Allen Douglas Photography

Blazers Camp – Observations and Evaluations (Part One)

I was fortunate enough to catch all but one of the eight scrimmages at Blazers camp and a number of practices.  The Blazers organization appears to be in a very good position moving forward.  While the decisions for the Blazers to narrow their list down to 31 players for the preseason were relatively straight forward, they have some very difficult decisions to make before the regular season kicks off.

 

As it stands..

The Blazers lineup currently appears to have nine returning forwards and five returning defensemen, plus Baragano.  Orchard and Appelt could round out the forward group again this year, but they are likely competing with some newcomers for the remaining forward spots.  That leaves four open forward spots, one spot on defence and the 23rd spot for either, likely a defenseman.  In net, the Blazers have two tenders capable of starting in the WHL, much like last year.

Forwards

Stuart – Zary – Lang

Centazzo – Stankoven – Franklin

Sopotyk – Pillar – Mohr

________ – _______ – ________

________

Defensemen

Schmiemann – Onyebuchi

Strange – Zazula

Caller – Baragano

________

Goalies

Dylan Garand

Rayce Ramsay

Training Camp Observations

Returning Players

One certainly cannot draw conclusions from training camp performances of players with roster spots locked up, but I was pleasantly pleased with the performances of most the returning crew.

Montana Onyebuchi

Montana Onyebuchi (photo-Brian Liesse)

Montana was visibly more engaged than his peers and appears to have welcomed more responsibility heading into the season.  His demeanour with all of the players, especially the younger ones, was encouraging and supportive and he looks poised to become one of the primary leaders in the locker room.  Beyond that, his attitude transferred to his play as he commanded the puck and play for the entirety of camp.

Connor Zary

Zary came into camp with little rust after a successful summer where he played with Team Canada at the U18 World Championship.  Connor is ready to continue the success he experienced towards the latter end of his 17-year-old campaign.  The consensus among scouts is that Connor is currently a first-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, and he appears ready for the challenges of new expectations and pressure.

Logan Stankoven (photo-Allen Douglas)

Logan Stankoven

Logan enters his “rookie” campaign stronger and faster than he was last year.  His high compete level every shift is promising to enter the season as rookies can expect ups and downs in their first full campaigns.  However, Logan’s attitude and effort are among the few things he can control and that is why everyone around the Blazers believes he will have a very successful campaign.  I can’t recall ever seeing a 16-year-old with a more lethal shot.  Kamloops should cherish the opportunity to watch and cheer for the local product.

New Faces

Inaki Baragano

The Blazers moved on from first-year import Joonas Sillanpaa as they doubled down on their emphasis of speed and skill by selecting Baragano in the 2019 CHL Import Draft.  I was immediately impressed by the Swiss defenseman’s maturity, vision, and mobility.  Baragano gives the Blazers yet another defenseman capable of quickly getting out of his own zone as well as transitioning the puck to the attack.  Combined with his good gap control and willingness to battle down low, Inaki significantly improves the teams back end.

Alec Zawatsky

Alec comes to camp after an up and down 19-year-old campaign last season as he struggled under Tim Hunter after a trade to Moose Jaw.  The undersized forward brings some quickness and offensive upside to the table and appears capable of playing the heel at times, as witnessed in the camp.  Alec appears to be competing with Kobe Mohr, barring a trade, for a roster spot as Franklin is a guarantee and Jackson Caller currently rounds out the back end.

2017 Draft Class (’02s)

This age group (17-year-olds) is where organizations hope to see players ready to take the next step and challenge for roster spots.  Last year, the Blazers had a solid group of 17’s with Connor Zary and Martin Lang being on the roster heading into camp.  The Blazers saw both Quinn Schmiemann and Kyrell Sopotyk crack the roster and make significant contributions while Jerzy Orchard recorded a valuable 41 games for the club as well.  This year, the Blazers might not currently seek to expect the same impact from their crop of 17-year-olds, but a few impressed at camp and have been slated to compete for roster spots during this preseason.  To complement Josh Pillar and Dylan Garand, the Blazers will likely hang on to a couple of these 2002-born players.

Forwards:

Daylan Kuefler (10th round pick)

Kuefler scored and scored and scored this camp.  His persistent energy from shift to shift was noticeable as he forechecked relentlessly and fought his way to the dirty areas.  Though a few of his goals were ones the goaltenders would like to have back, Kuefler earned every single one of them.  The energy and tenacity that he brings to the table is the exact thing the Blazers may be looking for to round out their roster, it helps that he demonstrated chemistry with first-team players like Connor Zary, displaying higher offensive upside than would be expected of a 10th round pick.

Riley Ginnell (7th round pick)

Riley Ginnell was one of the biggest forwards at camp but you couldn’t tell that by the way he skated.  Riley is a fluid skater with decent hands and vision.  Though he had limited ice time with first-team players, he did a good job of driving the play and creating opportunities and passing lanes for his teammates.  He displayed the ability to drive the net and finish as well as the awareness and ability to read the play and cause turnovers.  He appears to be a solid communicator and used his practice time wisely.

Reese Belton (5th round pick)

Reese Belton had a relatively quiet, but strong, camp.  He demonstrated an above-average ability to finish on a couple of occasions and didn’t make many mistakes.  His effort was consistent and he worked well with teammates Franklin and Sopotyk.  Belton brings a combination of size, strength, and finish to the team that would complement the current lineup well.

Defensemen:

Trevor Thurston (4th round pick)

Trevor opened camp with a tough first period in which he tried to do too much.  After that period, he settled in and had a very strong camp.  The big defenseman brings some much-needed sandpaper to the lineup without sacrificing any mobility.  Trevor possesses all of the physical tools to make him a very successful WHL player.  He moves the puck with assertiveness, has a strong point shot (that might need to be reined in a bit at times), and is very mobile for someone his size.  Throughout camp, Trevor battled with seemingly anyone who came in his way.  While many roster players likely hated playing against him, they will love playing with him this year should he crack the lineup.

Ethan Brandwood (7th round pick)

Ethan is a two-way defenseman that likes to carry the puck.  On multiple occasions, Brandwood displayed the ability to maintain possession of the puck and move it while under pressure down low rather than throwing the puck away.  Conversely, at times he held on to the puck for too long instead of making the quick play.  Ethan brings a little bit of everything to the game and with experience and instruction could become a solid two-way defenseman in the WHL.  This season, it will be a tough lineup to crack barring injuries, but last seasons four games proved to be a valuable experience he will take with him into the preseason.

Stay tuned for part two, where I break down the 2003-born players competing for a roster spot. The impressive group from this year’s draft class, and the potential Blazers’ roster breakdown with birth years and positions.

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