The Everett Silvertips open training camp at Angel of the Winds Arena on Thursday, the first step in their defense of the Western Hockey League U.S. Division title they captured last season.
Training camp not only creates excitement for the upcoming season, it gives fans a glimpse into the team’s future. The 101 players scheduled to take part in the camp include some of the Silvertips’ bright up-and-coming prospects, who will be skating alongside returning players and miscellaneous invitees.
Looking deeper, here are five storylines to watch as the 2019-20 Tips take the ice for the first time.
1. The overage crunch
The big question during the offseason was: How would Everett resolve its overage crunch? That question still lingers heading into camp, and don’t expect a quick resolution.
General manager Garry Davidson said the situation likely won’t be resolved until the WHL’s Oct. 10 deadline for teams to be down to just three 20-year-olds. That’s because Davidson isn’t exactly sure who will be available.
Seven overage players will skate with the Silvertips during training camp. Connor Dewar and Riley Sutter will skate with the team because they still have WHL eligibility, but they’ve signed NHL entry-level contracts and are unlikely to return once they report to their respective training camps. NHL teams usually send their signed 20-year-old prospects to the American Hockey League.
“I don’t anticipate them being back, but they could be back,” Davidson said. “It’s a possibility, but I think it’s an outside shot.”
Realistically, there are four players vying for the three spots: defensemen Wyatte Wylie and Jake Christiansen, and forwards Bryce Kindopp, Max Patterson. The list was even longer before training camp, but the Silvertips dealt forward Robbie Holmes back to Regina, forward Akash Bains decided not to return and forward Lucas Cullen decided to return to the West Kelowna Warriors of the British Columbia Hockey League.
“It will resolve itself once we know who we have,” Davidson said. “Because right now, we don’t know. We know there’s all those names (in training camp), but we don’t know for sure where they’re going to end up.”
The biggest wild card is Wylie, who was drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers in the fifth round of the 2018 NHL draft and will be in Philadelphia for training camp. But he has not signed an entry-level contract and could be sent back to Everett. Unless he signs a contract, Wylie is ineligible to play in the AHL even though he’s a 20-year-old. Christiansen and Kindopp also are expected to be at NHL camps — Christiansen was at development camp with the St. Louis Blues and Kindopp was with the Colorado Avalanche.
Davidson and the Silvertips likely won’t know for sure who will be back until the professional camps conclude. The WHL season begins Sept. 20, and teams can keep more than three overagers on their rosters up until Oct. 10, although just three can dress per game.
Conventional wisdom suggests that if all four return, Wylie, Kindopp and Christiansen possess the inside track because all three were drafted and developed by Everett. But Patterson, who can play center, may make more sense because of Everett’s dearth of numbers up the middle. The only true centers on the preseason roster are Reece Vitelli and Michal Gut.
2. The scoring void
With Sutter and Dewar presumably moving on to the AHL and Zack Andrusiak aging out of the league, the Silvertips need to find some scoring punch. The trio combined for 61 goals and 147 points last season.
So, who fills the hole?
“I think that’s the million-dollar question with our group there,” Davidson said. “I feel good about it, but I think some people … are going to have to step up and help us with that offensive end of the game. That will be the interesting part as we go through training camp and the exhibition games, just to see who has the capability to fill those offensive roles.”
It doesn’t hurt that Everett is adding Czech center Gut, who led his country in scoring at the Hlinka-Gretzky under-18 tournament in August with three goals and an assist in four games. Better yet, he plays center, a position where Everett is thin.
“I don’t want to put too much pressure on him and expectations because he’s only a 17-year-old who physically has to get bigger and stronger,” Davidson said. “But I think he certainly has the potential to contribute offensively in time.”
One player to look out for in terms of a potential breakout season is Jackson Berezowski, who was the first 16-year-old Everett rookie to eclipse 10 goals since Dewar in 2015-2016.
3. Blue-line shakeup
Gone from the Silvertips’ stacked defensive group from last year are Sahvan Khaira and Artyom Minulin. Christiansen and Wylie also could be moving on if they latch on with professional teams.
So the Silvertips will rely on a crop of young, small, but skilled defensemen for their next wave of blue-liners: 2002-born Aidan Sutter and Dylan Anderson, and 2003-born Olen Zellweger and Ty Gibson.
“I still very much like that group,” Davidson said. “Obviously they don’t have the … games played like the group last year, but there’s going to be years when you have to work new, younger guys in and that’s what we’re going to have to do this year. But I’m very confident that group of young men are going to adjust and they’ll be good for us.”
If Everett wasn’t so loaded in the back end last year, chances are Anderson, a fourth-round pick in 2017, already would have a WHL season under his belt. Outside one game played with Everett, Anderson spent his season at the midget level with Yale Hockey Academy Prep, where he posted 27 points in 30 games. Aidan Sutter also has a strong chance of making the team as a 17-year-old after being listed by the Silvertips as an undrafted prospect last season.
4. Who are some strong candidates to make the team as a 16-year-old?
Sixteen-year-olds are few and far between in the modern WHL — Davidson said the average for most teams is about two.
Zellweger, the Silvertips’ second-round pick in 2018, is the most likely choice to make the team. The Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta, native posted 27 points (eight goals, 19 assists) in 35 games last season for his midget team, OHA Edmonton.
Gibson, a third-round pick in 2018, is another possibility, although there might not be enough playing time for both Zellweger and Gibson on the blue line. Gibson registered 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in 35 games last season for the South Island Royals of the British Columbia Major Midget League.
Forwards Carter Halamandaris and Nate Goodbrandson could make the team based on the need for depth up front. Halamandaris, a fourth-round pick in 2018, tallied 19 points (11 goals, eight assists) for Winnipeg Wild Midget AAA last year, and Goodbrandson, a seventh-round pick, notched 52 points (19 goals, 33 assists) in 48 games for Winnipeg Thrashers Midget AAA.
5. Who are some unsigned prospects worth watching?
Many of the 101 players parachuting in for training camp are 2004-born players who were not picked in May’s bantam draft, so the participants who could potentially sign and make an immediate impact are a bit thin.
But Brendan Lee is one to watch.
Lee, who will play with Team Blue, is a 2002-born left-handed forward who is coming off a terrific season with the Colorado Thunderbirds U-16 team, where he scored 62 points in 46 games. He was born in Seattle, according to EliteProspects.com.
Of course, the recent bantam draft picks will be ones to watch, including third-round picks Ben Hemmerling and Austin Roest, and fifth-round choices Matthew Ng and James Hong.
Josh Horton covers the Silvertips for the Herald. Follow him on Twitter, @JoshHortonEDH