The Erie Otters recently completed their training camp with four days of activities from Friday-Monday. Included in those activities was a mini-tournament where four teams competed against each other in the hopes to show either where they are at with their game or to show they belong on this roster.
I had the chance to attend four games total between Saturday and Sunday watching from the stands. This training camp was closed to the public. Only the players, their families, staff and media were allowed to attend. Here are my three takeaways from the camp.
Happy To Be Back
The biggest story in my mind from being at camp was just seeing how happy everyone was to be back to hockey. Whether it was seeing an extra pep in the step of the players or seeing the smiles on the faces of parents, you could just tell there was a certain excitement about being at the arena and doing something meaningful for the first time since March 2020.
“I can tell you from my perspective, I’m exhausted both mentally and physically,” GM Dave Brown said. “I can’t imagine what the players are. We’ve gone from 0-1,000 just in a couple days. A little surreal. (It’s) exciting for the players to be back.”
“It was a lot of excitement just to be back in the building and having our players back in and around,” head coach Chris Hartsburg said. “Getting everyone in the area was good to have a semblance of what’s going to be a normal season here.”
Overall, the team is happy with where they stand. Their first preseason game comes up this Saturday afternoon against the Saginaw Spirit. If you thought they were happy getting back for camp, imagine the feeling when the puck drops on Saturday for that game. Excitement won’t begin to describe it especially considering fans will be in the building for the game.
Ryan Thompson’s Big Role
The one player that stood out this past weekend for me was newly-acquired defenseman Ryan Thompson. He scored the first goal on Saturday with a beauty shot over the shoulder of goalie Aidan Campbell.
Thompson came to the Otters in a trade from the North Bay Battalion. Given the state of the defense and who could be ready to play, acquiring Thompson was a huge win for the team. It was easy to see why besides his ability to finish. He was steady every time he was on the ice.
One question coming into the season was who would play with Spencer Sova on the blue line. It’s very early but it’s possible Thompson could be the one who gets the first crack. Because of numbers and the talent on North Bay now, there was just no more room for Thompson on the Battalion.
The move didn’t get a lot of attention when it was first announced. But it could turn into one of the more important moves of the season depending on how things shake out. To be able to acquire a top-four defender who is just 18 for a ninth rounder in 2024 is good business. Even if Thompson doesn’t play with Sova, he should be firmly planted in the top-four playing important minutes. It’s no wonder Brown said that Thompson was somebody “they have always coveted.”
Roster Spots Up For Grabs
There is obviously a lot that has to play itself out in the preseason. But scanning over the roster, there is opportunity for someone to grab a roster spot if they do well enough from now until the season begins. This is especially true at forward.
Let’s start in goal. Campbell should be the number one. 2020 import pick Alexei Kolosov has signed in the KHL and will not be with the Otters. That could mean 17-year old Nolan Lalonde starts the season as the number-two.
Lalonde is considered by some as one of the best goalie prospects in the OHL and is considered the Otters goalie of the future. This would be quite the ask for him to step into this role. It will be interesting to see if they go with Lalonde or if they look for veteran help behind Campbell.
On defense, this feels cut and dry but it’s hard to assume anything at this point. Sova will be there. Thompson will be there. Christian Kyrou is poised to take the next step. Brendan Kischnick should get a spot. Import pick Artyom Kulakov appears to be locked in. Cam Morton also looked good over the weekend and should have a spot.
There may be 1-2 others who get strong consideration from the prospect ranks. We’ll get our first glimpse of this come Saturday depending on who they dress for the game.
At forward, this is where opportunity seems to be available. The line of Brendan Hoffman, Brendan Sellan and Daniel D’Amato will be ready to roll. Lucas Ross is going to be a stud and is ready to make his team debut. Connor Lockhart is back fresh off being drafted by the Vancouver Canucks. Brett Bressette appears ready for a bigger role. Colby Saganiuk will finally make his team debut. Elias Cohen, Noah Sedore and Emmett Sproule are experienced and ready to contribute.
But there will be opportunity for some of the younger players. 2021 first rounder Carey Terrance seems poised to make this roster. Taeo Artichuk will have every opportunity to do the same. Beyond that someone has the chance to leave an impression. I would expect a name or two rise up and earn one of the last roster spots.
That will be the thing to watch in the preseason. Jobs are on the line. Whoever performs the best could find themselves on a bus to Michigan in early October.
So let the games begin. Finally.
I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2021-22 season will mark eight seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.