SASKATOON — When the Western Hockey League regular season starts this weekend, the Saskatoon Blades will take their first steps towards achieving postseason success.
In 2021-2022, the Blades finished third in the East Division and, as the Eastern Conference’s fifth seed, fell to Moose Jaw, 4-1, in the conference quarterfinals. With a veteran core returning, they are looking to not only go back to the playoffs but also to make a deeper run.
The Blades open the season with a home-and-home series against the Prince Albert Raiders. Game one is Friday in Prince Albert with Saturday’s tilt at the SaskTel Centre.
The Blades return six of their top eight points producers from last season’s successful squad. That group includes forwards Brandon Lisowsky (33 goals and 58 points in 68 games, a Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick, and the team’s top returning scorer) and Jayden Wiens (19 goals and 42 points in 61 games). Minnesota Wild draft pick Josh Pillar returns after posting six points in 17 games following his acquisition from Kamloops during the season. Forward Lukas Hansen was one of the standouts of the Blades’ 3-2 preseason. He scored three goals over five games after posting two points – both assists – in 28 games last season.
On the blueline, the Blades return such players as captain Aidan De La Gorgendiere and Tanner Molendyk. De La Gorgendiere finished fourth on the team in points after tallying 45 in 54 games before his season was halted by an injury. Molendyk posted 18 points in his first WHL season. He will likely be watched closely by NHL scouts.
To their strong core, the Blades added some veterans in the offseason. They swapped the league’s fifth leading scorer, Kyle Crnkovic, to the Seattle Thunderbird for Conner Roulette. A Dallas Stars prospect, Roulette is a year younger than the 20-year-old Crnkovic. He posted 24 goals and 66 points in 65 games
last season. In the preseason, Roulette paced the Blades with five points – although he only played in two games. The Blades also added Justin Lies. The forward scored eight goals and recorded 16 points and 42 penalty minutes in 50 games for the Vancouver Giants last winter.
Among the team’s losses were last season’s 20-year-olds: defenceman Rhett Rhinehart, forward Tristen Robins (second on the team with 78 points last season) and goalie Nolan Maier. The latter is the WHL’s career leader in wins.
Hometown product Ethan Chadwick is back for his second season guarding the crease. He has a 2.55 goals against average last season. In preseason action, his GAA was 1.98 and his save percentage was .926. Eighteen-year-old rookie Austin Elliott joins after playing in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League last season for the Notre Dame Hounds. He saw action in two games with the Blades last winter.