Playoff dreams fading, but future offers hope

Final six weeks will be a chance for young players to gain experience for 2017/18 WHL campaign

At the start of the Western Hockey League season, the stated goal was to be in the hunt for a playoff berth.

Injuries, youth and inexperience have largely de-railed those plans.

As the final six weeks of the WHL regular season get underway this weekend for the Vancouver Giants, the team finds itself on the outside of the playoff bubble and sinking fast.

Through the season’s first 51 games, the Giants have gone an unremarkable 17-30-1-3, which puts them on pace for 54 points.

And judging by the last three seasons — it took 68, 65 and 75 points, respectively to qualify for the Western Conference playoffs — 69 points seems to be the cut-off line.

To get to that point, the Giants would need to play .738 hockey over the final 31 games, basically winning three out of every four hockey games.

Realistically, that is not likely to happen, meaning the Giants first season out of the Langley Events Centre will end with their home finale on March 18.

But there is hope for the next two seasons.

The WHL is a league for 18 and 19-year-olds, not 16 and 17-year-olds, meaning the experience gained by this year’s Giants youngsters should pay dividends down the road.

For one thing, Vancouver has faced a grueling schedule, with a heavy dosage of games against the U.S. Division and B.C. Division.

The U.S. Division’s five teams average 60 points and the B.C. Division is just a shade behind at 59.8.

Compare that to the Eastern Conference which has the East Division (55.2 points) and the Central Division (50.6 points).

There have been glimmers of hope throughout the season.

Eliminate a horrific start which saw the team win just once in their first eight tries, and the team was a very respectable 13-12-1-2 and the midway point of the season.

But injuries took their toll, mainly in losing their steadiest and most physical defenceman in Darian Skeoch in early December and then team captain and leading scorer Tyler Benson in early January.

Despite missing 18 games, Benson is still the top point-producer for the Giants with 42 points in 33 games.

And Skeoch is one of just two blue-liners for the team on the positive side of the ledger when it comes to plus/minus.

The team was also wise at last month’s trade deadline, flipping a pair of their over-age players and another 19-year-old for younger prospects, as well as a handful of draft picks.

Sure it has meant for some lean times — Vancouver won just three of 14 games in January — but the younger players are getting bigger roles and some experience.

Forward James Malm has shown some scoring touch playing on the team’s top line as the 17-year-old has managed 17 goals and 39 points in 48 games.

Defencemen Matt Barberis and Dylan Plouffe have combined for a dozen goals and 37 points in 79 games.

And despite the team’s struggles, Plouffe (four goals, 17 points) and forwards Dawson Holt (six goals, 13 points) and Brendan Semchuk (seven goals, 16 points) each find their names on the NHL Central Scouting midseason rankings.

 

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