We are less than 48 hours from Thunder head coach Kevin McClelland opening his sixth training camp opening at the Wichita Ice Center.
After back-to-back seasons which ended with no playoff berths, Thunder fans have been clamoring for new talent on the roster to compete with other teams in the ECHL. McClelland answered the bell by bringing in some fresh faces, while having grizzled veterans who are used to how he wants his team ran.
Here is a breakdown of the roster, position-by-position, along with what players will be locks for the opening night roster and some storylines to watch:
Forwards (15): Mason Baptista, Cullen Bradshaw, Todd Hosmer, Kenton Miller, RG Flath, Anthony DeLuca, Danick Gauthier, Paxton Leroux, Ian Lowe, Erick Lizon, Andy Huff, Bryon Paulazzo, Matt Harrington, Joey Sides, Michael Neal, Luc Kilgore
Locks for the roster: Todd Hosmer, Kenton Miller, Danick Gauthier, Paxton Leroux, Erick Lizon, Ian Lowe, RG Flath, Anthony De Luca
Storylines to Watch: It will be interesting to watch how PTO’s Michael Neal and Joey Sides are used in camp. Both have potential of making the roster and adding depth scoring to the line-up for this team. Without help from the AHL, it would appear that Danick Gauthier will be the only elite scorer on the roster.
I am not sold on either Neal or Sides making the opening night roster, due to the veteran situation and them needing to un-seat existing veterans such as Lizon and Flath. Sides has played in 243 games as a pro, while Neal has appeared in 350 games as a pro. Veteran status in ECHL starts at 260 games played.
Another storyline may evolve in the enforcer department. Will Kevin McClelland keep two enforcers on the roster — one of whom is a veteran, no less? Both add an element of physicality during the early to mid portions of the game, but McClelland is known for shortening his bench to two lines during the late portions of a game, especially when the team is behind. Should a veteran scorer from the AHL surface on McClelland’s radar or Neal and Sides have break-out camps, it is possible he could cut ties with Lizon in favor of Leroux.
The final storyline will be to watch how the game of Anthony De Luca, the highly-touted scorer from the Rimouski Oceanic of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, translates to the ECHL. Obviously, this is something that cannot fully be answered in camp, but will be interesting to watch transpire as the season gets going. De Luca posted a career high 91 points (44G, 47A) in 68 games last season.
Defense (9): Andrew Darrigo, Tim Boyle, Ryan Ruikka, Andrew Blazek, Ray Macias, Dalton Reum, Dan Milan, Brandon Martell, Luc Kilgore
Locks for the roster: Dan Milan, *Brandon Martell, Ray Macias, Dalton Reum, Andrew Blazek
*=> On AHL tryout at time of this writing
Storylines to watch: The defense for Wichita will be very young this season, with the offseason departures of Mike Wilson and Eric Meland. How will this defensive corps mesh as camp goes along?
A second storyline to watch on this end of the ice will be the battle for spots between players like Boyle, Ruikka, Darrigo and Kilgore. If one or two players from this group stand out, McClelland has an extra roster spot available to him through mid-November, so it is conceivable he goes with seven defensemen on the roster and let the battle continue into the early stages of the regular season.
Goaltending (2): David Shantz, Grant Rollheiser
Locks for the roster: David Shantz, Grant Rollheiser
Storylines to watch: It appears that for the first time in a couple of seasons, McClelland has two goaltenders who can share the number one role. Last year, that was not the case as Tyler Bunz spent more time in the AHL than with the Thunder.
The biggest storyline in net will be after four seasons away from ECHL action, how will David Shantz re-adjust? Shantz’s record prior to his sabbatical from hockey was impressive, possessing a 2.86 goals against average and a .905 save percentage.
There will be lots of battles and storylines to emerge from camp in the coming days. McClelland has a knack for bringing players in to join the team as camp continues and not all of the allotted 30 spots are filled yet. This will be one of the most competitive camps the Thunder have had in McClelland’s six years behind the bench in Wichita.