1) Who will the Rockets three overage players be this season?
Right now the team has four 20 year-old's. Defenceman MacKenzie Johnston is joined by last years leading scorer Myles Bell, fourth year forward Zach Franko and goaltender Jordon Cooke. Hard to imagine at this time last year the team had only two overage players with Mitchell Chapman hobbling around with a bad ankle and Spencer Main hampered by a series of concussions. The Rockets had to wait for other WHL teams to essentially release 20 year-old's before picking up JT Barnett and Cody Fowlie off waivers from Everett and making a minor deal with the Kootenay Ice for Dylen McKinlay. As it turned out all three made significant contributions to the teams record setting 52 win season. I anticipate general manager Bruce Hamilton taking a hard look at what other teams do with their overagers at cut down day (October 10th) and then determine which three gives his team the best chance at winning. If I'm a betting man, the safest 20 year-old of the four currently on Rockets roster is Myles Bell.
2) Does Myles Bell return for his 20 year-old season?
3) After backing up Jordon Cooke in goal last season, does 18 year-old Jackson Whistle make a legitimate bid for the starting job this season?
There was no question last season that it was time for Jordon Cooke to stand up and show those around the WHL that he indeed had the makings of a solid WHL starter. Cooke won 37 times and had a consecutive win streak that stretched to a franchise record 20 games. The then 19 year-old appeared in 54 of the teams 72 regular season games, a huge contrast to the 25 he appeared in the year prior. While he was criticized for giving up some soft goals in the playoffs, he again lost only twice in regulation time in 11 playoff starts with four of those six losses in post season coming in overtime. What has many wondering if Whistle can be a legitimate number one goalie is his 15 and 2 record last season and his impressive 1.93 goals against average. On top of that his save percentage was a mind boggling .930. I want everyone to remember that eight of Whistle's 15 wins in 2012-2013 came against non-playoff teams. Can Whistle be a starting goaltender in this league? Sure he can, but when the puck drops on September 20th I anticipate everyone would be a tad more comfortable with Cooke at the controls and Whistle providing a solid insurance policy.
4) After two years as captain, who replaces Colton Sissons as team leader?
Colton Sissons will participate in Rockets main camp, but trust me his days with the organization are done. He is about to become 20, is signed by Nashville, and is ready for the pro game. So with Sissons' departure after two seasons as captain, who takes over the captaincy of the team in 2013-2014? You always look to the older player to fill the void. Myles Bell, if he returns to junior, may be the best bet but their are younger players on the roster that may not be ready to take the baton from Sissons just yet but are a year away from becoming a member of the leadership group. I think Rourke Chartier would be a great captain, but he is still a year or two away from assuming that role. Tyson Baillie showed in the playoffs last year that he is a warrior and could also wear the 'C' if he too were a year or two older. For now, my belief is Myles Bell is the best bet to become captain because of the respect he has among his teammates. Being acclimated to captain isn't easy. Just ask Sissons. It essentially took him two years to get used to the role. Does Bell even want the added pressure of leader being thrust upon his shoulders? This could be one of the most interesting developments in the first few weeks of the regular season to see who is named captain and who is added to the leadership group as assistants.
5) How many 16 year-old's will the Rockets carry this season?
Usually the team carries three 16 year-old rookies. Last year, Rourke Chartier, Austin Glover and Riley Stadel filled those spots. This season with a team that returns all but four players from last years roster, two 16 year-old's may be all their is room for. Without question Nick Merkley, the Rockets first round pick from two seasons ago, finds himself taking up one spot but who is handed the second spot with limited duty? With a extremely heavy laden defensive core with all seven players returning from last season, does newcomer Joe Gatenby find himself in the mix? Gatenby was the Rockets second overall pick in 2012 and played last season with the Midget Okanagan Rockets. When the team won a WHL title in 2009 they managed to dress three 16 year-old's. Outside of Tyson Barrie, Kyle Verdino and Curt Gogol saw very little ice time. Does Gatenby want to be sitting out as a healthy scratch because he can't play in the teams top six d-men or is he better suited for another season of midget hockey to perfect his game? The view may be that he will learn more by practicing with the team and playing the odd WHL game over another year in the BCMMHL.
Without question the next five weeks or so will be interesting times as we find out the answers to all five questions being posed on this latest blog entry.