While the Moose Jaw Warriors find themselves with a tough decision to make when it comes to their 20-year-old situation, at least it isn’t as muddled as it was at the end of last season.
Back then, the Tribe had five players eligible to return for their overage year — high-scoring forwards Jayden Halbgewachs and Brayden Burke, team leader Tanner Jeannot, inspirational workhorse Spencer Bast and all-star goaltender Zach Sawchenko.
Sawchenko cleared things up substantially when he opted not to play his 20-year-old year in the WHL and instead join the University of Alberta Golden Bears a season earlier than expected.
That left four heading into training camp, which opened with fitness testing on Thursday afternoon. From all indications, all four players turned in solid results in testing, showing their commitment to the organization.
That’s what Warriors general manager Alan Millar was hoping to see — the players making his decision all that more difficult. At first glance, Bast would seem to be the odd-man out given the others’ pedigree. But that may not be the case, and regardless of who lands the spots there’s still a chance the extra player will remain in the WHL.
“Spencer Bast brings a little bit of a different game than Burke and Halbgewachs, those guys are highly skilled and probably going to be 100-point guys,” Millar said. “Halbgewachs was last year and Burke was close and the year before Burke had 109 points. Jeannot is a leader on our team.
“But to Spencer’s credit, he wants to play in the league as a 20-year-old and he had a good experience with us, he’s coming into camp to show what he can do,” he added. “For all our 20-year-olds, if you want to play in the league you have to be in camp and we’ll see how things play out. There will be three guys in Moose Jaw and hopefully for that fourth 20-year-old, their experience here in the pre-season and that gives them an opportunity to play in the league.”
Then there’s the ultimate wildcard when it comes to any overage player: many find themselves with NHL try-outs even if they aren’t drafted at this point. Halbgewachs attended the Las Vegas Golden Knights development camp this summer; Jeannot the same with the Washington Capitals. Both will be off to NHL camps in a short while and potentially never play in a Warriors’ uniform again — players over 19 can be assigned wherever an NHL team chooses should they want to keep them in the organization.
Should that happen to Jeannot or Halbgewachs, 20-year-old problem solved.
“You never know, those guys could be rewarded with a contract and have a chance to play in the American Hockey League,” Millar said. “Sometimes those guys get those opportunities are aren’t back in junior. So you have to be prepared for anything that may or may not with your 20-year-old group.”