Friday, 26 August 2011

10 Things to Ponder Prior to Training Camp

1) How long will the adjustment period take? For the first time in eight years, there's a new man behind the Wheat Kings' bench. Cory Clouston has a tremendous track record in junior hockey and comes to Brandon from an NHL job, so there's no doubting his credentials. However, the returning players will have to get used to what his expectations and philosophies are and Clouston will have to get a grasp of what each players capabilities are. That is bound to take some time but the shorter period it takes, the better.

2) Who will fill the empty 20-year old spot? Brodie Melnychuk and Paul Ciarelli are the only two 1991-born players on the roster at this point. If you take a quick glance at the Wheat Kings, you'll notice they have plenty of depth in goal and on the blueline so one would expect they'll be in the market for a forward. It's not likely they'll find a high-scorer, but it wouldn't surprise me to see them acquire someone that can contribute in the 25 goal range.

3) Who'll seize the #1 goaltending job? Liam Liston and Corbin Boes both had their ups-and-downs as rookies a year ago and Brandon finished near the bottom of the WHL with a team GAA of 3.67 and team SPCT of .882. Both of those marks will need to improve this year.

4) Can Bruno Mraz and/or Alessio Bertaggio have an immediate impact? The word is both could be very solid players and Bertaggio, particularly, could become an immediate offensive threat. However, the answer to this question can't be answered until at least October. No matter how they look in training camp or the pre-season, I've found that the true judgement of how an import will perform usually has to wait until the real games start.

5) Can Mark Stone repeat? Stone finished in a tie for third-place in the WHL Scoring race with 106 points last season, but that came mainly while playing on a line with Matt MacKay and Shayne Wiebe, both of whom graduated. Stone will need to find chemistry with new linemates but he did play with Michael Ferland during at least part of the post-season last year. The 19-year old will also take on even more responsibility leadership-wise, with my expectation he'll be the Wheat Kings' captain this season.

6) What can Ryan Pulock do for an encore? Pulock set a franchise record for points by a 16-year old defenceman last season (8 G, 34 A) and seems primed for another big year. The Grandview product plays a lot like Wade Redden. He's not overly physical, but is very efficient, is rarely out of position and makes very good first passes out of the defensive zone.

7) What other sophmore is expected to make a giant leap forward? There are plenty of candidates who could fit this bill but I'm going to narrow it to three, not including goaltenders Liston and Boes. Jordan Fransoo should be buoyed by being drafted by Ottawa in June, and has the potential to be a shutdown defenceman; Eric Roy seemed to get a lot more comfortable with regular playing time in the second half last season and could be a power-play quarterback and Tyrel Seaman could become a key big body with a return to his more natural centre position. He has the feel of a Ryan Kesler clone.

8) What rookies can step in and make an immediate contribution? Pre training camp impressions suggest 16-year old defenceman Ayrton Nikkel might be able to step into the lineup and contribute immediately. Nikkel was part of the haul from the Brayden Schenn trade with Saskatoon last January and in his one game with Brandon last season, he showed the potential to be a physical player with great offensive upside. With their depth on the blueline, the Wheat Kings will have the luxury of easing Nikkel into the WHL.

9) Who's this year's diamond in the rough? There always seems to be at least one player you don't expect to make that team that steps up and forces the team to keep them. Based on what I saw at Prospects Camp in May, my pick this year is Jake Palmer. Palmer was an eighth round pick in the 2010 WHL Bantam Draft, but already has good size (6-foot-1, 180 pounds) and pedigree. He's the son for former NHLer Brad Palmer.

10) Time to start lease talk? The Wheat Kings' 15-year lease with the Keystone Centre expires at the end of the 2011-2012 season and you can bet that now he's freed up some time by stepping out from behind the bench, Brandon GM Kelly McCrimmon will be pressing forward with negotiation as quickly as possible. Getting the Wheat Kings into a new long-term lease should be the first priority for incoming Keystone Centre GM Neil Thomson.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Awesome list

I too think that Jack Palmer will make this team and have a bit of an impact. He really grew this past year and has a nice soft set of hands.

I think if Bertaggia and Mraz provide some secondary offense Brandon could be one of the top teams in the east this year