Guelph Storm head coach and general manager George Burnett says the 2021-22 season presents an opportunity to let younger players compete and allow the team to assess what they really have on this roster.
Burnett joined the voice of the Storm, Larry Mellott, on the inaugural episode of Storm Saturday on 1460 CJOY and said the lineup will be filled with players getting their first taste of the Ontario Hockey League.
“The kids are going to play,” Burnett said.
“We’re looking for some kids that have had some experience with us, whether they are ’03 birth dates or ’02 birth dates to really elevate their games and step up and show they deserve to continue this process, and there are some young kids that are challenging pretty hard for some opportunities.”
In a previous interview ahead of training camp, Burnett said as many as 15 first-year players could make the final roster, making for an unprecedented situation as teams usually carry only a handful of rookies.
With the COVID-19 pandemic ending the 2019-20 season early and cancelling the following season altogether, every team in the OHL is dealing with an influx of new players.
“As I’ve told the players many times, the hope is that our decisions are difficult when we make those final choices after the six exhibition games as we lead into Thanksgiving and the regular season,” Burnett said.
The team has 10 returning players: goaltender Owen Bennett with defencemen Daniil Chayka, Michael Bianconi and Luka Profaca along with forwards Jacob Maillet, Ben McFarlane, Matthew Papais, Marko Sikic, Cooper Walker and Danny Zhilkin.
Chayka is the only player remaining from the Storm’s 2019 championship team. McFarlane was on that team as well but saw little action.
Besides Chayka, players who were in their first year 18 months ago, are now expected to take on leadership roles in what is technically their third year of OHL duty.
“It’s a lot to ask the 19-year-old player, who’s only had the year in the league,” Burnett said. “When you’re 19 in this league, there’s a lot of eyes on you there’s also a lot of expectation not only to leadership but playing in key situations.”
Burnett said he’s comfortable with the way the blue is shaping up with Chayka, Bianconi and Profaca being the returning players from the shortened 2019-20 season.
The coach hinted that Michael Buchinger and Cameron Allen, first-round picks in 2020 and 2021, respectively, are expected to slot in as well.
Import selection Leo Hafenrichter and potential overager Drew Wawrow, who is on a tryout deal, are also battling for a spot on the blue line.
Owen Bennett and Dixon Grimes appear ready to man the pipes as the Storm’s two goaltenders.
As for the offence, Burnett said there is a big turnover from 18 months ago and the Storm will have to get goals from somewhere.
“We do believe there are some kids here that can contribute offensively,” he said while singling out Sasha Pasujov.
The left-winger was drafted in the second round by the Anaheim Ducks earlier this year and was destined to play in the NCAA before opting to play junior hockey in Canada.
Burnett said he’s also hopeful that Guelph’s other import selection, forward Valentin Zhugin, will arrive in camp shortly.
The Storm’s exhibition game over the weekend against the Mississauga Steelheads was postponed for unknown reasons. It’s unclear when it will be played.
Guelph isn’t scheduled to play another game until Sept. 24 when the Niagara IceDogs visit Sleeman Centre.
The regular season gets underway on Oct. 8 with the Storm on the road to begin a home-and-home serious with the Kitchener Rangers.
Storm fans can listen to Storm Saturday with Larry Mellott every Saturday at 11 a.m. on 1460 CJOY.
— Larry Mellott (@stormradioguy) September 12, 2021
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.