The Prince Albert Raiders are not leaning on the return of Josh Morrissey and Leon Draisaitl for a successful 2014-2015 WHL campaign.
While the jury is still out on whether or not the Raiders‚Äô top offensive and defensive producers last season will return to the lineup for the upcoming campaign, GM Bruno Campese wants to make it clear that with or without them, the team is moving forward.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs the strength of the group that determines your ultimate success,‚ÄĚ said Campese while en route to Regina for a pre-season tilt against the Lethbridge Hurricanes on Friday. ‚ÄúI think any prudent team has got to try and plan as if they are not going to be back.‚ÄĚ
Last season, Morrissey and Draisaitl both enjoyed career-high years in the WHL in terms of point production.
Morrissey tallied 28 goals and 45 assists in 59 games with the Raiders last season, missing a chunk of WHL time to represent Canada at the 2014 World Junior Championship in Sweden.
Finishing fourth overall in WHL scoring last season, German centre Draisaitl tallied 105 points in 64 games as he became the first Raider since Steve Kelly in 1996 to hit the 100-point plateau with 38 goals and 67 assists.
Draisaitl is currently training with the Edmonton Oilers while Morrissey is with the Raiders as the 2013 NHL Entry Draft first round selection eagerly awaits the start of Winnipeg Jets training camp.
According to Campese, an NHL debut for the pair this season is a strong possibility, which the Raiders are preparing for.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs business as usual,‚ÄĚ Campese said. ‚ÄúRight now we‚Äôve got to assume that they are not back and yet, we are hoping they are both back. The team is still going to function whether they are here or not.‚ÄĚ
Amidst widespread rumors in the national media, Campese was eager to address the fate of the Oilers‚Äô third overall pick at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft in Philadelphia earlier this summer.
Campese adamantly explained that if Draisaitl is not with the Oilers this season, he‚Äôll be with the Raiders.
‚ÄúAll this talk about going to Europe is not the case,‚ÄĚ Campese asserted. ‚ÄúHe‚Äôs signed his transfer card. He will definitely play with us if he‚Äôs not in Edmonton.‚ÄĚ
While the Raiders organization does the best they can to fill the potential void left by Morrissey, Draisaitl and their combined 178 points posted last season, an eager group of budding forwards and d-men wait in the wings to fill it.
When asked who he envisions stepping up next season, Campese pointed to blue liners Tomas Andrlik, Brendan Guhle, off-season acquisition Hunter Warner and Vancouver Canucks prospect Mackenzie Stewart.
Up front, Campese expects 1997-born Matteo Gennaro and 1995-born Gage Quinney to have breakout seasons while noting the ‚Äúfantastic‚ÄĚ training camps out of returning centres Reid Gardiner and Tim Vanstone.
Centre Jordan Tkatch, 19, who was acquired from the Prince George Cougars this off-season, is also expected to carry a big offensive load after a 46-point season last year.
‚ÄúWe‚Äôve got a good group of core kids that we are very optimistic about,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs not easy to fill the void of an all-star forward and all-star defenseman, but you‚Äôve got to find a way.‚ÄĚ