With puck drop on the Western Hockey League season just days away, here are five questions the Vancouver Giants face heading into their second campaign out of the Langley Events Centre.
There is no denying Tyler Benson is a difference maker.
Over three seasons, the Giants captain has amassed 34 goals and 115 points in 125 games. The problem is, the nearest the now 19-year-old came to playing a full season was in 2014/15 when he finished with 14 goals and 45 points in 62 games as a 16-year-old.
Since then, Benson has played in 30 games (nine goals, 28 points) in 2015/16 and 33 games (11 goals, 42 points) last season, before injuries forced him out of the line-up.
The second round pick of the Edmonton Oilers — if healthy — has the potential to light up the WHL.
Benson is in camp with the Oilers right now while recovering from off-season hernia surgery. But unless he makes the Edmonton roster, he is only eligible to return to junior and the Giants.
The Giants are a young team: of the 27 players still on the roster, 10 are 1999-born players, eight are 00s and two are 01s. Vancouver has four 97-born players — teams can only carry three over-age players — and three 98-born players.
So will the lack of 19-year-olds hurt the team?
Take a look at the successful junior hockey teams, and the majority of them have six, seven or eight players from this age group.
The Giants still have three goalies in camp — last year’s tandem of Kubic and David Tendeck, as well as rookie Todd Scott.
Scott is a 17-year-old while Tendeck is 18 and Kubic 19.
Kubic was the team’s backbone in 2016/17, by far their steadiest player, keeping the score respectable most nights.
Both Tendeck and Scott have had stellar pre-seasons. Scott appeared in four of the six games and had a 2.45 goals against average and a .927 save percentage. Tendeck played in two games and in his 60 combined minutes, allowed just one goal and finished with a .967 save percentage.
Kubic played twice and had a 3.87 GAA and .871 save percentage.
So which of the three will play elsewhere in 2017/18? Has Scott surpassed Tendeck for the back-up role or will the Giants re-assign him for one more season? Or would the Giants consider trading Kubic and going with a young tandem in net, thus also freeing up an over-age spot for 2018/19?
Vancouver has four 20-year-olds on the roster but must be down to three by Oct. 10.
Darian Skeoch would appear to be a lock for the final roster.
Before an ankle injury cost him the second half of the season, the six-foot-four, 216-pound Skeoch was Vancouver’s steadiest defenceman and most physical force. That should make him a lock for this year’s team.
The other three potential 20-year-olds are Ty Ronning — last year’s leading scorer with 25 goals and 53 points in 68 games — Jack Flaman (15 goals, 22 points in 71 games) and new acquisition Brad Morrison (21 goals, 52 points in 61 games for Prince George last season).
Ronning is in camp with the New York Rangers while Morrison is with the Calgary Flames. Should they impress and earn contracts, both are eligible to play in the American Hockey League.
Which rookie will step up?
Two years ago, James Malm managed a pair of assists in 25 games as a 16-year-old and last year saw Malm make the most of increased opportunity, finishing second on the team with 20 goals and 51 points in 69 games.
So is there a candidate to make that sort of a jump in their contribution?
Up front, perhaps Tyler Popowich?
The six-foot-four, 196-pound forward had seven goals and nine points in 53 games as a 16-year-old. With a bigger role, could the power forward blossom into a 20-plus goal scorer?
And on the blue-line, there are several candidates.
Sixteen-year-old Bowen Byram and 17-year-old Alex Kannok Leipert both have the potential to step up.
Each was named the top defenceman in their respective leagues, Byram with the Yale Lions of the Canadian School Sport Hockey League and Kannok Leipert of the Regina Pat Canadians in the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League.
Season opens Friday
The Giants kick off the 2017/18 WHL campaign with a visit to the provincial capital on Friday for the start of a home-and-home series against the Victoria Royals. The teams then return to the Langley Events Centre the following night for a 7 p.m. puck drop.
The home opener, presented by CIBC, will celebrate the Giants’ 2007 Memorial Cup-winning team. Each fan will receive a commemorative poster of the championship team and members of that team will be on hand for a ceremonial puck drop. There will also be video excerpts from a reunion the team held earlier this summer.
“Ten years ago we raised our Memorial Cup banner at the Pacific Coliseum, and our 2017 CIBC home opener will provide our fans with the opportunity to relive the magic from the past, while also witnessing our incredibly bright future,” said Dale Saip, the Giants senior vice-president.