I have heard a curious thing listening in and reading some things around the WHL this pre-season. More often than I would expect I’ve heard that the Swift Current Broncos are a rebuilding team. I’m not singling anyone out saying this it’s something I’ve heard in more than a few places and it struck me as a bit curious.
Now I do somewhat understand how someone could have that perception. A team that missed the playoffs, brings in a new coach/director of player personnel, shakes up their management and has a nice crew of high end prospects feels like they’re rebuilding. It’s obviously exciting to see the skill of the 2000 and 2001 born players and to start imagining how good those future Broncos teams could be. It’s also I think unfair to the current roster.
Last season the Broncos employed a defensive group without a true veteran. Jordan Harris was the closest they had except that his injuries not only limited the experience he had over his career but also ended his season early. Once he went down it was a group of 17 and 18-year-olds with probably the least experience of any defensive group in the WHL. That’s rebuilding.
Last season the Broncos had a roster that was basically half rookies and ended the season with only five players over the age of 18. That’s rebuilding.
This season? They return five defencemen who are all 18 or 19-years-old to create the core of what should be one of the deepest group on the back end in the league. The only guys they’re missing from last season played bottom pairing minutes. No returning veteran is even going to have to increase their role… they just have to improve on what they have experience doing.
This season they have the option of keeping a tandem of 19-year-old goaltenders who have a combined 129 games of WHL experience.
This season they could return as many as twelve forwards who played games for them last season with at last three established 20 goal scorers at the WHL level in Glenn Gawdin, Tyler Steenbergen and Lane Pederson.
The Broncos in theory could have as many as 20 guys on their roster this season that played some time with the team in 2015-16. Since final buzzer in March the only players they have officially lost are the three graduating overages, veteran two-way D like Jordan Harris and Jaydan Gordon, along with a couple of guys they took late chances on in Gustav Olhaver and Austin Adamson. There are 12 players on the current roster who are at least 19. This is not a group of wet behind the ears rooks.
Now the door is still open for change. One of the veteran netminders could get moved to make room for some youth in the crease, but the Broncos would still at least have one veteran back there. A couple of older forwards might not stick around so the Broncos can find spots for exciting young players like Aleksi Heponiemi, Riley Stotts, Tanner Mole, Josh Baker, Owen Blocker or Quinton Waitzner. Even if several of those six young rookies and an older rookie like Ryan Sokoloski makes the team it’s still a relatively experienced group overall. When your 1-2 punch up the middle (assuming it’s Gawdin and Pederson) could have a combined 335 WHL games under their belt and are both off to NHL camps this fall you aren’t exactly starting from scratch.
Is this team a championship contender? No one is saying that at this stage. Without any recent history to even hint at that it would be irresponsible to suggest it. However, when I hear the words rebuilding I think of a woefully inexperienced group without high end veteran talent and lacking depth. Those can be exciting teams to watch when you pass the torch to a crew of youngsters and watch as they go through the roller coaster of their early days. I just don’t think that’s what we’re looking at here. I think you could legitimately make team MVP predictions for at least six guys on this roster. There’s talent here and it’s not all 16 or 17.
This isn’t my effort to set high expectations. I don’t know what to expect. The Broncos have a new coach, they are going to have some new players in key roles and there are still lots of question marks. But rebuilding? Not this group. They’re not looking two or three years down the road. That future may be bright but no one is looking beyond what they could accomplish now. The WHL East Division may be as tough this year as I’ve ever seen it and yet the Broncos should be right in that mix every night.
Agree? Disagree? I guess we’ll find out soon enough!