A normal preseason camp is a great reunion for the Spokane Chiefs’ organization, a rare time when scouts, coaches and prospects share the same building.
But what the Chiefs are undertaking the next two weeks at the Arena is hardly the summer camp to which they’re accustomed.
“It’s obviously unique being away for such a long period of time,” said Adam Maglio, the Chiefs’ new head coach, “so it’s gonna be an in-depth camp.”
Twenty-four players are on the Chiefs’ roster, less than half the number that would be in Spokane for a normal training camp.
With COVID-19 restrictions being what they are and the season being so short, there’s just no space or time to replicate in March what the team normally does during camp in August.
“Not being able to have all our drafted and listed prospects at camp is a big detriment, to not evaluate them from a year ago,” Chiefs general manager Scott Carter said.
“(Also), no exhibition games, so you’re going straight into the fire, and some of these guys haven’t played a meaningful game in a year.”
There is plenty for the Chiefs to accomplish in a relatively short period to be ready for a 24-game season that begins March 19 at Seattle.
The 24-player roster – which leaves one empty spot should the Chiefs decide to sign another player – does not include 19-year-old forwards Luke Toporowski and Bear Hughes, who combined for 45 goals and 62 assists for the Chiefs last season. They are playing in the United States Hockey League and will remain there until their teams’ seasons are done.
So, too, is 19-year-old goalie Lukas Parik, a Los Angeles Kings NHL draft pick who appeared in 32 games for the Chiefs last season.
All three are eligible to return for no more than six games.
But the USHL’s regular season doesn’t end until April 24, and the playoffs could run another month. Meanwhile, the Western Hockey League’s U.S. Division schedule ends May 9 (the Chiefs have eight games scheduled after April 24).
That doesn’t leave much time, if any, for them to return to the Chiefs as affiliate players this spring – although they can come back for all of the 2021-22 season as overage players.
The Chiefs will also be without 2003-born David Jiricek, a Czech-born defenseman whom Spokane selected in the 2020 import draft. Jiricek will remain in his home country playing for HC Plzen. He has two goals and six assists in 32 games there.
“We’re down four pretty significant players,” Carter said. “I think we’re excited about what can happen for the other ones. Those four not being here creates great opportunities and quality situations for other guys to see if they can take that jump to the next level.”
Younger in net
Campbell Arnold went 10-8-1-1 last season and was playing well before an injury sidelined him in late December 2019. But the 18-year-old – a second-round bantam selection for the Chiefs three years ago – is healthy and looks to assert himself as the Chiefs’ No. 1 goalie.
Joining him in camp are 17-year-old Mason Beaupit and 16-year-old Manny Panghli. Beaupit appeared in three games last season after Arnold’s injury.
Top scorer returns
Adam Beckman, the WHL Player of the Year last season, spent the past month playing in the American Hockey League for the Iowa Wild. He is back in Spokane for the WHL season after scoring two goals and assisting on another in seven games with Iowa.
Beckman, a third-round NHL pick by Minnesota, led the WHL with 48 goals and 107 points last season. This, his 19-year-old season, will likely be his last stint with the Chiefs.
Also back from the AHL is Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Jack Finley, who played in two games for the Syracuse Crunch. In two full seasons with Spokane, the 6-foot-5 center has 28 goals and 48 assists.
The Chiefs have five rookie forwards on the roster, including Ben Thornton, their first-round pick in the 2019 bantam draft.
Eli Zummack, one of the team’s three 20-year-olds, is back for his fifth season in Spokane. In 233 regular-season games, he has 61 goals and 156 assists, including 22 and 64 last season.
Plenty of turnover on defense
A position of strength and experience last season, the Chiefs’ backline corps will look quite a bit different this spring. Gone is last season’s WHL Defenseman of the Year, Ty Smith, who is playing in the NHL with the New Jersey Devils. Also gone is Filip Kral, a Toronto Maple Leafs prospect whose 49 points as a 20-year-old last season were seventh-most for the Chiefs.
Gone also is Noah King, who had six goals and 34 assists as a 20-year-old in 2019-20.
“I’m really looking forward to this year,” said Matt Leduc, who along with fellow 20-year-old Bobby Russell looks to anchor the Chiefs’ defense, “to get out there and do all I can to support the team. If I’m doing that, then good things follow.”
Although Leduc has been with the Chiefs since 2016, injuries have limited him to 55 games over the past two seasons. Russell, often his defensive partner when both are healthy, had six goals and 16 assists in 58 games for the Chiefs last season.
Graham Sward, the Chiefs’ best NHL draft prospect for 2021, is back for his 17-year-old season after scoring two goals and recording 15 assists as a rookie.
Players ‘grateful,’ ‘lucky’ to compete
Although the season will be short – eight weeks from the first game to the last – it is an important one for player development and also for the new coaching staff to assert itself, Carter said.
“You want to see, obviously for players who are draft eligible, to see them step up and have opportunities to have a solid season, for your rookies that they can establish themselves,” Carter said. “For me, I’ve got a new coaching staff, so I want to see how the new coach, how the players respond.”
It is also an important season for the 20-year-olds Zummack, Russell and Leduc, undrafted players who are looking to sign professional contracts.
“I’m just so glad that I’m finally able to play hockey,” Leduc said.
“We’ve been off for over a year now, so to be able to come back and finish out my overage year is something I’m very grateful and lucky for.
“I think we have a chance to come together and play a couple of quick games here. I know it’s only 24, but I feel lucky to be back in Spokane. It was a long time coming.”
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