On paper, the Brandon Wheat Kings are still carrying 10 defencemen. On the ice, however, it’s a bit of a different story.
The Wheat Kings announced Monday that veteran defenceman Nick Walters will need hand surgery and will be sidelined indefinitely. The 19-year-old aggravated a knuckle problem on his right hand while skating for the St. Louis Blues in an NHL rookie tournament in Michigan and will be going under the knife shortly.
"He injured his hand in the Traverse City tournament and when they went to St. Louis the physicians there examined it and they felt that he needed to have surgery on it, so he was returned home and we’re working on getting him a date for surgery, which we hope to have that answer soon," Wheat Kings head coach/general manager Kelly McCrimmon said.
Walters, who had one goal, 19 points and 106 penalty minutes in 64 games last season, is one of four defencemen currently not available for the Wheat Kings, who had just six blue-liners in practice on Monday, including 15-year-old phenom Kale Clague. The 2013 first-round bantam draft pick, who is not eligible to play full-time in the WHL this season, led the Wheat Kings in pre-season scoring with two goals and three assists in four games and the Wheat Kings hope to keep him here for opening weekend before he returns to the Alberta Midget AAA ranks.
"Kale has played extremely well and he’s really shown great improvement during his time here and he’s comfortable in every situation," McCrimmon said. "He’s exceptional."
Meanwhile, new Brandon blue-liner Taylor Green, an 18-year-old acquired from the Seattle Thunderbirds in the off-season, sat out both weekend pre-season games with an undisclosed upper-body injury. McCrimmon confirmed Green is expected to be out for another two weeks, while 19-year-old defenceman Eric Roy has been slowed by an abdominal strain while at Calgary Flames camp, but has resumed skating with the Flames.
Wheat Kings captain Ryan Pulock also remains with the New York Islanders and the 2013 NHL first-round draft pick could make his pre-season debut tonight when the Islanders face the Flames in a game slated for Regina’s Brandt Centre. McCrimmon does not expect the 19-year-old Pulock to be returned to Brandon in time for the WHL season opener this weekend, and he could play up to nine regular-season games for the Islanders before the first year of his contract would kick in.
The Wheat Kings, who posted a 3-1 pre-season record, currently have 28 players on the roster (two goaltenders, 10 defencemen, 16 forwards). Brandon opens the regular season on Friday night in Moose Jaw, Sask., before hosting the Warriors in the Wheat Kings’ home opener on Saturday at Westman Place at 7:30 p.m.
ICINGS: A late surge has pushed the Wheat Kings to 2,293 season tickets sold, with four days to go until the home opener. Brandon sold 2,603 season tickets last year ... Clague and new Latvian LW Rihards Bukarts, 17, tied for the Wheat Kings’ pre-season scoring lead at five points apiece, with Bukarts firing one goal and adding four assists ... In addition to season-ticket packages, individual game tickets for the Wheat Kings’ home opener are now on sale at the Keystone Centre box office.