Two years ago, I was covering Portland Winterhawks hockey for the student newspaper at Portland State University after returning to college right before my 30th birthday. Two years ago, I was the guy rocking a righteous flow to honor a bet with my editor while interviewing players outside the locker rooms at the Rose Garden. Now, I’ve moved on from the Rose City, and it has been fun watching some of these players I covered each week as they make the transition into their professional careers. Let’s look at four of those former players from the 2013 WHL championship team and where they are now in their transition to the next level.
I started thinking about that 2012-2013 squad that advanced to the Memorial Cup final after Brendan Leipsic’s recent inclusion in the trade that sent defenseman Cody Franson and forward Mike Santorelli to the Nashville Predators. In return, the Leafs received a draft pick, a washed-up veteran (Olli Jokinen) — and Leipsic. Two years ago he was the top scorer in the Western Hockey League, finishing the year with 120 points as the Winterhawks finished with the best regular-season record. Now he has developed into an agitator on the ice, becoming the type of player you love to have on your franchise and hate to see on the other team. He was an AHL All-Star this year with the Milwaukee Admirals while in the Predators’ system, proving an ability to score at the pro level with 41 points in his inaugural AHL campaign while riling up opponents with his game. With Toronto he could quickly emerge as the key part to this trade on that end given Nashville’s position atop the Western Conference and the low draft order that will ensue from that for the Leafs.
PREDICTION: Future NHL pro
Ty Rattie was a playoff scoring dynamo in Portland, setting the WHL postseason points record as the Winterhawks took the Chynoweth Cup in his final year in Oregon. Last year as a pro rookie, Rattie made his way into two games for the St. Louis Blues and finished fourth in scoring for the Chicago Wolves in the AHL. He has made his way into five games this year for the Blues, and he notched his first NHL point on February 5 against Buffalo with an assist on Dmitrij Jaskin’s second period goal in a 3-0 victory. Still maturing, he has nevertheless been depended upon by a Western Conference contender to serve as emergency relief in injury situations in the starting lineup. Still just 22 years old, he will definitely feature for the parent club soon enough.
PREDICTION: Future NHL pro, possible All-Star
Jones was the key defenseman that had every NHL scout salivating in his last year with the Winterhawks in 2013, ultimately going fourth overall to Nashville. He made the immediate transition to the NHL, playing 77 games in his rookie season and every game so far this campaign for the league-leading Predators. He has averaged over 19 minutes per game so far with the club despite coming to a roster that has been based on defense. He still has a chance to grow further in terms of the defensive nuances of his game, but Jones has already proven his worth to the organization that drafted him out of juniors. He is pretty well locked down in his place on the blue line for the foreseeable future in Nashville.
PREDICTION: Future NHL All-Star
Carruth was the spine of the Western Hockey League champions in 2013, backstopping the club to more victories than any other netminder in Portland’s history. He set a bunch of postseason records in that fateful season, passing Lanny Ramage for the club record in career playoff shutouts and Cam Ward for the WHL career record in playoff victories. He couldn’t come up with the necessary stops against Halifax in the Memorial Cup, but he was already well on his way into the Chicago Blackhawks organization. Since 2013, he hasn’t made much headway breaking into a team that has been set in the crease in recent years. But while an immediate NHL spot was hardly to be expected, he hasn’t managed to get any significant AHL playing time in Rockford. Instead he has been manning the net for three different ECHL clubs, posting a 23-29-5 record with a .904 save percentage. He’s also gone 4-2-1 in seven games for Rockford, however, and is still less than 23 years old.
PREDICTION: Future NHL journeyman