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Wednesday, 28 August 2013 13:34

Broncos’ training camp: young prospects impress

Written by  Brad Brown
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Jay Merkley takes a shot during the Black and White game. Jay Merkley takes a shot during the Black and White game.

Swift Current Broncos head coach and general manager Mark Lamb would not characterize Tuesday’s preseason game with the Moose Jaw Warriors as a make-or-break moment for any youngsters hoping to make the team.

But he did acknowledge it represented a milestone of sorts for the franchise as a whole.
“We’ve always had kind of a tough time getting enough players to play in that game and now we don’t,” he said after Sunday’s Black and White intersquad scrimmage that closed training camp. “Now we have players that can go in there … and we don’t have to go into the 19 and 20 year old players to play in the rookie game.”
Where last year’s roster for the so-called “rookie” game included a pair of 19-year-olds, a fourth-year veteran and an established 30-goal scorer, Tuesday the Broncos had the option to dress up to 10 forwards and eight defencemen each with less than a full season’s worth of games played in the WHL.
Having so many highly-regarded prospects on the roster as training camp wraps up speaks well to the future of the organization, but also represents a double-edged sword that Lamb will be keeping a close eye on as the preseason moves along.
“What we really need to find out, not just on Tuesday but during the exhibition season is, our young team, are they capable of starting a season and not having us go out and add some more veteran players?” he said. “That’s going to be the real telling tale of this whole exhibition season.”
Nowhere will the youth movement be watched more closely than on the blue line.
Established top-end veterans Dillon Heatherington and Brycen Martin will be joined this year by some combination of highly-touted prospects including Julius Honka, Jordan Harris, Cole Bevan and Max Lajoie, and serviceable depth defenders such as Brett Lernout and Bobby Zinkan.
But the group is also notable for the absence of any 19- or 20-year-old players.
Remedying that situation seems to be a matter of ‘when,’ not ‘if.’
“I know we’re too young right now,” said Lamb. “We don’t have a lot of ’94s (19-year-olds). There’s not a lot of teams that do have a lot of ’94s right now. P.A.’s got a ton of them.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for the young guys to come in and really show what they’ve got because they’re good young guys but everybody knows that you have to have older guys to ultimately win at this level.”
Right now that group includes guys such as goaltender Eetu Laurikainen, back for a second season after a sensational rookie campaign.
Graham Black, a two-time 50-point scorer and one of the fastest players in the league, will likely centre the Broncos’ first line as he tries to earn an NHL contract with the New Jersey Devils who drafted him 135th overall in 2012.
And right-winger Coda Gordon will face increased expectations as well after scoring 30 goals as a 17-year-old rookie and dishing out 42 assists last year to finish among the league’s elite playmakers.
“This game is played with your head and Coda Gordon is one of the smartest players in the league … he should lead our team in points,” Lamb said of Gordon.
Gordon and Black will be supported in the Top 6 by a veteran group that should include returning Broncos Colby Cave and Jay Merkley along with veteran WHLers Andrew Johnson and Connor Sanvido.
Behind them is where the forward battles get interesting, as rookies Glenn Gawdin, Jake DeBrusk and Cavin Leth are expected to push a number of returning veterans for ice time.
Expectations were a recurring point of discussion at training camp as Lamb and head scout Jamie Porter both suggested the bar for assessing talent would be a little higher this fall after making 12 Bantam Draft picks inside the Top 60 over the past three years.
“We’re going to be young. We’re going to be really young. But we’ve got a lot of good players,” said Lamb. “Expectations, we always play to make the playoffs … I know we have a good team, but we’re young. We’re really young, but we’re exciting young.”

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