Kootenay Ice winger Zak Zborosky runs through drills as head coach Luke Pierce (background) looks on during veterans' practice at Western Financial Place on Monday.

Zborosky eagerly awaits Rangers camp as Ice back at it

Winger Zak Zborosky headed for first NHL camp with New York Rangers following Kootenay Ice training camp

Zak Zborosky is biding his time at Kootenay Ice training camp in Cranbrook, focusing in on his final season of WHL hockey for the time being. But in short order, the 19-year-old product of Regina will be living out a childhood dream when he joins the NHL’s New York Rangers for the 2016 Traverse City Tournament beginning Sept. 16.

“When you think about it when you’re young, obviously it’s kind of far-fetched,” Zborosky said after Ice veterans wrapped up practice at Western Financial Place Monday afternoon. “To actually get there… It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I’m just happy that I got to be invited. I’m looking forward to it.”

The 6-foot, 183-pound winger has blipped on and off of NHL radars over the past two seasons. In the fall of 2014 — Zborosky’s first year of NHL Entry Draft eligibility — he found himself on NHL Central Scouting’s preliminary ranking list before falling off midway through the campaign, eventually going undrafted at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.

Motivated by the snubbing, the speedy forward put up career numbers in 2015-16, registering 32 goals, 36 assists and 68 points in 58 games to lead the Ice in scoring. Alongside centreman Matt Alfaro, Zborosky was a focal piece of an otherwise anemic Kootenay Ice offense and he made the most of the added opportunity and responsibility. Suddenly, he found himself invited to New York Rangers Prospect Development Camp in June and right back on the NHL radar.

The Rangers announced the rosters for their annual prospect tournament roster, which included Zborosky, on Monday morning.

“We think [Zborosky] is poised to breakout offensively,” said Dan Marr, NHL director of Central Scouting, when Zborosky was initially named to the scouting service’s pre-draft rankings in 2014. “He’s paid his dues. He is a skilled forward. He’s got the skating and the hockey sense to generate some offense for the team… We know he’s a decent playmaker with a good shot.

“We think he has the potential to continue to develop as a skill forward and maybe add a little power-forward element to his game.”

The breakout might have come a year later than NHL scouts expected, but the fact of the matter is it came and the former Regina Pat Canadian did it with relatively little help.

Having already sampled a taste of the professional game and how they do it in the Big Apple, Zborosky is intent on leaving a serious impression when he joins the Blueshirts in a few weeks time.

“It was a real eye-opener just to see how everyone is super professional,” Zborosky said. “You go there, you play hockey and everyone works hard. The skill level is so high, so you have to work hard every day or you’re going to fall behind. To see how good everyone is at that next level was good.

“Obviously you have to leave an impression. You’ve got to go there thinking you can maybe make the team with the right mindset, not that you’re coming home.”

The Traverse City Tournament takes place in Traverse City, Mich., from Sept. 16 through Sept. 20. It features several top prospects from the NHL’s Rangers, Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues.

The Rangers will take a 25-player roster, including Zborosky. Also representing the Western Hockey League with the Blueshirts in Traverse City are defencemen Colton Bobyk (Red Deer Rebels; free agent tryout), Turner Ottenbreit (Seattle Thunderbirds; free agent tryout) and Sergey Zborovskiy (Regina Pats; 2015 third round), and forwards Reid Duke (Brandon Wheat Kings; free agent tryout), Ryan Gropp (Seattle; 2015 second round), Brad Morrison (Prince George Cougars; 2015 fourth round) and Ty Ronning (Vancouver Giants; 2016 seventh round).

For players like Zborosky, attending on amateur tryout offers, a tournament like this represents a quality opportunity to make a good run at landing an NHL contract.

Former Ice power forward Jon Martin remains one of the most recent pieces of evidence that one doesn’t need to be drafted in order to earn a professional opportunity.

After years of attending development camps with the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks and Buffalo Sabres, the 6-foot-1, 212-pound Martin exploded in his final year of WHL eligibility, scoring 38 goals and 69 points in 66 games. Midway through his final junior season, the native of Winnipeg inked an entry-level contract with the NHL’s San Jose Sharks and is expected to suit up for the club’s AHL affiliate San Jose Barracuda in 2016-17.

Though there’s plenty for Zborosky to look forward to with the Rangers, he isn’t overlooking where he is now and what needs to happen before puck drops on the 2016-17 WHL season.

It doesn’t take much to remember the 2015-16 campaign wasn’t exactly the most memorable in Kootenay Ice history, as the young, rebuilding club managed only 12 wins and 31 points over the 72-game schedule.

Though the team will once again be rather green, there’s no questioning it will feature a group of motivated returners, including Zborosky.

“For the most part, I think everyone can agree with me on the team that last year was a tough season,” Zborosky said. “We obviously want to improve a lot from last season, make it a better environment, better to be around and have a good, winning season, hopefully.

“Considering we’re going to have another good, young group of guys, [I want] to mentor them, help them out a lot. First year in the league is always hard. Being a veteran, you’ve just got to help them out.”

Fans were privy to plenty of that young group on Monday as the opening day of training camp featured two prospect scrimmages bookending a veterans practice and goaltenders session.

The opening prospects session was a spirited affair, the highlight of which was a line featuring Peyton Krebs (2016 — first overall), Benjamin Sanderson (2015 — sixth round, 122nd) and Austin Wong (2015 — 11th round, 232nd). The trio displayed notable chemistry, producing each of Team White’s first five goals.

The youngsters will get thrown to the wolves Tuesday morning as rookies are mixed in with returning veterans for regular scrimmages beginning at 9 a.m.

Ice Chips: There were a few notables present on the opening day of Kootenay Ice training camp at Western Financial Place, one whom won’t be a contributor to the club in 2016-17. Former Ice goaltender Nathan Lieuwen (2007-2012) was skating with the club ahead of going to training camp with the AHL’s San Antonio Rampage… On the import front, defenceman Nikita Radzivilyuk was in attendance, while forward Klim Kostin was not present, as previously anticipated… 1999-born goaltender Jakob Walter was on the ice after not attending camp in 2015. Walter spent the 2015-16 season with the Nanaimo Clippers of the BCHL…