There are still more questions than answers after less than a week of hockey for the Sudbury Wolves' prospects and returnees - but that is to be expected.
With both the 2020 and 2021 entry draft crops hitting the ice for the first time in Sudbury simultaneously, with two years of overagers and others departed since the last Wolves' game on Sunday, March 8th (2020), much in the way of player change and development has taken place.
The early signs up front have been encouraging, both in camp scrimmages and in the Blue & White contest, as well as carrying over into an 8-4 pre-season win on Sunday over the Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds.
There was no lack of youngsters stepping up as Kocha Delic (2nd rd - 2020), Quentin Musty (1st overall - 2021), Ryan Smith (11th rd - 2018), Evan Konyen (4th rd - 2020), David Goyette (1st rd - 2020), Ethan Larmand (2nd rd - 2019), Jack Thompson (2nd rd - 2018 - signed with Tampa Bay Lightning) and Giordano Biondi (14th rd - 2018) all hit the scoresheet in the road victory.
Even more important was likely a 43 save performance from 2018 U18 first round pick Mitchell Weeks, far and away the Wolves most experienced netminder in camp despite having played only 34 games in the OHL and looking to improve on career numbers in the league (4.02 GAA; 87.2% save %) that will need to be noticeably better if Sudbury is to contend as even a middle of the road group this year.
While he was limited to just one assist in the Soo, forward Nick DeGrazia (1st rd - 2019 U18 draft) did help lead Team Blue to a 5-2 win on Friday, scoring twice and looking increasingly effective in camp in line combinations with Musty, Goyette and Konyen.
Easily one of the top finds of recent U18 drafts, having earned a spot on the NHL Central Scouting list last year, the Thunder Bay native is clearly at his best when his above-average skating ability is on full display.
"I think when I'm flying down the wing, when I get the puck, just trying to push the defense back as far as I can, it gives me the option of trying to get around them or pull up and look for the high guy," DeGrazia stated.
Though he was ultimately not drafted into the National Hockey League this July, the 2002 born winger who finished with 61 points in 46 games with the Rayside-Balfour Canadians in 2019-2020 is still hoping to be seen, ideally by using his speed to more completely round out his game.
"I think I have to do a better job on the back-check, coming back hard and showing what I can do," he said. "I sometimes get lost there after using all of my energy in the offensive zone. I am trying to make sure that I conserve enough energy to be more reliable in the defensive zone."
As of September 6th, coach Craig Duncanson and the Wolves have kept 26 players in camp (16 forwards, 8 defencemen and 2 goaltenders), with all but two signed with the team. Following is a breakdown of the current roster with pertinent player info:Goaltenders
Mitchell Weeks - 2001 - overage
Jonathan Lemaire - 2002 (5th rd - 2018)
Jack Thompson - 2002 - 3rd rd pick of Tampa Bay (2020)
Liam Ross - 2001 (4th rd - 2017)
Nathan Ribau - 2002 (4th rd - 2018)
Andre Anania - 2003 (4th rd - 2019)
Nolan Collins - 2004 (5th rd - 2020)
Payton Robinson - 2003 (5th rd - 2019)
Joshua Hoover - 2004 (10th rd - 2020)
Will Bishop - 2005 (7th rd - 2021)
Chase Stillman - 2003 (2nd rd - 2019; 1st rd pick of New Jersey (2021)
Landon McCallum - 2003 (1st rd - 2019)
Kosta Manikis - 2001 (5th rd - 2017)
Alex Assadourian - 2005 (2nd rd - 2021)
Michael Derbridge - 2005 (5th rd - 2021)
Hayden Simpson - 2004 (7th rd - 2020)
Owen Perala* - 2002 (free agent - RB Canadians)
Cole Crowder* - 2002 (free agent - St Benedict Bears)
Delic, Musty, Smith, Konyen, Goyette, Larmand, Biondi all noted above
* not signed
Draft picks of note who did not attend camp included American Matthew Mania (4th rd - 2021; signed with Fargo Force - USHL) and Lucas Di Giantommaso (8th rd - 2021), as well as local product Wilson Farrow (6th rd - 2020), who has elected to pursue the NCAA option.
There has also been little said about the Wolves' most recent import picks - Tomas Trunda and Kasper Kulonummi in 2021, and Samu Tuomaala (2020) - though the latter, who was selected in the second round of the 2021 NHL draft by the Philadelphia Flyers, is said to be leaning towards playing in North America this year (whether that be AHL or AHL).
The Wolves will be hard at work in practices for the next two weeks with their next exhibition game scheduled for Friday, September 17th, at home, playing host to the Peterborough Petes.