|Jake Morrissey - Marissa Baecker photo|
- The Kelowna Rockets are now 2 and 1 in the pre-season. What this exercise has essentially allowed the coaching staff is the ability to see numerous prospects in a game situation. The defending WHL champs are icing a young, young team with close to eight regulars attending NHL training camps. They will look vastly different when Rourke Chartier, Tyson Baillie, Nick Merkley, Justin Kirkland, Jackson Whistle, Devante Stephens and Cole Linaker return. Whistle, Stephens and Linaker have all played one pre-season game. The others haven't. Veterans Riley Stadel and Tomas Soustal haven't seen the ice in pre-season either. Essentially the team's top four returning forwards won't wear a Rockets uniform until opening night on September 25th.
- With a mostly rookie line up, several players have stood out. Cole Lind, in my opinion, has been one of the best forwards at camp. The Shaunavon, Saskatchewan resident is tied for the team lead in points (1+2=3 in three games) and looks confident with the puck. Lind had several scoring chances as a 15 year-old call-up last year and simply couldn't finish against better quality WHL goaltending. I can't see why Lind can't make a solid contribution on the hockey club this season.
- Cal Foote has the biggest upside among the defenceman in camp. Foote is big, smart and knows his limitations. A three assist effort Saturday in a 4-3 pre-season win over the Kamloops Blazers was impressive. Surprisingly, Foote isn't overly aggressive. But in saying that, I anticipate that coming along as he becomes more accustomed to the WHL game. Clearly his offensive instincts are there. What is Foote's greatest attribute? Likely his modesty. Foote doesn't think he is better than he is. You want a player to have confidence, but to respect the game and be cautious with the puck by making calculated decisions with it. My belief is Foote recognizes danger, which is often lost in a younger defenceman who likes to handle the puck.
- The goaltending battle is an intriguing one. Jake Morrissey and Michael Herringer are calmly going about their business to see who will back up Jackson Whistle. It is a dead heat if you look at statistics alone. Both have had solid starts with goals against averages mirroring one another. If these two goalies are so close, how do you decide who goes and who stays? Age favours Morrissey. The Calgary resident is just shy of being two years younger than Herringer. The Rockets aren't in a massive rebuild though, which usually allows a team to play a younger goalie. If you have a veteran group, which the Rockets do, why would you go with a younger goaltender, or is the train of thought that with a 20 year-old like Whistle as your starter, you can insulate Morrissey and bring him along slowly with twenty odd appearances this season? Let's dig deeper to separate these two goalies. You have to ask the question on who is the better teammate? Who brings a positive attitude to the rink? Who works hard at practice? Who is more committed to his craft? Those are small details, but important ones as a back up. Only the coaches know that answer.
- Thanks to a long playoff run in 2014-2015, Dillon Dube played 64 Western Hockey League games. While being a rookie, the Golden, BC born Dube didn't look wide eyed. Dube found the back of the net 22 times, so is a 25 goal season out of the question in his draft year? Dube only played three regular season games in the first two months of the season in 2014-2015 because of injury. If he can stay healthy, the high end prospect, who is rated as a first round pick in next summer's draft, will be a major player in the team's offensive success.
- If Rourke Chartier returns for his 19 year-old season, which I believe he will after a long look by the NHL's San Jose Sharks, a good possibility exists that we could see him playing with fellow first round bantam picks Nick Merkley and Dillon Dube on the power play. That's a lethal unit to put out on the ice if you are looking at generating a goal. Thanks to head scout Lorne Frey, Chartier was the team's first round pick in 2011. Merkley was taken in the opening round in 2012 and Dube was taken with the team's first pick in 2013. That's hitting a home run in three consecutive drafts.
- Of the 'big three' first round bantam picks, Dube was chosen 21st. That is the second to last pick in the opening round. Chartier was chosen 15th overall while Merkley was plucked as the ninth best player in the bantam draft from 2012.