We continue on with our ongoing series as we start the long road to the 2019-20 WHL season. We will be going in the order that teams were eliminated from contention. Keep in mind that the roster guesses vary because of information made available to us. We did our very best to capture all of the signings, but could be missing some.
2018-19 WHL Season: The Kelowna Rockets had not missed the playoffs since the 2006-07 season going into 2018-19. The campaign was a wild ride that saw the Rockets separate from head coach Jason Smith and replace him with former NHLer and Father of current Rockets forward Nolan Foote, Adam Foote.
Kelowna had the third seed in the B.C. Division pretty well locked up going into the final two weeks, but a late season stumble along with a surge from the Kamloops Blazers saw them go 28-32-6-2 and tie for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference. That led to a play-in game where they fell to the Blazers in Kamloops 5-1 and had their season end.
They are hands-down the most interesting team to watch as we enter the WHL off-season. That is because they are hosting the 2020 Memorial Cup.
The roster as it stands now, is not one ready for that stage. That leaves owner and general manager Bruce Hamilton and assistant general manager and director of player personnel Lorne Frey with a lot of tough choices. There is little doubt they will have to empty their cupboards to be ready come May of 2020.
2019 WHL Bantam Draft: That effort begins on Thursday, May 2 in Red Deer at the draft. Right now they have the fifth overall pick and could bring in a future WHL star. The problem with that is that does not help the 2019-20 Rockets one bit. Moving that pick for a big name player will help them plenty.
Jack Cowell, then 19, was traded to the then Kootenay ICE on Nov. 30 for a 2019 third round pick, but did not report to Cranbrook and the trade was nullified by the WHL.
They traded a third round pick last summer for Mark Liwiski. Besides that most of their picks are intact.
Signed Players (25):
1999 – Leif Mattson, Conner Bruggen-Cate, Kyle Topping
2000 – Liam Kindree, Ted Brennan, Michael Farren, Nolan Foote
2001 – Kyle Crosbie, Dallon Wilton, Alex Swetlikoff, Mark Liwiski
2002 – Ethan Ernst, Cole Carrier*
2003 – Trevor Wong*, Steel Quiring*
2000 – Devin Steffler, Lassi Thomson, Libor Zabransky#
2001 – Kaedan Korczak, Cayde Augustine
2003 – Noah Dorey, Jackson DeSouza*
2000 – James Porter
2001 – Roman Basran
2002 – Cole Tisdale*
*= Did not played 10 or more games in the WHL last season.
#= Released by the team at the trade deadline and finished the season in the USHL. He is not expected back.
Overage Shuffle: Really it’s down to the three forwards. Conner Bruggen-Cate (14 points), Leif Mattson (63 points) and Kyle Topping (69 points) are all eligible to come back. Clearly Mattson and Topping are the most likely, but it would not be surprising to see them add another overage not currently on the roster. They especially could use some help on the blue line.
Aged Out: Defensemen Schael Higson, Dalton Gally and Matt Barberis all have moved on from the WHL.
Import Issues?: Kelowna is drafting higher in the import draft than they have in some time. They could use a big splash that does not cost them anything off their current roster and this is the best way to do that. Lassi Thomson will be carrying things on the back end next season after being named the WHL’s Rookie of the Year this season. Adding another import at least as impactful as Thomson is a big need.
NHL Draft: The Rockets had five different players ranked on the latest list by NHL Central Scouting. Thomson is expected to go high, maybe even in the first round. He was ranked 15th among North American skaters. Goalie Roman Basran was ranked 18th among goalies while defenseman Kaedan Korczak (32nd) and forwards Nolan Foote (37th) and Alex Swetlikoff (175th) were also ranked.