Monday, August 28, 2017

Do the Rockets employ a 20 year old goalie again?

Cody Porter - Shoot the Breeze Photo
  •  Will the Kelowna Rockets employ a 20 year-old goaltender again this season? Cody Porter hopes so. With the graduation of Michael Herringer, Porter has been brought in to challenge for the number one job with 18 year-old Brodan Salmond (turns 19 in October). The North Vancouver, BC resident asked for a trade from the Calgary Hitmen this summer and while a deal wasn’t made; he was offered a free agent tryout with several teams – the Kelowna Rockets included. Porter, who interviews like a seasoned veteran, believes the Okanagan is the best place to end his WHL career. Porter, who doesn’t turn 20 until September 23rd, played two years of minor hockey at Pursuit of Excellence Hockey Academy before eventually joining the West Kelowna Warriors. Safe to say he is familiar with the area. After a brief stint in the BCHL, Porter moved up to the Vancouver Giants before being dealt to the Calgary Hitmen in a five player deal in October of 2015 with then teammate Jackson Houck and Jakob Stukel.        
  •  Porter has high expectations for the team he hopes to represent this season. Porter talked about winning the Memorial Cup and anything less would be a disappointing season. How do I view that comment? I love it. I don’t want a player, especially a veteran on my team that would be content by sitting in the middle of the pack in the Western Conference standings and choosing mediocrity. I like the fact that Porter has the bar set high heading into the season.
  •  I had my first look at 17 year-old European defenceman Libor Zabransky during Monday’s workout. The dude can definitely skate and has the look of a good player.  Chosen in the 1st round – 51st overall in the CHL Import draft, Zabransky won a silver medal by losing to Nolan Foote and Team Canada at the most recent Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup. Zabransky, whose father played in the NHL with the St. Louis Blues, clearly has an offensive upside but getting used to the smaller North American ice surface will be a challenge. 
  • I shouldn’t be putting the cart before the horse but I will. I think Zabransky can be a top 6 d-man on the roster this season. With the loss of Devante Stephens and Lucas Johansen, I can’t see why Zabransky is unable to play significant minutes in his rookie season in the WHL.   
  • Leif Mattson, for my money, may be one of the more intriguing forwards to watch this season. Now 18, it’s go time for the Thompson, Manitoba product. In other words, Mattson, an 8th round bantam pick of the Brandon Wheat Kings in 2014, has to show he is worthy of earning a significant spot on the team after playing fourth line minutes last year. In speaking to Mattson this morning, he clearly has dropped some weight and looks in good shape after spending a portion of the summer in Calgary. 
  • One of my favourite interviews on the team is Erik Gardiner. Like his brother Reid, there is a certain honestly about the questions he answers and he too has more upside then downside in his overall game. Needing to work on his foot-speed, Gardiner made sure that was a focus this summer as he too elected to train away from home in Humboldt by sweating it out in nearby Saskatoon. Heck, Erik had the benefit of eating grandma's cooking. Gardiner can shoot the puck without question. That's his greatest strength. It will be interesting to see him evolve this season, which will only be his second season in the WHL.
  • It is hard to believe that the Rockets were able to play so late into April despite being one of the most penalized teams in the WHL last season. Will that change in 2017-2018? Did undisciplined play cost them last season?  Was it a factor in two or three games and did it result in a loss rather than a win? If it did, it cost the team a BC Division title and a banner up in the rafters.  
  • I still believe a BC banner should be hanging high at Prospera Place had it not been for a demoralizing loss to the dreadful Vancouver Giants in January. I will never forget that night when the team looked listless and fell behind 4-1 halfway through the game. Going through the motions, the far superior team would score three of the final four goals before losing 5-4. Had they won that game against a G-Men squad that earned only 20 victories, the Rockets, not the Cougars would be raising a banner to the rafters on opening night. 
  • Overage defenceman Devante Stephens is attending Rockets main camp this week. Signed by the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres, ‘Devo’ will surely play pro hockey this season but wanted to use Rockets main camp for conditioning before embarking on his pro career. Stephens is one of six-overage players on the Rockets. What will happen with 20 year-old Tomas Soustal? Unsigned, Soustal is also at training camp but will receive a pro opportunity this fall.  If he remains unsigned, management will have some interesting decisions to make as the Czech forward is a two spotter as an overage and one of two Europeans allowed on a WHL roster.
  •  Gordie Ballhorn, James Hilsendager, goalie Cody Porter and forward Carsen Twarynski round out the six players that are competing for three 20 year-old spots at training camp. All four are unsigned free agents. Twarynski must sign a deal with the Philadelphia Flyers by next June. The power forward was selected in the third round of the 2016 NHL draft.

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