Blazers ready to kickoff the 2019-2020 campaign

At the beginning of the week, the Blazers roster sat at a total of 27 players, four over the team’s limit for opening night. Over the course of the week, the Blazers trimmed their roster to 23 players, which now includes nine rookies and three 16-year olds. 

The first move announced by the Blazers was the reassignment of Logan Bairos to the Saskatoon Contacts of the Saskatchewan Midget ‘AAA’ Hockey League. The 27th overall selection of the 2018 WHL Bantam Draft tallied three assists in six preseason games with the Blazers. Bairos will now return to his hometown of Saskatoon where he recorded 25 points in 40 games for the Contacts last season. 

The Blazers then shifted their focus to the forward position by trading Riley Ginnell to the Brandon Wheat Kings in exchange for a sixth-round pick in the 2021 WHL Bantam Draft. Ginnell — who was originally selected by the Blazers in the seventh round in 2017 — scored one goal and added three assists in his six preseason games. 

“With the amount of forwards that we have on our roster, we wanted to allow Riley the opportunity to play in the WHL this year. . .” – General Manager, Matt Bardsley. 

Of all the tough decisions made throughout the week, the release of 20-year old defenseman Jackson Caller may have been the toughest. After being acquired from the Saskatoon Blades last season, the Kamloops native played 45 games for his hometown Blazers, adding one goal and three assists during that stretch.

“It is always tough to have to release a veteran player, but with the emergence of [Inaki] Baragano, [Ethan] Brandwood and [Trevor] Thurston, we feel this move had to be made to maximize their development while also allowing Jackson the opportunity to play regularly with another team.”

Jackson Caller. Photo by Allen Douglas/Kamloops Blazers

Bardsley went on to add that “Jackson is a high quality person and a tremendous teammate. We thank him for his time with us in Kamloops and wish him all the best going forward.” Caller is expected to join the Vernon Vipers of the BCHL.

With the roster sitting at 24 players, the Blazers had another difficult choice to make, but the emergence of several young forwards ultimately paved the way for the release of Jerzy Orchard. The 18-year old forward from Delisle, Sask. is now expected to report to the Merritt Centennials of the BCHL. 

Jerzy Orchard. Photo by Allen Douglas/Kamloops Blazers

Where do we stand now?

If the youth movement wasn’t already underway in Kamloops, it is now. The Blazers roster may appear relatively inexperienced at first glance, but there is no shortage of players who are at their best in the big moments.

Leading the charge for Kamloops will be seven 17-year olds, followed by six 19-year olds, five 18-year olds, three 16-year olds and two 20-year olds. British Columbia is the most well-represented province with 10 players on the roster, followed by five from Saskatchewan, four from Alberta, and two from Manitoba.

Game #1: Kamloops vs Spokane

After going undefeated in the preseason, the Blazers face their first real test in the Spokane Chiefs. Spokane was DUBNetwork’s consensus pick as U.S. division champion in our WHL team predictions, and even without veteran defenseman Ty Smith, the Chiefs still appear to be a contender in the Western Conference. 

Key players to watch

Kamloops: Logan Stankoven

Stankoven’s effort through preseason did little to temper the growing expectations in Kamloops. The 16-year old’s 15 points in eight games led all scorers, and likely caught the attention of a lot of defensemen across the WHL.

Spokane: Filip Kral

Regardless of which line Kral is tasked with shutting down, the Czech native will have to be on top of his game. The Blazers possess a dangerous group of forwards who are chomping at the bit, and Kral will be eating up tough minutes on the blueline.

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