#WHLPlayoffs Preview: Edmonton Oil Kings (1) vs. Prince Albert Raiders (1)
With the 2019 WHL Playoffs underway, WHL.ca provides a look in at each of the conference championship matchups across the league.
With a general introduction, vital statistics and keys to the series, we’ve got everything you need to know heading into the conference championship round of the 2019 WHL Playoffs. Plus, we will kick it up a notch with a highlight reel featuring key moments from the head-to-head season series.
While the usual suspects are well known, our ‘Players to Watch’ section will take a deeper dive into some of the supporting characters set to take on a big role in the post-season.
We close each of our series previews with a quick look to the past for a brief historical take on the rivalry that exists – or stands to ignite.
In our first of two 2019 WHL Playoffs Conference Championship previews, we examine the Eastern Conference Championship between the Prince Albert Raiders and Edmonton Oil Kings.
Teams on two different timelines are set to collide in the Eastern Conference Championship.
The Prince Albert Raiders and Edmonton Oil Kings will mark the first time since 2015 that two division leaders have met in a Conference Championship while it’s just the second ever meeting in WHL Playoffs history between the two clubs.
For the Raiders, their history extends all the way back to 1982, with their first and only WHL Championship coming shortly after in 1985. On the other hand, the Oil Kings have been in existence since 2007, taking a few years as well to win their first WHL Championship in 2012 before adding another in 2014. Despite the discrepancy in time, there’s no question both teams and their fan base are hungry for championship success once more.
Each team took a similar, yet different path to reach the Conference Championship. The Raiders swept the Red Deer Rebels and beat the Saskatoon Blades in six games while Edmonton won their first-round series in six games over Medicine Hat before sweeping the Calgary Hitmen in the second round.
The Raiders controlled the season series, winning three of the four games, including both matchups in Edmonton. The Oil Kings have an advantage few can claim though, earning a regulation win at the Art Hauser Centre this season. The Raiders lost in regulation just four times this season and the Oil Kings found a way to put up six goals in 60 minutes against one of the Canadian Hockey League’s top teams. They came to play in the other road matchup as well, taking a narrow 6-5 loss in overtime. How the two teams deal with success in each other’s venues will undoubtedly be a critical part of the upcoming series.
San Jose Sharks prospect Noah Gregor led all players in the season with eight points, but Columbus Blue Jackets prospect and Oil Kings’ captain Trey Fix-Wolansky was just a point behind, leading all players with five goals. The depth of both lineups showed in the season series as well. Montreal Canadiens prospect Cole Fonstad and Ottawa Senators prospect Parker Kelly each recorded four goals against the Oil Kings. From the blue line, Conner McDonald tallied three goals while forward Vince Loschiavo potted three as well.
The battle in net will feature two of the top-tier goaltenders in Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Ian Scott and Oil Kings goaltender Dylan Myskiw, fresh off being named the WHL Eli Wilson Goaltending Goaltender of the Week and Vaughn CHL Goaltender of the Week. Each had a game against the other they’d rather forgot, but when they’ve been called upon, they’ve been at the top of their game. Without rooting for the downfall of one or the other, it’ll be worth watching to see how both goaltenders handle the pressure of being in the Conference Championship and looking to put their team over the top.
The puck drops on Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Championship Friday, April 19 (7:00 p.m. MT) with Game 2 the following night at the same time. The series will then shift to Alberta’s capital for Game 3 on Tuesday, April 23 (7:00 p.m. MT) and Game 4 the next day at a similar time.
Game 1 – Friday, April 19 – Art Hauser Centre – Prince Albert – 7:00 p.m. MT
Game 2 – Saturday, April 20 – Art Hauser Centre – Prince Albert – 7:00 p.m. MT
Game 3 – Tuesday, April 23 – Rogers Place – Edmonton – 7:00 p.m. MT
Game 4 – Wednesday, April 24 – Rogers Place – Edmonton – 7:00 p.m. MT
Game 5* – Friday, April 26 – Art Hauser Centre – Prince Albert – 7:00 p.m. MT
Game 6* – Sunday, April 28 – Rogers Place – Edmonton – 2:00 p.m. MT
Game 7* – Tuesday, April 30 – Art Hauser Centre – Prince Albert – 7:00 p.m. MT
Keep the good times rolling: The Prince Albert Raiders are who we thought they were. They still have yet to lose at home, won both road games against the Edmonton Oil Kings in the regular season, and their top three scorers rank in the top five for scoring in the WHL Playoffs.
For right now, that passes as a so far so good for the league’s top-ranked team, who looked to falter for the first time on the road in Saskatoon, but swiftly nipped that in the bud, winning their two most important games of the season to date in convincing fashion. It’s a good bet that the next four to seven games will be closer than things were at times in the regular season, but the Raiders have yet to be exploited by the same error more than once or twice in their playoff run.
Key to the Series – Edmonton Oil Kings
Defend the house: As much as this section should be on trying to find a way to win in the Art Hauser Centre, the Oil Kings already did that once during the regular season and lost a narrow overtime battle. They should have confidence going into Games 1 and 2 this weekend, but will need to bring their game at home to give themselves a good chance at winning the series. Besides a 4-1 Game 2 win against the Calgary Hitmen, the Edmonton Oil Kings have played in four one-goal games at home during the 2019 WHL Playoffs, going 3-1 with one of those victories in overtime.
While the Oil Kings have ultimately benefited from the home town bump, there’s no doubt they’ve faced serious challenges on home ice throughout the first two rounds and need to be prepared for a team that hasn’t lost at Rogers Place since December 2, 2017. As the playoff season wears on, teams often find their offensive strengths at home or on the road. However, things have been split down the middle for the Oil Kings, who have scored 17 goals at home and 17 more on the road. How that balance presents itself in the Eastern Conference Championship will be telling for Edmonton’s chances.
Forward to Watch – Prince Albert Raiders
Dante Hannoun (29-38–67): There’s no denying Dante Hannoun’s scoring ability. He recorded a career-high 29 goals in the 2018-19 WHL Regular Season, leads all players in the 2019 WHL Playoffs with nine goals, and has 125 goals in the regular season and playoffs combined for his WHL career. However, scoring against the Edmonton Oil Kings has been a rarity for the forward from Delta, B.C. That can be mainly attributed to him playing the majority of his WHL career in the Western Conference, but Hannoun’s last goal came on November 18, 2015 as a member of the Royals.
He recorded a pair of assists in two games with the Raiders in the regular season versus Edmonton and it seems like only a matter of time until Hannoun finds the back of the net given what he’s done so far. In those nine games since he scored against the Oil Kings, Hannoun has seven assists, so offence isn’t an issue, but these are the fun storylines to watch when the pressure is on individuals and teams to perform in a short timespan.
Forward to Watch – Edmonton Oil Kings
Quinn Benjafield (15-39–54): In our second round preview, we discussed the positive impact Vince Loschiavo had with the Oil Kings since being acquired at the 2018 WHL Bantam Draft, but he wasn’t the only overage pickup of the day for Edmonton. Nearly a year ago, they sent 19-year-old Kobe Mohr to the Kamloops Blazers in exchange for forward Quinn Benjafield and a conditional fourth-round selection. That return has provided dividends for the Oil Kings this year with Quinn posting career-high totals in assists and points as part of his 54-point (15G-39A) campaign.
The North Vancouver, B.C. product has also stepped it up in the 2019 WHL Playoffs with nine points (4G-5A) in 10 games, tied for second with rookie Jake Neighbours. Like we noted with Hannoun, he recorded just two assists in the season series and his last goal against the Raiders came as a member of the Blazers on December 8, 2017. The Oil Kings will need Benjafield to continue his offensive performance if they’re to have success against the Raiders.
Defenceman to Watch – Prince Albert Raiders
Max Martin (6-35–41): The 19-year-old from Winnipeg, Man. posted career-high totals in assists and points this season with the Raiders. His first full season with the Raiders after being acquired from the Prince George Cougars in 2017-18, Martin is one of five 1999-born skaters on the Raiders’ defence. Martin was especially effective against the Edmonton Oil Kings in the regular season, recording six points (2G-4A) in four games to rank as their top-scoring rear guard. That was highlighted by a four-point (1G-3A) performance in the wild 6-5 overtime win for the Raiders on December 12, 2018.
If Martin can continue to bring the steady presence in the minutes asked of him, the Raiders will have a much easier go of things in the Eastern Conference Championship.
Defenceman to Watch – Edmonton Oil Kings
Wyatt McLeod (4-15–19): It took Wyatt McLeod 66 games during the regular season to amass 19 points, a career-high total for the Dawson Creek, B.C. product. In just 10 games during his first taste of WHL Playoffs action, McLeod has already contributed nearly a third of that total with six points (3G-3A) while sitting one goal away from his total during the regular season. His biggest goal of the playoffs of course came in Game 3 2:46 into overtime to push the Hitmen to the brink of elimination.
With all respect to Wyatt McLeod, it’s proof that regular season performance doesn’t dictate how much one can contribute in the playoffs and the Oil Kings are certainly fortunate to be receiving his contributions. While the offence flows through McLeod’s stick, it’s worth giving the 2000-born skater as much experience as possible to grow his game for this season and in the future.
Goaltender to Watch – Prince Albert Raiders
Ian Scott (49 GP, 38-8-1-2, 1.83, .932, 8 SO): Oh, this guy again. With a 1.81 goals-against-average and a .927 save percentage in the 2019 WHL Playoffs, Ian Scott has been everything the Prince Albert Raiders have needed and more. He’s allowed eight goals in five games on home ice and his “worst” performance statistically speaking in the playoffs was contained to a 6-4 win against Red Deer in the first round.
There hasn’t been a reason to doubt him all season as any of his low performances have been followed by some of his best games. Edmonton did find a way to score five goals in a game against him at the Art Hauser Centre, but he’s also the same Ian Scott that stopped 56 of 60 shots (.933 SV%) in both games at Rogers Place. If the Raiders want to make this a short series, you better believe the Calgary, Alta. product will play a big part in that success.
Goaltender to Watch – Edmonton Oil Kings
Dylan Myskiw (45 GP, 28-11-2-3, 2.53 GAA, .914 SV%, 1 SO): After winning back-to-back WHL Eli Wilson Goaltending Goaltender of the Week Awards and being named the Vaughn CHL Goaltender of the Week, Dylan Myskiw redeemed himself against the Hitmen after briefly yielding the crease to Todd Scott against Medicine Hat. However, as good as Myskiw was against the Hitmen, he was in net for just one of the four games against the Raiders during the regular season, allowing five goals and taking the loss.
The Oil Kings have two competent goaltenders and Myskiw is one of the reasons the Oil Kings have done as well as they have this season. However, in a four to seven game series with such importance against a team that has had their number almost all season, the Oil Kings will need to monitor the usage of their goaltenders very closely in each game.
Playoff History – Prince Albert Raiders
Nothing aches quite like the heart of a hockey fan in the playoffs. Since Caine Pearpoint scored 7:03 into overtime to force a seventh-and-deciding game in the 2005 Eastern Conference Championship, the Prince Albert Raiders haven’t played a second of Conference Championship hockey on home ice. To the passionate fan base in Prince Albert, those that have stuck with the team before, during, and after that moment, the time is now for them as much as it is for the players on the ice.
It’s also a chance for those not already wrapped up in the hotbed of hockey excitement to share the passion and embrace the energy of the team’s historic run. This year will mark the ninth time the Raiders have appeared in the Eastern Conference/Division Championship, yet their win in 1985 stands as their lone triumph to date. Though immensely proud of their championship run that year, there’s no doubt that when the Raiders take to the ice Friday night at the Art Hauser Centre, whatever the result, they’ll have generations of Raider players, team staff, and fans behind them.
Playoff History – Edmonton Oil Kings
It’s been a case of feast or famine for the Edmonton Oil Kings in their WHL Playoffs history. In 12 years of existence, they’ve made four trips to the Eastern Conference Championship, lost in the first round four times, and missed the playoffs in the other four seasons. That’s resulted in two WHL Championships, a good percentage compared to the other three teams in the round with them but now the Oil Kings have their focus set on earning a third trophy to their already-impressive resume as a team.
For the Oil Kings’ dedicated fan base, four-straight seasons of first-round exits or missing the playoffs entirely has no doubt worn on them, but they’re still turning out in strong numbers to support their team on their run. Success from year-to-year is never guaranteed, something all WHL teams have learned at some point making this year’s run so critical. Though they’ll see some of their offensive leaders no doubt move on, this run for the Oil Kings is also about setting the tone for future sustained success.
Head-to-Head Playoff History – Prince Albert Raiders and Edmonton Oil Kings 2013-14: Edmonton Oil Kings defeat Prince Albert Raiders 4-0 in Eastern Conference First Round