WHL Update: Checking in on the best PNW junior teams

The Kraken aren’t the only hockey team in town. The Western Hockey League (one third of the larger Canadian Hockey League) is home to multiple teams from the beautiful Pacific Northwest, including one from Seattle. (Yes, they technically play in Kent, but it still says Seattle on the front of their jerseys so we’ll allow it) And folks, if you find yourself craving more hockey while the Kraken have a day off, you should be paying attention to these teams. A dozen games into the WHL season, it sure looks like the Western Conference representative in the WHL finals will be a team from the greater Seattle area or Portland.

The Portland Winterhawks have only lost one game in regulation so far — a 7-3 loss to the Tri-City Americans. Aside from that, they have been dominating their schedule. They don’t have any one player that is lighting it up for them; instead it’s a full team effort. Seven different skaters have double-digit points already, and 16 different skaters have scored a goal for the Hawks. On defense, Portland is allowing just 27 shots on net per game, tied for the 3rd-fewest in the WHL.

The other team allowing just 27 shots per game? Why that’s the Everett Silvertips, the North-end Seattle neighbor. Everett has essentially always been a dominating defensive team, and this year their blue line features a great offensive defender as well. Olen Zellweger leads the way in Everett with 18 points (5th-most among WHL defenders). This is a name Kraken fans should really familiarize themselves with, as he was selected 34th overall in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft by the Anaheim Ducks. He’ll likely be suiting up for the Kraken’s Pacific division rival in the near future.

Another skater to keep an eye on in Everett is the young Austin Roest. Roest is third in the WHL in points with 28 in just 16 games played. He was named in the NHL Central Scouting’s preliminary list as a player to watch for the 2023 NHL Draft, projected right now to be a mid-round pick.

And let’s not forget that the Silvertips are also coached by Dennis Williams, who was just named the head coach of Team Canada for the 2023 World Junior Classic. That’s a pretty prestigious honor, as Canada tends to take their hockey quite seriously, in case you weren’t aware.

Finally, there’s the Seattle Thunderbirds. This team appears to be going all-in this year trying to win their second WHL Championship in franchise history. The Birds won their first nine games of the season and averaged 6 goals per game during that stretch. They began the season with five players already selected in a prior NHL Entry Draft, including two that were taken in the first round just this past season — Kevin Korchinksi (7th overall by Chicago) and Reid Schaefer (32nd overall by Edmonton). As if that weren’t enough, they went out and traded for another recently drafted NHL prospect in Luke Prokop, who is already endearing himself to Seattle sports fans.

All three teams from this region are playing phenomenal hockey right now, so be sure to keep an eye on them throughout the rest of the year. You can even catch the Thunderbirds playing in Climate Pledge Arena this December, when they take on the Spokane Chiefs in this year’s Battle of the Sound.

The Seattle Kraken are a very good hockey team, but don’t forget about the youngsters in the area that deserve their own share of attention. It’s a wonderful time to be a hockey fan in Seattle right now, because there are just too many good teams to watch. What an excellent problem to have.