There will be close to 70 players in camp and at least that many questions to answer over the four-day period.
But general manager Tim Speltz and the Spokane Chiefs will have a few priorities at the top of their list when the team opens its fall camp today at the Arena.
For one, the Chiefs must identify who will fill the shoes of defenseman Brenden Kichton, whose 20-year-old season last year culminated with him winning the Western Hockey League’s Bill Hunter Memorial Trophy as the league’s top defenseman. Kichton, drafted by the Winnipeg Jets in the seventh round in June, played 333 career games with Spokane, No. 2 in club history, while amassing 201 assists and 67 goals.
“Obviously, losing Brenden Kichton’s points, that’s a big thing, and yet we think we have some young guys who are ready to take a step, including Jason Fram and Tyler King, who are third-year guys now for us,” Speltz said. “We’re not saying that they can take the same step that Brenden Kichton took from 17 to 18, but they’re similar-type players.”
Next on the Chiefs’ agenda is locating goal-scorers to make up for Todd Fiddler, who was traded to Moose Jaw in May. Fiddler, who is entering his 20-year-old season, led the Chiefs with 42 goals last year.
Speltz said the Chiefs made the trade because, per WHL rules, they could only keep three 20-year-olds on the roster and the team is comfortable with Mike Aviani, Mitch Holmberg and goaltender Eric Williams.
“As much as Todd had unbelievable numbers last year, you still get into that situation where there are only so many spots for so many players,” Speltz said.
The Chiefs acquired a third-round selection in the 2014 WHL Bantam Draft for Fiddler. They don’t expect one player to step in and achieve Fiddler’s numbers.
“Up front, you always ask the question, ‘Who’s going to contribute goals?’ ” Speltz said. “I think we’ve been successful because we’ve done that by committee. I think that’s typical with our teams.”
Speltz said the team is confident with the consistency of Williams, who finished 32-19-2 in net with a 3.14 goals-against average. Backup goalie Garret Hughson finished 11-6 and 3.20 GAA.
One of the camp’s highlights should be the arrival of CHL Import Draft selections Adam Hascic of Slovakia and Dominic Zwerger of Austria.
“It’s going to be a process for these guys, as it always is, because everything’s new to them,” Speltz said.
“We’re looking forward to evaluating them and we’re looking forward to seeing what our older guys are coming back with.”
One player who won’t return is defenseman Tanner Mort of Post Falls, whose career was halted by a neck injury last October.
Mort, who played in 137 games with Spokane, will take advantage of the Chiefs’ Continuing Education Scholarship program and study engineering at the University of Idaho.
The Chiefs will break their players into three squads for extensive ice sessions and scrimmages today through Saturday. The team will cut its roster to a little more than 40 for Sunday’s Red-White game at 1 p.m. Speltz expects the roster to be around 30-33 by the end of camp. The team must trim to 25 by mid-October.
All camp events are free and open to the public. The schedule is available at www.spokanechiefs.com.