Tuesday, December 30, 2008

WHL15 Offseason Report

With the draft completed and the season about to hit full swing the Minnesota Rink Rats have a lot of new faces and an optimistic view for the new season. That optimism is a result of returning goaltender Ryan Miller who was voted to the WHL’s 2nd team All-Star squad and was a close second in voting for the Hart & Vezina Trophies. Miller returns behind the same defense as a season ago but will have a new-look offense in front of them. That offense will be lead by new Rink Rat Patrick O’Sullivan and Derek Roy. O’Sullivan is a solid player who could very well up 40 goals and 40 assists and Roy is a small but speedy winger who is a great setup man and strong finisher.

Jay Bouwmeester returns to the squad and is expected to be named team captain. Bouwmeester will likely be paired with returning defenseman Brent Burns whom the team expects will be much improved with an offseason of hard work and conditioning. The rest of the defense will be rounded out with Derek Morris, Toni Lydman, Mike VanRyn & Karel Rachunek.

Other new faces include newly drafted TJ Hensick, Tyler Kennedy & Brian Elliott along with Ryan Potulny & Alexei Yashin whom were acquired via trade and free agency. The remainder of the offense will be a question mark as the team expects to return the likes of Chuck Kobasew who can put up 20 goals if he stays healthy, Darcy Tucker, Dustin Boyd, Rob Schremp, Matthew Lombardi and possibly David Krejci and Petr Kalus depending on the health of the team.

We recently sat down with GM Rink Rat to ask some questions on the upcoming season and here’s what he had to say:

Q: How do you feel about your draft this season?
A: I feel pretty good about what we were able to do in this year’s draft. There were a lot of great talents in this draft and every GM coming out of it has to be pretty happy with the exception of maybe one club who missed out. We had targeted both TJ Hensick & Tyler Kennedy for our two 2nd round picks and luckily we were able to acquire them. I think both players have a strong chance of playing for our 2nd or 3rd lines next season. We needed help in goal with the possible departure of John Graham in the next season so we picked up Elliott in the 3rd round. We had both Elliott & Greiss targeted as potential 4th round picks but without a pick in that round we had to grab up Elliott in the 3rd. We're happy with that pick and we think he'll help provide us with added depth in the future.

Q: You had Derek Roy on the trade block before the draft. What happened?
A: We came close to making a move but when the player we were targeting at a certain pick got drafted, we decided to stick with Roy. Roy is a tremendous talent with good speed and a great ability to setup his linemates. If we move him it has to be right for our team and our future.

Q: Where do you see this squad finishing during this season?
A: We’ll have to see how the rosters play out. Our division has gotten so good it’s really going to be a struggle. The Cats, Orcas and Cougars will all have improved clubs and this is in a division that already has clubs like the Bulls, Express, Timberjacks, Voodoo, Dropkicks & Fighting Irish. I think our team is going to be fairly comparable to last season, maybe a tad better with an improved Brent Burns on dee, but it’s going to be a tougher division for sure.

Q: Long-term, how does this team look?
A: With our current squad I think we’re 2 seasons away from being a good solid club. A lot of our guys are still trying to figure things out, but I think that they’re not too far off and will have a good chance to put us into contention if they stay healthy and can continue to improve. Guys like David Krejci, Dustin Boyd, TJ Hensick & Rob Schremp all have top-6 potential and give us a good arsenal of options on offense in the upcoming seasons. Plus we have a strong core group of guys like Burns, Bouwmeester, Roy & O’Sullivan that are still in their young 20’s and are improving. O’Sullivan could turn out to be a 50 goal scorer and Roy could end up scoring 80 points each season for the next 6 years. We also have players like Chuck Kobasew & Matthew Lombardi that have put up numbers in the past and have strong potential if they can continue to be consistent. Lombardi is one of the fastest players in the league and we hope his speed and playmaking can put some points on the
board. Right now we’re taking it one game at a time and we’ll see what happens.

Q: Are there any players that you’re currently shopping on the trade block?
A: We like our squad but yeah I think there are still needs that need to be filled. Right now we’re looking for a 2nd line right wing or center for our squad and have Chuck Kobasew, Toni Lydman, Rob Schremp, Matthew Lombardi, Dustin Boyd, Darcy Tucker, Petteri Norkelainen & Petr Kalus available. Roy’s name has been mentioned in a few deals but so far no offer has been good enough to make that move.

Thanks for being here with us and ggood luck to you and your club on the upcoming season.

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