With Ty Rattie returning from a breakout season, and rookie defenseman Seth Jones projected as a top pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, the Portland Winterhawks have some marquee players to market.
With five experienced defensemen, the Winterhawks have one of the most proven groups of blueliners in the Western Hockey League.
But the season that begins tonight with raising the Western Conference championship banner for a second-consecutive year will be defined by how a group of young, big forwards, adapt to the challenges of a 72-game grind.
“When I was 16, I was tired by game 12,” Rattie said.
Rattie is now 19, an established star of the WHL, having produced career highs of 57 goals and 64 assists for 121 points in 69 regular-season games, the best offensive production from a Winterhawk in 14 seasons.
Rattie, an assistant team captain, added 10 pounds in the offseason, and he said his goal is to produce with the same consistency he did last season.
Rattie and Sven Bartschi flourished last season as Portland’s offensive leaders. Bartschi is now in the American Hockey League, meaning another young player will have a chance to play a leading role in the Winterhawks attack.
Instead of having one or two dynamic lines playing more and producing most of the offense, head coach Mike Johnston said this season’s Winterhawks will challenge teams with their depth.
“We will probably have a lot more balance to our lines this year,” Johnston said.
In addition to Rattie, returning forwards who played significant roles last season are assistant team captain Taylor Peters, Brendan Leipsic, Taylor Leier, Nic Petan, Joey Baker and Chase De Leo. Leier is expected to miss several weeks with an abdominal strain.
When Johnston and his assistant Travis Green evaluate players, they look for four attributes: hockey skill, speed, intelligence and competitiveness. This year’s group of new forwards also brings size to the equation.
The eight first-year forwards are 16-year-olds Dominic Turgeon (6-1, 191), Keegan Iverson (6-0, 215) and Paul Bittner (6-4, 194), 17-year-olds Presten Kopecek (6-0, 166), Alex Schoenborn (6-0, 194), and Oliver Bjorkstrand (5-11, 164) from Denmark, and 18-year-olds Adam De Champlain (6-1, 177) and Joe Mahon (6-5, 210).
“We’ll be a bigger, more physical team this year,” Rattie said, adding that he wouldn’t look forward to playing against the Winterhawks’ size if he were on another team.
The backbone of this team is the defense, where five of the seven return from last season. Team captain Troy Rutkowski is in his fifth season with the Winterhawks, assistant captain Tyler Wotherspoon his fourth. Derrick Pouliot and Josh Hanson are third-year Hawks. Layne Viveiros played in 39 games last season.
Jones is the newcomer with the biggest reputation. The 18-year-old (6-4, 208) was instrumental in Team USA winning the under-18 world championship in 2012. He is seen as a potential top overall pick in next year’s NHL Draft.
The other newcomer on defense is 17-year-old Russian Kirill Vorobev.
In goal, 17-year-old Brendan Burke will get significant playing time. Cam Lanigan, a 20-year-old who was in net for Kamloops against Portland in the second round of last season’s playoffs, is the other goalie on the roster. Mac Carruth, the Winterhawks No. 1 netminder for nearly three full seasons, has joined Rockford of the American Hockey League.
Tickets: Visit www.winterhawks.com or call 503-236-4295 for information about tickets.
Back on the air: Winterhawks games will be carried on radio station KPAM 860. Their games will also be available online and on mobile devices.
New ice surface: The Memorial Coliseum ice has being upgraded to an NHL size rink. The Winterhawks will play their first four home games at the Rose Garden. The first scheduled game at the coliseum is on Oct. 28.
NHL material: Ty Rattie (St. Louis), Derrick Pouliot (Pittsburgh) have signed with NHL clubs. Taylor Leier (Philadelphia), Brendan Leipsic (Nashville), and Tyler Wotherspoon (Calgary) have been drafted by NHL clubs.
Sons of stars: Goalie Brendan Burke is the son of goalie Sean Burke, who played two decades in the NHL. Forward Domonic Turgeon is the son of Pierre Turgeon, who played 19 seasons in the NHL.