The number of Spokane Chiefs players who skated onto the rink at Eagles Ice Arena was notably smaller on Wednesday, as expected.
That’s because eight players on the Chiefs’ preseason roster are off at National Hockey League prospect camps, leaving plenty of room for their younger players to show their quality.
“Definitely a lot more ice out here,” said 2002-born defenseman Raegan Wiles, who the Chiefs signed to a contract last week. “It’s a good time for me to show what I can do here and gain my confidence a bit.”
The Chiefs are back in Spokane this week, having gone 1-1-1 in preseason action over the weekend. All their preseason games are on the road, and they open the regular season at Kamloops on Sept. 20.
“It was good,” associate coach Adam Maglio said of practice on Wednesday. “We’ve lost quite a few guys to NHL camps here so we’re down some numbers, but it’s great working with the younger group, and I thought practice got better as we moved along.”
While the systems of new head coach Manny Viveiros are similar to what the team ran last year, there are enough differences that Maglio is still teaching at this point in the season.
“Manny wants to run a high-tempo practice, a detailed practice, regardless of who’s on the ice,” Maglio said. “From the younger guys to even some of the vets, (there are) new systems and new tactics that we’re implementing, so there’s a lot of teaching on that end.”
The Chiefs’ roster will be in flux for some time, depending on how long NHL clubs want to hang on to their prospects.
The Chiefs will need to make decisions about which three 20-year-olds and which two international players to keep on their regular-season roster.
It is possible that NHL teams will make their decisions obvious.
The Chiefs have five 20-year-olds on the roster: goalie Reece Klassen, forwards Jake McGrew and Ethan McIndoe, and defensemen Noah King and Filip Kral, who is also one of their three international players.
McGrew is currently with the San Jose Sharks, who could opt to keep him this season, send him to their American Hockey League affiliate or send him back to Spokane, which has something of a precedent for the Sharks. When it came to 20-year-olds last year, they sent Joachim Blichfeld to play for the Portland Winterhawks and Noah Gregor to the Prince Albert Raiders, rather than placing them with AHL affiliates.
Kral (Toronto Maple Leafs) and King (New Jersey Devils) face similar scenarios. Klassen is one of four goalies on the Chiefs’ roster, as is 18-year-old Lukas Parik, a Los Angeles Kings draft pick whom the Chiefs selected in the WHL import draft this offseason.
That leaves McIndoe, who has played 263 regular-season games in the WHL but was not invited to an NHL prospect camp. Maglio indicated Wednesday that McIndoe would have a spot with the Chiefs this fall.
“We’ve seen a lot of good things out of him,” Maglio said. “He was a big piece last year, and he’ll be a big piece this year.”
If Kral doesn’t come back, his absence would allow the Chiefs to keep the Czech Republic-born Parik and 17-year-old Russian defenseman Matvei Startsev as their international players. The Chiefs took Startsev in the second round of the import draft, after Parik.
Their NHL prospects will return gradually after the weekend, depending on whether they are invited to stay on with NHL teams. Those who were drafted – McGrew, Kral, Ty Smith (New Jersey Devils) and forward Adam Beckman (Minnesota Wild) – will certainly stay on, while the others have yet to be officially invited. The 18-year-old Beckman is expected to be back with the Chiefs.
Smith, as a 19-year-old, must either stay in the NHL or be sent back to the WHL. Last year he was named WHL Defenseman of the Year.
“Ty’s an elite player,” Maglio said. “We want the best for Ty. If that’s in the NHL, we’re proud of him.”
Until NHL teams make their decisions, the Chiefs will play the waiting game.
“We’re gonna see where the players fall, and we’ll take it one step at a time,” Maglio said. “Our mindset is to coach the players we’ve got.”
For 17-year-old Jack Finley, that’s just fine.
“For someone like me coming in to my second year, it’s an opportunity to step up early on in the season and get some confidence and play a leadership role,” Finley said.
“It’s awesome for them, and when they come back they’re gonna help out the young guys with what they learned.”
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