Warriors camp 13
As the Moose Jaw Warriors open camp Thursday it promises to be one of the most competitive camps in recent memory.
There are virtually no unknown players with a realistic shot of cracking the lineup. Instead, the Warriors will be looking at their group of 34 signed players to fill their 23 or 24 rosters spots.
In goal things aren’t terribly complicated, but there are jobs up for grabs. GM Alan Millar has said that Justin Paulic enters the season as the team’s starting goalie. Paulic carried the load down the stretch. He started 26 straight games to finish the season as fellow 1995-born netminder Daniel Wapple recovered from a concussion.
Wapple and Paulic began the season splitting their starts, but Paulic’s play in the final months of the season have given him the upper hand.
Wapple took part in fitness testing at the Warriors’ summer camp and is reportedly symptom-free. He will be pushed by Zach Sawchenko, the Warriors top pick in 2012. Sawchenko is expected to be the goalie of the future, but it might too soon to expect him to beat out Wapple.
It may also not be in the best interests of his development to spend his 16-year-old season largely in a back-up role.
The defence could be incredibly cut-and-dried and it could be very complicated. With six possible returnees and new Russian rookie Alexei Sleptsov in the fold, the Warriors could stick with those seven if Morgan Rielly is returned from the Toronto Maple Leafs camp.
The Warriors could also look to fill their final 20-year-old spot on the blue line, but all indications are that they will wait to see which overagers are available at the cutdown and may wait longer than that to access their needs.
There are a few obvious assumptions going into camp:
Travis Brown will be back for his 19-year-old season. Sleptsov has his visa and his IIHF transfer and the Russian rookie will get a chance to adapt to life in Canada on and off the ice. Sleptsov should be an elite-level player, but will need time to adapt.
Tyler Bell, also 19, is basically a lock to regain his spot. He was a big part of the Joel Edmundson trade and adds some size and physicality to the blueline.
The biggest question heading into the season revolves around Rielly. Whether he is back with the Warriors is out of their hands. Rielly can only play for the Warriors or the Leafs, the American Hockey League is not an option. He can play nine NHL games before his NHL contract kicks in which virtually guarantees he would stay with the Leafs for the rest of the season.
At this point it’s entirely possible that the Leafs aren’t even sure where Rielly will be. He is expected to be given a real shot to make the team out of training camp. He played 14 regular season games and eight playoff games in the AHL last year after the Warriors season which will help his transition.
If Rielly is back the above should be the top-four pairings (barring the addition of a 20-year-old). Then it gets a little messier.
With Spencer Morse having been traded to Red Deer, the Warriors are left with two 95 defencemen coming back — Braiden Doucette and Kirk Johnson.
The writing was on the wall for Morse after he was sent home for a week due to an off-ice issue. Players that have run afoul of team rules haven’t lasted long under Millar and head coach Mike Stothers.
At the same time, there are some indications that Doucette and Johnson are going to be pushed in camp. Doucette and Johnson aren’t flashy, but Doucette got a little power play time last season and they are the front-runners to earn a roster spot. Yet, they will both have to earn that spot. Johnson only played 47 games last year and will need to re-establish himself.
Dallas Valentine (96), Royce Rossignol (96) and Christos Zinis (97) all played games last year for the Warriors. In fact Valentine joined the team for the rest of the season, but only played 13 games before a hip injury sidelined him for the rest of the year.
Valentine impressed in his short time in the league and should have a leg up for one of the last spots on the roster. Valentine showed an ability to skate well for a six-foot-two defenceman and didn’t make a lot of mistakes. Rossignol and Zinis offer similar size, but more of a physical presence.
Along with Zinis is three more 1997-born defencemen who have some potential Tyler Brown, Ryan Gardiner and Dustin Perillat.
At the prospects camp they all looked very close to ready to play in the WHL, but the question is if there’s any way one of them can force their way into the equation. Brown maybe stood out a little more in the summer, but whether his skating and passing will be as sharp at a higher level will be worth watching.
These four 97 defencemen will all take part in rookie camp and they will all be looking for a good start to camp to jockey for position on the depth chart to try to get into the top-eight.
The Warriors took another long look at Logan Hermus, a 96 who was a fourth round draft pick, at their prospects camp, but opted to forward without him. Hermus won two straight Telus Cup national midget AAA titles with Red Deer, but won’t be at main camp this year.
There are questions up front, but it’s a little more straight forwards than on defence. Sam Fioretti and Todd Fiddler, acquired from Spokane on draft day, will play in the top-six as 20-year-olds and both will be learned upon to score. Brayden Point is a lock to be up there with them and with his speed and growing scoring touch, it’s safe to say Tanner Eberle will be given a chance to play on one of the top two lines. Eberle showed the offensive potential to earn a top-six spot and he can skate with the Warriors’ top players. Failing that he brings a lot to the table as a checker.
Who will be up there with them? It might change as the year progresses, but Torrin White and Brandon Potomak seem like front-runners. Both are 95s and will be looked upon to fill a bigger role. Potomak’s speed earned him an offensive role late last season, but the goals didn’t go in for him. Still, he scored 20 goals in 34 games with Aldergrove in Junior B two years ago. Potomak’s lack of finish around the net reminded me a lot of Fioretti’s rookie season. Fioretti scored eight times, but easily could have had 20. In his second season he had 21. Potomak scored five and expecting him to reach 20 is probably a reach, but
White is a goal-scorer, the question is whether he can stay healthy for a full season. After scoring 10 goals as a rookie, White scored six times while only playing 43 games. This could be a big year for White who has scored at every level he has played at and was expected to be a goal-scorer when the Warriors selected him at the end of the first round.
The Warriors’ first pick, 10th overall, in that 2010 draft was Carter Hansen.
The 95-born centre struggled last season and is going to be pushed in camp this year. Hansen is six-foot-two and is a strong skater, but he struggled to be effective five-on-five last year. He was a strong penalty-killer, but spent much of the year on the fourth line. He had seven goals and 16 points, but his production decreased from his rookie season. Hansen should earn a bigger role, but it’s hard to imagine the Warriors giving fourth line ice time to an 18-year-old like Hansen rather than a 16-year-old.
Assuming Russian winger Alexander Chirva can get his visa, he will be with the team this year. He could develop into a scoring winger. He offers some size to a small forward group and could find himself on one of the top two lines.
One of the surprises of last year’s camp was Bryson Gore. He scored nine goals and had 16 points. It’s possible he could develop into a more offensive player, but with his speed and tenacity, he looks like a good fit on the third line.
Miles Warkentine, Josh Uhrich and Colton McCarthy all made the team as 16-year-olds and will look to push for a bigger role this season.
Warkentine has a track record of being a goal-scorer and could provide some size and scoring that the team could use. Uhrich had a strong second half as he threw big hit after big hit and made his presence known. He never backed down from a challenge and will be learned upon to provide more energy once again. It looks like McCarthy’s future is as an offensive player, but he will probably have to wait at least another year to earn that kind of a role. He had a huge scoring year in a Junior B league in B.C. when he scored 22 goals and 32 points in 32 games with the Nelson Leafs.
Those 96s should be safe in their roster spot, barring something unforeseen, but there are still five rookies who got call-ups last year who will be looking to earn a spot as well: Jayden Halbgewachs (97), Ethan Williams (97), Ben Duperreault (96), Brandon Del Grosso (96) and Darcy DeRoose (95) all saw regular season action.
Halbgewachs was Kamloops’ first round pick that the Warriors acquired in the Edmundson trade. First round picks usually make the jump to the WHL at 16, but Halbgewachs may benefit from another year playing AAA with the Regina Pat Canadians. The small forward can skate at the WHL level, there’s no doubt about that, but the offensive side of his game — which should be one of his strengths — may develop better getting lots of ice in midget rather than playing a diminished role at a higher level. He was the best player on the ice often at the prospect camp, so he could easily make the team. He definitely has a future in the WHL, the question is whether that future is now.
Duperreault scored his first WHL goal last year and despite his 5-7 frame, he would fit in fine in a checking role thanks to his speed and tenacity. With the Generals hosting the Telus Cup this year, it wouldn’t hurt him to be one of the Generals key offensive leaders. Even if he does return to Midget AAA, the fact that he is in the city and available could see him get some time with the big club one way or another.
Del Grosso had a solid offensive year in the B.C. Major Midget League a he picked up 43 points in 36 games on a good Vancouver Giants team. The 6-1 winger provides some size and should have a very good shot at making the team this season.
Williams was dynamic at the summer prospects camp, but whether he will be able to translate his game at main camp remains to be seen. The 16-year-old is only 5-9 and may benefit from another year of midget, but he had an excellent camp a year ago and he’ll be looking to stick around as long as possible this year.
Of the five non-roster players with a taste of the WHL, DeRoose is the oldest. The 18-year-old is 6-2, but is more of an offensive player. This is a make-or-break year for DeRoose who had 10 goals and 25 points and 87 PIMs in 46 games last season with the Estevan Bruins of the SJHL. DeRoose is most likely going to be fighting for a checking role and he’s going to have to play accordingly in camp to get a shot.
Finally Ethan Lazaro (97) didn’t get a taste of the WHL last season, but is right in the mix with players like Williams and Duperreault fighting for a shot to stick around and try to earn one of the final roster spots.
The main camp roster is notable by its total lack of unsigned prospects. There are no listed Junior A players, no players that were cast off from other WHL teams. Brett Brooks and Brayden Cuthbert won’t be at camp, neither will Jaden Sveinson — who was at the summer prospects camp — or 20-year-old Jordan Wyton who will play for the Brooks Bandits this year in the AJHL.
With Chirva waiting for his visa to come through, the Warriors have 17 forwards fighting for 13 spots (most likely) at camp.