The Prince Albert Raider season has come to another conclusion and while the four-game sweep at the hands of the Edmonton Oil Kings is disappointing, the struggles the team endured during the regular season is even more alarming.
This team was far better than being a No. 8 seed and never should have been in the situation of requiring a single tie-breaker game just to advance to the playoffs. They did do an incredible job of getting back into the race and then beating Red Deer in that winner-take-all contest, but a more consistent regular season would have easily had them ahead of the Regina Pats for the East Division crown and then a showdown against Brandon to start off the post-season.
But, it never panned out that way, for whatever reason, so now we have to wonder what the future holds for the club.
I’m not going to analyze any one person -- player or coach -- but what I am going to do is try and piece together what the team could look like next year.
Definitely not coming back due to graduation from the junior ranks are Graeme Craig, Cole Cheveldave and Collin Valcourt. All three came to Prince Albert this year via the trade route and all three did a credible job with the Raiders. There was a lot of finger-pointing at Cheveldave for his play, but the way he responded to taking a back seat while rookie netminder Nick McBride flourished down the stretch was admirable. He was more than ready when his opportunity came and it showed in his play in the series against Edmonton.
Defenceman Josh Morrissey has likely played his last game with the Raiders as the Winnipeg Jets I think will be taking a long look at keeping him in the NHL next year. Morrissey has to make the Jets or else he returns to Prince Albert as he can’t be assigned to a minor-pro team as a 19-year-old.
Leon Draisaitl will also get a long look at his first NHL camp in the fall, but it all depends on who selects in him in the upcoming NHL draft as to what his future might be. I strongly believe he will be back in a Raider jersey for one more year, but again, he is just that good to make it to the next level as an 18-year-old. I have never seen anyone with such great vision of the ice and his anticipation of what will happen next is unbelievable. NHL teams will certainly be drooling to get him in their stable so we will have to wait and see how that all shakes out.
The rest of the team is eligible to return, but herein lies a big problem -- there are too many older players!
Dakota Conroy, Calder Brooks, Jayden Hart, Shane Danyluk, Chance Braid, Carson Perreaux and Sawyer Lange are all coming back as overage players. That means at least four of those will have to be moved to another team because league rules only allow three 20-year-olds on a roster.
Then there is another bevy of 19-year-olds including Craig Leverton, Gage Quinney, Ryan Coghlan, MacKenzie Stewart and Thomas Andrlik. Again there is an abundance in another important age class.
Outside of the lengthy list of older players, there are just six who would be classed as “young.”
Tim Vanstone, Reid Gardiner and Darcy Zaharichuk are all coming back as 18-year-olds while Nick McBride, Brendan Guhle and Matteo Gennaro fall into the 17-year-old category. Those are some very nice building blocks for the future.
Having dealt last year’s first-round pick Jake Kryski to Kamloops in the Cheveldave trade that means there is no real sure-fire prospect coming up to crack the roster like they did this year with a healthy trio of 16-year-olds in McBride, Guhle and Gennaro.
No matter how you shake this out it will be a totally different club next year with at least seven new faces needed to be added to roster and if Morrissey and Draisaitl stick in the NHL that numbers goes up to nine. One can safely assume that that number will be even higher when everything is all said and done.
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With the Raiders being finished and plans now kicking into high gear to get ready for next season, there is just one more hockey event to be held in Prince Albert this year and that is the Western Regional Midget AAA championship that comes to the Art Hauser Centre next week.
A total of seven games will be played over the span of four days with Thunder Bay coming in from Northern Ontario, Winnipeg representing Manitoba and the Prince Albert Mintos serving as the host team. Either the Battlefords Stars or Notre Dame Argos will also gain a spot as the Saskatchewan entry as the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League final is now down to its final two games -- one if Notre Dame wins the next one as they hold the upper hand with a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series.
Tournament passes are very reasonably priced at $40 for adults and $30 for seniors and students and they can be picked up at the Art Hauser Centre office during regular business hours or they will be available at the gate starting on Thursday.
Games will be played at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Thursday and Friday and at 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. on Saturday. The championship final will start at 2 p.m. on Sunday with the winner of this event moving on to the Telus Cup in Moose Jaw later next month.
A lot of work has gone into getting things in place for this event so come out and show your support. It should be very good hockey!
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One final thing I want to do this time around is send out my congratulations to Jason Everitt for his promotion as acting fire chief for the Prince Albert Fire Department. I worked with Jason at the mill for a number of years and I know he will do an awesome job in his new role. Hopefully it becomes permanent in the not-so-distant future.
Dave Leaderhouse is a reporter with the Prince Albert Daily Herald.