The Brandon Wheat Kings may have settled their overage logjam for now, but Ryley Miller believes he still has plenty to prove.
The Wheat Kings trimmed their roster to 26 on Monday by releasing five players, including left-winger Dominick Favreau, leaving Miller and fellow defenceman Tyler Yaworski and centre Nick Buonassisi as the team’s contingent of three 20-year-olds to start the WHL season. However, the NHL lockout may result in a trickle-down effect and a possible influx of signed 20-year-olds into the league as the season progresses, potentially creating a little more uncertainty to deal with before the Oct. 11 overage deadline.
“It’s nice to know that we’re safe for a little while longer, but when you lose one of your really good buddies on the team, it’s tough to handle,” Miller said following practice yesterday at Westman Place. “But it’s nice to know that I’m safe for a bit ... This is the only place I want to be.”
In some previous years, the Wheat Kings have rotated overagers in and out of the lineup early in the season before making their final selections. However, the off-season trades for Yaworski, to give Brandon a physical presence on the back end, and Buonassisi, to help fill a gaping scoring hole up front, made this year’s overage situation a pretty clear-cut decision between keeping Favreau or Miller.
“We wanted to get our numbers down from where we were and part of that was reducing the overagers from four to three,” said Wheat Kings general manager Kelly McCrimmon. “We’ve gone in different ways (before), but I think there’s some benefits to making that decision before the regular season starts. So we felt we had seen enough to make the decision now as opposed to dragging it out ... The three guys that remain know that they are not going to have to sit out and all those things that come with having four guys.”
Miller, a feisty 6-foot-0, 177-pound blue-liner, said he hadn’t been focusing too much on the overage situation, although it was nice to get it settled for now.
“I was just trying to be myself, but it was in the back of my head that there was a chance (to be the odd man out),” said Miller, who fired five goals and notched 12 points while racking up 139 penalty minutes and posting a -20 plus/minus rating in 67 games last season. “I think we’re good for now and when the time comes, if it happens with (signed) guys getting sent down, you will have to worry about it again.”
McCrimmon, who has stated repeatedly that he doesn’t expect signed overagers Mark Stone, Mike Ferland or Kevin Sundher to be sent back down to Brandon, said settling their goaltending situation early was just as important as finalizing the overage contingent.
The Wheat Kings gave 16-year-old first-round bantam draft pick Jordan Papirny the chance to earn a spot in pre-season, but the Wheat Kings elected to keep 18-year-old Curtis Honey — who spent the last half of the 2011-12 season with Brandon — to back up No.1 netminder Corbin Boes.
“We really wanted to make the right decision with Jordan,” said McCrimmon, who hasn’t kept a 16-year-old goaltender in 22 years. “He’s going to be a big part of our future and we felt he deserved the opportunity to get a good chance to try out for our team. And yet, I’m not disappointed that he’s going to be reassigned for his 16-year-old year. I think it’s a tough position to bring a 16-year-old player in at and obviously as seldom as we’ve done it, speaks to that. But I don’t think we’ve ever ruined a goalie by not keeping him at 16 ...
“And with the goaltending, getting that number down to two is positive as well, so that Corbin and Curtis get their own net (in practice) and are able to get ready for opening weekend.”
The Wheat Kings also released 17-year-old forwards Hunter Smith, Kailum Gervais and Kyler Hehn yesterday, leaving the club with 16 forwards, eight defencemen and two goaltenders heading into Friday night’s season opener versus the Regina Pats at Westman Place at 7:30.
ICINGS: Wheat Kings C Jayce Hawryluk (concussion) did not practise Monday after skating twice last week ... The Wheat Kings have announced that Canadian recording artist Jess Moskaluke will perform the national anthem in the season opener ... The Wheat Kings are approaching 2,400 season tickets sold, but are still well back of last year’s total of 2,973 ... SHAW will broadcast two Wheat King games this year on Nov. 16 at Kootenay and Nov. 23 versus Prince Albert ... The Moose Jaw Warriors assigned C Brayden Cuthbert, 18, of Brandon to the Melville Millionaires of the SJHL Monday. Cuthbert hasn’t played a WHL game since suffering a concussion in February of 2010 and will try to work his way back by playing Junior A, starting this weekend. “With the injury that Brayden had, I think it’s to be determined (how long the SJHL stint will be),” said Alan Millar, the Warriors’ director of hockey operations ... The Prince Albert Raiders have acquired G Andy Desautels, 18, and D Evan Morden, 19, from the Everett Silvertips for G Cole Holowenko, 19 ... The Vancouver Giants picked up LW Tristan Sieben, 18, from the Edmonton Oil Kings on Monday for a 2014 sixth-round WHL bantam draft pick, as well as RW Tanner Moar, 18, and D Stewart Coyle, 17, from the Kelowna Rockets for 2014 fourth-round and 2015 sixth-round picks.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 18, 2012