Sunday, September 9, 2018

Winless in pre-season

Allen Douglas photo credit

  • Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I had a chance to watch the Kelowna Rockets pre-season game against the Kamloops Blazers last night. To be honest, it was my first look at any new players attempting to crack the roster with family commitments not allowing me to take in the opening weekend of exhibition action. Here is a quick summary of what I saw in the teams final tune up game, a 5-3 home ice loss to Kamloops.
  • There were three new players that stood out. Rookie Kyle Crosbie had a great game. The smallish size forward was dynamic with the puck and showed great offensive instincts. He stood out like a sore thumb on the power play. Sure, he is allowed more time and space in that situation, but you can clearly tell his puck skills are above average. I am no sure what his interest was like in the defensive zone, but when you have a player with that skill set, which you can't teach, you have to take the good with the bad and run with it. If you are an offensive dynamo, I give you more grace in the d-zone. The coaches won't, but on a team that may have problems scoring goals, I will. Crosbie, an 8th round bantam pick, makes my team in a heartbeat. My comparison for Crosbie? Kyle St. Denis with the way he pivots and works away from pressure while carrying the puck. . 
  • I was hoping to see Lassi Thomson show his value. The about to turn 18 year-old did not disappoint. I really like him. You can see he reads and reacts well and his ability to rush with the puck is impressive. I also like his shot, or his ability to get the puck on net through traffic. Thomson is in my top four. How does he defend? He has an active stick, makes contact when needed but he won't blow anyone up. Again, it is a one time viewing of a player who probably looked considerably better in his second pre-season games than he did in his first up in Kamloops on Friday.
  • Ryan Bowen. An overage player who has a real nice opportunity to flourish in a Rockets uniform this season, my expectations in my first evaluation of him was low. Why? Any player that is on his third WHL team and has a career high 9 goals with Moose Jaw in 2015-2016 doesn't exactly have you expecting great things offensively. That said, it appears the player has underachieved in the past and is a better player than he has showed. I liked his battle level, skating ability and at 6'2, he clearly is involved in initiating body contact. I hope he has a career year. He needs too for the team to have success. 
  • I will always remember Dylan McKinley. Plucked off waivers as a 20 year-old, McKinley came into Kelowna as a spare part. He  really did. Expectations were low. McKinley would go on to score 24 goals and collect a career high 68 points in 72 games in 2012-2013. Given opportunity and renewed confidence, McKinley proved he was a better player than his previous track record showed. How about Cody Fowlie? Released by Everett as a 20 year-old, Fowlie scored a career high 17 goals and generated 40 points that same season and was not considered an offensive dynamo when the Tips made him expendable. In Kelowna, Fowlie flourished. 
  • Kaedan Korczak really impressed me last night. Korczak looks so much older than a season ago. The composure with the puck is off the charts. The ability to quarterback the power play is impressive. As small of a skill set as it may sound, if you as a d-man can make a hard, crisp on the tape pass to an awaiting forward, you are making me very, very happy. Sounds elementary right? Then why do some defencemen at the junjor level, when pressured, fire a puck knee high to a teammate or deliver a pass that bounces and turns on end as it comes off his stick? Korzcak delivers hard passes which are easy to accept. 
  • My only fear for Korczak, in his draft year, is he will be forced into doing too much. It's called 'Cal Foote syndrome'. Cal was forced to cover up for others mistakes, which at times made him look out of position. My hope is Korczak doesn't try to do too much on a d-core that is as thin as the hair on my head. As a competitor, the temptation will be to mask others mistakes, which he will be able to do to a point, but will it make him look worse because of it? As much as I would like to see him paired with Lassi Thomson, the coaches may be forced to play them apart.  
  • I am here to suggest we are seeing a better Libor Zabransky. A year wiser after getting his feet wet as a rookie in the WHL last season. the undrafted d-man needs a solid season to show scouts that the hype around him was warranted. A captain for the Czech Republic on the International stage, Zabransky will play a more determined game this season with some added muscle and a better knowledge of the game on North American ice. I am a big fan of Libor off the ice. The 18 year-old had the misfortune of sitting behind me in the Rockets bus last season. I often talked to Libor, who while quiet, has a great personality. 
  • This may sound like an odd statement, but I have no concern with the goalie situation. I really don't. You would think I would with an 18 year-old and a 17 year-old carrying the mail. Roman Basran, who I project to be the starter, is an above average goalie and his backup, James Porter Junior, is more than adequate. The worst feeling is having that 'oh, no' moment when the starter is pulled in favour of the backup. In my opinion, that won't happen when either goalie comes into the game. Let's remember though, Basran will have some nights where the puck looks like a BB, so let's be patient with the player who has the hardest position on the ice.  
  • I won't name names, but clearly some of the rookies and new faces have outplayed some of the second year veterans on this team. I like Crosbie, Thomson, Bowen, Wilton and Steffler to name a few. Will the second year players on the bubble be given more time to prove themselves on the first weekend of the regular season? We will have to wait and see. 
  • The Rockets finish the pre-season 0-2-1-1 in four games. Without a win to show for it, I don't think it is a big deal. As one observer said to me last night, "If you win the games its a big deal. If you lose them, the losses mean little". 

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