Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Ten Things I Took Away from Wheat Kings' Training Camp

1) The Wheat Kings' future looks really bright.

2011 first round draft picks Kord Pankewicz and Jordan Papirny looks as good as advertised. Pankewicz needs to refine his defensive game, but is a tremendous skater with good puck skills and Papirny has the look of a top-end goaltender who might be able to make the jump to the WHL as early as next season. In addition, Jayce Hawryluk looks like he might have been a steal at 32nd overall and I was also impressed with Ryley Lindgren and Dallas Starodub. Third rounder John Quenneville hurt his shoulder in Rookie Camp so I didn't get a chance to see him as much as the others.

2) First impressions good, but jury still out on Imports.

Alessio Bertaggia looked skilled enough to make an immediate contribution and didn't mind the physical aspect of the game. Bruno Mraz missed some time with injury, but also had some spirited play. As I told numerous people over the weekend, I usually reserve judgement on imports until October, because what you see in training camp and the pre-season isn't necessarily what you see when the 'real' season starts. However, both Bertaggia and Mraz made good first impressions.

3) Second-year goaltenders Liam Liston and Corbin Boes are ready to take a step forward.

The Wheat Kings' answered the goaltending question a lot earlier this year than twelve months ago. When the club broke camp in 2010, they still had five goaltenders on their pre-season roster. This year, they have two in incumbents Liam Liston and Corbin Boes, and there wasn't a serious challenge to the duo's status during training camp. Boes showed up for camp about an inch taller and 20 pounds heavier while Liston was actually a little lighter than a year ago. Both looked okay, but Liston still appears to be fighting the puck more than I'd like to see. Hopefully, that'll be corrected during the pre-season. Brandon finished 17th in the WHL in GAA (3.67) and 21st in SPCT (.882) last season -- numbers that need to improve.

4) Michael Ferland is ready for prime time.

After notching 23 goals a year ago, Michael Ferland appears ready to take the next step and become a serious scoring threat in his third season with the Wheat Kings. The key to Ferland's offensive success might be curbing his extraciricular activities on the ice. If his hit on Ryley Miller and slash to the back of Mark Stone's legs during training camp scrimmages is any indication, that's still a work in progress.

5) The Wheat Kings' have some new offensive threats.

Jens Meilleur looked like someone ready to step forward into a more offensive role, and his three point performance in Sunday's intrasquad game proves it. Jason Swyripa missed most of training camp with a knee injury, so we'll have to take a wait-and-see approach on him while Tyrel Seaman looked comfortable centring a line that included Mark Stone Saturday and Sunday. Is that a relationship that will continue to grow?

6) I'm concerned about Brenden Walker's status.

Brenden Walker sat out training camp after concussion symptoms returned following an on-ice workout prior to camp. Walker would be a top-six forward for the Wheat Kings this season but the fact his head issues remain more than five months after the blind-side hit from Medicine Hat's Hunter Shinkaruk in the playoffs last March is a major concern. By the way, how inadequate does Shinkaruk's one-game suspension for the offence look now?
Speaking of head injuries, Ryley Milller suffered (at least publicly) two concussions last season and the fact he couldn't absorb a big hit from Ferland during a training camp scrimmage and continue on also leaves me a little worried.

7) The kids on the defence corp look good.

Aryton Nikkel looks like he's ready to step in and play as a top-six blueliner right now. I was more impressed with Colton Waltz at training camp this year than I was when I saw him in his regular season callup last February and Dylan Kuczek looked okay as well. The three rookies join seven returnees on a crowded Wheat Kings' blueline. There's no doubt a thinning out process will need to take place at some point.

8) The 20-year old question is different than most years.

The Wheat Kings don't have players competing for 20-year old spots because they only have two on their roster in Paul Ciarelli and Brodie Melnychuk. Melnychuk, who suffered a fractured wrist during training camp, is a lock but Ciarelli needs to show something in order to keep the Wheat Kings from shopping for two 20-year olds instead of one. I'm a firm believer that 20-year olds need to be top-six forwards, top-four D or the #1 goaltender and I'd be lying if I said Ciarelli, who has 35 points in 172 career WHL games, fit that bill perfectly. However, I thought he played well during training camp and if he can be a 3rd-line centre that scores 15 goals and is one of the Wheat Kings' top penalty killers, then I'd have a spot for him.

9) Young Players are more media savvy than ever before.

I did a number of interviews with some of the young prospects on the Wheat Kings, including 15-year olds Ryley Lindgren, Jordan Papirny and Jayce Hawryluk. It might be partly personality, but the speaking skills of young players has improved dramatically over the past few years. It might also have to do with more and more media spotlight on them at a younger age.

10) My scouting prowness has apparently improved.

I'll never claim to be as knowledgable as the Wheat Kings' management, coaching and scouting team but as I do every year, I marked down my list of players who'd be around for the pre-season during Saturday night's session. Turns out, I pegged the 27-player roster correctly though I had them keeping one more forward than they actually did.

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