Silver lining for Silvertips

NHL lockout is the WHL Everett Silvertips' gain as Ryan Murray returns for another season of Major Junior.

Mark Ferner will look down his bench tonight in Everett and make sure defenceman Ryan Murray isn’t sitting anywhere near the spare goalie. Murray will likely play close to 30 minutes against the Prince George Cougars

Ferner and the Everett Silvertips pretty much won the lottery when Murray, a first-round draft pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets and the best 18-year-old defenceman on the planet, returned to Washington State when the NHL lockout was announced.

“We’re pretty lucky,” Ferner told me Friday afternoon. “This is the kind of kid he is…he apologized to me that he wasn’t here for our training camp. He’s just the salt of the earth. We don’t know how long he’ll be here. I’ve heard Jan. 1 but we know he’s gone as soon as the lockout is over.

“It’s good for our young guys, the whole team, the fans and our league.”

Ferner only had Murray for a partial season in his first year as head coach due to injuries and the world junior championships. Murray played enough to help get the Tips one playoff round.

Loaded with young kids with huge upsides, the Tips will “have trouble scoring again,” but their goal remains to make the postseason. The Pipe Line bloggers Dean Millard and Guy Flaming pick the Tips to finish last in the Western Conference.

Vernon’s Zach McPhee and Ryan Harrison of Vernon-Kelowna are back in Everett. Harrison, named an alternate captain as a 20-year-old, must still serve a four-game suspension from last year.

“Zach looked really good in the preseason,” said Ferner. “He’s turned a corner for sure and he’s been good for our young kids. He’s a good safe player. He’s a big body who understands what we’re trying to do. We’re young up front so he might see some time in the middle.”

Murray will anchor a blueline core which includes 6-foot-5 monsters Austin Adam of Surrey and Ben Betker of Cranbrook, along with rookie 6-foot-4 Swiss import Mirco Mueller, who Ferner really likes.

Everett acquired Penticton goalie Cole Holowenko from the Prince Albert Raiders in exchange for D Evan Morden and goaltender Andy Desautels the other day.

Holowenko, a 19-year-old former Merritt Centennial, spent last season as Prince Albert’s primary goaltender. He was brought in to give the Tips an experienced option to go along with Austin Lotz.

Everybody and their cat is picking the Edmonton Oil Kings to rule the Eastern Conference and get back to the Memorial Cup in Saskatoon. Sniper Brendan Ranford and the Kamloops Blazers are being tabbed as favourites in the West with Ty Rattie and the Portland Winterhawks and Madison Bowey and the Kelowna Rockets just behind them.

The Oil Kings, who expect a stellar sophomore season from Vernon’s Curtis Lazar, beat the Kootenay ice 5-3 in their home opener Thursday night before almost 11,000 fans. The 50-50 pot was $10,287.

Cody Nickolet of the WHL From Above blog lists net detective Chris Driedger of the Calgary Hitmen, an Ottawa Senators’ draft, as No. 1 in his top-25 players to watch, just ahead of Lazar.

Writes Nickolet on Lazar: “He came on strong in the second half last year and was fantastic in the WHL playoffs. He’s in the running as a top-10 pick in the 2013 NHL draft and could end up as the WHL’s highest drafted forward when next June roles around. He definitely sits near the top of this list of 25 in regards to my overall interest level.”

The lockout will of course really help the big-market teams like Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver, where NHL and WHL franchises share fans.

In the last full-season lockout in 2004-05, the Saskatoon Blades say they saw an increase of as much as 30 per cent in attendance.

The Giants will salute Burnaby’s Joe Sakic on Feb. 1 when the Rockets visit Pacific Coliseum.

Sakic, 43, won two Stanley Cups with the Colorado Avalanche. He will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto on Nov. 12.

Sakic played two seasons (1986-88) with the Swift Current Broncos, winning the WHL scoring title in 1977-78 with 78 goals and 160 points. Theo Fleury of Moose Jaw also had 160 points, while Mark Recchi of Kamloops compiled 154 points and Portland’s Troy Mick racked up 63 goals and 147 points, three points ahead of linemate Dennis Holland.

Look for 18-year-old D Seth Jones of the Winterhawks to be the league’s biggest impact newcomer in a decade. Jones, who forced a trade away from Everett, is a candidate to be selected first overall in next year’s NHL draft. He is the son of former NBA player Popeye Jones.