The Kelowna Rockets flung open their training-camp doors on Tuesday morning, and there’s about as many questions regarding this season’s roster as there are players trying out to make the team.
Training camp runs until Friday morning at CNC, and there are 80 hopefuls, divided into four teams, battling for approximately 25 roster spots. Technically, it’s less than 20, because at least a half-dozen spots are locked up, chief among them being starting goaltender Adam Brown. But when it comes to the forwards, that’s where the questions begin.
The first two questions revolve around veterans Evan Bloodoff, 19, and Geordie Wudrick, 20, who may or may not be around later this season. Both are slated to attend the Phoenix Coyotes’ training camp later this month, and it’s possible that both may wind up with the Coyotes.
“Evan and I both leave for Phoenix on Sept. 10th, and we’re both pretty excited about that,” said Wudrick, a 6-foot-4 power forward who was drafted by Los Angeles in 2008 (third round, 88th overall), but didn’t sign with the Kings. Upon becoming a free agent, Wudrick said he mulled over some free-agent tryouts, but chose Phoenix on June 25th.
“This year is kinda different than other years,” said Wudrick, who is in his last season of junior eligibility. “When I was going down to Los Angeles, I was a drafted guy and I was part of the organization, somewhat. I didn’t get signed and now I’m a free agent. When I go down to Phoenix, I’m going down there to make a splash and try to get a contract.”
Wudrick and Bloodoff, however, have their work cut out for them if they’re to make Phoenix’s roster. The Coyotes are a young team on the rise, and Phoenix’s current roster lists 10 forwards who are 24 or younger. So, will they return from Arizona? Likely, but the NHL being what it is today, stranger things have happened.
“I’m excited either way,” said Wudrick, who started last season with the Swift Current Broncos, but was traded to Kelowna in November. “I’ve been really happy here since the trade. It’s a good organization, with (general manager) Bruce Hamilton and (head coach) Ryan Huska, they run such a good ship. It’s awesome. But whatever the case, I’m going to be happy, no matter what — I’ll be excited if I get to play at the pro level, but here’s also plenty more years for that.”
Last season, Wudrick tallied 27 goals and 21 assists for 48 points in 62 games. With Kelowna, he had 19 goals and 34 points in 38 games. Bloodoff, meanwhile, spent most of last season recuperating from a right-knee injury (partial ACL tear), playing in just nine games, all near season’s end, where he had three goals. In 12 playoff contests, he had three assists. Phoenix drafted the fast 5-11 left winger in 2009 (sixth round, 157th overall).
Bloodoff, like Wudrick, is also heading into his final season of junior eligibility, though he doesn’t turn 20 until Nov. 21.
“It’s kinda hard to say what’s going to happen,” Bloodoff said in regards to where he’ll play this season. “But both of us will go into camp, show them our stuff, do our best and see what happens from there. If they like us, they’ll keep us, but another season here wouldn’t be the worst thing.”
While Bloodoff and Wudrick contemplate their long-term future, Zach Franco of Winnipeg hopes to make the Rockets’ roster this season. Last season, the 5-11, 160-pound forward played for the Winnipeg South Blues of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, registering 24 goals and 54 points in 51 games. The Rockets selected him in the second round, 32nd overall, of the WHL’s 2008 bantam draft.
“Camp is going good so far,” said Franco, 17, “It was a little bit of an adjustment in the first half (of the first game), but once I got my legs under me, I was ready to go. It’s a big difference from junior A back in Manitoba. The size of the guys are bigger, stronger, faster, so it’s an adjustment period.”
With two more days of camp action, Franco said players “can’t get their hopes too high or get them sunk too low if you have a bad game. You have to keep working hard and try your best.”
Rockets assistant general manager Lorne Frey said the Franco “had a good first day and he’s doing what we think he’s going to do. He’s not an overly big guy yet, but he’s got great skill, great speed and he competes, which is what we're looking for."