The Spokane Chiefs’ 2016-17 playoff hopes ended on March 8 with a result not experienced by the organization and fans in over a decade. And yet, despite the disappointment in snapping their 10-year postseason streak, over 10,000 fans arrived at Spokane Arena 10 days later to lose their voices in raucous support of the team, and by association, the future. With 23 of 26 players from the season finale eligible to return for the 2017-18 season a year older, stronger and more developed, that future is very bright.
Here is our 2016-17 season in review:
By the Numbers
Position: 5th U.S. Division / 9th Western Conference / 17th Overall
Home/Away: 12-16-5-3 / 15-17-3-1
Goals Scored-Allowed: 235-272
Power Play: 22.7% (64/282; 7th)
Penalty Kill: 74.8% (74/294; 19th)
The Chiefs boasted five players ranked by the National Hockey League’s Central Scouting Services as potential selections in this summer’s 2017 NHL Entry Draft, to be held Chicago on June 23-24. They included:
- RW #17 Kailer Yamamoto (17th)
- C #11 Jaret Anderson-Dolan (40th)
- LW #10 Ethan McIndoe (141st)
- RW #8 Jake McGrew (LV*)
- G #37 Dawson Weatherill (31st^)
* “Limited Viewing” due to season-ending injury — ^ North American goaltenders
After a rookie campaign that impressed (23 goals, 34 assists, 57 points) and a second year that cemented him as a top WHL player (17-52-71 in 57 GP), Spokane-native Kailer Yamamoto had earned the eyes of NHL scouts. With those eyes firmly fixated on his game, he continued to excel in all facets, posting career highs in nearly all offensive categories. He led the Western Conference in points with 99 (6th in the WHL) and was among the league leaders in goals (42; 8th), assists (57; 13th), power play assists (25; 12th) and game-winning goals (7; 8th).
On February 13 at Prince George, Yamamoto became the 27th player in franchise history to reach the 200 career points mark. He is just the 10th Chief – and first American – to reach the milestone in three or fewer seasons.
Yamamoto was held off the scoresheet only 11 times in 65 games, including one game in which he left with an injury early in the first period. He finished the season with 30 multi-point games, including nine three-point and two four-point outings along with one hat trick. He had three 8+ game point streaks as well as a six-game streak to finish the season. His 42 goals mark the 27th time a Chief has reached that mark and only the ninth since the Spokane Arena opened in 1995.
Yamamoto participated in the annual 2017 NHL/CHL Top Prospects Game in Quebec City, matching up against 40 of his fellow top draft-eligible players to showcase his skills. He stood out in the game, scoring a goal and adding an assist as he played on Team Orr’s top line. The day before, the speedy forward wowed scouts in a skills competition, earning top-three finishes in five categories, including first in Weave Agility with Puck and second in Weave Agility.
Following the regular season, Yamamoto was named to the WHL’s Western Conference Second All-Star Team. He earned the Chiefs’ Player of the Year award on March 18.
Jaret Anderson-Dolan, with a September 12 birthday, is just four days away from missing the cut-off for this year’s draft and as such, is one of the youngest prospects many NHL scouts will have evaluated. That didn’t stop him from commanding attention and dropping jaws, as the 17-year-old forward annihilated his impressive rookie season numbers (14-12-26) with 39 goals and 37 assists for 76 points. He was named the club’s Player’s Player and Coaches’ Player.
Originally a first-round selection (14th overall) in the 2014 WHL Bantam Draft, “JAD” grew stronger as the year went along, posting 55 points, including 29 goals, over the final 44 games of the season. He recorded seven multi-goal games and sent the hats flying three times.
Anderson-Dolan scored a goal in six straight games in late January and early February, capped by his 30th goal of the season on February 10 at Portland. With that score, he became just the fourth player in franchise history to score 30+ goals in their 17-year-old season, joining standouts Travis Green (33; 1987-88), Ray Whitney (57; 89-90) and Pat Falloon (60; 89-90). Those three Chiefs legends were all drafted in the early rounds of the NHL Entry Draft (23rd, 23rd and 2nd overall, respectively) and went on to play a combined 2,875 games in the NHL, led by Whitney’s 1,330.
If he matches his improvement from year one to year two (+178% goals and +192% points), Anderson-Dolan will score 108 goals and 222 points next season. The official company line on that projection will remain “highly unlikely”, but…
Ethan McIndoe made a name for himself this year in front of opponent nets, creating screens and scoring greasy, hard-working goals. The efforts paid off, as the second-year winger doubled his goals total from eight to 17 while adding nine assist for a career-high 26 points in 67 games. The 17-year-old out of Camrose, Alberta was recognized with the organization’s first annual Hardest Working Player Award.
Dawson Weatherill was acquired by the Chiefs from Red Deer on September 28 and displayed his potential as a future standout netminder. The 17-year-old appeared in 36 games between the pipes, posting a 3.58 GAA and .885 SV% while earning an 11-14-4-2 record.
He showed flashes of brilliance throughout the season, highlighted by a 44-save, one-goal performance at Seattle on October 10 and a 36-save, two-goal game against the same Thunderbirds in Spokane on January 8. He allowed two or fewer goals against in 13 appearances (nine starts).
Hudson Elynuik, who was drafted in the third round (74th overall) of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft by the Carolina Hurricanes, had a career year offensively, posting highs in games played (64), goals (29), assists (44) and points (73) among others. He led the team with four shorthanded goals and scored his first career hat trick in a five-point effort on Nov. 25.
The 6-foot-5 forward joined the Charlotte Checkers (AHL) to finish this season on an amateur tryout basis, but he has not yet appeared in a game and has not yet signed his Entry-Level Contract with the Hurricanes.
By the end of the regular season, the Chiefs were icing up to five 16-year-olds, including three 16-year-old defenseman; a rare feat even for a young team. Led by former first overall bantam selection Ty Smith, 16-year-old players combined for a staggering 201 games played, including 123 by defensemen, while rookies in general accounted for a whopping 372 games played and 109 points.
Smith, who quickly pushed for top pairing minutes and first unit power play time, finished 13th in the WHL among all rookies with 32 points (5 goals, 27 assists). He ranked tied for third among 16-year-olds and second among 16-year-old blueliners, one point behind Lethbridge’s Calen Addison. His performance ranks 2nd among 16-year-old defensemen in Chiefs history, one point behind Sean Gillam (1992-93), and 11th among 16-year-olds overall. He was named the organization’s Rookie of the Year and Scholastic Player of the Year. Smith also competed in the 2016 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, captaining Team Canada Black to a silver medal.
Matt Leduc, the Chiefs’ second round pick in the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft, finished with 47 games played, picking up six assists to go with an impressive +10 rating. The towering 6-foot-4 defenseman came into his own during the second half of the season as he was pushed into more playing time with fellow defensemen Jeff Faith and Nolan Reid battling injuries.
Eli Zummack, a 16-year-old forward out of Kelowna, B.C., began the season with his hometown Okanagan Rockets, dominating his way to 20 points (6 goals, 14 assists) in only 10 games to earn a full-time call up to the Chiefs in late November. Originally acquired by the Chiefs in the same trade that sent Adam Helewka to Red Deer during the 2015-16 season, Zummack flourished at the WHL level, picking up nine goals and 13 assists for 22 points in 50 games, all while earning only six penalty minutes on his way to the team’s Ken Rabel Most Sportsmanlike Player of the Year award. Zummack joined Smith on Team Canada Black at the 2017 World U-17 Hockey Challenge.
Wrapping up key 16-year-old contributions were forward Koby Morrisseau and late-season call-ups Luke Gallagher and Donovan Buskey. Morrisseau played in 22 games, scoring one goal and one assist before an injury sidelined him for the remainder of the season. Gallagher picked up an assist in 10 games while Buskey appeared in four games in goal, highlighted by a 31-save performance in his first of two WHL starts.
Hayden Ostir, as a 17-year-old in his second year, gained momentum as the season progressed, including a stretch of points in 6-of-8 games in February. The Winnipeg native jumped from three points last season to 19, including eight goals, in 52 games.
Koby Morrisseau, the Chiefs’ second of two first round bantam picks in 2015, scored his first career goal versus Portland on October 15.
In total, all Chiefs rookies combined with 17-year-old second-year players combined for 604 games played, posting 96 goals and 134 assists for 230 points while piling up 2,057 minutes in goal. By comparison, the same distinction of rookies plus second-year 17-year-olds during the 2015-16 season played 519 games, with 157 points (55 goals, 102 assists) and 1,169 minutes in goal. During 2014-15, those numbers drop to 436 GP and 118 points, with 1,331 goalie minutes. In 2013-14, there were 435 GP with 104 points and zero time in net.
End of Yamamoto Brothers Era
Keanu Yamamoto, older brother of Kailer, graduates out of the WHL following the 2016-17 season due to age. During his overage (20-year-old) season, the Spokane native piled up 69 points on 26 goals and 43 assists, including a team-leading 24 power play assists. He was one of three players (joined by Anderson-Dolan and captain Tyson Helgesen) to play in all 72 games.
Keanu was originally listed in 2013, shortly after the Chiefs drafted Kailer in the fifth round of that summer’s bantam draft. He impressed as a 17-year-old at camp and made the opening night roster, scoring 11 goals and 25 points as a rookie. After a 29-point sophomore season, the Mead High School graduate erupted for 22 goals and 32 assists for 54 points as a 19-year-old, preempting his strong 20-year-old season to complete his junior career.
One of the most memorable moments from Keanu’s final season will surely be his six-assist game versus Vancouver on November 25, one shy of the franchise record for most assists in a game. He also scored the annual Teddy Bear Toss goal against the Kootenay ICE on December 9. Keanu finished the season with 17 multi-point games, including three with two goals. In his final game, he picked up a “Gordie Howe Hat Trick” with two goals, an assist and a fighting major.
At the Chiefs’ home opener on October 1, defenseman Tyson Helgesen was named the organization’s 30th team captain, replacing two-year captain Jason Fram, who graduated after his overage season in 2015-16. Helgesen, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound all-around blueliner out of Calgary, was originally a fifth round (102nd overall) bantam draft pick in 2012. He finished with eight goals and 29 points in 72 games to go with a career-high 75 penalty minutes.
Helgesen’s nomination marked the fifth consecutive season in which the Spokane’s captain has been a defenseman. Should he return as captain next season, he will become the sixth Chief to wear the “C” for two consecutive years.
Into the Record Book
- Kailer Yamamoto becomes the seventh Chief to lead the team in points two years in a row and just the second to do so as a 17 and 18-year-old (Travis Green).
- Kailer Yamamoto becomes the first Chief to lead the team in game-winning goals three years in a row.
- Kailer Yamamoto’s 42 goals rank t-24th by a Chief in a single season. His 57 assists rank t-19th. His 99 points rank 17th.
- Ty Smith’s 32 points rank 11th in scoring by a 16-year-old. His 27 assists rank t-6th.
- Eli Zummack’s 22 points rank 16th among 16-year-olds. His 13 assists rank t-14th.
- Kailer Yamamoto jumps to 16th in franchise history with 143 career assists. He is now tied for 17th with 227 points. He is tied for 12th in career points per game with 1.19.
- Changes to franchise leaders in games played: Keanu Yamamoto (t-19th; 271), Tyson Helgesen (65th; 191), Kailer Yamamoto (66th; 190), Hudson Elynuik (t-81st; 174).
- Don Nachbaur jumped to 1st in career games coached for Spokane with 496.
- Chiefs set new record for fewest penalty minutes in one game with zero against Everett on November 12.
New Man at the Helm
Scott Carter was announced as the Chiefs’ new general manager on September 8, replacing long-time GM Tim Speltz, who became Director of Western Area Scouting for the Toronto Maple Leafs after 26 years in the front office for the Chiefs.
A Penticton, B.C. native, Carter boasts 28+ years of experience as a hockey scout, business manager and entrepreneur. He was an NHL regional scout from 1987-2015, President & GM of the Penticton Vees from 2004-2008, BCHL Executive of the Year in 2005, co-founder of the BCHHF in 1991, co-founder of the WPHL in 1994 and has been a full partner in Vaughn Custom Sports since 1996.
Spokanites continued to prove why they are some of the best fans in the Western Hockey League, with well over 200,000 fans (209,225) pouring through the Spokane Arena gates to cheer on the Chiefs, including nine crowds of over 8,100. Attendance increased by 1,698 (+47/game) from the 2015-16 season and put the Chiefs fourth in the WHL, behind only Edmonton, Calgary and Portland.