While watching a scrimmage this week, a long-time Fort Wayne hockey observer said he'd like to take the best players from this year's Komets training camp and see how well they would do against last spring's Central Hockey League champions.
It would be a fun video game to watch, in part because the current team could play so many different styles.
There's a good chance that four or five players who will get released today or tomorrow could have made last year's Komets' team. The kids in this year's camp are bigger and faster overall than last year's squad. The best way to tell that is to look at the returning players like Stephon Thorne, J.M. Rizk and Daniel Maggio who were all rookies last year and built themselves up over the summer with added muscle.
``They look like men this year, and they looked like boys last year,'' Komets coach Al Sims said after Sunday's 2-1 overtime win over Evansville. ``They are very confident coming back from AHL camps, and they look like they belong and they feel they can do damage in this league.''
As strong as Maggio, Thorne and Rizk are playing, they don't seem to be miles ahead of the some of the rookies who came to the Komets' camp. Players like Kyle Atkins, Matt Firman, Scott Kishel, Daniel Nycholat, Cory Schneider, Robbie Smith and Jeremy Gates can all play at the ECHL level, they just need a little more experience..
The Komets simply don't have many spots for them. Fort Wayne needs two defensemen and two forwards, and that might change when the affiliated players get sent down from Norfolk sometime this week. Defenseman Ryan Hegarty already arrived from Norfolk Saturday and looked very good in Sunday's game.
Just because these kids may be leaving now doesn't mean they are done being potential ECHL players, either. If the National Hockey League lockout ends, Class AA teams might have to restructure their rosters within a day or two depending on the timing. Some of these kids might get called back, and a few of these players also may catch on with Central Hockey League teams who open training camp this week.
``There's going to be a lot of players, not just from our team, but from a lot of teams in the ECHL, who are going to be looking for work in a few days,'' Komets General Manager David Franke said. ``There will be more players coming down and some good players are going to be available from all the teams. I wouldn't be surprised if there were some name players out there who end up going by the wayside.''
The Komets already proved that when they released J.P. Chabot and Patrick Knowlton on Sunday even though they were among the most consistent scorers in training camp.
There's also the impact the players coming down from the AHL can have. The Komets are expecting to have five or six players eventually from the AHL, but there are 30 AHL teams who all invited more than 30 players to training camp. There are only 23 ECHL teams, meaning each AHL team may be scrambling to place up to five contracted players somewhere, anywhere.
In other words, the talent level in Class AA minor league hockey should be phenomenal this year. The only problem is no one knows for how long. It's doubtful, but supposedly the lockout could be solved at any time, and then entire teams may have to reshape in a hurry if a large group of players head the other way, risking team chemistry that's already been built. It's seems unlikely now, but it could happen.
``We want to get involved in the effects of the lockout as far as what they can mean to us on assigned players, but I'm not looking to having 10-to-12 assigned players and then lose half of them when the lockout ends,'' Franke said. ``I'm not going to take that gamble. You could do that if you wanted to go that route, but that's not the way we're looking to go.''
Because of the lockout, it's a unique year but that means the coaches and general managers have to be even more careful to make sure they let go of the right players, and they have to maintain relationship with the players they are sending away if possible.
``Right now if I'm a hockey player and I've got a job somewhere, I'm happy,'' Franke said. ``No matter what level it is, I've got a job playing the game I love.''