Next: The Hawks (13-3-1-0) play Friday at Vancouver (5-12-0-0), 7:30 p.m., and Saturday at Spokane (13-6-0-0), 7 p.m., and against Kamloops (17-2-0-1) at 5 p.m. Sunday in Veterans Memorial Coliseum. After that, Portland is at Kamloops on Nov. 16.

In last season’s playoffs, the Hawks downed Kamloops 4-3, with Mac Carruth outdueling Cam Lanigan in goal in a 2-0 game seven.

Portland coach Mike Johnston says he isn’t surprised by the Blazers’ strong start this season. “They’re basically the same team,” he says. “We had a 10-player turnover, and I think they had two or three.”

Carruth is 6-0 in goal for Portland, with 1.00 goals allowed per game and a .959 save percentage.

One of the main areas the Winterhawks have been able to bolster in recent years is at center. “A few years ago, we were really weak at the center ice position,” he says, “and so we started to draft more centermen. Most of our current forwards have played center at one time. It’s great asset to have.”

The current crop has a mix of strong points.

“We have guys good defensively and guys who are a little more offensive,” Johnston says, “but it wasn’t like we really looked for that.”

Taylor PetersThe list includes Nicolas Petan, Chase De Leo and Brendan Leipsic, both about 5-9 and 165 to 170 pounds; big Taylor Peters, 6-3, 205; and WHL rookies Presten Kopeck, Keegan Iverson and Dominic Turgeon.

The feisty Leipsic had 28 goals and 30 assists in 65 games last season and is back after missing some of the early going this season with an injury.

Petan and De Leo are on a better pace statistically. Petan had 14 goals and 21 assists in 2011-12, while De Leo had 14 goals and 16 assists. Through 17 games this season, Petan is at 8-19 and De Leo 6-7.

“Petan and De Leo been good offensively, taking a step up from where they were as 16-year-olds,” Johnston says.

Peters, one of the three overage (hockey age 20) players that the WHL allows each team to carry, has been important to the team in multiple ways.

“He probably has been our MVP at times,” Johnston says. “He kills penalties, is out there on power plays, and does lot of things five-on-five that impact the game.”

The Winterhawks were second in the Western Hockey League in penalty killing (89.5 percent) as of Wednesday.

“Peters is key guy there,” Johnston says. “He’s got a lot of game and playoff experience, and it won’t surprised me if, in the next couple months, he gets signed by an NHL team. He’s definitely NHL quality.”

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