The Blazers received significant contributions from the 2018-2019 rookie crop. This success was largely a result of the groundwork laid down by the previous regime, who scouted and developed their draft picks before the keys were turned over to general manager Matt Bardsley in June of 2018.
After his first season went in the books, 2019’s WHL Bantam Draft this past May provided Bardsley his first opportunity to show just how serious he is about adding speed and skill to a prospect pool already brimming with it. Without a home run pick like Logan Stankoven falling into their lap, Bardsley and company went swinging for the fences in the first round, selecting two highly-touted players who had verbally committed to the University of Michigan — Mats Lindgren and Connor Levis.
While Levis continues to weigh his future, Lindgren, along with the Blazers’ second- and third-round selections, have since put pen to paper. Though the Blazers received great reviews for their 2019 selections, the success of the draft won’t be determined for years to come.
This brings us to the upcoming 2019-2020 season and a young, diverse group of players that are ready for a potential breakout campaign after a full WHL season, and a short-but-sweet taste of the playoffs. Here are last season’s rookies who are expected to return as sophomores:
Playing a full 68-game season is no small feat for a 16-year-old. The Warman, Sask., native put up respectable numbers during the regular season, but his most impactful play occurred in the playoffs when he centered a line between Brodi Stuart and Kyrell Sopotyk. Pillar’s full season is a reflection of his trusty two-way game. Expect to see his penalty kill usage and faceoff percentage see a sharp increase.
Like Pillar, Sopotyk was at his best at the end of the season. The winger scored the opening goal in the playoff tiebreaker against Kelowna before adding three more in a six-game series against the Victoria Royals. Sopotyk is bound to see an increase in ice-time, and cracking the 20-goal mark will only be a matter of time.
The Delisle, Sask., product had a difficult time finding a permanent spot in the line-up last season. While his numbers are easy to overlook, Orchard consistently provided energy and a strong work ethic — something that plagued the Blazers throughout the season.
Hot take: Look for the speedy winger to surpass his 11 goals from last season in significantly fewer than the 65 games it took last year. Lang can only benefit from a more experienced group of players.
Schmiemann was rock solid last season. The recently-drafted Tampa Bay Lightning prospect possesses patience, poise, vision, and an underrated wrist shot from the point. If the Sask. product remains healthy, expect him to lead the Blazers in points for defensemen for the second consecutive season.
2019-2020 will technically be his rookie season, but his seven regular-season games and six playoff games last year give him an honorable mention. And, well, he’s just really, really good. Stankoven torched the BCMML last season to the tune of 49 goals and 101 points in just 38 games. Unfortunately for Kamloops’ ball hockey goalies, the local product didn’t stop there.
20-year-old Dylan Ferguson’s injury on March 6th paved the way for fellow Vancouver Island product Dylan Garand to run the table. The Victoria native allowed two goals or fewer in five of the final six games of the regular season and posted a stingy .935 SAV during that stretch. Garand proved he’s ready for full-time duty, and the crease is now his to lose.
The 2019-2020 season is not the end of the road in Kamloops, but it will help determine how much work is yet to be done.