2016-17 Asia League Ice Hockey season predictions
has won the regular season the last two years and won their third championship last year. With top flight scoring, defense and goaltending, they are second to none and will finish first again.
continued to tweak the roster in the off-season to find the right chemistry to unseat Halla as the top team. But with only 12 players returning from last year, and all the new faces taking time to adjust to the Asia League, Sakhalin will finish second.
looked like they would miss the playoffs last season, but hot rookie goalie Onoda Takuto and scoring by committee propelled them into the playoffs. This season Shuhei Kuji returns from Germany. Two seasons ago, he led the Eagles with 61 points. Stephane Veilleux who joined mid-season last year brings his scoring and nastiness back. Two new imports, C/W Matt Murley and D Ryan Caldwell should make the Eagles bigger and tougher to play against too.
Tohoku Free Blades
After injuries to leading scorers Tanaka Go and Kim Staal caused them to miss the first 15 games, as well as injuries and under production from other players, goal scoring dropped from 188 to 138 goals last year.
The Blades were 8-7 in one goal games last year, so a healthy roster and the addition of Matt Pope should result in more offense and wins this year.
The goalies, Hata and Ito performed well but were a little off from their previous season. They should also see improvements this year with the added scoring.
On defense Logan Stephenson had a career year with 35 points and led league defensemen with 17 goals. He and Cole Jarrett will be called upon to provide the physical dissuasion to opponents venturing into the defensive zone.
Nippon Paper Cranes
After missing the playoffs two years ago, the Cranes went out and got 40 goal scorer Uneo Hiroki as a free agent. He scored 34 in his Cranes debut.
Nishiwaki Masahito had his best season since his rookie year and Shigeno Shunsuke, Yanadori Shinya, and Shun Setaka all had career years.
Import player Jeff LoVecchio led the team with 56 points while Wacey Rabbit scored 41.
Goals against went from 3.27 to 2.60 and Ishikawa Hisashi rebounded from his worst season to have a career best 2.43 as a starter.
This season the Cranes are bigger with new imports. Casey Borer on the blue line is physical, can score and clear out the traffic.
Play making center Ben Walter is also good defensively and should work well with LoVecchio.
Last season the Icebucks led the league by playing in 22 games decided by one goal and won 13. 15 games went to extra time, also first in the league. They made the playoffs with 71 points also an improvement over 58 points the previous season.
The Bucks depend heavily on goaltending to get them through games. The return of Fukufuji Yutaka from Europe saw them reduce their goals against from 199 to 150.
Four players scored more than 40 points last year with Mark Derlago leading with 63. David Bonk followed with 55 in 40 games.The Asia League’s all-time goal scorer, Saito Takeshi got 45 points and Saito Tetsuya matched a career high 40.
The Bucks are bringing in five new faces including Kevin Mitchell on defense. Yoon Ji-Man comes from Sangmu where he had 24 points. And three rookies who played for Japan’s U-20 team will get their first taste of pro hockey.
Last season was a disaster. It was the worst season for the team since 2012-13 when that team was also comprised of many rookies and players with limited experience. The 2015-16 team collapsed in the second half winning 6 of 24
Goal scoring was down by 43 goals to average 2.52 goals per game while averaging 3.54 goals against. Also the 121 goals scored were the the lowest since 2010-11 and the 170 allowed the the worst ever.
The additions of Kim Hyeok from Daemyung Sangmu and Mikko Kukkonen from Europe to the defense corps, should help reduce the goals against. Meanwhile, Shin Hyung-Yun and Kim Hyung-Joon from Sangmu should also add some pop to goals for column.
Park Sung-Je again started almost every game but went from 20 to 12 wins and a career worst 27 losses and 3.42 GAA
All was not doom and gloom though. Kwon Tae-An had a break out season with 41 points. Rookie Tyler Brickler was on his way to the rookie scoring title until an injury sidelined him. He finished with 34 points in 40 games missing the scoring title by 3 points.
Mike Swift had yet another great year and won his fourth league scoring title
With a new coach this season and experience the team will improve, but it might not be enough to get into the playoffs.
Eight is a lucky number for the Chinese and in this, the eighth, season of the China Dragon will see them get out of the basement. Last year they made strides under Coach Jeff Hutchins,(who has since returned to the EIHL).
For one thing the Dragon were in a lot of close games. They improved their powerplay and penalty kill. Also more players were given a chance to develop and play in different situations and for some it was an awakening.
This year’s team will have new imports Kevin Quick on defense to play with Matti Naatanen who scored 43 points last season.
Scott Barney returns to the Asia League after three seasons in Europe. When he last played in the Asia league, he scored 87 points with High1 in 2012-13. His monster size will create more scoring opportunities for his defenseman and other players as he is very hard to move from in front of the net.
Daemyung Killer Whales
As the new team in the league they will finish ninth. With so many inexperienced players on the team and despite bringing in Brent Parnham and Adam Estoclet to lead the offense, they lack an offensive edge.
This team built by coach Benedict Song, who was known for a mean streak as a player in the Asia League, is full of similar players. It will make for exciting games, but with nine rookies just out of university it could also make for some long nights.
Th Killer Whales have only one way to go and with every win they’ll prove the doubters wrong.