Minneapolis, MN – Hey Rink Rats fans, Barry Melrose here in what is the first of hopefully many columns with this team. As you know, the Minnesota Rink Rats are coming off a Cyber Cup Finals berth and have a fresh outlook on life in the WHL. Minnesota is led by new head coach Dan Blysma who is expected to lead a new up-tempo offense. Blysma recently attended Minnesota’s rookie camp which featured some of the Rink Rat’s best young players. I caught up with Blysma to discuss what he saw.
Melrose: Hahaha … Thanks for taking the time to sit down with us Dan. This has been a big week for you having the chance to meet Minnesota’s rookies and get to know them a bit better before the preseason. What did you think?
Blysma: Thanks Barry; great to be here … Rookie camp was great. This is a talented group of young players here in Minnesota. I think there are definitely going to be some guys that can play for us this year and next and it’s exciting to see. The one guy that really stood out for us in rookie camp was Dave Krejci. I really think this is a kid that will play on one of our top two lines this season. He’s got a lot of talent and can really setup the play nicely. He’s likely going to be a top Calder Trophy candidate. TJ Hensick, Tyler Kennedy & Nikolai Kulemin are a couple of other guys that will get a long look this season. They played well in our rookie camp and could get a call-up later this season and play for us full-time next season.
Because of our goaltending situation we have to play either Jimmy Howard or Brian Elliott as our backup goaltender. I don’t think either is really quite there yet however I think both will play well in a backup role. Howard looked good in camp and will get the first chance but it’s up to him to keep the job.
On defense we really like new additions Taylor Chorney & Keaton Ellerby. I don’t think either will play for us this year but they’re going to be a big part of what we do in the next couple of years.
Melrose: It sounds like you’re pretty excited about your young players; any thoughts on this year’s draft or regrets coming out of the draft?
Blysma: We were all really excited about this year’s draft. I thought there was a lot of talent and I’m glad the organization was able to pickup some extra picks in the 2nd round. Overall, I think our organization added some extra pieces that we really needed up front. We now have a good group of young players at forward as well as some depth at defense and goal. We hope that young guys like Hensick & Kennedy can continue to develop and that Kulemin, Repik and others can fulfill top-6 roles in the next couple of seasons. On defense we have some young guys like Brent Burns & Paul Ranger that are already playing big minutes in the WHL. Hopefully Ellerby, Chorney & Brian Salcido can make contributions there as well.
There were a couple of guys we were hoping would fall back to us of course like every year. Nathan Gerbe & Mike Santorelli are the two that stick out the most. We were hoping we could get Gerbe later in the second round but we got snagged early. Santorelli was a kid we were big on going into this year’s draft and we thought there was a chance we could move up in the early 4th or late 3rd round to pick him up too. But overall I’m really excited about this squad and our rookie camp.
Melrose: Last season I helped carry this team deep into the playoffs. We had a young guy that was really able to make a solid contribution that I noticed you haven’t mentioned in Ryan Potulny. How does Ryan fit into this offense & this team?
Blysma: You know Ryan is a great player & a great kid. He has a lot of offensive talent & potential but he just may be the odd man out. We’ll see how things go, but we’re really pulling for this kid to give him an opportunity and hope that he sticks. He could put up some decent numbers if given the chance.
Melrose: Thoughts going into the preseason???
Blysma: You know tomorrow is a big night for us. We'll have all of our big names playing in tomorrow's game and it'll be interesting to see how everyone responds after a short summer. We'll probably tinker with our lines throughout the preseason and I wouldn't expect Derek Roy, Mike Cammalleri or some of our veterans to play every game but they'll get their minutes. We'll try and cycle some of our rookies in the lineup throughout the preseason as well. Krejci, Kulemin, Hensick and Howard will all have a chance and Potulny & Ellerby may get in there as well. It'll be nice to see our rookies play in their respective roles.