No WHL team made a bigger jump from last season to this year than the Vancouver Giants.
The Giants were second-last in the 22-team loop in 2016/17 after posting a 20-46-3-3 record and 46 points.
But after taking their lumps, the team made significant strides this past season, going an impressive 36-27-6-3 for 81 points. The jump of 35 points was seven better than the Prince Albert Raiders, who went from 49 to 77 points.
Both teams also pushed their opponents to seven games in their respective opening round series.
“From day one in August, our goal was to get in the playoffs,” said Vancouver coach Jason McKee. “I thought our team made tremendous strides this year on and off the ice.
“They have come a long way in one calendar year.”
The Giants season ended on Tuesday night and on Thursday, they held exit meetings as the players prepared to head home and embark in their off-season training.
“It’s on the group of players coming back to continue the expectations that we have set here. That’s not easy and it’s not taken lightly,” McKee said.
“I think getting a taste of it will just make our guys hungrier.”
After a series in which the club’s younger players learned what it takes to win big games, Giants sniper Ty Ronning said the organization is well positioned for the future, especially with many players expected back next season.
“The way I look at it, the Vancouver Giants are going to be A-OK the way they pick their guys, character guys … I wouldn’t have gone to war with anybody else, they’re great teammates and great people,” he said.
Here are some off-season questions the Giants face.
1. Who replaces the scoring?
Ty Ronning set a new club record with 61 goals and had a team-high 84 points.
Tyler Benson was second on the team with 27 goals and 69 points. Benson posted those numbers despite missing 14 games and the dynamic duo were the lone Giants to finish above a point-per-game pace (Ronning was 1.2 and Benson 1.19).
The Giants were 16th among the 22 WHL teams in scoring with 233 goals and Ronning and Benson accounted for nearly 38 per cent of those goals with a combined 88 tallies.
Benson — the team’s captain for the past three seasons — is eligible to return for one more season of junior but is expected to play somewhere in the Edmonton Oilers organization. He was a second round pick of the Oilers in 2016 and is joining the team’s AHL club, the Bakersfield Condors, for the remainder of the season.
If he is not back, who might wear the captain’s C?
3. Bowen Byram
The smooth-skating defenceman played a key role on the team, whether it was on the power play, penalty killing or being out on the ice protecting a lead in the final minutes. And he did all this despite being a 16-year-old rookie.
Byram was third among Vancouver blue-liners with 27 points in 60 games — and second among league rookies for his position. He is also up for the WHL rookie of the year award and is generating buzz about potentially being a first round pick in the 2019 NHL draft.
David Tendeck established himself as one of the top goaltenders in the WHL.
In his first year as a starter, Tendeck was 25-16-3-2 with a 3.02 goals against average (sixth overall) and a .912 save percentage (fourth) in 48 games. By comparison, Tendeck had a 4.78 GAA and .856 save percentage in 22 games his first year.
Those numbers earned Tendeck a Western Conference second team all-star award and he was ranked eight among North American goalies by NHL Central Scouting at the mid-season draft rankings.
Trent Miner joined Vancouver in January and was 3-4 with a 4.20 GAA and an .885 save percentage. He also started games one and two against Victoria with Tendeck out and the rookie did not look out of place, making 40 saves in game one alone. In three appearances, he posted a .901 save percentage.
5. 2018 NHL draft
Five members of the Giants were listed on the NHL Central Scouting mid-season rankings and should all five hear their names called at the June NHL draft, that would mark an all-time high for the organization, topping the four players picked in 2007.
In addition to Tendeck, forwards Milos Roman (ranked 40th) and James Malm (176th) and defencemen Alex Kannok Leipert (190th) and Dylan Plouffe (208th) are also on the list.