Yes...that's a pretty big sign Blazer training camp is just days away. The ice is in at Interior Savings Center (photo credit Ashley Neuls) and it's time to start diving into the new season ahead. Today we take a look at "10 Reasons" to get excited about heading into the new year. Next week it's ten reasons that are concerning the team and areas they'll need improvement.
Rookies take to the ice a week from Friday for the first on-ice sessions, the veterans join the mix on the following Monday.
Here are ten reasons in no particular order....
1. Blazer defenseman Josh Caron says he's 100 percent as he heads into training camp. He missed most of last year with a collarbone injury and when he returned he admittedly wasn't the same player.
Caron heads into the league as potentially the most menacing force with the gloves off. It's something he didn't do very often last year but likely the main reason Minnesota signed him to a deal as a free-agent out of training camp last year. Caron racked up 190 PIMs in the 09-10 season but the injury limited him to just 27 games and 47 PIMS
The Blazers first round pick in the 2010 draft (8th overall) saw action in 13 games picking up 3-4-7. At times he was centering the top line because of injuries.
I'm not sure what a realistic offensive goal is for Matt this season but I'm assuming he will be put in offensive situations that most 16 year-olds usually don't get.
The stocky forward is physically ready to play at this level. The first ever 2nd generation Blazer will be exciting to watch develop over the years.
3. Dylan Willick comes into training camp in great shape and with confidence after getting an invite to Minnesota Wild prospects camp this summer and a return invite to the Wild for the fall.
Willick will be thrust into a leadership role and hopefully his "lead by example" style will be contagious with this teammates.
The transformed Kamloopsian will play in all situations now in his 3rd year and be looked upon for more offensive output following last years 24 goals and 20 assists in what was his coming out party.
4. The time is now for D Brady Gaudet to establish himself as a full-time top four d-man. The former 1st round bantam pick slid into the top 4 at times last year and shows a ton of promise moving into his 2nd year in the league.
Brady has shown some good offensive instincts and will get a shot on the PP. This is a big year for Brady...and he knows it.
5. Speaking of defenseman, the Blazers can't wait for the WHL debut of 15 year-old 1st round pick Jordan Thomson at some point this season.
The Wawanesa, MB product is the highest ever bantam pick in franchise history at4th overall.
Coming off the NHL Mentorship Camp in Toronto, Thomson will likely see a call-up early if there's injuries or during the Blazers east division swing.
It'll be a treat watching him perform at rookie camp next week as we get our first look at the highly touted prospect.
6. I think Colin Smith is due for a big season. The 18 year-old forward has been the successor to the offensive throne since he was drafted by the Blazers back in 2008 with the 7th overall pick.
Smith had a strong 2nd half of the season which led to the majority of his 21 goals. His 50 points last year could easily be 70+ if he picks up where he left off.
He's coming off a strong U-18 World Championship in Germany. He excelled in his role as a checker while working his way from the 13th forward for Team Canada into a prominent role at the end.
Colin has personality, creativity and the ability to finish. After being passed over in the NHL draft this summer he should come with all the motivation necessary for a big year in a Blazer uniform.
7. Goaltender Cole Cheveldave comes in after a great season in the AJHL with the Drumheller Dragons. The league's rookie of the year, and runner-up for AJHL MVP enters his 18 year-old season an instantly comes in looking to land the starter role.
Cheveldave impressed during a visit with the team late last year in which he came in to get a feel for the city and the hockey club. He later signed with the team.
He's got an edge, he's a confident kid and will look to battle Cam Lanigan for #1 job with the departure of graduated goaltender Jeff Bosch.
8. After a scary incident back in early February which led to a season ending broken C-7 vertebrae, Austin Madaisky will return healthy and ready to assert himself as the team's #1 defenseman.
Madaisky will have a strong supporting stuff around him which should take some of the pressure off. The 19 year-old will have to accept the role of being a defenseman who will play against the league's top offensive players on a night in, night out basis. A 5th round choice of the Columbus Blue Jackets back in the summer of 2010, I expect him to be a bit tentative when he comes back into a game situation based on the hit he took from Chilliwack D Brandon Manning which led to a seven-game suspension and three months for Madaisky in an Aspen collar
9. The big line (Ranford/Schaber/DePape). For the first couple months of last season, a case could be made this trio was the best line in the WHL. Injury and suspensions really led to the demise of this line. All three were suspended at different times this season and all three battled injury problems at different times as well.
Returning healthy and motivated could lead to big things for this trio. This year though we will be surrounded with a better supporting cast to take some of the burden off their shoulders.
10. The Blazers win at nearly all cost attitude this season. There's no doubt patience has worn thin when it comes to this team's mindset from the fans, to the players, to the coaches and especially the ownership group.
The recent struggles are well documented. They haven't advanced past the 1st round since 1999. Since then, they've amassed a 5-36 record in the post-season. That's nine straight series losses.
If the Blazers are a legit contender after Christmas, expect a potential blockbuster deal to perhaps put the team over the top. They have to put themselves in that situation first. It's definitely attainable but for now the Blazers have to go out and do it.
They certainly will have the support both on and off the ice.
Let's drop the puck on a new season.
Thoughts? Comments? Additions?