(Jake Kryski (left) and Deven Sideroff (right) headline a talented group of prospects for next season)
Yes August is.... a long ways away. Given the Blazer season, many are looking forward to what lies ahead for this club.
Besides the 3rd overall pick in the WHL bantam draft May 1st in Calgary, the Blazers feature many top prospects who will push for a full-time spot on next year's club. This training camp will most definitely be the most competitive in some time...no doubt the most competitive I've seen in my time here.
Keep in mind, I haven't seen most of these players since training camp, or not at all. I'm going off information from others to compile this list. Some of it is also opinion. None of the info is from Blazer scouts or management.
Here's a list broken down by age, of some of the players to watch who will push for a spot next season:
1997's (17 year-olds next season)
F - Deven Sideroff - after being called up for games in each of the last two seasons, Sideroff should be ready for a full-time spot next fall. As a call-up from OHA, he collected 2-4-6 in 12 games. A speedster and very dynamic. He looked like a full-time player this season. Like most coming in, he'll need to work on his strength this summer. Was very impressive in his short time here.
F - Spencer Bast - after being listed after the 2012 WHL bantam draft, Bast recently signed on with the Blazers. This after finishing 2nd in scoring in the Sask "AAA" midget league with the Battlefords Stars. Putting up 68pts, in 44 games, I've heard him described as a hard-working, heart and soul guy with some skill.
F - Tyler Jeanson - Originally drafted in the 9th round of 2012, Jeanson had pretty good numbers with Junior "A" Portage in the MJHL. He scored 21 goals and added 19 assists for 40pts in 59 games, finishing 2nd in team scoring...pretty good in his rookie season. He's listed at 5'8", 155lbs. He is not signed.
F - Angus Scott - Listed after being dropped by the Regina Pats who originally drafted him in the 8th round. The Salt Lake City, Utah native would be considered a long shot to be a Blazer, as the WHL may not be in his plans. He's drafted by the USHL's Lincoln Stars. He played with the Sask "AAA" midget Notre Dame Hounds this past season where he finished 5th in league scoring with 21-43-64 in 44 games.
D- Cam Reagan - like Sideroff, Reagan impressed as a call-up from Sherwood Park "AAA" appearing in 11 games with the Blazers. In limited action, he was -4 with one assist. Reagan impressed me with his size and attitude. He looks like he'll only get bigger with a pretty strong frame already. The experience this season will bode well coming into camp as he looks for a regular spot as a potential 6th or 7th defenseman.
D - Travis Verveda - signed out of training camp this past fall, Verveda plays with the talented Red Deer Chiefs of the Alberta "AAA" midget league. Good sized d-man, I'm told he moves the puck well. He has three goals in seven playoff games. His team will play in the league final vs Lloydminster beginning this weekend. Like Reagan, he'll push for a 6th or 7th spot on defense.
D - Jarold Hilderman - an unsigned listed player who is playing with the BCHL's Penticton Vees. I've gathered the Blazers are high on the good sized 6'1" 195 lbs defenseman originally from Kamsack, SK. A defensive d-man, who was 1-7-8 in 45 regular season games. He's also committed to Minnesota-Duluth Div 1 for the 2016-17 season.
G - Cole Kehler - I've included Kehler on this list as he was an "affiliated player" despite spending a lot of time up with the Blazers this season. A 6th round bantam pick, Kehler split the season with the Blazers and the Pursuit of Excellence Hockey Academy. From Altona, MB, Kehler appeared in 11 games this season, picking up his first ever WHL win in a 3-2 SO win in Seattle late February. No doubt he has the inside track for a spot based on his experience this past season. A big, lanky goaltender who also moves pretty well. Very mentally strong, and confident in his abilities. If he progresses, he can be a #1 guy.
G - Connor Ingram - Originally a free-agent invite to training camp, he impressed enough to be listed out of camp. Had great numbers with the Sask "AAA" midget Prince Albert Mintos in his rookie season. From Imperial, SK (home of the Sabres) , he went 16-4-3 in 23 games in the regular season with a league leading 1.98 GAA and a .928 save percentage - also tops in the SMAAAHL.
Overall, an impressive group which will really push some of the returning Blazers in the fall. I like the depth in all three positions. A lot of these players are having both team and individual success which will bode well moving forward.
1998's (16 year-olds next season)
F - Jake Kryski - originally a 1st round pick (13th overall) of the Prince Albert Raiders who was acquired in the Cole Cheveldave deal. Appeared in four games with the Blazers as an under-age this season collecting two assists. Was impressive in all four games, showing great hockey sense, and the ability to make plays at high speeds. Top-end talent. Put up 16-32-48 with the Okanagan Rockets, 18th in BC Major Midget scoring. He's T-7th in playoff scoring 5-4-9 in five games. His team is in the league final vs the Vancouver NW Giants. A blue-chip prospect.
F - Quinn Benjafield - The Blazers 1st round pick (19th overall) in 2013, played one game with the Blazers this season, in his hometown of Vancouver January 29th. There's high hopes for him as he looks to earn a full time spot with the Blazers in the fall. Battling some injuries in the playoffs with the Vancouver NW Giants, Benjafield had a good regular season finishing T-19th in scoring 19-28-47 in 37 games. Was bigger in January compared to training camp, listed at 6'1" 165 lbs.
F - Garrett Pilon - An un-signed 7th round pick in 2013, Pilon had a decent offensive season with the Sask "AAA" Midget Saskatoon Contacts. 10-19-29 in 43 games. Plays a hard-working gritty game. His dad Rich played in the NHL, and he's the cousin of Brandon WK's defenseman Ryan Pilon.
F - Jermaine Loewen - Perhaps the best story at training camp last fall. The Jamaican born player from rural Manitoba picked up hockey later than others, and has been making great strides. Loewen signed with the Blazers after being selected in the 3rd round (48th overall) in 2013. After putting up 55pts in Bantam "AAA" with Interlake, he went 14-14-28 in 40 games this season in Manitoba "AAA" Midget with Interlake. Listed last year at 6'2", 182lbs, it will be interesting to see if he's gotten any bigger this fall. He will have to come in with a mindset that he belongs, rather than one of "just happy to have made it this far". He was around the team in December in Brandon and was a pleasure to have on board. He practiced with the club and even took warm-up vs the Wheat Kings before being the final scratch.
F - Phillip Knies - The Blazers selected the Peoria, Arizona forward in the 4th round (85th overall). From the Arizona Bobcats, Knies suffered an injury before camp last fall and was unable to attend. The Blazers would like to get him to camp and get a better look. I've heard him described as a "Brendan Ranford clone" - which is a pretty nice compliment. The Blazer staff have also been down south to see him this season. His teammate Blake Bargar just signed with the MJ Warriors.
D - James Miller - Selected in the 6th round (129th overall). Miller is the younger brother of former Brandon WK Ryley Miller. From Sherwood Park, AB, Miller plays the game with an edge...and sometimes over the edge. He's an intriguing guy, who adds some jam. Played Minor Midget out of Spruce Grove 11-18-29 with 68 PIMS in 34 games.
D - Dawson Davidson - I've heard good things from the signed offensive d-man who played this season with the Moose Jaw Generals of the Sask "AAA" midget league. A 3rd round pick (58th) overall, from what I can tell, lead all defensemen in league scoring this season 5-34-39 in 42 games. Pretty impressive for a 15 year old. His biggest challenge will be adding some size. Listed at 5'9", 145lbs heading into this past season.
G - Dylan Ferguson - an 8th round pick (166th overall) in 2013, the Vancouver Island native had a strong regular season with the Sask "AAA" midget Notre Dame Argos. He went 18-4 in 24 appearances in the regular season with a 2.62 GAA and a .896 save %. He's also 2-0 in the playoffs stopping 52 of 54 shots combined as the Argos are into the SMAAAHL semi-finals.
Overall, perhaps even a stronger group than the talented 1997's. The question is, how many 16 year-olds will the Blazers want to go with next season. This year, only Nick Chyzowski was a full-time 16 year-old. Deven Sideroff and Cole Kehler fit in nicely as "AP's"
It is only a few days after the season, and this list is bound to change before camp opens in August. I hope it provides our fans with a little knowledge of some potential roster players for next year.