It's unfair to look at any of the WHL's preseason games and think what you're seeing is a fair representation of what to expect once the regular season starts. Many teams are missing major chunks of their rosters to NHL training camps and rookie tournaments (146, to be exact). Some, like the Prince Albert Raiders, Seattle Thunderbirds and Lethbridge Hurricanes, are missing a couple of players. Others, like the Portland Winterhawks, Saskatoon Blades and Calgary Hitmen, are missing at least 10 players; and depending upon how they perform at camp, may not see them until October (if at all).
I had the chance to catch up with a couple of players right after the draft in LA back in June. T-Birds goalie Calvin Pickard is excited about the Colorado Avalanche, especially with netminder Craig Anderson. "To see him, practice with him and hopefully play with him would be something else," he told me. "Colorado seems pretty excited to have me and I'm excited to be part of them."
Everett Silvertips goalie Kent Simpson is equally excited about the young talent he's joining at Chicago Blackhawks camp, including former teammates Byron Froese and Kyle Beach. And, of course, the goaltending. "The young guys that have come up through there have turned into great goalies. I hope to continue in that tradition."
'Tips defenseman Radko Gudas is well on his way to achieving his NHL dream. He just signed a 3 year entry-level deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning and has already delivered some of this trademark crushing hits on other rookies at camp. Radko told me he wants to crack the Lightning lineup, and is enthusiastic about the team's new leadership. "I see a good company now that Stevie Y (Yzerman) is the new GM. I think my chance is good and I'm just glad to be there."
Friends who cover Tampa Bay tell me that Radko will most likely begin the season at the AHL level in Norfolk, but I have a feeling the Lightning will need this big Czech's services before too long. He calls himself a "stay at home defenseman," but that moniker really doesn't work, when you consider the 37 points he had for Everett last season, as well as a whopping +/- of +45.
I fully expect to see Kent Simpson and Calvin Pickard back between the pipes in Everett and Seattle, respectively, as both are still young (18) and the Blackhawks and Avs seem to have the luxury of letting these young guys get a little more seasoning back at the WHL level.
I know this post is a little (okay, more than a little) US Division-centric. I promise to expand my horizons and talk to players from more teams as the season progresses. In the meantime, PLEASE chime in and tell me what you want from this column. As it's brand-spanking new, we can make it into whatever we want.
Thanks for reading.