Talented quartet of 16-year-olds hoping their WHL future is now
© Times-Herald photo by Matthew Gourlie
Dustin Perillat, right, dodges a hit Thursday night in the first rookie scrimmage at Moose Jaw Warriors training camp.
They’re quickly becoming friends and some day they hope to be teammates.
However, right now a quartet of 16-year-old defencemen are fighting hard for a spot on the Moose Jaw Warriors roster.
The Warriors have signed Tyler Brown, Ryan Gardiner, Dustin Perillat and Christos Zinis to standard WHL player contract and all four enter training camp with their sights set on a roster spot.
“We definitely push each other a lot. I think we’re pretty even. It’s going to be a tough challenge. All four of us are going to try to make the team and I think we have a good shot,” said Perillat who played with the Saskatoon Blazers last year.
To be clear if they play well, there’s a strong chance one of them will get a long look. But that’s the catch: the four of them are fighting each other for that opportunity.
“There’s a little bit of competition, but at the same we’re still good friends,” said Zinis who is from Broomfield, Colo. “Hopefully in the next few years we’ll all be teammates.”
The Warriors have six veteran defencemen, plus Russian rookie Alexei Sleptsov. Those may look like long odds, but the Warriors brass really believe there’s room for one or two of the 16-year-olds to push for a roster spot.
The group is pretty diverse. Zinis and Brown are American, while Perillat and Gardiner are from Saskatoon and Winnipeg respectively, yet all four have bonded in their time at camps with the Warriors.
They know and respect each other’s games, which is why they know how hard it will be to be the first of the 97 defencemen to crack the roster.
“It’s going to be a real challenge. We’ve got some good defencemen here. We’re all going to work hard and it’s going to be the one who works the hardest that is going to get the chance,” said Gardiner who had 19 points in 31 games with the Winnipeg Thrashers a year ago.
“It’s great competition and when you’re on the ice you have no friends, you just have to fight to get the job.”
Zinis got a brief taste of the league last year and made his debut in Regina.
“I learned that everything is way faster. It’s pretty much a marker that shows where I need to be this year and next year,” said Zinis who six-foot-one and would join the Arizona Bobcats this season if he doesn’t crack the Warriors roster. “I need to be a physical presence and I need to work hard. I think it’s everyone’s goal to separate from the pack and show them what they have to offer.”
Like Zinis, Perillat offers a little more physical edge to his game. Still he’s looking to keep things simple.
“I need to move my feet and not let those older guys beat me wide. I need to keep my feet moving and make that first pass,” said Perillat who had nine points and 57 penalty minutes in 27 games with the Blazers last season. He went to camp with the midget AAA Moose Jaw Generals and would play there if reassigned by the Warriors.
“You always have to play the body and make sure they know you’re there. I need to play my game and be smart,” added Perillat.
Brown hails from East Olympia, Wash. but has played his AAA hockey in Omaha, Neb. Brown is hoping to build off of a strong Warriors prospects camp in the summer.
“Against the older guys it’s a big leap,” said Brown who feels that showing he has the speed to play at the WHL and his conditioning will be the keys to securing a roster spot. “At rookie camp I want to play my game, but maybe be a little more offensive. At main camp I need to take care of my zone and go from there.”
They all hope it’s their spot, but if one of them can beat the odds and make the team, they say they would get over their personal disappointment pretty quickly.
“Each one of these guys is a special player and whoever gets it, obviously worked hard,” said Brown.