It is president and general manager Blaine Smith and his scouting staff’s job to remove as much uncertainty as possible to reload the team for another season. It begins in the off-season and there is plenty of work to do.
The Wolves were hit hard by graduating players, which leaves open critical positions that are not easily replaced. Key veterans from the forwards, defence and goaltending are long gone, including No. 1 goalie Franky Palazzese, captain and defensive backbone Kevin Raine, blue-liner Craig Duininck and power forward Connor Crisp among the instrumental grads.
There is no denying youth will be served in Sudbury this upcoming season. There is no other choice. This has team management excited.
“This will be a good year for younger players in the system and coming into the team because there are a lot of positions open,” Smith said.
“We expect to add five or six new, young players. We don’t feel it will be a rebuilding year. We have a good returning core of players and good crop of young players and prospects coming in. We want to be a competitive team again in the Eastern Conference. That is our focus heading into the 2014-15 season.”
There are no trades permitted until Aug. 5 in the OHL. This doesn’t mean the Wolves are sitting idle. Smith is constantly working the phones in the heat of summer to follow through with proper documents to secure the two European players — Pavel Jenys and Ivan Kashtanov — the team drafted during the 2014 Import Draft.
Smith is working with IIHF officials and the player’s agents to ensure they both will be in the city when training camp opens in late August. Smith is also busy on the phone with prospects and their agents who were taken during the 2014 OHL Priority Draft to sign deals.
“The work never ends,” Smith said.
Overage players are always a hot topic for OHL teams. Sudbury has some impact players in this category, but only three can play on a team each season. Nathan Cull has informed the team he is going to Lakehead University. The team has, potentially, five overage players coming back to select from in forwards Ray Huether, Mathew Campagna, Brody Silk, Nathan Pancel and defender Jeff Corbett.
“They have all indicated to me they want to play in the OHL next season,” Smith said. “We have some of the best overage returning players potentially coming back. They have a lot of options, so we will not know until training camp.”
Up front, the Wolves will pray centre/winger Nick Baptiste is returned from Buffalo for his fourth OHL season. A lot hinges on the dynamic forward’s return. Baptiste was Sudbury’s leading scorer last season with 89 points and 45 goals. Returning players such as Jacob Harris, Danny Desrochers, Matt Schmalz and David Zeppieri will be looked upon to step up into bigger roles.
“If we have Baptiste, Pancel and Campagna back, that is an impressive first line for any hockey club,” Smith said.
On the backend, the Wolves are going to be raw. Youngsters such as Austin Clapham and Kyle Capobianco must accelerate their development, along with hold-over vets Evan de Haan and Conor Cummins, if the defence has any chance of holding up.
“Corbett is a seasoned vet we need back, but overall, our defence looks to be solid,” Smith said.
In goal, Troy Timpano returns as the main man in the pipes after a rookie season which saw him get limited action against some of the lower-place teams. Timpano went 6-1-1-1 with a 3.43 goals-against-average and .894 save percentage. His rise to becoming an elite puckstopper in the league can not come fast enough for the Wolves. Smith has seven goalies coming to training camp. He has also not ruled out acquiring a veteran backup goalie to help mentor Timpano.
“Troy is motivated to be our No. 1 goalie and wants the lion’s share of the work,” Smith said.
The overall lookout for the 2014-15 season is muddy. The Wolves have some intriguing players returning to the fold to help make them competitive. There are going to be some hard lessons learned and no shortage of growing pains. It’s going to come down to how well the sophomores, rookies and vets adjust to new roles over the course of 68 games.