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Future looks bright after Chiefs’ best season since 2011

UPDATED: Mon., April 29, 2019, 10:26 p.m.

Spokane Chiefs forward Ty Smith falls after being checked on the boards by Vancouver Giants forward Brayden Watts during playoff action on Wednesday at the Arena. The Chiefs are hoping Smith returns for his 19-year-old season, but the will be up to the NHL’s New Jersey Devils. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane Chiefs forward Ty Smith falls after being checked on the boards by Vancouver Giants forward Brayden Watts during playoff action on Wednesday at the Arena. The Chiefs are hoping Smith returns for his 19-year-old season, but the will be up to the NHL’s New Jersey Devils. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
By Kevin Dudley For The Spokesman-Review

When you look at how the Spokane Chiefs’ season ended – in five games to the top-seeded Vancouver Giants – you can point to two stats: one power play goal in the series, and just one point for star defenseman Ty Smith.

The top-seeded Giants ended what is the most successful season since 2011 for the Chiefs, a team that started the season ranked in the Canadian Hockey League’s top 10, and a team that had the best power play in the league and possibly the best defenseman, too.

But the lineup was a little jumbled to start the season. Jaret Anderson-Dolan had an extended stay with the Los Angeles Kings in the NHL, and Smith got some extra looks at the New Jersey Devils’ training camp.

Defenseman Filip Kral was also nursing an injury suffered in last year’s playoffs and missed time at the start of the season. Once Kral was healthy, it was time for the World Junior Championships, with Kral, Anderson-Dolan and Smith all leaving for the tournament.

The Chiefs didn’t have a full lineup until January. That wasn’t a recipe for success in a tough U.S. Division that saw all five teams make the postseason. But the Chiefs started to play consistently better toward the end of the season and entered the playoffs healthy and playing their best hockey. That was evident as the team made it to the conference championship for the first time since 2011.

Despite losing in five games to the Giants in the Western Conference Championship, the Chiefs can take solace in the fact that they beat the fourth- and second-best teams in the Western Conference en route to the conference championship.

The Western Hockey League’s playoff format mirrors the NHL’s – teams play divisional playoffs in the first two rounds, unless a wild card team crosses over to another division.

The Chiefs finished third in the Western Conference and second in the U.S. Division. They got a first round date with the Portland Winterhawks – the fourth best team in the West and third best in the U.S. Division. That just goes to show how strong the U.S. Division was this year, and how down the B.C. Division was.

After getting past Portland, the Chiefs beat the Everett Silvertips in five games. Everett – the top team in the U.S. Division and the no. 2 team in the West, just two points behind Vancouver – was a team many thought would challenge for the league title.

Instead, the Chiefs got out to a 3-0 lead in the series and eventually won on home ice in Game 5.

That power play failure against Vancouver went against the team’s success with the man advantage in the regular season. The Chiefs led the league in power play conversions with a 29.1% success rate. Despite the lone power play goal against Vancouver, the Chiefs still ended the playoffs with the top power play in the postseason.

The Chiefs will say goodbye to 20-year-olds Riley Woods, Nolan Reid and Luc Smith. All three have aged out, and Woods led the team with 75 points (29G, 46A) in 65 games.

Anderson-Dolan played in just 32 games but still scored 1.34 points per game to lead the team.

Ty Smith was once again a stalwart on defense. Smith was second on the team with 1.21 points per game and finished with seven goals and 62 assists.

The Chiefs enjoyed quality depth all season. Six players had 20 or more goals and seven players had 50 points or more, with Luke Toporowksi (49) and Anderson-Dolan (43) not far behind.

The Chiefs got consistent pay in net thanks to Bailey Brkin, who joined the team a year earlier at the trade deadline. Brkin was perhaps the team’s most improved player. In 45 appearances, the 19-year-old posted a 0.914 save percentage.

There are still some roster questions to be answered this summer and into next fall. The Chiefs are allowed three 1999-born players as 20-year-olds next season. They ended the playoffs with eight – four forwards, two defensemen and two goalies.

Anderson-Dolan is all but guaranteed to either be with the Kings or their minor league team next season. Jake McGrew, drafted by the San Jose Sharks in sixth round in 2017, signed a contract with the NHL club last fall, so he could also move on to the professional ranks.

Kral, drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs last summer, has not yet signed an NHL contract. If he does return, he’d be both one of two allowed import players and one of three allowed 20-year-olds. His future in Spokane is to be determined.

Assuming Anderson-Dolan, McGrew and Kral all move on, that leaves Spokane with five 1999-born players: Ethan McIndoe, Kaden Hanas, Noah King, Brkin and goaltender Reece Klassen.

Keeping two 20-year-old goalies isn’t a good strategy, so a goaltender should be on the move. The Chiefs also have 2002-born goaltender Campbell Arnold waiting in the wings.

General Manager Scott Carter has dealt for an impact 20-year-old each of the last two seasons, and there’s still a lot of time to finalize a roster ahead of training camp.

As for Ty Smith? He’s a 2000-born player, so unless the New Jersey Devils elect to keep him full-time, he’ll be eligible to return for his 19-year-old season.

Eli Zummack is the top-scoring returnee at forward. Zummack was third on the team with 68 points (15G, 53A). Leading goal-scorer Adam Beckman will return as well. Beckman had an outstanding rookie season and finished with 62 points (32G, 30A). Beckman will be drafted in this summer’s NHL Draft.

Luke Toporowski will also return for his 18-year-old season. Toporowski, who had 21 goals and 28 assists, should be drafted into the NHL this summer, too.

The Chiefs played two 15-year-olds briefly this season in defenseman Graham Sward, who scored a goal in his lone game, and Owen MacNeil. Both will be vying for roster spots next season as 16-year-old rookies.

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