We all know where they want to go, but how are they going to get there?
The Moncton Wildcats will have to make some very difficult decisions over the next few weeks that ultimately may alter the direction of the team, for now that is.
Will the team that breaks camp look anything like the team that finishes the season?
Many teams in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League will be facing similar dilemmas when it comes to personnel decisions, but they aren’t confronted with the same pressure to win it all as the Wildcats.
This is supposed to be the year and from all accounts the urgency to win is as intense as ever.
Young Skill or Experience
Some believe the Wildcats should continue to build and development, while others are convinced the team is only a few moves away from being a serious contender.
Early roster moves will definitely indicate the organizations intentions, but expect drastic roster overall if given the green light to go all in, but for the time being tough decisions still have to be made.
The Wildcats are in good position to inject more youth and potential skill into their bottom six, which may prove beneficial in the long run, but realistically it all comes down to John Torchetti’s philosophy and how much he values experience over young skillful players.
The former NHL bench boss has gone on record saying that he doesn’t look at a player’s age when evaluating them.
We shall see.
If the Cats inject more youth into their bottom six, returning players like Ozzie King and Kyle Foreman could be on the outside looking in.
It’s doubtful, but possible.
Foreman and King were very effective a season ago and could increase their individual point totals if given more opportunities and ice time this season.
King is a late bloomer and possesses the skill to be a very effective player in traffic. You could see his confidence blossoming before a late season injury derailed that momentum. Foreman played up and down the lineup a season ago and showed solid poise with the puck. He’s very valuable if used properly and given an opportunity. Both could also kill penalties, but as witnessed last season those duties were given to Top 6 players as well.
From a young prospect perspective, here are a few players that could be challenging for those valuable roster spots.
The Cats 3rd round draft choice Julien Hebert has looked solid while Francis Langlois, Zachary Alchorn, Gavin Watt and Philippe Daoust are also making a strong push for roster spots.
Daoust has to be almost a shoe in at this point, but again your never know.
It’s clear the Cats have some very difficult decisions to make on the horizon surrounding their forward group.
The Rumsey Factor
Mark Rumsey has showed very well through the first few days of camp. Rumsey has brought energy and grit every time he has stepped on the ice, but the one intangible that he possesses is a pro shot.
The knock on the proud Newfoundlander throughout his career has been his foot speed. Nevertheless, Rumsey appears to be lighter than last year and in very good shape.
In my opinion, he’s a step faster and driven to make the club.
There’s no doubting the 18-year-old’s scoring ability and will to put the puck in the net. If you give Mark Rumsey time and space he will find the back of the net, it’s almost a given really.
He’s a natural goal scorer.
Rumsey truly has the ability to score twenty in the Q, if surrounded by the right players and given the right opportunity.
The most troubling decision surrounding the Wildcats forward group could be the prospect of moving on from overager Dylan Seitz.
Some may find it hard to believe, but there’s a possibility the power forward’s days in the Hub City could be numbered if the team elects to keep Christian Huntley on the backend.
The Cats have overage issues, nothing like the Halifax Mooseheads, but they definitely have a tough decision to make when it comes to twenty year olds.
Seitz brings the total package when he’s on his game. He’s the prototypical power forward, plays with energy and grit and can score goals.
The skilled two-way winger always plays on the edge and stands up for his teammates. There’s no question when Dylan Seitz is on the ice he creates time and space for his linemates, but at what cost?
A few times last year Seitz did cross the line and take some ill-advised penalties.
Seitz did have a solid season and definitely fits Torchetti’s hard nose fore-checking style of play.
If the Wildcats elect to go with Huntley on the backend to provide a veteran presence, which isn’t out of the question, Seitz could be also on the outside looking in.
From the business side of the game, if the Cats are very serious at making a push for the Cup, they have to evaluate what player could have more value for a possible trade scenario.
Seitz or Huntley?
You see the hockey ops side evidently have some very difficult decisions to make. If the team performs very well out of the gates, there’s also the possibility that the team will upgrade the overagers like several Q teams have done in recent years.
Either way this time of year has to be very stressful for overagers across the entire QMJHL.
Is Sean Stewart a Winger or a Defencemen?
What about the prospects of Sean Stewart returning to the forward group? How will that affect the selection process?
As of right now, Stewart is back at home on the point and playing very effectively.
Stewart deserves full marks for the job he did last season while playing up front. It’s extremely hard to change positions in the minor ranks let alone the Q, the quiet soft-spoken rearguard made the transition look seamless. I wonder if he talked to Jonathon Aspirot about that?
What about Manuel Alberg?
The skilled German import could very well play in the Cats Top 6 if given the opportunity. Alberg has had a very strong camp so far. The skilled crafty winger could very well find himself on the team, however, that may also hinge on the Axel Andersson situation.
There’s no question Alberg can play and contribute in the league.
What about the prospects of Alexander Khovanov playing in the NHL or AHL this season?
Well, lets not get carried away, but that could happen, it’s doubtful, but stranger things have happened in the hockey world and in Minnesota for that matter. What if the highly skilled center has a strong camp and the Wild give him the nine games? By that time, if they spread it out, it will be close to the World Junior’s. Again, anything possible, especially when you are as skilled as Khovanov is. If that young man figures it out and rectifies certain negative aspects of his game, he is going to become one hell of hockey player.
The Backend Breakdown
From a defensive standpoint, it would appear Sam Dow and Jeremy Berube are close to playing a more significant role at the Q level.
Berube has struggled on occasion during the camp, what 17-year-old defencemen doesn’t struggle from time to time.
Nicolas Pavan and Charles Antoine Pilotte have had strong showings thus far, but that’s the future. What about the present?
A depth move at the end of last seasons trade period which flew under the radar at the time has already paid dividends for the Moncton Wildcats.
Irishtown’s Jeremie Hebert played a critical role during last seasons President Cup Playoffs.
It may have been minor to some, but his presence in the Cats lineup really helped them forge on when the team was confronted with injury and suspension issues.
Hebert has had an outstanding camp and as predicted pushing for a spot on the Cats backend.
As of right now it would appear that Cats might elect to keep 7 or 8 defencemen. If the “Axeman” comes they may also elect to move Stewart up front, which will throw a big wrench into the line combinations.
The Cats will have to cross that bridge when they get there.
Tons of questions surround the defensive corps. Nevertheless, you can count on the Wildcats being a much better more committed defensive team under Torchetti this season.
We all know where they want to go, but how are they going to get there?
Well that’s simple really, by making tough decisions!