There are two big things that stand out when you look at the returning core up front. First is the graduation of three top-six forwards in Jon Martin, Jamal Watson and Scott Feser. The other is how many players they can still return. The only other assured departures from the team at the end of last season are Austin Adamson and Gustav Olhaver.
That leaves the Broncos with Glenn Gawdin, Tyler Steenbergen, Lane Pederson, Calvin Spencer, Arthur Miller, Tyler Adams, Connor Chaulk, Brandan Arnold, Kaden Elder, Tristen Elder and Cole Johnson. If you include Ryan Sokoloski who started the season with the Broncos before being sent back to Junior A that’s a full line-up of forwards you could slot in for a game tomorrow. So how likely is it they will all still be here come say November 1st or even October 1st?
In the Eastern Conference last season only the Kootenay Ice scored fewer goals than the Broncos. Jon Martin scored 38 of those 189 and he’s gone. There’s a lot of heart, talent and compete on the roster. However, if that crew of returning forwards wants to keep their spots they are going to have to show they can step up their production.
I think it’s pretty clear which veterans will start in the top six. Gawdin, Steenbergen and Pederson should be three of the more dangerous forwards in the league this season. The three of them had 19, 20 and 20 goals in 2015-16 with lots of room for growth yet. If you look at projections based on the second half of last season it’s promising for those three. You can probably pencil Swift Current’s lone overage player Calvin Spencer in for a bigger role as well. After that the door is wide open. Tyler Adams did show he can play top six minutes without looking out of place. No other forward scored more than 6 goals last season, but they did get valuable experience. With the injuries and changes the Broncos went through last season almost everyone got a chance on different lines against varying quality of opposition. They should be able to hit the ground running this season.
It’s not like these guys haven’t scored before at other levels. Kaden Elder is a former 1st round bantam pick who put up big numbers in minor hockey. Adams, Chaulk and Miller were all point per game players together on their championship midget team. Johnson is a 2nd round bantam pick who has all the talent and has been devastated by injury in his first two seasons. If you look at all of their histories you see a time where they played key roles on their teams.
Training camp and pre-season is going to be so vital for some of those other guys to show that experience and their remaining potential is more valuable to this season’s team than a talented raw rookie.
Another thing worth mentioning is that the Broncos have two overage slots open. This is a very shallow class of overage players in the WHL this season, but if they need to the Broncos have the ability to slot two more veterans in if they aren’t getting enough out of what they have. I don’t know if that’s a move they would make right away though.
Broncos management has been saying for a while how excited they are about what is coming down their pipeline in terms of prospects. Some of those young guys are going to need a place to play on this team while others could go back to midget for more seasoning. The question is how many young guys the Broncos want to bring along. The list of guys with a legit shot at making the roster is pretty long.
At the top of that list is import draft pick Aleksi Heponiemi. He’s a lock and will very likely receive significant offensive minutes. Just from some brief exposure to him his elite skill level is evident. We’ll see how smooth the transition is for him to the WHL.
Riley Stotts is also probably close to a lock. Swift Current drafted him 10th overall in the 2015 bantam draft and all he did was score 31 goals with 27 assists in 38 games on a championship Midget AAA team. He’s got the tools to be a franchise type forward, but Riley is only 16 so expectations should be measured. You can’t expect too much too soon from guys that young.
There is strong group of players from Manitoba this year. Tanner Mole (who was on the same midget team as Stotts) and Owen Blocker are both signed players who could push for spots. Mole is 17 this year and has size to spare so he probably has a leg up, while Blocker will probably have to make a special case for himself to be here this season at his age.
Josh Baker is another signed prospect who seems to have offensive upside. The Edmonton product scored 32 times in 36 games of Midget AAA prep hockey last season and I would guess entering his 17-year-old season has an inside track on a potential roster opening.
There are some other 16-year-olds who certainly appear to be poised to get here eventually. The Broncos signed big Quinton Waitzner this week. That doesn’t mean they see him as ready now although Director of Hockey Operations Jamie Porter noted they are open to keeping some younger guys if they show they belong here. Dominic Turner then springs to mind as another possibility coming off a 46 point season in 36 games of Alberta Minor Midget AAA. Yet he could also benefit from getting a season of Major Midget AAA under his belt as well.
That doesn’t even account for any surprises and we’ve seen a few in my time covering the Broncos. Ryon Moser and Tanner LeSann come to mind as guys who surprised at camp and earned big roles here in very different circumstances. You never know what you might find at this age when players change so much in a short period of time.
Now I can’t wait to see the battles start on the ice. Check out the schedule for Decor Complete Training Camp by clicking here.