If all goes according to plan, the future could be one year from now

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The 2017-2018 Western Hockey League season will kick off with no one from Yellowknife on a starting roster. Not a huge surprise.

It would have been nice if Connor Fleming had cracked the Prince Albert Raiders roster but making a WHL team as a 16-year-old is a tough feat. Very few players that young get to put on a uniform and if they do, it’s because they’re Connor McDavid good.

Connor Fleming skates through the neutral zone with the puck during the Prince Albert Raiders’ Green/White intrasquad game on Sept. 2. Fleming didn’t make the Raiders squad this year but he’s still in the system, which is a positive.
Lucas Chudleigh/Apollo Multimedia photo

The best thing about Fleming is he went in without expectations. Sure, he was drafted by the Raiders in the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft and that guaranteed him a chance to go to camp and try his luck but, take it from me, when you go into a camp expecting to make the team, the letdown of being cut is brutal.

Life goes on as they say, and there are certainly worse things than being cut from a team but as a teenager with a dream, it’s like you’ve been cut off at the knees.

I had a quick chat with Dennis Fleming, Connor’s dad, on Wednesday and he told me it wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Dennis said the camp was a good one for his son and puts him in a great place to challenge for a spot next season – a year older and a year wiser.

That’s a great way to look at it. Connor is heading back to the Yale Hockey Academy in Abbotsford, B.C., where he will be playing with the midget prep team this season. Playing with and against the older guys – that’s what will make him better. Connor was one of the youngest players in Prince Albert’s camp and would have been fighting with players as old as 21 for a spot on the team. He’s going back to play against players who will be older and he will develop. The scouts will be looking at him, no doubt, and will be passing along tips, as good scouts do.

The bonus is that Connor may get a call this season if the Raiders run into injury problems. That’s the wonderful thing about being part of a protected list and 16 years old. His shot at the WHL will come, maybe even sooner than expected.

As per today’s Yellowknifer, Samuel Schofield just got his chance to show the Swift Current Broncos what he can do and it paid off for him with a spot on the team’s protected list.

That’s an impressive way to start your WHL career, even if he isn’t playing this season because he’s just 15. It was tough being undrafted in the first place but going into a camp on an invite means you have to work that much harder to impress. He did and earned himself a straight shot to camp next season.

At first glance, the one thing Schofield has working against him is his size. He’s barely five feet tall and weighs just north of 100 lbs., two things which would have worked against him in the past.

But as was noted, size doesn’t matter these days (see Nathan Gerbe and Theoren Fleury) and from all accounts, Schofield held his own.

I still believe Austin Daniels will get a firm shot from a WHL club and stick around. He’s sort of an under the radar-type of player, someone who doesn’t get a lot of attention but he’s already been to two WHL camps in Portland and Lethbridge in consecutive seasons. I say one more season and he should go deep into a camp somewhere.

Liam Tereposky is another who will get another look-see down the road. He got to try his luck at rookie camp with the Kelowna Rockets and I was surprised he didn’t get drafted this past summer. Goaltenders are a different breed and every team needs someone between the pipes so expect Tereposky to get another shot.

Don’t forget about Jack Works, either. Young Jack is in the cross-hairs of the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Okotoks Oilers and managed to play in an exhibition game with the Oilers earlier this month. He’s heading back to the Edge School in Calgary to play midget AAA but his future looks awfully bright as well. Expect Works to be in an Oilers uniform next season.

The Yellowknife Wolfpack program has been a great success. Here are the fruits of its labour.

Next year’s junior hockey tally could be a blowout instead of a goose egg.