17.Kamloops Blazers:My expectations for the 'Loops a year were sky high and even though the playoffs didn't materialize to form, a forty two, ninety point tally can't be ignored. Top end talent for the Blazers is few and far between after the graduation of Lane Bauer and likely graduations of Devin Sideroff and Rudolf Balcers. Any time you lose three players of that magnitude and I understand all teams go through it it's awfully difficult to recover and the onus will be on Don Hay to recoup the lost pieces and architect a plan that can claw the Blazers into the playoffs because it'll be a dog fight as they scrape for one of the last playoff positions.
Everyone will associate the strength of the 2017-2018 back end around Czech Republican Ondrej Vala and while he inevitably anchor things on the blue line, there are a couple of other young up and comers that deserve praise with that being Luke Zazula and Tylor Ludwar. We'll start with Ludwar as this is an interesting case. Coming off a banner year in 2015/2016 with the Midget AAA Regina Pat Canadians, internally Tylor had hoped to crack the Kamloops roster full time out of training camp and I'm sure was riddled with disappointment when the news came down that he was being re-assigned back to Midget. Before we evaluate what he can bring to the dinner table this season it's important that we credit the coaching staff of the Pat C's, Darren McKechnie this latest go around and current Regina Pat assistant coach Brad Herauf that was the bench general in 2015-2016. Throughout my time growing up, the Pat C's Midget program was largely hovered in disdain as seldomly was the team competitive nor was it producing many players to the next level but in the last five or so years the program has done a 360 and it's pumping out Western Hockey League players at an alarming rate.Obviously Kamloops made the determination that Tylor wasn't quite game ready but a half year back in Regina compounded by a couple roster moves allowed Ludwar to spend the second half in British Columbia which ideally for all involved can evolve into a top four role now. The best way to explain Tylor's game is resourceful. He doesn't lack in any one particular area and possesses a shot that would make Shea Weber clap. The Weber comparison is fabricated but given his age, entering his eighteen year old season he does indeed have an above average release from the point and given his offensive nature should be able to learn a thing or two from Vala. Shout out to the British Columbia regional scout(s) for advocating for a kid by the name of Luke Zazula in the FOURTH ROUND. Until conducting research for the piece I made the false assumption that he was seventeen or eighteen last year but come to find out he's a 2000 born pupil astonishes me when accounting for his on ice maturity. The sky is literally the limit for this kid and perhaps someone stationed in Kamloops can enlighten me if the reason for his draft slip was a NCAA scare because Luke demonstrated first round talent almost immediately. Whatever the reasons he becomes a highly sought after prospect for NHL teams next June and can see him going as high as the second round. Time will tell how Hay utilizes Zazula however my thinking is he's a strong candidate for the first pairing alongside Zala. Forgive me if I'm the only one but when I watch Luke lace them up, he bears a strong resemblance to Kale Clague. Always in the right position but just like Kale who was guilty of this early on his career he'd try to make plays too quick and would advised to slow the game down. I don't doubt for a second that this will be a visible improvement and he continues to receive tutelage from one of the games best coaches.
In a game against Lethbridge approximately half way into the season I couldn't believe the type of presence Jermaine Loewen displayed. He had a bulldog type of mentality, all over the ice. In that game mentioned, I believe although am not certain he may have accumulated at maximum one point but the impression you took away was he could've had multiple. I bring this up because when I looked back a his yearly statistics he only amassed a grand total of eleven points. Inconsistencies plagued Jermaine and in order to stay in Hay's good graces, a more asserted effort will be required. Maybe it's the name that is the root of all issues. I'm a baseball fan and its impossible to forget the hype built around him as in back in 2002 he was the fourth overall pick via the Baltimore Orioles an for a myriad of reasons he just couldn't put it together. After numerous failed expenditures as a pitcher, he eventually got into the business of switching positions, going from a pitcher to a left fielder and ultimately back to a pitcher. Tying this back around to Jermaine, when I watch games of his and observe the stat sheet it forces me to speculate if they(Blazers) would be better served giving Loewen a trial run at defence. He's obviously not contributing enough on the score sheet but conversely is built like a football player and is intimidating for a lot kids his age to engage in the corners with him.Most privy to the organization I think would at least entertain the notion but one of the flaws with the proposition(and I know there are many) is that as a team last year, Kamloops only netted 243 goals which was fourth worst in the conference and that total is bound to decrease with the aforementioned departures of Sideroff and Balcers along with hot shot prospect Massimo Rizzo electing to test the Penticton Vees of the BCHL en route to a NCAA scholarship. All of these holes were justifying the pouros ranking of seventeen. The offensive deficit issue will currently fall on the shoulders of Garrett Pilon. In the season preview I did last year I alluded to my belief that Pilon was destined for a breakout season after the Washington Capitals rewarded him with a third round selection but to be frank I'm still waiting for that breakout to occur. Time and time again I've seen cases in the Western Hockey League of players coming out of the gates slow only to dominate the league as they get older with Adam Brooks of the Pats being the most recent example and with a sixty five point season behind him, the trajectory of Brooks may be apt as in Brooks third full year he worked his way to sixty two points. The comparison is uncanny! Here's the issue, unless a miracle is adminsitered and somehow Sideroff or Balcers get sent back then no one could reasonably suggest that Pilon as your sole beneficiary of any offence is enough of a starting point, it's simply not. A scoring by committee approach will have to be used behind Garrett and one of those will have to include Abbotsford native Travis Walton. Don Hay displayed an incredible level of patience with Travis as a seventeen year old where he could've just as easily re-assigned him to a lower level but he showed loyalty and by the sake of not having many better options he has a third, maybe second line assignment locked up and the hockey gods in Kamloops will need at least twenty points or desperate phone calls will have to be made to opposing General Managers looking for trades.It's been a smoky summer in Kamloops, are we in store for a foggy winter?
The Dylan Ferguson era has commenced in Kamloops and I for one am amazed by the poise he showed this off-season in the midst of adverse situations. The NHL draft is always a stressful time for these young kids but try to put on the shoes of Ferguson who was riding the highest of highs getting selected by the Dallas Stars only to have to his rights immediately traded to the expansion Vegas Golden Knights.What stimulated my fascination with Dylan was after the trade in which these types of trades of a newly minted prospect rarely happen he was bombarded with media requests for an eighteen year old kid he collected himself, elicited thought out answers and exuded gratefulness. The goaltending position is undoubtedly the most stressful in hockey and after seeing his character tested I can confidently conclude that the Blazers have wall between the crease, not just physically but mentally. Connor Ingram will begin the year with Syracuse of the American Hockey League's and it's Dylan's time to shine. Judging from everything I've witnessed this summer, he'll put any doubt to rest that he cannot only lead Kamloops to the playoffs but also vindicate the Knights in the acquisition we made. Goaltending as it has been for the last several years will again be the bread and butter of he organization.