The Regina Pats were decisively the best team in the Western Hockey League this season, finishing with a whopping 52-12-7-1 record and 112 points, and have now successfully carried that momentum over to the playoffs. They took Games 1 and 2 over their opening round opponents, the Calgary Hitmen, on home ice by scores of 5-2 and 5-1, and then followed that up with another five-goal game in Calgary on Tuesday night, winning again 5-2.
Dating back to the regular season, that’s now an incredible seven games in a row where the Pats have scored five goals or more. They’re also on an 11-game winning streak that began on March 5th, scoring a minimum of four goals in all of those wins. Needless to say, this team knows how to find the back of the net.
The Hitmen put forth an honest effort on Tuesday night in front of their home crowd, but for a team that has glaring weaknesses on defence and in net, they were once again badly out-matched.
Nick Henry – The WHL rookie has worked his way all the way up the Pats’ lineup this season, into cushy spots next to the dynamic Sam Steel on the team’s top scoring line and first powerplay unit, and you can’t really say that he hasn’t earned it. Sure, many of Henry’s 81 regular season points were the direct result of work done primarily by Steel, but the feisty winger is still doing his fair share of the heavy lifting.
Henry is a tenacious player, constantly pestering nearby opponents when they have the puck. He has a gppd first step in his skating and closes open ice quickly. Opposing players will think they have a moment alone, only for Henry to suddenly appear and be battling for the puck. Gives the same level of effort at both ends of the rink. A high-volume shooter that isn’t shy about using his release from anywhere, knowing that his teammates usually win races to rebounds. Has a very mature understanding of the offensive zone and where to find open space to receive passes and loose pucks, leading to a lot of goals in the dirty areas. Knows that he’s a complementary player on his line, but still does everything that he can to be the best complementary player possible.
He had a few impressive moments in Game 3. Created a Grade-A scoring chance right in front of the Hitmen net, pick-pocketing an unsuspecting Calgary defender before feeding the puck to an open teammate. With the Pats up 5-2 late in the 3rd period he correctly spotted Calgary being too aggressive as they were trying to score and waited in the neutral zone for an uninterrupted breakaway pass, which was ultimately stopped. Despite knowing that the game was all but won, he still wanted to score, which is a prime example of the type of player that he is.
His size is slightly below average and his shot needs a little more power and accuracy behind it, but Henry is still a quality prospect that should fit in with any team that drafts him.
Jonathan Smart – The puck-moving defenceman is currently playing left wing on the 4th line for the Pats, who have a loaded blueline, so it was hard to get a good look at him. Despite limited ice time he used his speed well to create a couple of successful zone entries, and he also set up a quality 2-on-1 scoring chance with a clean pass.
Mark Kastelic – Kastelic is a big, meat-and-potatoes kind of center, but one that can occasionally still surprise you with his mobility and soft hands. Has a very good understanding of what the assets are in his game (mainly his size and strength) and tries to maximize them, such as going to the front of the opposing net to look for deflections and rebounds and providing support in tough battles along the boards. Works hard and always seems engaged in the play.
He was noticeable at times on Tuesday night, though for both good and bad reasons. Had a nice jam play on one Hitmen powerplay, taking multiple whacks at a puck with some serious determination. It took two Pats defencemen to pull him away from goalie Tyler Brown. However, he also got himself into some penalty trouble, and it would have been nice to see him dig in a little deeper on faceoffs, as he was only average this night but seems like he should have the potential to really dominate in that area.
Kastelic is not a flashy or overly creative player, but with improved consistency and continued work on his quickeness and skill could become a reliable bottom-six forward in the pros one day.
Vladislav Yeryomenko – The real challenge in watching defenceman Vladislav Yeryomenko play is trying to decipher between who he is and who he still has the potential to become.
At first glance, there’s a lot to like. He has a clean, smooth skating stride and puts himself in the right positions, knowing where to be to best support his defensive partner while also reading the situation and picking the correct ways to use his forwards to exit the zone. Defends fairly well one-on-one, using his positioning and his stick moreso than his frame. He can corral bouncing pucks and get them under control, and seems to maintain his composure when trying to elude a forecheck.
The problem, though, is execution. Yeryomenko was a little too sloppy against Regina, turning the puck over too many times from a defender that you ideally want moving it. He would put passes in the right directions but with not enough power behind them, leading to them getting intercepted. Fought the puck at times, including when not under proximity pressure. Played on the Hitmen’s top powerplay unit and recorded a primary assist, but generally did not leave a lasting impression in that role, as he’s more of a utility puck-mover than a true offensive defenseman.
The rookie import is certainly a project, but one that could be worth the long-term investment for a patient team.
Andrei Grishakov – Grishakov is a player that makes you raise your eyebrows at one moment, only to have him then disappear the next, a Jekyll and Hyde act that was on full display this game.
Was very quiet for most of the night, despite getting plenty of offensive zone starts and second unit powerplay time, before coming out of nowhere and making a slick toe-drag in the second period to create one of Calgary’s best scoring chances. Something similar happened again in the 3rd while on the powerplay, nearly losing the puck because he was too close to a defender and was not paying enough attention, before immediately getting it back and firing an angry slapper from distance that rang off the post and out. Where is that kind of emotion all the time, and is it something that can be refined as he gets more comfortable playing in North America?
Like Yeryomenko, Grishakov is a prospect that has some potentially high upside, but one that would be best as a late-round target for a team that is willing to invest in a long-term development.