shea weber

Kelowna Rockets Pre-Draft Duo Could Take Flight

This isn’t exactly one of the Rockets storied seasons where they lead the WHL in points, have multiple players challenging for the scoring title or a goalie that hasn’t let in a goal since Christmas; but they have a few players that could be the next superstars in the NHL come June. The ISS rankings from January 4th have Callen Foote at 8th overall and Kole Lind at 28th.

Two Kelowna Rockets in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft? Things just got interesting.

The family lineage of Cal Foote makes it easy for him to get noticed, son of Stanley Cup defenseman Adam Foote, but his play on the ice speaks for itself. He’s a rock on the back end for Kelowna, he’s smart in his own zone and has great catch-up speed. Although, he isn’t leading the league in any categories, he is one of the leaders on Kelowna’s blue line.

His shot on the power play gets noticed and it’s hard to see a game where he hasn’t been part of the main story. Rockets defensemen are well known around the NHL as puck movers, impact players and for a handful of them, surefire cornerstone pieces to building a Championship. Stars like Madison Bowey, Shea Weber, Damon Severson, Josh Gorges and Duncan Keith all had great starts in Kelowna and carried their mantle to the NHL.

Not all of those players have hit it big but it’s only a matter of time.

If you look at the comparables to Foote in Jeremy Davis’ pGPS model, you will see that Cal is in some pretty special company:

Callen Foote pGPS graph

Callen Foote pGPS graph

With 48% of his comparables going on to play 200+ games in the NHL, there is a very good chance Foote sticks and becomes a solid contributor in the NHL. There are also lots of WHL comparables which just shows how great the Western league is at producing blue line stars. Notables on the list here include Brent Seabrook, Shea Weber, Luke Schenn and Jay Bouwmeester; all of which have made their mark in the NHL.

Predicting an average point total of 28.3 per season, Cal can be an everyday defender that NHL teams can rely on. Obviously, these are based on a prediction based model and real life stats could easily exceed this number but for NHL teams looking at Foote, he’s a safe pick with a potentially huge upside.

Based on the graph, Foote would average around 0.72 points/gm and again, that’s a pretty high bar. Considering Shea Weber is averaging 0.58/gm in his career, I take that from Foote all day long.

That part I’m sticking on the name he holds and the Kelowna Rockets program he has been brought up in. I could see Cal Foote developing into a can’t miss defenseman that teams can build around. His younger brother Nolan will have some big shoes to fill.

Up front, Kole Lind is putting together a draft campaign that hasn’t normally gone well for Rockets forwards. As amazing as teammate Nick Merkley was in his draft year, the Arizona Coyotes were allowed to pick him with the last pick in the first round when many thought he’d be taken in the early 20’s.

Lind is currently sitting in 17th in overall scoring in the WHL with 58 points and has 5 GWG. His recent explosion last week against the Portland Winterhawks tore the Hawks apart for 2 goals and 2 assists, dominating play and putting his name back in the spotlight for the Draft. Kole Lind hasn’t had a statistically dominant year but he has been a threat on the ice almost every shift.

(I’ve tried that many times and broken many windows, I’ll stick to not being good at hockey)

His play along the boards, his offensive awareness, and ability to stride down the wing has brought the fans to their feet 22 times this season and as the Rockets get closer to the playoffs, he’ll be a driving force on the score sheet.

Looking at Lind’s pGPS graph, his comparables are pretty impressive as well. Lind’s 44.7% success rate comparables are all around the NHL. Jamie Benn would be the most notable player and surprise, surprise… he was a Rocket too! Joffrey Lupul has been around the block but has 701 games and 420 points speak for themselves.

Kole Lind pGPS graph

Kole Lind pGPS graph

Journeyman Shane Doan is on that list and he’s darn near 80 years old! Captain Canada Ryan Smyth is also a solid comparable and if Kole Lind pans out to be anything like either of those two players, he’ll have a heck of a career. Lind’s projected production over 82 games sits at 47.4 points a season which is quite alright.

Not in the top line range but can float around in a top support role. If you take a look at former Blazer and hated opponent, Scottie Upshall, he sits right around where Lind is on the chart. Scrappy but productive and he’s made a name for himself in the NHL. Although Upshall has a career 0.39 pts/gm, he has been a thorn in many teams sides.

Kole Lind will be looked at as a depth forward with a high offensive upside, unfortunately, a first round draft pick is where you want to draft your next stud. He has the weapons but it may take some time before he unleashes the true beast.

Jamie Benn seems to have done just fine so if I’m Kole Lind, I wouldn’t worry about it.

As the Draft approaches, expect to see players like Foote and Lind step their game up to boost their draft stock. The next chance they’ll get to publically show their talents is at the BMO Top Prospects Game in Quebec. This game can send many players up the ranks and get them more publicity as the playoffs carry on.

One thing is for sure, the Kelowna Rockets have it figured out.

Follow me on twitter: @always90four

photo – Kelownanow.com

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Kelowna Rockets Set Sights On Memorial Cup

Its March and in the WHL, that means its playoff time! Small town western Canada amps up from Vancouver Island to the prairies for the road to one of the hardest trophies to win in sports: The Memorial Cup. The Kelowna Rockets have been there before, they’ve tasted glory and now they want another drink from the epic chalice.

What has really been 2 years in the making for Bruce Hamilton’s Rockets is finally coming to fruition. A team known for savvy drafting, developing talent and embracing success, the Kelowna Rockets have been a machine in the WHL for years. Just take a look around today’s NHL and you will instantly notice world class talent: Shea Weber, Duncan Keith, Josh Gorges, Jamie Benn, Alex Edler, Tyler Myers, Vern Fiddler, Chuck Kobasew, Luke Schenn, Scott Hannan and Mikael Backlund, all these players have made their mark in the show.

Take a look at that list, its beyond impressive that ONE major junior team has produced that talent so far. Stanley Cup Champions, Olympic Gold Medalists and numerous NHL awards drape over this group of players and that list will only grow as the years go by. It might not take long either; this year’s Rockets are primed to do something special.

However this season finishes for Kelowna, the Rockets have set team records for most franchise wins (55 and counting) and most points (114 and counting). How fitting it is that these records were just broken last season as well? Sounds like a recipe for success already. Coach Ryan Huska has led this group of young men to territory that is not easily reached. The WHL is a tough league to win and Huska’s boys are looking to make some history this spring.

Led by Captain and 2013 Washington Capitals 2nd round draft pick, Madison Bowey, the Rockets have put together a season that has made Canada take notice. The BMO Mastercard CHL Rankings have named Kelowna #1 in the country for almost 3 months, as well as being ranked in the top 10 this season for 20 weeks and one week to go. Is it something in the water? Is it the instant buy in?

They aren’t a group with a superstar player that leads the charge, they run 4 lines deep and when goaltending is brought up, they have two more than capable tenders to block the mesh. Myles Bell, 2013 6th rounder of the New Jersey Devils, is the leading scorer with 41 goals and 74 points. He is flanked in points by forward Ryan Olsen and dman Damon Severson, both with 60 points. Nothing overly mind blowing but this roster boasts 8 players over 45 points. Starting to think to yourself, wow, that’s impressive. These guys must have quite a veteran group of players, this will probably be restocked next year when all the old guys move on after their WHL career; you would be wrong.

Most of this team will stay intact next season with a handful of players moving on, Bell included. One player the Rockets are more than happy to have for the next 4 years or so is true rookie sensation, Nick Merkley. This kid JUST turned 16 earlier this season. He played for Kelowna in 7 playoff games last year and managed 3 points in that time. He instantly showed he was destined for greatness when he played his first game. Merks just has that gift. He sees the game the way the greats do. His hockey IQ just exudes brilliance. Nick makes plays that NHL veterans would be proud of.

Rookie sensation Nick Merkley @merkdaddy4 Photo courtesy of CHL.CA

Rookie sensation Nick Merkley @merkdaddy4
Photo courtesy of CHL.CA

The puck just seems to find Nick Merkley and when it hits his stick, he knows EXACTLY what to do with it. He didn’t score in the playoffs last year but he didn’t miss a beat when he debuted as a rookie this year; 64 GP 24 G 55 PTS +/- 24 and 42 PIM. This kid is unreal! CHL Rookie of the week in October 2013, Merkley is no joke; he just plays to win.

Between the pipes, Jordan Cooke and Jackson Whistle backstop this sensational Rockets team night in and night out. Cooke boasts a 2.27 GAA .922 SA % 38 Wins and 4 SO through 50 GP. Whistle is no slouch either, 21 GP 2.54 GAA .920 SA % 17 Wins and 1 SO, he doesn’t like giving up the net. Jackson will inherit the net next season when Cooke moves on from the WHL being too old to play. It’s not just the stats that are in lights, its the timely saves and game breaking stops that makes Kelowna lethal to play. From top to bottom this team is built to win and should make a healthy run to the May showcase that is the Mem Cup.

Sure, the scoring and stingy defense keep this team on the board and their opponents off of it, but are they tough enough? I would ask Tyrell Goulbourne but I probably would regret the physical answer I would get. Goulby leads the charge on the aggressive meter. His hands are hard when they are knocking out unfortunate contenders and soft as pillows…or kittens, they’re soft too, when he’s potting pucks in the twine. Tyrell has 109 PIM this season to go with his 36 points. A 3rd round choice in 2013 by the Philadelphia Flyers, Tyrell will be a fan favorite the day he suits up in the city of Brotherly Love.

With Bell being able to play both defense on the PP and forward at 5 on 5, Merkley contributing more than any 16 year old should in his first season, saves for days in Cooke and Whistle and a defense led by Bowey and Severson, the Kelowna Rockets can beat you any way you want. Just don’t expect them to say sorry.

Kelowna plays the Tri-City Americans in the first round and I would expect them to make quick work of them, worst case scenario 5 games. The Rockets are poised to win it all this year, so get on board while you can. The next wave of NHL superstars are playing in your backyard.

Follow me on twitter @hankthetank10

All stats courtesy of whl.ca and kelownarockets.com