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NAHL Preview/Predictions

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After four days at the NAHL Showcase, where I got to see every team at least once, I figured I would take a stab at how I think the league's final standings will shake out. It's still early, and things could change quite a bit as teams make a few rosters moves heading into divisional play, but this is how I would rank the teams.

Central Division

1. Bismarck Bobcats

2. Aberdeen Wings

3. Austin Bruins

4. Alexandria Blizzard

5. Minot Minotauros

This may be the weakest division in the league. Bismarck looks like a pretty good team, but after that, there's just not much to choose from. Aberdeen and Austin look improved after rough expansion seasons, while Minot looks like they'll go through the same expansion growing pains this year.

Midwest Division

1. St. Louis Bandits

2. Coulee Region Chill

3. Springfield Jr. Blues

4. Janesville Jets

5. Chicago Hitmen

St. Louis just seems to have a perennially strong program. Coulee might be the fastest team in the league. Springfield has a huge team and I think they would be a force in the more physical, slower Northern or Southern Divisions, but St. Louis and Coulee are two teams that have the speed necessary to counteract Springfield's size. Janesville is solid and off to a good start. They could certainly finish much higher in the division. Chicago isn't very good and in a tough division. It looks like a long year for them.

North Division

1. Kalamazoo Jr. K-Wings

2. Port Huron Fighting Falcons

3. Michigan Warriors

4. Traverse City North Stars

5. Jamestown Ironmen

Teams 1-4 in this division all appear to be pretty close. It seems like the weakest division, but three of the five teams came out of the Showcase undefeated, so maybe it's stronger than it appears, and any given night in this division should produce some interesting hockey. Marc Fakler has assembled a pretty impressive group for an expansion team. Port Huron will likely be the best story in junior hockey this season. After winning just 6 of their 58 games played last year, they've already got 3 wins. They're not exciting offensively, but they're big and play defense well.

South Division

1. Topeka Road Runners

2. Amarillo Bulls

3. Corpus Christi Ice Rays

4. Texas Tornado

5. Wichita Falls Wildcats

6. New Mexico Mustangs

7. Odessa Jackalopes

It makes sense that the league's largest division is also the deepest with teams 1-5 nearly interchangeable. Topeka are the defending champs. Amarillo was the one expansion team last year to be decent, and they once again appear to have a team that isn't exciting in terms of individual talent, but has a lot of solid, veteran players. Corpus Christi is much improved from last year, Texas always has a strong team, and Wichita Falls is very talented, but very young.

West Division

1. Fairbanks Ice Dogs

2. Alaska Avalanche

3. Wenatchee Wild

4. Fresno Monsters

5. Kenai River Brown Bears

6. Dawson Creek Rage

This is the fastest division in the league. Fairbanks has the league's most exciting player in JT Osborn and some solid young talent. Alaska had a rough go at the Showcase, but should be a very solid team. Wenatchee has established themselves as a consistently strong. Fresno is much improved from last year, and could actually contend with the other top teams in this division.