Warriors post-season

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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

It had only been a few days since the Warriors ended their 2012 playoff run, but next season isn't that far away.

The Warriors will have their summer prospects camp in Caronport at the end of May. The Bantam Draft will be held Thursday.

The Warriors will be a vastly different team next year as they began to rebuild after loading up for a run this season.

The season may just be over, but here's a few speculative thoughts on the 2012-13 Warriors.

Goaltenders

This is probably the most interesting area to look at before the start of the season. The Warriors have Luke Siemens entering his overage season, with Spencer Tremblay backing up and rookies Justin Paulic and Daniel Wapple looking to crack the lineup.

Paulic, of course, started the final two games of the playoffs. That wasn't a desperate roll of the dice or a fluke occurrence. The Warriors brass are very high on both Paulic and Wapple (Wapple also got called up with the team earlier in the season, but didn't earn a start). Given the fact that he is an overage heading into a rebuilding season and has trade value, it seems reasonable to expect Siemens to be moved and for the Warriors to trust their younger goalies to carry the load next season.

Defence

The Warriors have a lot of talent coming back on the blue line. The question is, how much of that talent will they have coming back.

Morgan Rielly will be a very high draft choice this season. It's possible he could stay in the NHL next year, but after his knee surgery that seems less likely. Whether he stays or comes back again is mostly going to depend on who drafts him and what their thought process is on how best to develop players.

Captain Kendall McFaull has a month to be signed by the Winnipeg Jets. If the Jets give him a contract he will almost be guaranteed to be in the minors next year. If he doesn't, the Warriors would welcome him back with open arms.

The Warriors will bring back Joel Edmundson, Travis Brown, Shayne Gwinner and Braiden Doucette.

A possible X factor is Dallas Ehrhardt who is entering his 20-year-old season. There is space in an overage sense to keep Ehrhardt, but the blue line looks pretty crowded. Still, Ehrhardt had a very good playoff and it's possible that one of the other veterans hold more trade value.

If Rielly and/or McFaull come back, the Warriors will need to do something on the blue line.

Kirk Johnson saw some time as an affiliate this season and helped his Red Deer Optimist Rebels to a Telus Cup midget AAA national championship.

Add in big Spencer Morse (who dressed in Game 1 of the Regina series and was with the team during the playoffs) who is likely to push for regular ice time.

The bottom line is that the Warriors have a lot of players who can play in the league next year and given their inexperience up front and the number of draft picks they traded, don't be surprised if there are some defencemen dealt.

Forwards

The Warriors will likely lose six veteran forwards from the 2011-12 season.

In addition to defenceman Dylan McIlrath, forwards Quinton Howden and Cody Beach have signed NHL contracts. Consider them all to be gone. Swiss import Eric Arnold has signed in his homeland and Kenton Miller, Cam Braes and James Henry have all graduated.

That leaves a very young and inexperienced group up front. Though it isn't group without its share of talent.

It goes without saying that veterans like Andrew Johnson and Sam Fioretti will be leaned on to supply offence.

What happens with Justin Kirsch is another interesting subplot to the off-season and pre-season. Kirsch is a proven goal scorer who had 20 goals in 57 regular season games this season and 25 a year before. Kirsch should be good for 25-30 goals next season at least if he stays healthy. On the other hand he's an overage who was healthy scratched twice in the final two games of the playoffs.

With it being a rebuilding year and the Warriors looking to develop their young players, there's no reason not to expect high-end youngsters like Brayden Point, Torrin White, Carter Hansen and Miles Warkentine to get chances to play in prominent roles.

Add in players like Tanner Eberle and Jordan Wyton to fill a more checking, physical role and you can see the top-nine start to take shape.

Brandon Potomak should be an every day player next season, but I would have said the same thing a year ago. Brett Brooks didn't get a lot of playing time down the stretch and will need to earn spot in the line-up every day if he's going to stick with the team. Speedy Kurt Keats — who played for Team West at the Under-17 World Hockey Challenge — will have a very good chance at cracking the line-up next year as well. Keats, who was 16 this year, had 45 points (36 of those assists) in 57 games with the Junior A Winnipeg Blues. He was one of the youngest players in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.

The Warriors will be looking for a forward or two in the Import Draft, but whether they can get two players worth their while when they pick remains to be seen. Given where the team is in its development they would rather give a 16-year-old Canadian kid the minute to develop rather than an 18- or 19-year-old European who may not be much better short term and wouldn't help the team more long term.

The interesting thing about the forward group is that with the possible exception of Wyton and Kirsch, it's quite reasonable to expect every forward that makes the team will be back for 13-14 when the Warriors could have a pretty strong team once again.

Given how much room there is to make an impression, expect there to be some interesting battles and surprises out of camp with the forward group.

There didn't seem to be many free spots up for grabs a year ago and yet Brooks came out of left field to earn a roster spot and Sean Aschim surprised as well. There could be more list players and camp invitees that find a way into the mix.

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