Raider training camp is underway with a heightened sense of anticipation and excitement. The energy was infectious when many of the veterans gathered quickly Wednesday morning in the team’s weight room with high five’s all around.
Part of that has to do with the fact the Raiders closed out the playoff-less 2014-15 campaign by playing their best hockey of the season over the final dozen games and the resulting chemistry that was built in the dressing room.
The beginning of training camp means the debuts of several new faces at the Art Hauser Centre, the most significant being General Manager Curtis Hunt. A clear direction will be set by Head Coach Marc Habscheid from day one. Habscheid, Associate Dave Manson and Assistant Kelly Guard developed a synergy over the final four months of last season and it will be bolstered by the very capable alumnus Mark Odnokon who returns to the Raider coaching ranks.
In addition to stability in the front and coaching offices the team will have 18 returnees when main camp breaks, meaning the top rookies and free agents will essentially be pushing some veterans for a precious few roster spots on opening night September 25th.
The biggest question mark is in goal, not who are capable, but who are the best available puck stoppers. Nick McBride and Rylan Parenteau return as the front runners with the vast experience both gained last season with stellar and sometimes shaky performances, but both had very strong finishes. McBride gets the early nod based on the fact at 18 he is a year younger and showed well at the recent Los Angeles Kings development camp. He also is motivated by being passed over in the NHL draft.
Parenteau looks to be in fantastic shape and based on the compete level he showed last season will be ready to battle for the number one spot. They will be pushed by 16 year old Calgarian Ian Scott who was the Raiders first round pick in 2014 and Curtis Meger, the 17 year old who helped lead the Regina Pat Canadians to a bronze medal at the Telus Cup. This has led to considerable trade speculation but Hunt is no hurry to solve what is a nice problem to have.
The other major question surrounds the overage situation. Jesse Lees and Hunter Warner are among the returnees on defence with Jordan Tkatch and the Deben dangler Craig Leverton potentially coming back as top six forwards. Meanwhile don’t rule out the possibility of the Vancouver Canucks sending recently signed MacKenze Stewart back for additional seasoning in the dub.
In addition to determining who are the top 20 year old’s from that group the question remains where do they fit in the 2015-16 Raider ensemble, specifically will their experience and capability be better served scoring goals or keeping them out of the net. Lees jumps to the front because of his ability to play defense and forward in addition to quarterbacking one of the power play units from the backline. The speculation becomes moot if Stewart and Warner (signed last year by the Minnesota Wild), stay in the pros after their respective training camps.
The overage and goaltending solutions may not come until well into the regular season.
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