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Old 09-10-2019, 03:19 PM   #10
Red John
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Going to be a memorable year in Kelowna for the 2020 Memorial Cup hosts. Although last year didn’t go as planned (poor 19s and 20s did them in) things are looking a lot more promising now. Sixth time to the big dance in 17 years for the flagship franchise in the WHL.

Starting goalie Roman Basran is embarrassed at how his season ended last year and not getting drafted and has a huge chip on his shoulder this year. The Rockets usually only run 19s and 20s as starting goalies but this is actually his third season playing significant time so look for him to take another step. Memorial Cup-winning teams don’t usually do so with 18-year old goalies so this is a bit of a question mark but time will tell. Cole Schwebius (another 18) came over in the big trade with the T-birds and hasn’t allowed a goal in preseason yet so it looks like he will supplant James Porter as the backup (who just hasn’t progressed).

The team in front of the goalies will be MUCH better. Jake Lee (an 18 who should have been drafted and probably will next year for sure), Kaeden Korczak (Vegas 2nd rounder), Sean Comrie and a yet-to-be-acquired overager will form the top four. Comrie is an interesting case. He was highly touted but didn’t get playing time in college and has switched to junior and has looked good in camp. The Flyers are giving him a look right now and he may get a contract after this season. The bottom pair will be Devin Steffler (who had a terrific summer and camp and will be much improved), and probably a rotation of Cayde Augustine (who dropped 25lbs this summer) and one of the terrific trio of 16s the Rockets drafted in 2018 bantam (will discuss below). Lassi Thomson is a loss but he may return after the world juniors.

Up front was the biggest issue last year and it looks much more dynamic now. Nolan Foote will probably flirt with 50 goals. Pavel Novak is a promising 17 just picked from the import draft who looked good in the Hlinka. Deegan Mofford is an 18 who got cut for being out of shape the last two years but finally figured it out and will be a big power forward, probably on a checking line with Mark Liwiski and Alex Swetlikoff (who also didn’t get drafted this past summer and is motivated). Trevor Wong is a very skilled 16 who will get some looks as he has to play 40 games this year. Dillon Hamaliuk (Sharks 2nd rounder) comes over in the T-birds trade as well. This is to mention nothing about the returnees most of whom are expected to improve on last year as well.

Biggest weakness right now is lack of a true No. 1 centre to play with Foote…if there’s a big trade made at some point this season it’s probably to address that.

Adam Foote did a fantastic job dragging an awful roster to a +.500-record after inheriting a 1-9 start last year. The team had to trap it up to try and stay in games but will be opening things up this year as there is a lot more speed and skill in the lineup. It’s also a bigger team this year which helps a lot as it’s going to be a long grinding season at times.

The plan is to play out the first part of the season without making any big moves (other than adding a 20 on D) to see where things stand. There’s an import spot open (waiting on either Daniil Gutik or Thomson) and the Rockets still have their upcoming 1st round pick which will probably be in play.

The future is extremely bright for the Rockets. They absolutely killed it in the 2018 bantam draft as their first five picks could all play as 16s this year if the team were rebuilding. These are all guys to watch in the 2021 draft:

-Trevor Wong (skilled speedy winger/centre)
-Elias Carmichael (steady smooth D who could crack team this year easily)
-Jackson DeSouza (big smooth RHD who reads the play well)
-Noah Dorey (smallish but smart D)
-Steel Quiring (RH forward with some size)

They also picked Arvega Hospvean out of California late who was committed to college but has attended camp the past two seasons and seems likely to sign next year who was a first-round talent but slid.

This 2018 bumper crop (along with the 2019 group whose early returns look good too) is looking like the start of another golden generation for the Rockets like the one they had in 2012-16 with guys like Jesse Lees, Madison Bowey, Nick Merkley, Dillon Dube, etc. Problem is that isn’t going to help them win this year so it’ll be interesting to see if one of these guys is “asked” to waive his no-trade clause in a deal to bring in a ringer or two for this year. The team is probably going to be even better in 2021 and probably 2023-24 than this year so maybe that’s where a deal happens as picks alone aren’t likely to get a big fish like Peyton Krebs later this year.

Going to be a fun year. Langley is probably the top team in the division but Kelowna shouldn’t be too far behind especially if Byram doesn’t return. Kamloops has a young fun team but they aren’t really built to win this year yet and their GM seems more focused on being competitive every year rather than going all-in so they aren’t likely to be a championship threat right now. The US division doesn’t have any clear contender so the path to the finals doesn’t seem impassable if the Rockets choose to try and take the front door to the Memorial Cup. The east has some good looking teams though in Saskatoon, Edmonton and even Calgary. Hopefully the reduced schedule has WHL teams a little fresher in the tournament this year.

Kelowna hotels and airbnbs fill up fairly quickly for the May long weekend – get those reservations in!
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