkeri would make just about any all-star team you'd put together for the HNA, and Patrik Hecht is a rising star at 24, but the team lacks scoring punch from the wings. Age has sapped the abilities of Dave Wyatt and Robert Manning, both of who are only good for locker room leadership at this point in their careers, so the team has some decisions to make when it comes to their forwards. Do they keep Manning and Wyatt in the lineup on the 3rd and 4th lines, or do they let some of the unproven youngsters try to earn a place? Do they try and have young Kerry Barber take a top 6 forward role, even with his durability issues? Do they view themselves as potential contenders? If so, do they go after Chase Maddox, a goal scorer that hasn't found the right contract yet, and is still on the marketplace? There are more questions than answers for the team when it comes to their forward situation.
Their defensive situation is much better. Dennis Bourque is getting older, but is still a superstar, and the rest of their defenders are young and talented. Paul Genovy is an excellent defender, and Roman Donovan adds scoring punch and defensive skill at only 23. Most of the rest of the bunch can contribute at least a bit on offense, which is going to be necessary if they are to be a quality team this season.
The goaltending is aging, with both Steve Camarra and Ryan Howard at 30 years or older. Both are capable, but neither is a superstar, and it wouldn't be surprising to see one moved at the trading deadline if the team isn't in the race.
This club will play a lot of low scoring games, but in the end, they may be on the outside looking in on the playoff race.
Team 2 is going to play a lot of high scoring games. Their season will hinge on whether they can keep the puck out of the net just enough that their high-powered offense can win them games.
Curt Connauton and Tori Elomo are both superstars in their prime on the right wing side, with Ryan Gagne and rookie Lucas Howe at center, and don't forget young Dwayne Kilger, while we're at it. The centers are excellent at face-offs, which helps take the load off the young defense. The team is going to be one of the teams chasing Chase Maddox, as their left wing depth is a glaring weak spot on an otherwise very powerful forward roster.
The defense is a bit less strong. Actually, it's a lot less strong, when you add the team's propensity to have the defensemen involved in the offensive zone. Rupe Odelein is an old school defensive scrapper, but besides him, their top four defenders all have more to bring to the offensive side of the game than the defensive side. Sammie Rehn is the only one over the age of 26, so they have room to grow, but for this year at least, the goalies will have to shoulder a lot of the defensive load.
Can they do that? Possibly. Kerry Kiernan is a capable veteran, and he's backed up by Danny McCawley, who has also been around awhile. Kiernan is more of a positional goaltender, and McCawley is a bit more athletic, but both are going to help the cause more than hurt it. Will it be enough? Time will tell.
The team will be entertaining to watch, but sometimes for the wrong reasons. I believe this club is capable of making the playoffs, whether they make noise or not is another question.
Team 3 has a star or two but may be the least talented team overall in HNA. Yanick Lehoux is a superstar, no doubt, but he'll have to carry this team to the playoffs on his back, as the team lacks scoring threats. Dirk Reiniger can also help put the puck in the net, but the rest of this generally young team lacks scoring touch. Brian Gauthier is an excellent defensive forward but has hands of stone around the net. The good news is that most of the forwards are under 30, so they have time to develop.
What's worse is that the team doesn't have much in the way of defensive standouts either. The team is hoping rookie Kris Herbers can develop into an iconic blueliner, but it's a little early for the team to put the onus on the 20-year-old. Then again, it's not like they have much else in place. This group is either past its prime or very young, with few exceptions.
The goaltenders are Gary Shasby and Yuri Yushenko. Both are solid performers and will be busy this season. It wouldn't be surprising to see the team move one or the other to a team in the playoff hunt come the trade deadline.
Either Lehoux, Herbers, and the goaltenders will drag this team to the playoffs on their own, or this team will be going home early.
Team 4 has a nice blend of young studs, players in their prime, and veteran leadership. This team can put two top tier forward lines on the ice. Will Dempsey and Chris Denis are star centers in their prime, Steve Konowalchuk and Nikita Kovalev are excellent young left wingers just hitting their prime, and Richard Sirois fits that bill on the right side. Depending on whether they're angling for more offense or defense on a given day, they can rotate Sarazen Soho and Mike Blindenbacher into that second line right wing spot. The depth players are mostly talented youngsters that could make some noise for more ice time as the season goes on.
The blueliners are also a decent mix of young and old, but besides superstar Daniel Marchesseault, they drift to a more defensive mentality overall. They do have quite a bit of depth here, so should be able to handle even those teams that have three lines that can score on a regular basis.
Goaltenders Maxim Berube and Olaf Jonsson are both young and able, but their lack of experience may lead to some issues that they can’t bail themselves out of. Fortunately, the strong defenders in front of them will aid them, but this is a team that may be in a position to make a move near the deadline to solidify this position.
I have no doubt this team will be in playoff contention, and if the bounces go their way, they may even end the season with a team photo with the championship trophy at center ice.
Team 5 is a team that's not afraid to throw its weight around. The forwards are a mixed bag. The centers and right wingers have talent and grit in various combinations, among the stars are center Ian Sutter, right winger Sammy Savage, and all around tough guy Simon Norwood, but the left wing is bereft of talent, and almost bereft of grit. They'll be in the hunt for free agent Chase Maddox from the beginning. The team felt the need to boost their scoring by bringing Maury Marcil out of retirement. He is losing his secondary skills as he ages, but he can still put the puck in the net with the best of them. The depth is spotty, but the top line can hang with the best the league has to offer.
The defense is solid, and for the most part, young. John Yorke and Dillon McQuaid are all around players that can contribute both ways, with Yorke being one of the best in the league on both ends, and Mike Lyons is more of an offensive defenseman. Don’t expect a lot of points out of the rest of the group, but there are no pylons here either, each defenseman will make the opposition work for goals.
It's a good thing the defense is solid, as the goaltending is questionable, and may be the downfall of this club. Dennis Smith is starting to show his age, and while he's still a smart veteran, he's not going to bail out the defense when it fails. Domenic Little is a fringe backup, but the team felt more comfortable with his experience than with some of the youngsters in the free agent market who haven’t made much of a positive impression. His time could be short lived with the team if he struggles.
This club should make the playoffs, and maybe even win a round, but it's a bit of a stretch to suggest they're championship material at the moment.
Team 6 has inconsistency written all over it. The forward group tends to play a conservative game. There aren't many playmakers to be found, but most are solid in their defensive assignments. Sheldon John Kea may be in the running for best defensive forward, and Fortun Sciverit and Robbie Vandermeer can light up the lamp on occasion, but the team will be reliant on their ability to keep the scores low. One exception to this may be Pasi Kapanen, who is returning from a year off due to injury.
The defensive unit isn't really equipped to handle that task, though. They do have some playmakers, and even a bit of goal scoring talent in Steve Avendano and Connor Carson, but they lack shutdown ability. It feels very much like the GM and the head coach have clashing philosophies.
The goaltending isn't much more of a help. Noah Colagiacomo has the skills to be the best goaltender in the world some nights, other nights, it's like he's not even there. Filip Lindqvist backs him up, and while he's steadier, he's unspectacular, to be kind.
There's enough here for the playoffs to be a possibility, but not enough areas of real strength to carry the club much further than that.
Team 7 is heavy on the offense, but issues on the blue line will keep them from raising the trophy this year. Their centers are the best group in the game, with three top line players, and they get help from a decently deep set of wings as well, although age is starting to tell on their left wing corps. Nick Concannon may be the best center in the league, and Justin Draughn and Carter Conroy are fighting for playing time on the second line, where both would be first liners on just about any other team. Brett Morrow and Pierino Rossi are both just starting their prime on the wings. This unit will score early and often.
They have to. The defensive group is aging quickly, with four of the seven over age 30, and hardly any of them contribute much on offense or are skilled enough on defense to push this team to the top of the league.
Shayne Spring is the starting goaltender. He's above average but gets hung out to dry far too often by his defense. He's not quite good enough to pull off miracles often enough for it to matter. Erik Muller is the veteran backup, and time is ticking on his career.
This team will be entertaining and frustrating all at the same time. They should place high in the standings but would be an ideal upset candidate in the first round of the playoffs.
Team 8 is our prediction to win it all this year. The forward group doesn't have one big superstar, although young Cole Trepanier will lead the league in "did you see THAT?" passes, but while the group lacks one big sniper, most all of the players on the first three lines can bury the puck, and most can also put a teammate in a position to do so. There's also just enough players that can put the hurt into the opposition to keep opposing teams from taking liberties.
The defensive corps is a good complement. All are younger than 30, most can lay a big hit when called for, and enough can clear the mess from the front of the net to make this a team that can score and be hard to score on at the same time.
Petr Posmyk is a good starting goaltender, and his defense does enough to keep his weaknesses from being exposed too often. The team also has young Keith Boeser behind him, and while he's not at Posmyk's level, he's not a big step down and does bring some athleticism to make up for what he’s not up to speed on mentally.
This is a true team, whose players complement those around them, and one cohesive enough to make it hard for the opposing team to play their game. Don't make too many mistakes or take too many penalties against them, as they will make you pay more often than not.
Team 9 is heavily reliant on their superstars to carry the club. The forwards are led by Anders Jorgensen, Andrew Blakey, and Jake Hull. Together with defensemen Marek Ragnarsson, they make opposing penalty kills difficult. There isn't much behind them, however. There's enough for a decent second line, but the third and fourth line are questionable at best, they lack a hitting game, and they're getting old rapidly. This may be their last best chance to make noise in the playoffs.
The defense is pretty good. Marek Ragnarsson is a superstar, and the team has enough depth to make for three quality defensive pairs, something most teams can't say. The rest of the group is more suited for defensive play, and they have plenty of youth, so this portion of the team could get even better very quickly.
Kurt Boyer and Colin Peat are two young goaltenders dueling it out for the starting job. Both have their weaknesses decently complemented by the defensive group, and both have the athleticism to make big plays on their own.
If the top line can deliver consistently, they will win more than they'll lose, but if they get shut down, there's not much else behind it.
Team 10 is a very well-rounded team, a definite championship contender. They are very similar to team 8, they don't have one specific player to key on, but they have many that contribute. This is an older forward group, but they can still work together to make life difficult for the league's goaltenders. Also, like team 8, they get much more lethal on the power play and other situations where they have an advantage. Jorgen Henriksson in particular is a much better player on the power play, when he has more open ice to work with. Tuomo Reinikainen returns from injury and hopes to be one more offensive weapon for the team.
The blueliners can not only hold their own defensively, but also get involved offensively. Vail Moise is a veteran who gets up into the play often, and the rest of the blueline group can also make their presence felt, but they do not neglect their defensive responsibilities to do so. Myke Lit and Tony DiSalvatore are two young players that are one step away from superstardom.
Their star goaltender is Teppo Toskala. Toskala plays a unique style in net, which can sometimes cause consistency issues, however, he's the best in the world at bailing himself out of bad situations. If you had to put your season on the line in a shootout, this is the guy you'd want in net. Phil Ghozzi is a cheap veteran backup that doesn't see the ice often.
Most prognosticators are liking the idea of a Team 8-Team 10 championship clash. It's not hard to see why.
Team 11 is an aging group, and their window of contention may be passing them by. Their center position has one youngster in Nansen Kjaer, but the rest of the group is in its thirties. It's also the most talented position up front. The right wingers are generally young, and Garrett Fedyk in particular is poised to break out, but the rest of the group is more geared towards size rather than skill. The left wingers are also generally young, but all of them lean on skill, speed, and offensive touch, with little to no regard for other parts of a well-rounded skill set. Free agent Chase Maddox makes sense here if the team can find the money. Aaron Sandstrom is a young talent with rockets on his skates, and the team still hopes he can add more to his skill set in the coming years.
The defense is an average group, with more of a reliance on their offensive prowess than their ability to shut down opposing teams. Most of this group is in its prime, or just leaving it, so what you see is what you get. The team felt the need to bolster the depth by bringing back Jeremy Collie from a year off.
Xeno Rudin is the starting goaltender and is one of the better starters in the league. His reflexes and ability to stay in position will help limit the damage done by a more offensive minded blueline group. Derrin Simonson is the backup, and capable in that role, but doesn't mesh as well with the group in front of him, so if Rudin goes down, this team could be in trouble.
It will be interesting to see where this team ends up. If they start slow, do they start the rebuild? If they start quickly, do they swing for the fences and try to add talent before the trade deadline? Either scenario seems equally possible.
Team 12 will score in bunches. Can it keep the opponent from doing the same? Their top two forward lines are second to none. Max Boogard may be the best sniper in the league, and he also possesses the skills to get open often. He also refuses to be intimidated and can lay a hit with the best of them. Colt Kelley is also very well rounded, and the group is rather young, with the blue-chip talent mostly under 27. If this group can be kept together for a while, there may be the makings of a dynasty. There is a decision to be made in regard to who plays right wing on the first and second lines. Will the coach play rookie Sidney Campbell to provide more scoring punch, or does he play Danny Howatt, a bit more of a playmaker, and have Campbell anchor the second line with talented center Dan Cross and either Ilka Peltola or Craig Connolly? This could be a fluid situation throughout the season and is one of those good problems to have. The third and fourth lines can also be dangerous to teams without as much depth as this team has.
The defensive group isn't going to contribute a lot on offense, but they don't really have to. It's a slightly above average defensive group and can be devastating to power plays with their disciplined play. There really aren't many standouts among them, but the team has high hopes for younsters Niles Nagy, Ross Staios, and Martin Daneyko. Zdeno Musil used to be an all-star, but now may be on his way out, and could be a healthy scratch often this season.
Brandt Brennan and Kalle Nordstrom are both steady and unspectacular. They will share the goaltending duties. This isn't a real strength, but it isn't a weakness either.
This team will be a scary one to face in the playoffs, and we will see how far they go. Anything from a first round exit to a championship isn't out of the realm of possibility.
Questions? Comments? Let us know—we're always happy to help!