The past week was a higher the climb, the more that is exposed week among major junior hockey's best teams. A heavy slate of big-time matchups meant next to no one got through the week unscathed. Even the Portland Winterhawks. It's like the sport turned into college basketball, where whoever has climbed to the top of the AP Top 25 this season seems to immediately lose.
That led to some shakeup in the rankings, with only Seth Jones' team and Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin's teams holding on to the same rung. The Edmonton Oil Kings, thanks to their own strong past few weeks and a surge from their frenemies down Hwy. 2 in Calgary, snuck into second spot. Cue the images of an Edmonton-Portland rematch in May for the Ed Chynoweth Cup. I would say we should not think too far ahead, but everyone's been thinking it since the start of the season.
1. Portland Winterhawks, WHL (.575 RPI, 2.0 SRS, —) — Make no mistake, the multi-point individual scoring efforts notwithstanding, Portland's depth ruled the day last weekend in Kelowna. The fourth line helmed by versatile Adam De Champlain started a couple periods as Portland kicked away at Kelowna's resistance until the nickname-us-please Nic Petan-Brendan Leipsic-Ty Rattie line could produce the offence.
What is left for Portland before the playoffs? They have 46 wins in 57 games, so the 56-win total the Saskatoon Blades rang up two seasons ago is within reach. For what that is worth, which turned out to be not much for those Blades, but Portland is a better defensive club than it was when it lost the league final in 2011 and '12.
Petan and Leipsic, major junior's first men to 100 points this season, are the first Winterhawks in 19 seasons to each hit the century mark in the same season. Lonny Bohonos and Colin Foley were the most recent to do it. Any time you can drop in Lonny Bohonos reference, it's a better day than having omelettes for dinner.
2. Edmonton Oil Kings, WHL (.568 RPI, 1.5 SRS, +3) — The Oil Kings' now over 11-game win streak represented the heavy lifting they needed to do to assure home-ice advantage to get home-ice advantage for the first three rounds of the playoffs. As Evan Daum notes, first overall is probably out of reach but top seed in the conference is likely locked in.
Edmonton will get road-tested plenty over the remaining fifth of the WHL season, with only 4-of-14 remaining games at Rexall Place. That includes a possible WHL final preview on Feb. 27 at Portland
3. Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL (.566 RPI, 1.6 SRS, —) — Halifax coach Dominique Ducharme plans to "try some new things" while No. 1 centre Nathan MacKinnon is resting that lower body injury. The health and availability of various Mooseheads probably has greater sway over Ducharme's plan to use 11 forwards and seven defencemen. It's also possible to jump to the conclusion that allowing 11 goals across two games last week vs. Rimouski and Moncton was a faith-shaker with regard to Halifax's defence corps.
4. Kelowna Rockets, WHL (.560 RPI, 1.4 SRS, -2) — Kelowna only has a three-day respite prior to beginning another its third 3-in-3 weekend in a row, including a home-and-home vs. the Kamloops Blazers. The Rockets regrouped well after the 5-0 shellacking by Portland last weekend. Coach Ryan Huska's team has a sufficiently solid body of work to give them some benefit of the doubt when it comes to wondering if the Portland series takes some air out of their tires. One offshoot of Edmonton's 17-year-old backup Tristan Jarry having such a bananas statline is that it might overshadow the Rockets' own 17-year-old understudy, Jackson Whistle. The hometown Kelowna native has a 2.07 average and .926 save percentage, but has not played enough minutes to be listed among the Dub stat leaders.
5. Rimouski Océanic, QMJHL (.558 RPI, 1.0 SRS, +1) — The case for the Océanic as a potential President's Cup winner looks a little stronger after their tour de force through the Maritimes which including playing Halifax toe-to-toe in a shootout loss and having workers bees such as Lucas Grundy pull them through in Monday's chippy game at Moncton.
Not sure how often this happens, but on Monday the stat crew in Moncton inadvertently put the game's 3 Stars on the QMJHL website with 1:15 left in a 2-0 game. The Wildcats radio guys were a little put out to see Robin Gusse up as the first star before the shutout was in the bag.
6. London Knights, OHL (.551 RPI, 1.0 SRS, -2) — It never rains but it pours: OHL third-leading scorer Seth Griffith has broken bone in his hand. If the Boston Bruins selection has to scratch out this weekend, the Knights' most reliable scoring line that also includes Max Domi and Alex Broadhurst will be broken up, if only briefly.
Remember, the slot does not wholly reflect a team's quality, but the nature of the competition in the league. London has tailed off for myriad reasons and as I argued Monday, the OHL has become a compact league because it is the season before a Memorial Cup host year. Nine of the top 24 teams are from the OHL, including seven from the Western Conference. It's just that no one is that much above the pack.
The Knights to watch this week: big Bo Horvat and San Jose Sharks selection Chris Tierney are each goal-less in the last seven games. Expect that to change.
7. Calgary Hitmen, WHL (.541 RPI, 0.6 SRS, +8) — Hey, Ottawa Senators fans, there is this: both goalies that your team selected last summer, the Hitmen's Chris Driedger and Quebec Remparts' François Brassard, are having good Februarys. Driedger's stealing of two points in a win at Portland last week probably accounts for the Hitmen also being the week's hot team; his 2.43 average and .918 save percentage are both tops among the 18-year-old goalies in the Dub, with a nod to Kootenay's Mackenzie Skapski.
The Hitmen, depending on how they hold up through a Tri-City/Spokane tag-team at the end of their U.S. road trip, could climb higher yet in next week's ranking. Carolina Hurricanes second-round Victor Rask has picked up his pace with six points across the last three games, including his hat trick in Tri-City on Tuesday.
8. Owen Sound Attack, OHL (.541 RPI, 0.6 SRS, +2) — Attack coach Greg Ireland gave his guys a pass on a poor final 20 minutes of their London-Plymouth roadie weekend. The upside is it provides a talking point ahead of a week where Owen Sound will need some finish with what amounts to a four-game week: home-and-home against the Guelph Storm, then non-conference games against both Ryan Strome and Niagara and the Peterborough Petes.
The big takeaway from Owen Sound's past week that was 19-year-old wing Steven Janes potting two goals in that rousing road win at London. Owen Sound will need a lot from Janes come playoff time.
9. Baie-Comeau Drakkar, QMJHL (.540 RPI, 0.8 SRS, -2) — That Saturday loss to lowly Cape Breton at the end of a stretch of 6-in-8 on the road was no shock. It's an upset, but teams get out of routine when they spend a lot of time on the bus. Coach Éric Veilleux's crew has five home games coming up across the next two weeks as it tries to chase down Rimouski for the No. 2 playoff seed in the Quebec League.
10. Kamloops Blazers, WHL (.535 RPI, 0.7 SRS, +1) — Right wing JC Lipon's quote to Gregg Drinnan about the toll the Ufa world junior championship exacted on him is worth highlighting: "I've been having trouble sleeping the last three weeks. I'm just starting to get back to sleeping well. It's definitely different coming back, for sure." The grind of a major junior season stops for no one and the WJC cannot be played in North America every season, but at least that sheds light on how it affects performance. The Blazers are 8-2-0-0 in their last 10 games ahead of a week that includes that two-game set vs. Kelowna, which is their best chance to work on wresting back the B.C. Division lead.
11. Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, QMJHL (.534 RPI, 1.0 SRS, +1) — Without Stefan Matteau, the Armada might be prone to weeks where they score only six goals in three goals and drop 2-1 extra-time decisions. Leading scorer Cédric Paquette, listed at 6-foot-1 and two bills, is the only one among B-B's top-sixers who has good size. If they get outworked, goals can be farther and fewer between. Overage Washington Capitals defence prospect Samuel Carrier was the bright spot in those losses to divisional foes Drummondville and Gatineau; he was second star in one game and scored B-B's singleton in the other.
12. Guelph Storm, OHL (.533 RPI, 0.5 SRS, -3) — Whether you even have a dog in the fight, you probably hope the Storm and Kitchener Rangers end up paired in the either the 3 vs. 6 or 4 vs. 5 first-round series in the OHL's Western Conference. The Storm apparently breached hockey etiquette when they celebrated a rare road win at Kitchener's Aud by with celebratory dogpile on the Rangers logo. A little much for a mid-February game, sure, but it adds some spice to the stew. Guelph probably has been inconsistent, but considering that it's operating without defensive ace Matt Finn, that's to be expected.
You could barely slide a credit card between the Storm, Rangers and their brethren in Sault Ste. Marie. All three have a .533 RPI, which Greyhounds GM Kyle Dubas would surely tell you is also the slugging percentage of a ballplayer with 320 total bases in 600 at-bats.
The not as dynamic but still very distinguished dozen — 13. Kitchener Rangers, OHL (.533, +3); 14. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, OHL (.533, -1); 15. Moncton Wildcats, QMJHL (.527, -1); 16. Plymouth Whalers, OHL (.526, +1); 17. Tri-City Americans, WHL (.522, -9); 18. Sarnia Sting, OHL (.521, +1); 19. P.E.I. Rocket, QMJHL (.519, +2); 20. Val-d'Or Foreurs, QMJHL (.517, +2); 21. Drummondville Voltigeurs, QMJHL (.517, +6); 22. Saskatoon Blades, WHL (.517, +6); 23. Barrie Colts, OHL (.516, -5); 24. Belleville Bulls, OHL (.515, +1).
Hot team — Calgary Hitmen, up 8 (15th to 7th).
Cold team — Tri-City Americans, down 9 (8th to 17th).
An explanation on rankings — Buzzing The Net uses Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) with a recency factor. RPI combines a team's record with the strength of its opponents to produce an overall rating. Our method also gives more weight to recently played games. Shootout wins and losses are classified as ties, for philosophical and practical reasons. Simple Ranking System (SRS), an equation which uses goal differential and strength of schedule, is used as a complement. All three CHL leagues are considered equivalent in quality.
(All rankings through play on Monday, because Tuesday's grey and Wednesday's blue.)
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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