The Kootenay Ice dressing room at Western Financial Place is about to get a little less crowded as the team sends eight players to NHL training camps this week.
Tim Bozon, Sam Reinhart and Mackenzie Skapski did not return to Cranbrook for Kootenay Ice training camp or pre-season as they are expecting to make the full-time jump to the professional ranks.
In addition to those three, five more players from Ice camp will be headed to the big leagues in pursuit of NHL opportunities.
Forward Jaedon Descheneau, a fifth-round selection of the St. Louis Blues in 2014, will head to Traverse City, Mich. for the NHL Prospect Tournament featuring the Blues, Buffalo Sabres, Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Minnesota Wild and New York Rangers. The tournament runs from Sept. 12 to 16.
After posting 44 goals and 98 points last season with the Ice, the 5-foot-9 Descheneau will look to dazzle the Blues brass with his speed offensive flare.
“I’m sure I’ll learn a lot from other guys there,” Descheneau said following practice Tuesday afternoon. “[I’ll] come back here and show the younger guys here too. [I can] be more of a leader here.
“Coming back to [Cranbrook], there’s nothing wrong with that. They’ve got a great organization here and a team that can go far in the playoffs.”
Defenceman Tanner Faith, a fifth-round selection of the Minnesota Wild in 2014, will join Descheneau in Traverse City but in different coloured uniform. An imposing figure at 6-foot-3 and 212 pounds, the 18-year-old Faith only dressed in 10 games last season due to injury.
“I’m a little nervous, obviously,” Faith said Tuesday. “But I’m very excited to go there. Not playing last year, I’d just like to get back on the ice and play some games.
“The speed and getting my timing down [is going to be the greatest challenge].”
Faith isn’t the only blueliner heading east of the Kootenays.
Defenceman Rinat Valiev, a third-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2014, will travel to London, Ont. and the Toronto Maple Leafs Rookie Tournament, which carries on from Sept. 13 to 16.
“It feels good, Toronto is such a big organization,” Valiev said Tuesday afternoon. “I will try to play my best. I [want to] be there for a long time.”
Valiev, a native of Nizhnekamsk, Russia, will face plenty of competition at the rookie camp with seven other defencemen named to the roster. Included in that group is the highly-touted Matt Finn. The rearguard spent the 2013-14 season as the captain of the OHL’s Guelph Storm, registering 14 goals and 61 points in 66 games.
The Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators will join the Leafs in London for the tournament.
Forward Luke Philp will tag along with Valiev. The 18-year-old Philp is attending Maple Leafs rookie camp as an undrafted invitee after being passed over at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, despite being ranked 80th amongst North American skaters by the NHL Central Scouting Service.
“I really don’t have much to lose,” Philp said Tuesday. “It’s a real good opportunity for me, so I’m just going to go out there and play the best I can.
“Everyone is a lot stronger with every level you move up in. But I’ve worked hard this summer, so I think I’ll fit right in. I’ll be able to adjust to the speed and skill of the play.”
Philp, like Descheneau, will look to impress with his speed and playmaking ability. The native of Canmore, Alta. tallied 31 goals and 77 points in 71 games last season in Cranbrook, so there is no questioning his nose for the net.
Philp isn’t the only undrafted member of the Kootenay Ice heading to an NHL camp this week. Jon Martin will do the least travelling of the group as he joins the Vancouver Canucks in Penticton, B.C. for the Young Stars Classic Sept. 12 to 15.
The 19-year-old native of Winnipeg, Man. has twice been passed over at the NHL Entry Draft and he sees this as an opportunity to prove people wrong.
“I’m going in there as an underdog,” Martin said Tuesday. “But I don’t mind.
“My physical play, my speed, my shot — [I want] to show [the Canucks] and every other team what they passed up on.”
Martin’s physical presence showed through training camp and at 6-foot-2 and 212 pounds, size will play a key role if Martin is to have success in impressing Canucks management this coming week.
As for the rest of the squad, they continue to prepare for the final weekend of the WHL pre-season with practices on-going throughout the week. With five players leaving the familiar confines of Western Financial Place, the final two exhibition games represent a golden opportunity for some of the younger players still in camp to prove they belong in Cranbrook full-time.
Friday night, the Ice travel to Blairmore, Alta. where they will face the Lethbridge Hurricanes at 7 p.m. The team closes out the 2014 WHL pre-season Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. when they meet the Calgary Hitmen in Blairmore.