photo via Target Photograph
Heading into last season, the Crusaders had the issue of having not one defenceman returning.
Cam Reagan and Brett Roberts opted to take their talents to the USHL and KIJHL respectively, Koletrane Wilson was called up to the WHL by the Lethbridge Hurricanes, Chase Torontow and Ben Sowa moved onto the college level, and, Austin Shmoorkoff, Jacob Thomas, and Ben McLeod decided to step away from hockey. Of course, McLeod did decide to return to the Cru few games into the regular season.
It eventually panned out for the organization due to their phenomenal scouting staff, and acquisitions made by General Manager Kyle Chase.
As we look forward to the 2018/19 season, Sherwood Park could find themselves in a familiar situation, but this time at the centre position.
Let’s take a look at a Crusaders lineup from last season:
|Ryan Cox||Ty Readman||Erik Miller|
|Arjun Atwal||Dylan Stewart||Tyson Gruninger|
|Garrett Clegg||Ashton Casault||Will Zapernick|
|Eric Blanchette||Jacob Franczak||Deklan Whillans|
The table above shows the lineup Sherwood Park rolled with against the Grande Prairie Storm in Game Four of their first-round series. Typically, you wouldn’t see Ashton Casault lining up at centre, that would usually be either Erik Miller or Brandon Wallis.
The Crusaders will be without their top two centres – Dylan Stewart and Ty Readman – next season with them both heading to play at the collegiate level. Readman has committed to the Northern Michigan Wildcats of the NCAA, while Stewart will be staying closer to home by playing for the NAIT Ooks in the ACAC.
With those two departing the Cru will now be left with Miller, Wallis, and Jacob Franczak to play the centre role.
However, things took a bit of a turn Thursday morning when Miller was traded by the Kamloops Blazers to the Swift Current Broncos for a 2018 seventh-round pick in the WHL draft. It’s too early to know what the decision will be from both Miller and the Broncos, but when you look at the Swift Current roster they too could be lacking in the centre position come next season with three players – Giorgio Estephan, Matteo Gennaro, and Glenn Gawdin – all ageing out.
Now with that trade happening, the Cru will be left with even fewer options with Franczak being their only true centre, Wallis being a converted winger, and they could now be forced to push Casault into the centreman role.
None of those players would fit well in a top-six role. Here’s why:
- Wallis may have double his point total from 16 to 33 this season but looked much more comfortable in his role rather than a top-six winger. He’s a great penalty killer and gives you that extra depth you need from a third line centre. Let him lead from the third line.
- Casault is your enforcer, the guy you look to build energy for the team. He’s got the skill to play higher up the lineup, but he is not consistent enough. I am a big fan of what Casault brings to the lineup every night; he’s a much better fit in his current role than anywhere else.
- Franczak is heading into his second year with the club and although he displayed offensive skill throughout the season he still only registered 10 points. This kid is going to be a stud for this organization for hopefully the next three years. However, moving him up the lineup could cause him to lose confidence if he can’t collect points. Even with that being said, he’s the one guy I could see filling one of the top centreman roles.
After watching the Crusaders spring camp a few weeks ago, they definitely have a number of talented minor hockey players interested in joining the organization including the likes of Marcus McEachern who played a few games at centre for them last season. They also still own the rights to Brendan Stafford and Graham Blanchette who both theoretically could make a return to the team next season.
With this recent news of Miller being traded, it’ll be interesting to see what moves Kyle Chase decides to make.
Will he bring in veteran talent as he did with Dylan Stewart and Brendan Kallis? Or will he rely on his scouting staff which brought him in Will Zapernick and Eric Blanchette?
Only time will tell, but from what we’ve seen in the past, he’s been able to push this team in the right direction.