The preparations are complete and the Calgary Hitmen are set to begin their 25th season in the Western Hockey League on Saturday evening when they visit the Swift Current Broncos. After a pretty eventful 2018-19 season, the Hitmen are hoping to build on that in 2019-20.
As of this morning, the Hitmen are rolling with 27 players on their active roster.
Goalies (3): Jack McNaughton, Carl Stankowski and Brayden Peters
Defensemen (8): Dakota Krebs, Evan Toth, Layne Toder, Jackson van de Leest, Luke Prokop, Andrew Viggars, Egor Zamula and Jett Woo
Forwards (16): Devan Klassen, Josh Prokop, Cael Zimmerman, Mark Kastelic, James Malm, Jonas Peterek, Hunter Campbell, Riley Stotts, Carson Focht, Riley Fiddler-Schultz, Adam Kydd, Zac Funk, Samuel Krajc, Tye Carriere, Orca Weisblatt and Sean Tschigerl
Zimmerman and Malm are currently injured and Kastelic is still in Senators camp, so functionally they have 13 healthy forwards to work with.
The Hitmen have some decisions to make; they’re not going to roll with three goalies, and they can only dress two imports at a time so they’ll likely need to make a decision which of Peterek or Krajc to waive – they can’t trade first-year imports.
So here’s the deal with the Hitmen: they had a rough start last season. With a new coach, new systems, two new goalies and a few other roster changes, they struggled out of the gate. But once they got their feet under them, they went on a run for the back half of the season. They finished 36-26-6 and claimed third place in the Central Division – avoiding a wildcard spot and a match-up with the Prince Albert Raiders – and managed to win a playoff round.
The good news is that pretty much everybody important for the Hitmen is back. Gone are overagers Kaden Elder, Jake Kryski and Luke Coleman, while Vladislav Yeryomenko and Ryder Korczak were flipped to Moose Jaw for Canucks prospect Jett Woo. Woo’s addition really bolsters a well-balanced defensive group. Starting netminder Jack McNaughton is barely 18 years old and has a full season as a starter under his belt.
The better news is there is no clear power in the WHL’s Eastern Conference. Most of the high-end teams lost key pieces or have question marks, so a team like the Hitmen who will begin the season with the majority of their roster intact (including almost all of their NHL prospects) has a huge advantage.
After a rough start to last season, a good first few weeks would go a long way towards allowing the Hitmen to potentially make a run at a division crown.